My name's Arran Seaton. I am currently residing in Bristol in the UK. I'm 25. I'm a designer, and audio lead for Monothetic, which is an independent company I co-founded with a couple folks that I know in the industry and we're making our first game at the moment, called Beacon. I previously was a level designer at Playground Games, where I worked on Forza Horizon and also at Ubisoft Reflections, where I worked on The Crew.
What did you do on The Crew and Forza?
So, working on Forza Horizon was the first industry job that I landed. It was a level design position. I originally applied for a design-assistant role because, like, I don't have a degree, [Laughs.] I never went for that qualification process. I was freelance for a few years, building up a portfolio and then I applied. I have a habit of underestimating my abilities, so I went for the job lower than the one I actually wanted because I was like, "I have no degree. Maybe if I get design assistant I can work my way up." That kind of thing.
They actually got back to me and said, "We filled that role. Would you be interested in level design?" I was like, "Yes!" [Laughs.] And then from there it was a three-step process for the interview and all that stuff. I worked there for roughly a year. Most of the stuff I did on Forza Horizon was basically integrating all of the race events into the environment, which is different from Forza Motorsport’s track design because it's goal as a spin-off series, was to achieve an interconnected, open world. So a lot of it was actually surveying the terrain and finding areas that'd be interesting to set events there. All that kind of stuff. It was from, literally, the white-box process from the very beginning all the way up to final art that I had a hand in, designing and tweaking all the tracks.
What does that mean? "White box?"
White box is basically when you block out the world before you put any sort of art assets in it just so you have everything for scale and reference. So you can kinda get an idea of how things are going to work before you actually commit to getting the art team to actually put final environments into the game.
So setting down all the placeholders.
Yeah, like, placeholder stuff.
What's the biggest misconceptions about designing levels in a racing game? What are the weird assumptions you run into?
For "level design" as a job title, it's got a load of weirdness surrounding it anyway because different studios have different interpretations of what work they expect from a level designer for their role. That's been true for me, even from when I worked on Forza to when I worked at Ubisoft on The Crew. Like, they were very different skill sets and job tasks I had even though it's the same umbrella branch of, "Oh, you're a level designer."
Yeah, it's odd because when I used to make Half-Life 2 mods, it was far more autonomous, I had a much broader spectrum of control & input. I was -- to use a more general term a "mapper" -- which is basically a level designer, but you also build the art and environments yourself.
But, for racing games? It's really weird. Like, we work very, very closely with the game-design team. At Playground Games, they had a lot of staff that had lots of previous experience. Like, a lot of them from Codemasters, from Bizarre Creations, and, like, a bunch of other places. I, going into it had no idea about how to design good events or good racetracks for video games. [Laughs.] It's never been my sort of expertise, at least in my head in terms of, like, stuff I wanted to do when I got into the industry. This was more specialized. So, it was an interesting process. A lot of it was understanding how to make exciting road layouts, in terms of the flow of everything. A lot of the language thrown about was like, "The race events need to have lots of exciting cambers, blind crests and turns." Placement of assets was telling a story in the environment: "Would this make sense if this grandstand was here and the crowd was watching from there?" You would place them in specific locations to give them a sense of purpose and cohesion to the race track you were building. A lot of it was studying how real-world race events actually work. Very unusual language and ideas they were applying into their design and that was something I was completely oblivious to before I got into it.
How much pokerfacing did you have to do?
Quite a lot. There were a few instances of that after I got the hang of the stuff I knew they were going for. There were a few occasions from higher up where they wanted to try certain things out that we knew as a design team weren't going to work out, but they still pushed for it because we have less power to say, "This is not going to work in that context." And then a couple months later all of that work gets ripped up because they go, "Oh, no, that doesn't work. Of course it doesn't." [Laughs.]
Why do you have less power?
