If you’ve read our look at the changing gaming industry, then you already know how difficult it is to actually land a job in AAA. So, it might come as a surprise when people actually leave AAA in favor of indie.
Yes, Gingear Studio, a small indie studio based out of Quebec City, Canada was founded by Maxime Beaudoin and Julie Lortie-Pelletier back in February 2015. They’re the creators of Open Bar, a puzzle game for iOS and Android.
If you recognize Beaudoin’s name, it’s because he worked at Ubisoft prior to going indie. He worked on Prince of Persia:The Forgotten Sands, and ported Assassin’s Creed 3 on the WiiU. He also worked on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.
So what causes people to leave AAA? Isn’t it supposed to be the ultimate success for game developers everywhere?
An Honest Look At Gaming Leadership
First and foremost, take a look at this sketch, originally posted by Ben Kuchera, writer of Polygon’s “Why Do AAA Devs Often Hate Their Jobs? Watch This Video.”
Ah, yes, the life of the creative having to explain things to industry higher-ups that have no idea how some things work. It’s not a problem specific to game development: it’s a problem that plagues many industries.
But leadership in gaming is actually the number one cause of developers going into business for themselves, as indie game developers. Many opt to create their own tiny teams, but there are others who go into the business as lone wolves.
Now, does this mean all gaming higher-ups are lacking? Not at all. There are always exceptions to the rule. The point here is that leadership without any working knowledge of development is a major issue that plagues the gaming industry.
But Wait, Is It Still Fun?
Back in October of 2016, Amy Henning, the former Uncharted director and writer, did an interview in which she explained how AAA actually is. While she chose to work for Electronic Arts rather than join the indie sector, she did shed some light on the working conditions developers have to endure:
“[It was] really hard. The whole time I was at Naughty Dog—ten-and-a-half years—I probably, on average, I don’t know if I ever worked less than 80 hours a week. There were exceptions where it was like, ‘Okay, let’s take a couple of days off,’ but I pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day.”
The job isn’t for the faint of heart. Unless you love game development, and don’t mind spending most of your time and effort on it on a daily basis, you’re in for a world of hurt. AAA has high demands from the players, and as such, they expect more than the average workday from their employees.
“I mean, my health really declined, and I had to take care of myself, because it was, like, bad. And there were people who, y’know, collapsed, or had to go and check themselves in somewhere when one of these games were done. Or they got divorced. That’s not okay, any of that. None of this is worth that.”
Hennig summarized it all in this paragraph. Something has to eventually give, with people being treated like robots, putting in hours of labor, and having to forego their lives.
But it’s not all bad. This isn’t an article about how awful AAA is. AAA gives you financial freedom. All those hours are paid, and rather well, no less. They are behind the next well-known, well-funded game release. These people are industry veterans, for the most part, and have achieved their positions through years of working up the gaming ladder. A ladder which is now fading fast, no less. Upcoming game developers are finding that breaking into the industry is even harder than it once was.
Freedom Through Indie
In the indie sector, big project issues aren’t a matter of concern. Time isn’t wasted in an endless email thread. There isn’t as much specialization either, because everyone learns how to do everything. Technical developers, like programmers, can suddenly work on concept art, and vice versa. For anyone wishing they could learn more about other departments, indie may be the solution. Talk about expanding your portfolio!
But remember, this comes at a price. Sure, you have no higher-ups telling you to draw red lines with green ink, but you’re your own boss suddenly. If you don’t know the first thing about marketing, building a developer platform, the careful curation of social media posts, or managing your finances during times of low revenue, then you might be in for a harsh reality check.
Going indie means more creative freedom, and definitely more time spent with family, but it also means less money and less prestige. For some, that’s not a matter of concern. When you consider things like health insurance and the fact that you only have so much time to master a new development job title before you start pushing back deadlines of your own, that decision to go indie might begin to seem wobbly.
Takeaways: So What’s Success in Gaming?
Success, defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” No, it’s not the money, the sports car, the private jet or the mansion you only use 10% of. That’s what the media wants people to associate with success. In reality, success isn’t measurable in a general, all-encompassing perspective. Success simply means you’ve met your goal(s). With everyone being so different, it’s no wonder everyone’s vision of “making it” seems so varied.
To some, being employed by a AAA studio is the ultimate dream. If you reach that goal, and you are happy with it, you’re successful. However, some people get there and realize there’s nothing they rather do than get out and go small. And once they go indie, they feel successful. To each his/her own.
So, if you’ve begun taking steps towards a career in gaming, let it be known now: you don’t need to strive for something just because that’s what’s associated with success. Do what you want to do, and go forth with great courage and researching skills. You’ll need them, trust us.