When you tell people you make games for a living they generally say something like, “Wow, that doesn’t even sound like a job,” or “If that’s work, what could you possibly do for fun?” And for the most part it’s true: Making games beats the heck out of, say, cleaning sewers or performing rectal exams (which is sort of the same thing, when you think about it).
But here’s what we know that outsiders don’t: Some aspects of this job just SUCK. And we don’t want to whine about it, but occasionally there’s something therapeutic about going on a little rant about the stuff we don’t like. Right?
Industrial Depression is a recurring column for just such rants. It will be our quiet little way of purging (there’s that image again) so that we can refocus our energies on making everyone else wish they had our jobs.
Being laid off sucks
Being laid off sucks. Everyone knows it, but until it happens to you, you can’t know just how much it sucks. If you’re lucky you’ll never find out firsthand, but the likelihood is that at least a third of us will be laid off over the course of our careers. While it’s something no one wants to happen, having some preparation and foreknowledge of what to do if it does happen to you can make the situation a lot less traumatic.
The Dreaded Meeting with HR
Say you are summoned into the room with HR and told you are done. Now what?
For starters: Do not argue. Do not plead. The business decision to let you go has already been made, and making a fuss in the termination interview isn‘t going to change that. No one is going to slap his head and say, “Oh man, you are right. We shouldn’t let you go. Let’s just forget this ever happened.”
On the contrary, protesting is going to make you look like you absolutely should be let go (and it may prompt a call to security). Rather than put up a fight, just sit there, listen and nod appropriately, and don’t make a really bad situation worse. Chances are, the people on the other side of the table aren’t any more thrilled about it than you are (who wants to tell someone else that they’re losing their livelihood?).
As you walk away from that meeting, the soul searching will begin: Was it me? Was I just not good enough? Did someone not like me enough? Then you start feeling angry: That company sucks. Management sucks. The publisher sucks. I’m being treated unfairly and like a number. No one cares. At the same time, you begin to consider the unknown: Will I have to move? What if I run out of money? What about my kids’ medical insurance? Shell-shocked, you run through the whole gamut of emotions until you get to the ultimate question: What do I do now?
The main thing to realize at this point is: It’s not you. It’s them. Chances are that being laid off isn’t your fault—especially in this economic climate. Many companies are tightening belts, trying to figure out how to survive the reduction in available funding for game development.
It’s no secret that salary and benefits account for 80% of a game developer’s overhead—particularly since the bulk of its income comes in one burst after shipping. Thus, when a developer has to reduce costs, the first (and perhaps only) place to look is at the salaries of the rank and file. It’s usually true what they say: “It’s not personal; it’s business.”
Another thing to bear in mind is that just because you were let go doesn’t necessarily mean you are in the bottom 10% or 20%. The decision on who to let go varies from place to place and can depend on current production status. If you are at the tail-end of production then tools guys probably aren’t the most important people to keep on staff, for example. QA will be high on the list of potential cut-backs if projects are in Pre-Pro. Expensive people will often be vulnerable as well—the thinking being that it’s better to keep two average people on staff rather than one great but extremely expensive person. There may even be a situation in which a whole game gets cancelled and the entire team let go—and that would certainly not be about who is best.
It may be a blessing in disguise
Even if it is personal—if your manager decides to use a company-wide layoff as an excuse to get rid of people considered problematic with no questions asked—it may be a blessing in disguise. Rather than make a fuss about it and call out that manager, it’s better to consider it a lucky escape; at least you won’t have to deal with that bad manager in the future.
But first things first. Get your stuff out of the building and do not get angry with anyone who might be staying when you aren’t. It’s not their fault—taking out your frustration on those who still have a job might seem satisfying at that particular moment, but long-term you’ll regret it. Likewise, you should resist the temptation to vent your anger on your blog or Facebook or Twitter. Maintain your dignity and self-control and you will preserve valuable relationships (and potential references) in the process.
If your company offers any outplacement assistance, take it. In the coming months you’ll need every job hunting assistance you can get. Remember to ask for unpaid vacation and PTO time as well. Other things to ask: Will I get a reference? Will there be severance? How much and when do I get it? Does it come with any strings attached (restrictions on future employment or hiring, for example)?
When you are paid severance, many companies will require that you sign some sort of release that prevents you from suing them later or from making public statements about your former employers. Read what they give you, but keep in mind that if you choose not to sign you may be forgoing severance as well. (Needless to say, if you have questions about the terms of the severance you should seek the counsel of a qualified professional.)