So, the hierarchy is-- when we were building tracks, as far as I remember, we would go through a vetting process to gauge what they were after, we'd make it, they'd come back, review it, and then they'd get the lead designer or whatever to come have a look and he or she had final say on, "Yeah, this is good," or, "Go back and change it." We could voice our opinions on certain things, like, "We don't think this is going to work because X, Y, and Z." But I never felt like we had a real say in changing that, changing the course of events. Unless the whole team pushed against it, it never felt like we were really being listened to. It's like they'd take us into consideration and then forget about it. There were a few times where they'd dismiss some ideas that we had and then it'd come back and then they'd realize that, no, this isn't going to work over the long haul, and then that’s just two months' work wasted. This has happened in other studios as well.
Yeah, yeah. Thank you for saying that.
[Laughs.] I mean, yeah, I'm not someone who gets super-attached to work and I kind of know that stuff's going to be cut but it's also a little bit aggravating when you kinda not just in yourself, but the team that you're working with -- because you're at that lower level -- you feel that sometimes your opinion isn't quite as worthy, I guess? I guess there are occasions where it's like, yeah this sucks, it falls back and -- I don't know. [Laughs.]
How important does project management seem to you at the studios you've worked at?
So, for the most part my experiences working at bigger studios, project management has never been good.
[Laughs.] That's what I've heard.
It's never been quite right in terms of -- so, obviously, some places they have crunch. I did a lot of crunch time when I was at Playground Games, and that was because they had a year turnaround to get the game from basically the approved design doc to release. There was no way they were going to drop the release date. So, yeah, we were asked to do 70-hour weeks, to come in on weekends, sacrifice a lot of our own free personal time and social time, stuff like that. I don't know whether it's because for them it was their first game as an independent studio, even though they were in association with Microsoft and Turn 10 [Studios]. I still feel that shouldn't be necessary. You shouldn't be asking that much of your team to drop everything in their lives to work 12-hour days and basically just burn out from it.
That's crunch or that's not crunch? The 70 hours.
I would say that for some places that's probably not even that intense. [Laughs.] For QA, it's much, much more intense. I've heard people doing 120 hours before.
Granted, you've only had the experience that you've had, but clearly you've had more development experience than me and at a certain scale that not everyone has gotten to have, so I don't have a sense of it. Is there actually that much work to do, or do you think teams are not being managed properly?
[Sighs.] I think there is and there isn't. The problem is with doing those kind of long hours is in any kind of creative process, it kind of gets to the point where it tails off and when they're pushing teams so hard, you're actually not maximizing the efficiency and the output and it just felt like nobody was really focusing on that. It was just kind of like, "No, you've just got to stay longer and get as much work in every single day." It never felt like they were tackling actually why things were taking longer or why they needed people to stay longer.
Yeah. [Sighs.] I don't know.
Let me see here. I'm still trying to get to understand more about the day-to-day of what it's like just working on these games, and it's tough to suss out or get context due to NDAs and people mostly insisting it's pretty boring.
And so I'm just trying to figure out: Is project management a valued skill at game companies? It seems so rare.
No, I mean. I've worked with some great producers before that seem to be on top of their game and --
And this is probably true of most game companies, right? This difficulty?
Though there are jobs where it's like, "Well, my boss doesn't know what they're doing, but at least I can leave at 5 and be done."
The problem with -- I don't doubt for one second, like you said, the logistics of trying to keep on top and keep everything stable on such a scale is a Herculean task. But because of that size and the scale, it also feels like as an individual, even as a part of a design team in the big spectrum of things, nobody really knew what was going on.
When I was at Ubisoft, we rarely got updates of, like, "Oh, so, we know exactly what's happening with the art team, we know what's happening with the programming team." We got little snippets here and there, but even that felt like everything was kinda segregated and a bit mysterious. [Laughs.] Everything was behind the scenes. [Sighs.] If we could sense things were kind of going not so well, we didn't get as much, probably -- an idea of what was going on and how we could change that.
When did you get updates, how did you get them? Email?
Sometimes there would be just emails to the whole company or to the whole team working on The Crew.
I suppose some of the segmentation makes sense because, like, I'm sure the people who market the games don't need input from everyone.
