Game development the "best goddamn job in the world"

HELM creative director Raphael van Lierop explains why developers need to ditch the pity

In an editorial published last week at the Penny Arcade Report, HELM Studio founder and creative director Raphael van Lierop took aim at the idea that the games industry is broken and developers need to be pitied for harsh working conditions. Van Lierop stands as a twelve year veteran in the industry, having worked at Relic Entertainment and Ubisoft Montreal. He noted that in the aftermath of the 38 Studios debacle, game developers were compared to "exploited mine workers, ship-breakers, or Victorian-era child laborers."

"I'm not sure why the particular case of 38 Studios raised the ire of so many games journos, but for some reason it inspired a deep pathos I've not seen before," began Van Lierop.

"This sense of pity from the 'outside' really irks me. Sure, we've all suffered under the yoke of publisher stupidity, reeled from the fickle tastes of gamers, major and minor shifts in business models or player tastes that have suddenly rendered projects completely redundant, etc. But, to see our choice of profession and medium viewed through the lens of public's just too much for me."

He acknowledged the real hardships in game development: long hours, years of hard work only to have a title cancelled, and the misguided perceptions of those outside the industry.

"Sometimes when I get to that dark place, I think about leaving the industry. I think about all the things I could be doing with my time, my energy. I think about the ways in which I could be making the world a better place. I could be trying to help people, rather than dedicate my life to a pursuit that most people discount as thoughtless and pointless," Van Lierop wrote.

"We have chased our tails endlessly, a digital Ouroboros, to pursue delivering the same shallow 'little boy fantasies' over and over to our players. Or we chase yet another established blockbuster in a vain attempt to convince players that we have something worth their time because hey, this game is an awful lot like that other game that sold a hell of a lot of copies and you know, you keep telling us (through your spending habits) that you don't really want anything new or original, you just want the same thing only different. Haven't we somehow managed to wring much of the life out of this industry, to the point where our experiences and our audiences are so fragmented now that, if we're honest, nobody really knows who the hell we're making these games for anyway?"

In the end, the industry veteran believes that developers go through the hardship because game development is "the best goddamn job in the world."

"We stand at the confluence of art and technology and get to express ourselves through a creative medium that is evolving more quickly than any other in history. The things we create are enjoyed by millions. We create worlds. We evoke emotions," he wrote at PAR.

"I know I said above that we've been wasteful about our potential, and I genuinely mean that. But if we can reach so many people, even at our worst, imagine what we can do when we're at our best. We get to create experiences that can change people's lives. And that's a powerful thing."

"For many of us, this isn't work-it's a calling. And while we may not always get it right, and while a lot about what we do is broken, and damn it a lot about the way the industry works defies logic and decency and surely makes our lives more difficult-in the end, the feeling of being able to influence someone and touch them in a way that matters to them... well, that makes the failures worthwhile, despite how tortuous the journey can often be," Van Lierop closed. "We're forging modern mythology here. Nobody said it was going to be easy. And yes, there are a lot of cracks. Just remember, there's also a lot of light shining through what we do."

For a complete picture of Van Lierop's thesis, the full editorial can be found over at the Penny Arcade Report.

Do you agree? Is it all worth the harsh working conditions and disappointing misses? The long hours and low job security?

[Image via Vancouver Film School]

Latest comments (4)

Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee5 years ago
The problem is not everyone feels that way, it is still a job and still has a working environment. Some developers do not get the correct pay, the correct flexibility and may have unfortunate demands placed on them. People also still have issues of bad management, poor approach to collecting feedback or little in the way of staff incentives or even performance related bonuses.

I have enough experience to know that as awesome as the industry is, its not a dream job for everyone, just as games QA and other roles aren't necessarily dream jobs at all. Its sad but then again its reality. Expect the good, the bad and the ugly...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 9th August 2012 12:30am

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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers5 years ago
It's wonderful to be able to work in this industry, but it is still ultimately that - work. It can vary wildly depending on the developer, but there are many cases of overwork, underpay, bad management... basically, all the issues that can come up in any workplace. And not everyone gets to put a large stamp on the product - sometimes they might just rig the lighting at the direction of the art lead. It's best to have a lot of passion for the gaming industry if you decide to enter it, but basic HR issues should not be overlooked.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
Hmm. For some reason, that post title just SCREAMS for a loud guitar solo, some explosions and a headbangin' guy throwing devil hands and wagging his tongue.
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Show all comments (4)
Sorry, but BULLSHIT. As someone who worked in games for 15+ years, as both a "boss", "studio owner", and "grunt worker", I can tell you my current job outside of the games industry is infinitely better.

The last straw for me in gaming is the "appreciation" you get from peers, consumers, bosses & general public after completing a game - something you may have slaved away at for *years*. The "no" appreciation that is - chances are the game will be a commercial failure, majority of gamers will bag it out (regardless of how good it is, or its metacritic score).

Its a direct result of working in an industry where the majority of your target market is *not mature*.

I have had enough of being a slave to the games industry... re-joining the real world was the best thing I ever did :)
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