I know almost all of us gamers have dreamed of working in the game industry at some point. We’ve imagined being in the midst of the creative process, inserting our own ideas into these exotic gaming worlds, and having a blast while doing so. We spend out days creating stuff, playing games, and having fun, right? Not quite. I worked for two different MMO publishers over a span of almost three years, and I can give you a list of five definitive reasons why working in this industry sucks.
1. Entry Level Positions Are Horrible
Most gamers dream of working in the industry. However, most gamers also don’t have the requisite skills that are most badly needed by game developers, such as programmers or artists. That essentially leaves the only way for most people to break into the industry as either through QA (Quality Assurance), or through a Customer Support position. Let’s take a look at these two types of jobs:
Most QA personnel are truly considered to be the bottom of the barrel at pretty much every game development or publishing company in existence. They are barely paid more than minimum wage, are often worked in sweatshop-like conditions, and are highly expendable. Most people who try to break into the industry usually wind up working in a QA position.
So, the work itself must at least be fun, right? Not really. Your days are spent playing games, yes, but they are games that are still in the development process. Your job consists of doing repetitive actions over and over again, trying to find certain game mechanics or various other elements of the software that are broken. It’s not like you just sit there and try to play a game through from beginning to end, as most of the way through the development process this is impossible to do, anyway.
You will also work extremely long hours during “crunch time” (the period of time before the release of a game where everyone is working to finish it before the deadline), often with no choice. If you decide to try to coast through your job once you realize it’s not as much fun as it sounded before, don’t worry—the company can easily replace you. There’s millions of other gamers out there eagerly waiting to take your place.
Most Customer Support positions for a game publisher are really no different than the same positions for any other type of company. The main difference is that you’re providing support for games, rather than something else. These jobs are usually (slightly) better paying than QA positions, but they’re still considered low-tier.
Instead of doing repetitive actions in an unfinished game over and over again, you’re instead doing the repetitive actions of answering phone calls or responding to emails over and over again. Most Customer Support positions at any MMO publisher will be either for Billing or Technical Support, so you will spend your days talking to angry gamers who can’t play their game for some reason or another.
Anyone who has worked as a CS agent at any other company can tell you that most CS jobs are awful. However, they’re even worse at an MMO publisher, because….
2. The Customers Are Awful
Now, most of you who are reading this article have probably played at least one kind of online game in your life. Many of you probably even play MMOs regularly. If you are able to do so while still maintaining a healthy balance in your life, then congratulations! You are one of the rare exceptions. Most diehard MMO gamers do not manage to do this. It is a well-known fact that MMOs attract people who have “addictive personalities”, many of whom suffer from depression and low self-esteem, and easily latch onto things that give them an escape from the real world.
It is also a well-known fact that these games are intentionally designed to be addictive. A common philosophy in MMO design is to regularly give short-term rewards for actions that will eventually lead to a long-term prize. If a game is properly designed with this philosophy in mind, then it can easily hook most players. Add these two things together, and it creates a toxic mix.
Many MMO addicts are really just like crack addicts or heroin junkies. They’ll do anything to get their fix, regardless of the cost. If you’re working in a Customer Support role at a game publisher, then you will have to deal with these people constantly every day. I worked in Technical Support for two different MMO publishers, and I can’t count the number of times I had to deal with customers who were literally crying because they couldn’t play their games, raging at some game mechanics that they didn’t agree with, or even personally threatening my life because I couldn’t fix their issue fast enough. I can’t count the number of death threats alone that I had to deal with during my almost 3 years time in the MMO industry.
In contrast, I have over 15 years of experience in working in technical support roles at many other large IT and technology companies, and while I constantly dealt with angry and obnoxious customers, I never received a single death threat. That alone should tell you something right there. This Wikipedia article can give you some idea of the worst types of people who play MMOs.
3. The Employees Are Also Awful
I do have to give a disclaimer here. Not all of my coworkers were bad to deal with. In fact, I’d say that most of them were pretty good people. I still have several close friendships with people who I used to work with at the two MMO publishers, and I can’t say that I made as many friends from any of the other companies where I worked.