Exactly, and that's a whole other division of the company that we would never see. Like, we had no interaction with that as well.
Well, but what boggles my mind. As you said in your email, you wanted to talk about the lack of transparency. Like, what good does that do you internally? Like, you said it stifles creativity and passion.
Yeah, I kind of still stand by that in terms of --
Well, you did send the email last week. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not knowing what's happening -- it's difficult because sometimes you don't know if you're doing a good or bad job and also a lot of the times when you're trying to branch out and do different stuff, you feel like you're pushing up against a wall that they don't want you to.
So, but, you're a little bit younger -- sometimes you really just don't get that at a job, and you learn to take no feedback as you're doing great or solidly. But did you get a sense from others on your team who were a little older that they also found it stifling?
I would think so, yeah. But it's weird. I think me as an individual -- I've maybe been someone who's not really content on wanting to settle, like, for something I'm not happy with. I will take it upon myself to go beyond or drop it do my own thing. I’m okay with risking things. Whereas I think a lot of the older people, the veterans, I guess, of the companies were maybe people who, sure, they felt the same things but they were kind of more comfortable -- they were settled down, they maybe had families and the like to look after. So it would be an even bigger hurdle for them if something went wrong down the line, that's more riding on their back. Whereas, with me, I was able to be a bit more aggressive in voicing myself, but even then I did always feel like maybe I shouldn't say certain things. [Laughs.]
Part of it also is, I think like you said, is that as you get older you maybe not get more comfortable, but more used to it and compartmentalize. It's not like there's a "correct" way of doing things, it's good to have a mix, but something else you mentioned was "blunt, forceful protocol of NDAs." I'm curious, are there interdepartmental NDAs within the same company?
Yes. At Ubisoft there were, yes. For sure. For different projects. Like, there were games -- for the longest time, when I was there, I didn't really hear about. Like say, Far Cry 4 until really it got announced. It's really bizarre.
Everybody was shocked, by the way.
[Laughs.] Of course. No, yeah. I mean, there's obviously some projects that I have knowledge about that I'm not allowed to say. But there were lots of things that we had no kind of visibility on at all.
And I'm sure you understand that I'm not at all trying to get a "scoop" or to get you to reveal something here. But it's interesting to hear the way that it causes tension internally.
What do you think is trying to be protected by preventing people in the same company from knowing or talking?
I'm not sure. I guess there's a lot of -- I think with especially bigger companies and bigger IPs, there's just a lot of paranoia of, "If this gets out when we don't want it to, this is gonna look bad for us." I think having different parts of the company knowing certain knowledge, I guess is their attempt to reduce that risk? So the teams that are working on their specific projects were in total isolation, until internally they're ready to give the wider company more of an idea, "Oh, this is what Montreal or Paris is doing."
But, like, for me I found it really, really strange. Friends and family found it bizarre that there was so much protection over intellectual properties because they see it as, "Oh, it's just a videogame." [Laughs.] And having NDAs controlling all of that, like, I wasn't able to say specifically what I was working on to anybody. I wasn't allowed to express my excitement for the project I was doing. So it was really weird.
You said you also had some questions about the press side of things? I'll do my best to answer, but just know that I've never been full-time at a games publication. I was once almost reviews editor at EGM and I think I dodged a bullet.
[Laughs.] Probably. [Laughs.] No, I don't know. I guess because I only see it from the development side of things, like -- I'm trying to voice this in a way that's --
You can be blunt, it's okay.
No, it's just: What's your perception of how companies, especially PR and stuff when they send out press releases about certain things? Like, in terms of what you're allowed to talk about. Because that's a whole other side of things.
[Laughs.] Oh, we're talking about embargoes?
Yes! Embargoes are really stupid.
I would agree. On my side of the fence, what I see a lot of or know a lot of is that I have some colleagues who wear having signed NDAs as some sort of badge of pride about how important it makes them seem.
I have gotten press releases that have embargoes on information that makes absolutely no sense to not publish. And then there are the embargoes you get as a critic where they ask you not to divulge certain facts about the game.
