The following interview was conducted in November 2018 with an experienced senior games industry employee currently working at a large company in Canada. For the security of all parties involved, all identifying information on the companies has been removed and the employee’s name is withheld. No information shared during this interview constituted a violation of the employee’s Non Disclosure Agreement.
Q: How long have you been working in the games industry, and in what roles?
A: (long pause) Too long. (laughs) I began coding as a kid, really, but it was 1999, I was living in Europe -- then I actually started working with studios. My first job was as an AI Programmer, 3D AI programming! That’s so long ago. I couldn’t do that anymore. (laughs) It is too complex now.
Q: Where did you go from AI programming?
A: Level design, narrative design, some engine design. I moved to England in 2003 and this is where I changed focus to being a designer. And it was all console stuff now, I was working on games for PlayStation 2 and XBox instead of just for DOS or PC or whatever. I liked the change, some didn’t, they liked their old computer towers, I liked the PS2! Still my favorite.
Q: So this was your favorite time, as a designer?
A: Yes and no. The studios I worked for were smaller then, smaller teams, but that brought challenges as well as freedoms. It was hard many days [...] but I do miss England for the PlayStation 2! We should bring it back! (laughs)
Q: It was a great console! What came after Europe?
A: Canada, America, then Canada again! I keep coming back here, I love this country. And I worked with big companies, the big ones, big projects. New generation, too.
Q: Was this a comfortable shift for you?
A: It was different. When I arrived at [large video game company] in, around, 2008 or so they gave me a team to lead! I had never managed before. Now, twenty faces staring at me for direction and my director, he’s putting out a million other fires and doesn’t have time to tell me what to do! But we pulled together, we make a good product, some outsourcing had to get done but...it was exciting! I learned very much from that game. But the takeaway from the top was...I was a manager now. I got moved into Operations, Project Management.
Q: How was that for you?
A: It seemed like a lateral move at the time -- designers want to be Lead Narrative Designer or a Game Director, or someone like...like a Producer, say. Someone making the big decisions on what a game is, what a game will be, not pushing paper around! But it is not true, that thinking. Project managers do so much of the production, they’re in so many of the meetings. The role really changes studio to studio.
Q: And when did you leave Canada, at least the first time?
A: 2012. Bay Area, nicer weather but the people are all crazy! (laughs) You can print that. Me, I think I’m crazy but they are very crazy there! Did you play that game, Watch Dogs 2?
Q: A little bit, yeah.
A: It’s not far off, my friend. Not far off at all. And here, at [company], I am an Operations Manager, I am a Managing Producer, it’s very interesting times in the games industry. The teams get bigger and bigger, more and more studios all over the world working together, but the dev cycle is shorter. Less time and money is put in quality assurance! And me, I’m thinking, “oh no! Quality assurance is my job!” So these years are crazy, I get into the office and I’m on the phone with a coder in New Delhi at 4 AM and my day ends after a conference call with Tokyo at 10 PM.
Q: Did these hours last the entire cycle?
A: No. They never do. But it’s unpredictable, and for me...I start thinking that time is infinite, energy is infinite, I can save the day. But...I cannot. No one can. I can only try to manage, and I can’t make promises if I know the people above me cannot keep them! So it can be frustrating. It was frustrating!
Q: Was this was led you back to Canada?
A: Yes, mostly. Early 2015, I get an offer here, Operations. I take it. And it’s good, it’s a big company but they put the work in to keep people around. I have worked places with revolving doors, revolving teams. Less turnover here.
For more of this interview, about gaming’s future and some current issues with the industry, come back next week for Part Two!