However, just keep in mind that many of the employees of MMO publishers are drawn from the same pool as their customers. There were many coworkers who were just as addicted to their MMO of choice as some of the worst customers that I dealt with. While playing games wasn’t frowned on while we were working just as long as it didn’t interfere with our actual jobs, many of them would cross the line of reason with this. It was very common for me to have to pick up the slack from many of my coworkers who were more interested in raising their Paladin to Level 60 than in doing the jobs they were hired and paid to do.
Many others are just plain anti-social, had low self-esteem, and fit the bill of your typical Social Justice Warrior. Political Correctness is rampant among the employees and bosses, and cronyism is often the only way to receive a promotion. However, a certain type of coworker rates their own particular mention:
4. Female Employees Can Do No Wrong
While gaming (and the game publishing industry) have typically been dominated by your average geeky white males, females have long had their own presence within it. It is not unusual to work at any game company and see quite a few female employees. However, they tend to have more power and influence over their male coworkers than in most other male-dominated industries.
Female gamers tend to fit many similar stereotypes that the gaming media likes to throw on most male gamers, much of which I’ve already touched on already (anti-social, overweight, etc.) However, there do happen to be a few relatively attractive females who work in the game industry, and they tend to be treated as goddesses by their male peers. Naturally, this leads to them not only having an inflated sense of self-worth, but also to them carrying much greater influence than any other minority group. As such, if they happen to have any kind of disagreement with you, it’s safe to say that you are probably not going to win.
I have to touch on a few examples from my own personal experience to demonstrate just how bad it is. The first game publisher I worked at had a mailing list that was meant for off-topic discussions between employees. This was one of the fun perks that many of us engaged in, giving us an outlet to blow off steam while slaving away through crunch time. It was all fun and games until someone in an email in this list mentioned the word “tramp stamp”. This email was completely harmless and was not used as an insult or directed towards any particular individual.
However, one of the female employees (who happened to have a tramp stamp that was often visible) took great offense towards this comment, railing on about how sexist it was and how she was personally offended at the term. Immediately, the HR director got involved and immediately shut down the thread of conversation before anyone else could reply. That incident alone seemed to kill off the frequent heavy use of this email list, at least during the remainder of my time at the company.
Another incident bearing mention is of another female coworker, who was quite flirty with everyone and reveled in all of the attention that was lavished upon her by many of her male peers. She managed to get not just one, but two different men fired from their jobs for sexual harassment. Even after this, she never changed her behavior, except that many of us had to walk on eggshells around her, including myself, who was her supervisor.
One night, while she was apparently off her meds, she went a bit crazy and started kissing and biting many of her coworkers, again, myself included. One guy had teeth marks visible on his neck from this for over a week. Complaints that were made about this incident were tossed aside. It was a great moment of relief for many of us when this girl left the company.
5. The MMO Industry Is Unstable
Much has already been said by others about how large the games industry is today. What few of those same people mention, though, is just how unstable the industry can be. This is doubly so for MMO publishers, as their fates are tied directly to the number of constant subscribers or users. What may be the biggest and best MMO today can easily become an also-ran tomorrow. Just ask most MMO gamers how many games they’ve purchased and played in the past that can no longer be played.
As MMOs are entirely reliant on the number of people actively playing the game, financial hurt can come quickly to a publisher when there’s a large drop in the number of subscribers. And when financial hurt comes to any kind of company, people tend to lose their jobs. This happens very, very often in the MMO industry.
My first job in the industry ended after two years due to massive layoffs, all thanks to one of our games massively underperforming. The second MMO publisher I worked for also suffered massive layoffs shortly after I left. With all of those dead MMO games floating around, there’s an even larger pool of people who have lost their jobs thanks to those games underperforming. If you are looking for an industry that has any kind of stability to it, the MMO industry is probably your worst bet.
I can’t say that my time working in the MMO industry was entirely bad. In fact, the first job at least was probably among the best jobs that I had. However, there are many pitfalls and obstacles that came along the way, and anyone who is wanting to get into the industry should be aware of those before they decide to jump in. Hopefully, this article gives the reader a good understanding of what it’s actually like to work in the MMO industry.
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