There are so many schools of thought about these things. What is a games critic? What should they write about? Who are they really writing for? And then there is the whole: what even is a games journalist?
I think PR really has a hard job. The audience is shifting in such a strange, different place while also expanding where I think you look at of the YouTube crowd, which I've heard a lot of devs champion, but they are really doing a lot of stuff that people like me would never do or people like me don't want to do anymore. They're also not as structured, or as you would say, transparent about who they are, what their involvement is. There's no line of separation.
So when you're talking about embargoes and streams of information, I think one of the biggest tensions happening in games right now is honestly because of PR. But it’s not all on them.
Yeah, so the thing that really confuses me. But to continue, from that side of thing, I find that kind of bizarre: Did you ever really feel like you were talking to a person in those exchanges of information?
Yeah. It feels so alien to be so anal about that stuff in those very specific ways. I've heard loads of interviews, chats with certain developers, maybe the leads or whatever and they've got the PR person in the background just ready to jump in at any point that they're like, "No, no, you can't say that. You can't mention that. You can't do this." [Sighs.] I don't know, I find that really dumb.
Well, games -- it's a business. But, like, I remember going on a studio visit for a story and talking to the writer of a game and there's a PR person sitting right at the table, for some reason taking notes on what questions I'm asking, which I guess is going to end up on a spreadsheet somewhere? I'm not sure.
But I asked the writer, "Okay, so this game is a satire. What were your influences for it?"
And there was a moment where I asked the question and it was as if I had cast a magic spell that transported us to another reality. I asked a writer, "What were the inspirations for your satire?" He said, "I do not know."
So you ask me if I've talked to a human.
Yeah, that's the thing. PR kind of preps people -- developers that are supposed to be talking to you as a person about their work -- they've kind of prepped them in that way almost like a robot to kind of dish out these very boilerplate answers. And you're not actually feeling like you're discovering or learning anything, it's like -- is there any benefit from actually talking to this person? Are people going to find this interesting? [Laughs.]
Well, I think from the marketing perspective, yeah. Because it's coverage.
And I don't want it to sound like, "Oh, the suits are so terrible, blah blah blah." I think it's just we need to find a proper balance of, "Are we actually connecting and working with each other?"
Were there similar things outside of games, similar situations of dealing with PR or dealing with interview situations that weren't quite so crazy in terms of chatting to a developer, if it was chatting to a musician or an actor or whatever? Do those things occur?
No where near the degree as strict and locked down as in games. I have heard my share of horror stories with people just trying to get someone to hold still and do an interview, or you'll find you only have 15 minutes with them and you have to make them count, and that's in contrast to the olden days of entertainment journalism where you'd be able to tag along with a movie star for a weekend or a couple of days. Fifteen minutes you can get something, if you’re good, but it's hardly the same.
In games, and elsewhere, certainly there are bad apples everywhere. But I remember my first interaction with a games PR person was having to remind them. A lot. Sometimes they are actively not prioritizing sending stuff to you, especially after you start exploring the whole spectrum of grades or opinions you can have.
But, like, embargoes are there in part to keep false positivity about games buoyant.
What I'm trying to figure out is with the money and technology that's availability, why are we not seeing more risky stuff or different stuff from the bigger budget space? Sure, it's plenty expensive, but no one wants to be first. So where does that leave us? Like, how are we actually supposed to be optimistic?
Yeah, I know. Talking to friends and colleagues at other studios, it's almost the same thing everywhere. It's like the whole thing of embargoes is controlling that energy until a point where they feel that it's the right moment to unveil and deliver onto the market. There's no surprises to that. Like you're saying, there's no surprises or feeling that there's a risk in what they're doing. It's now become so standardized.
The popular counter argument to that is, "Well, we put a lot of money down, and that's plenty risky isn't it?"
Yeah. All game development is risky, regardless of scale. But it's not risky in the sense that -- I don't know. I don't look to the mainstream industry for things that potentially would excite me in the way that I would feel when I was younger when I saw videogames in magazines. I lost my mind of, "Oh my God, this looks incredible."
