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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]

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Mike Williams avatar
Mike Williams: M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.