Sunday, January 4, 2015

I kinda work in the games industry

This post is sort of a combination of a lot of things that have been bouncing around in my head for a while.

I kinda work in the games industry. It's weird. The company I work for definitely makes games. We released several this year. But we make F2P/social games so I feel completely disconnected from the types of games that I like to play. A lot of my coworkers aren't really gamers. We don't really talk about games at lunch or when we talk about our weekends.

I don't know if working at other F2P/social game developers feels like this.

Gaming news sites don't write about our types of games, except for the rare one that penetrates into the public eye: Candy Crash, Clash of Clans, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Farmville, Words with Friends.

I play all of our games, at least to try them out. I've really enjoyed several of them. I'm even spent money in a couple of them with no regrets. These are definitely games, but they're different. They're not a subtype of "traditional" but more like a newly discovered relative. 

When G****gate flared up, nobody wanted us to take a stand. Nobody at work even talked about it. Only one person who I talked to about it had even heard of it.

Granted, we aren't really part of gaming culture. We're part of startup/tech culture. That's where we're located; that's who we recruit from; it's where people leave us to go. Our products live on the same platforms. We do the same analyses. By the same token the core group that influence the direction our games go, product managers (not designers), tend to come not from game design backgrounds, but business and finance. They come up with the features that go into the game and define how they should work. But they've never designed games before, never studied it at all.

We make games, but we aren't much of a gaming company.

Businesses include "goodwill" on their balance sheet sometimes. This reflects that there's more to a business than just their asset. That a brand has value. That's because a brand name can be exploited for monetary gains. Designing F2P games feels like managing "goodwill" at a personal level. Endear the player to the game enough that when the moment of pinch occurs (when the player's assets are not enough to overcome whatever challenge they face) that they will be sufficiently invested in the game to justify spending money on the game. Nobody likes spending money at these moments but, if you play it right, they will.

It's psychological manipulation as a business model. These aren't objects of art, dealing out enriching experiences. They can be fun but they aren't what I want to make.

When GDC rolls around, despite it being nearby I feel no compulsion to go. The talks there aren't for our games. They particularly aren't for me. My job isn't really one that exists in traditional gaming. I'm a data analyst. I don't design or code. I pull data from our databases to make sure the game is performing well and to investigate our user behavior. There's little need for my job when game development means putting a game out there and then mostly moving onto the next one. Our games live for a long time, we need to know how they're doing so we can make changes to make them better. To get more installs. To get more money from our players. I do good work. I'm always trying to figure out how to write better SQL, how to make better, more informative reports, how to make more productive insights. I'm proud of my work.

I've been thinking a lot about the upcoming year and I don't want to live in the Bay Area anymore. I like working where I do. I love working with the people I do. I love doing my work. If I could do my job but live anywhere I wanted to, I would in a heartbeat. I don't know where I would choose to move though. The Bay Area is just too big for our tastes, and it just doesn't work. We have to live too far away from where we work and still end up paying too much in rent to be able to save enough money to buy a house someday. And rent prices seems to be going up too fast for raises/promotions to make much of a difference.

But the one big goal for 2015 is to get the heck out of here. Whatever that takes. It's not somewhere practical to live the for a long time so we may as well get out of here now.