So, I really just want big games to be weird and interesting and cool.
But being told to just look at the independently produced stuff and to be satisfied with that is frustrating, because I want that space to also be more weird and interesting and cool. I feel like often it is just as safe and risk-averse.
Like you say, I still like "big games." I really do want more weird games, like, big, weird, unusual games -- I think it was actually, funnily enough, talking about PAX East, I think Giant Bomb was doing a panel with Jeff Gerstmann and he was talking about how he misses those big games and they don't really seem to have that kind of appeal anymore. When I think back to something like Metal Gear Solid, that's, like, crazy. Like, the run-up -- even with the new one -- beforehand, it was a massive event in games for something so weird and off to the side. It's like, everything is so Destiny and they just -- yeah, just don't have any interest for me at all.
[Laughs.] I was talking to a colleague who has left games, and we were discussing how the recession might have something to do with all that conservatism.
Possibly, yeah, the recession had a huge impact in the UK on a lot of companies. A lot of studios closed down and maybe, yeah, maybe this is their response to building back up is to play it safe. I don't know.
I've heard some say, "Well, it's not really a problem. It will work itself out." Of course I would say this, but I do think talking about the problems will help. I think there are just some issues with the games community online, it's just --
It isn't very good. [Laughs.]
Why would you say that? I'm not sure I even knew how to finish that sentence. What's not good about it?
[Laughs.] I don't know. I think this is something very ingrained in the gaming community. It does extend past that, which is just general Internet behavior. It's just -- I don't know. Everything's quite toxic -- I mean, I'm sure you've heard that word a bazillion times now.
Sometimes just the amount of rude energy coming off of the screen --
It's obscene sometimes. I just think in this day and age, people need instant gratification for everything. So, be that a game that's had a bit of a shoddy launch or things need to be patched out and people hurling abuse at a community manager, it's ridiculous, "Fix this game. We paid for it." This kind of ownership over games from the community it's something that's not been healthy for the last -- well, for a long time, but especially over the last three or four years.
Do you feel like the lack of transparency in the space contributes to this?
I think it does, yeah. I think the fact that -- it's really weird. I think that the way that companies and studios and the whole system of how they've operated in terms of what they're catering for, how they do their PR, and the community itself and how those two entities interact -- there's such a huge void in between that's not been filled with anything. It's kind of just been left to breed this nastiness, I guess? [Sighs.]
It's something that's been kind of crazy to watch, especially over the last year or so.
Do you go to the game conferences in the UK? Any at all?
The feeling in America at conferences -- like last year I took a friend not from the industry to GDC and he said, "It feels like the Internet is leaking in here." Does it have that feeling in the UK? He meant it in every way both good and bad.
I was talking to -- when I was at EGX Rezzed -- a couple of developers at the end of the show and there is an actual real difference in terms of, say, Gamergate's impact in the states compared to in the UK. Obviously, a lot of people here are very very aware of it and it's still had a huge impact on just about everything, but the difference is I think people in the US are a bit more on the nose, whereas with British humor we might crack a joke and ridicule the whole mess, in terms of, "Oh, yeah, Gamergaters they're idiots or whatever." There's not as much reverence to it. Whereas at GDC, I heard there was a standing ovation to call out all the harassers and stuff like that and the whole Gamergate scandal. And that's good that that happens, but that would never happen in the UK.
You know what else got a standing ovation in America, was at Sony's E3 press conference a few years ago, when they announced you could play used games.
I'm just saying our standards might be different for what we feel deserves celebration.
To me, that's madness.
It's only recently that I've been to a couple conventions. I remember the last big one that I went to a few years ago was the Eurogamer Expo. It's now -- the main event's moved to Birmingham. It used to be in London. Yeah, there was this weird attitude that persisted. I could almost feel it in the air as I walked around. That's when booth babes still existed as a thing that happened at events, which is still crazy. [Sighs.] I just didn't feel like it was a very inclusive place at all. It was like, "I'm going to have a look at a couple of things and then I'm just getting out of here because I don't feel comfortable." And I'm a guy, I'm a white dude as well.
