I recently moved from working in a highly structured corporate development environment at one of the world’s largest toy companies to a loosely structured start-up environment at one of the world’s largest game companies. The Game Shift is a chronicle of that change.
Day 1: Orientation
Day 1 was a whirlwind. I flew up the night before, but did not get to sleep until 2:00 Am. The day started at 8:00 AM with orientation for the first 5 hours. Free food was everywhere: they were not kidding about that one! However for whatever reason, my stomach decided to rebel on me. The worst pain I had ever felt, pierced my right side. Where is the appendix? Right or left? I could not remember! Still, I pretended like the pain did not exist. I picked-up my computer from IT, and it was right to learning about the dev environment. Dinner at 7:00 led to getting a taxi by 8:00 PM, and back to the hotel. A real honest to goodness 12 hour day one. Whew! Stomach still ached all night but finally went away and I fell asleep.
Day 2: The System
Day 2 was spent pouring over all the online docs that had been collected about the game I would be working on. With the stomach ache gone, things were smooth sailing. Wiki’s are wonderful things, especially if someone has taken the time to document necessary things for the team. By the mid-afternoon everything was set-up, and it was time to check the task-system for my first job. When I had it I dove into the code. By the end of the day I was well on my way to finishing my first project. This was going to be easy!
Day 3: Devastation
Whatever happened between the end of day two and the end of day three I cannot describe because I can’t even put really my finger on it. However, a few set-backs with the code and a creeping dread that had been collecting inside me since Monday, collided by mid afternoon. What had I done? I left a fine, stable job for this? It seemed like I had left the refined Victorian splendor of 1870’s London for a trip to Tombstone in the wild west. Doubt smothered everything that day. Could I even tackle this job? Am I too old for this sh*t? I simply did not know. I felt intimidated, and out of place. My premature grey-hair and the the mileage put on my face from the last few, very difficult years at “Monolith” did not do me any favors either. Back at the hotel that night I pondered my life and fate, and then fell asleep almost instantly.
Day 4: Turning Point
Thursday started with renewed vigor. I just knew it: I would finish my first project today, and get another one. There was no doubt about it. I was right. By the end of the day, I had succeeded, but there was more. As I looked around the building, I felt a growing affection for everything around me. I noticed things that had seemed foreign just one day prior, now appeared familiar and comforting. The way the tables were piled with computers, monitors, and people…smart people. All of them working towards common goal. I once had felt that feeling at my last job, but not for many years. Here it was again, in front of me…what I had been missing from my last job: meaning. This was not “going through the motions”, and it was certainly not making games for marketing purposes at the whim of people who simply did not know the medium. Here, decisions were been made for logical reasons. In the afternoon, when the studio head bravely stood in front of everyone and explained why a release was being held back, I could only smile in appreciation. It suddenly felt like home.
Day 5: A Realization
By day 5 I was well on my way to finishing my second project. I had finally found the right people to talk to, and my work had passed code review. That day, the studio had free t-shirts to highlight the new (now delayed) release, but I hesitated to take one. For all my time working for the “Monolith”, I never received any kind of t-shirt to highlight any release. Mind you, I worked there for 15 years on web sites, 10 of them making games. I was involved with the creation of over 200 web games of all types (dress-up, action, puzzle, shooter, multi-player, mmo, etc.) played billions of times. However, in all that time, we never, ever, once had a t-shirt made to highlight the release of anything. I used to look at the toy marketing teams in awe, as they seemed to create a new t-shirt for the release of any product, but not for the web sites or the games they held. We were bastard children trying to push a new medium that simply was not compatible with the old values that came with manufacturing economies of scale. As that memory passed by, I had a sudden realization. I was no longer at “Monolith.” Duh! I was now working for a company, where my work was core (or at least one day would be) to the company’s livelihood. I was in product development. I was no longer a service or cost center to be charged back. Instead, my job was to add value to profitable product. I reached into the box and took a t-shirt, then stuffed it into my backpack. 24 hours later, and 400 miles away, as I spent the weekend with my family before flying back for another week, I proudly put the t-shirt on and wore it all day long. I’ve bought-in. Now it is time to kick some ass.