Yeah, I saw you at the last meeting.
[Laughs.] I would blend in. But I feel even slightly uncomfortable just with -- maybe it's just at bigger conventions, but it didn't feel like it was welcoming or inviting. I know that's been changing a lot more recently, but that was definitely my experience back then.
When we demoed Beacon at Rezzed, it was a lot different. Like, maybe that's because it's smaller, independent-focused event? But everyone was pretty chill, everyone was receptive, it wasn't quite the same lingering attitude but it was still manifesting here and there of gamer culture and people walking around with swag bags and all that stuff.
What is gamer culture?
That's something that's hard to define. I think it's a label that people get attached to -- who maybe didn’t have the best social life growing up or they've had some bullying, which is never great, obviously. But it's a community and an identity that they've turned to give them some sense of community of playing games online, finding other people who associate themselves as gamers.
Is there music culture?
I guess? I mean, of course there is but not in the sense that -- I've never labeled myself as a "music lover." I love music but I've never --
I think we're all just people.
But what I pick up in some spots online is that you have to be a "gamer" first.
And we have standards of what you need to do to be a gamer. It's almost like a manifesto: These are the games that you need to play and this is the knowledge you have to have. And it's so crazy. I don't understand. "Casual gamers" and "hardcore gamers" and "PC master race" and all of that bullshit. It's just bonkers to me. Also that companies are marketing towards that. Not just studios but magazines have previously. Hardware, like graphics-cards manufacturers. I don't understand it. I've never been part of that and I've never really gotten my head around why people would be so proud of being a gamer in that context. It's great that you love games but it's not something that you should put your foot in the ground and say, "This is what I am. This is what I stand for." [Laughs.] I just find that really bizarre.
But I think that is part of it. Part of videogame culture, honestly, just seems to make things that are negligible or don't matter enormous points of contention. "Are games art?" And false intellectualism.
I think it comes from self-consciousness over the fact that if we're just spending time on things that are "just fun," then somehow we have wasted our time. But there is value in having a break, holding still, and playing something. It doesn't necessarily need to mean anything greater than you got catch your breath and be distracted.
No, of course. But there's a broader spectrum to that as well of -- the questions that you're putting out there: Has anyone really asked those before? I mean they have, but why are those questions really on the face of things that simple and straightforward? Why do they get so much backlash: "Are videogames art?" Why does that need to be asked? "Do women need to be allowed?" We know the answer to that and what it should be.
I just know in the course of doing this, I have not heard from angrier people in my life than women in games.
I've also never talked to more scared people than women in games. A lot of my friends, back when I was at Ubisoft, not necessarily only at Ubisoft, but a lot of people I was friends with, colleagues, they just felt there was no way that they could speak up and say anything because they were ridiculously scared of receiving any kind of targeting. They're also worried because, like you were saying before, the companies weren't really doing anything to speak out about it, they didn't feel like they had any protection to say what they feel and that was the more depressing thing, I think.
I think the industry is scared of what it has created.
Yeah, it is definitely scared of what it has created and it doesn't really know how to control that anymore. It's such weird things, like, it wants to be actively engaged and involved but at the same time when shit hits the fan, it steps back and just lets the chaos ensue.
I think their statements on all this has been embargoed indefinitely.
Well, so you had also mentioned wanting to talk about how working in games can affect your social life and relationships, and I think we talked a little bit about this. You talked a little bit about people in your life, like, you can't really talk about what you're working on. Can you elaborate about the sort of impact and effect you're talking about?
Yeah, it was kind of strange. As someone that at the time this was the dream job, of landing a design position in the games industry, and then to understand the whole procedure behind NDAs and what I can share with relatives and friends because the companies would tell us that, "You gotta not talk about it because if you tell people and this gets out, it's on you."
Loose lips sink ships.
Yeah. [Laughs.] Should be, like, the motto above every studio, like when you walk into their reception area.
In Latin. So people don't think too much about what it means.
Yeah. But, no, it had an impact because it was hard to express to people who didn't understand that part of videogame development. Like, I had a lot of people just confused, "Wait, so, you got this job but you can't really talk about it? What are you doing?" You had to be really facetious about certain things. I just wanted to tell people, to let people know what I was doing. I don't want to have to tiptoe around certain things like, "Oh, when's the trailer going to be? What features?" Sure, that's information that needs to be safeguarded, but it was also at the same time this massive weight put on my shoulders of, "You've got to watch yourself now." It's almost like you're on some kind of surveillance. I found that to be a very cumbersome part of development and it kind of persisted all the way through until I left and that's been something that's been so liberating to shed that weight and those chains of not having to worry about any of that now. I can tell people what I'm making. I can actually show them, even if it's the most garbage thing that I'm working on. It doesn't matter if it doesn't look great. I can be open and transparent about things.
And a lot of the NDA stuff before, like I was saying with social life and relationships had an impact on that because I'm doing so much work for stuff that I can't really share and being that discrete and standoffish -- it does seep into your normal social life as well. Like, how you interact with people in your everyday life. I shouldn't having be having to watch what I say all the time.
It was disappointing that things are like that and they are still like that.
So what is your plan now? Would you ever go back to a studio?
So, for the most part I am probably -- I want to make this work. I want to do the best that I can. Like, me going back to a studio is the scenario of me conceding that Beacon didn't do very well for whatever reason and I need to find work. That sounds really, really bad.
No. It doesn't.
That's the outcome that I don't want. There are obviously still some studios I'd love to work at.
I think it's also worth pointing out that the number of people leaving bigger studios to go do their own thing does, at least, feel like it's rising or growing pretty quickly.
Everybody that I worked with had their own projects on the side.
But now, because of how easy it is to distribute video games with so many different platforms and tools getting so much easier for people to make things that they want to and actually get money from it, that's so much more exciting for a lot of people. And, yeah, we can take the risks. We can try something really weird, like if it's something that came out of a game jam or whatever. I think that's something that's very, very enticing for a lot of people of this mandate of, you can do this thing that, hey, it's a job you like, but there's not going to be much ownership in terms of the stuff that you've put your creative stamp on. And it's never going to feel like it's yours at bigger companies. It's going to be a little chunk that you worked on that got passed onto someone else and then passed onto someone else and filtered through until the final thing comes out. It's not like this kind of raw, unfiltered expression of what you want to do, what you want to put out there.
That's the exact reason why I left: I have this opportunity to try this, I can take this somewhere. I didn't want to settle into this compartment of making games for other people, if you know what I mean.
Yeah, not as far as audience, but as far as day to day.
Yeah. That's the main thing. It never actually felt like I was making this for myself. There were moments, of course. When the game got released, reception from big trailers and stuff like that. It was exciting and I was proud. It still felt like there was this barrier between me and the audience. There was never this connection which I get now from going to conventions as a developer and showing people my game and doing all that kind of stuff.
And I'm sure you learned some stuff, though.
Oh, no. This is the thing, I do not regret any of my time at these studios. I learned so much in terms of my technical skills and understanding of how games are put together on that scale and that's helped tenfold for sure on the stuff I'm working on now.
So could you be a person working at a studio reading this and thinking, "Well, the system works, then."
I would say it works for the most part, but it doesn't work that well. It could be a lot better.
I think there's a lot of things that need to be changed just to make conditions a lot better. Make people happier. Make people feel like they got more freedom to do things within the company in terms of not feeling like they're pressured into [feeling] their little side projects aren't allowed. Just an attitude of, "We support you as our employees. We want to put you on a mantle of being proud to be working here. This isn't a slog. You should be really, really engaged with the stuff that you're making and not think there's better stuff elsewhere." I find that the stuff I'm doing now is actually way more exciting.
If you get to that stage where you're like, "This stuff that I'm doing in my own free time is far more interesting than the stuff I've been doing for the last two years," then, maybe you need to start getting prepared to jump ship. [Laughs.]