The game industry is a pretty young one, relatively speaking. Within the last 30 years, a lot of studios have grown up from their humble beginnings in peoples basements and garages. Because of the success of those companies, theyve grown into huge businesses, with high tech, shiny studios to make their games in. And even though most people making games today were never a part of that early scene, some basic threads of it still define part of the culture of most studios. Theres a - casualness, lets call it - to working in a game studio. Its a huge draw for most. But like everything, theres an upside and a downside: for example, Im eternally grateful that I dont have to wear a suit to work every day. The downside is that when Im asked to be the Best Man at a wedding, I only have three striped Gap shirts, that are, for some reason, stuffed into a pillow case at the back of my closet, to choose from. (This only partially explains why Ive never been asked to be the Best Man at a wedding.) I know Im not alone on this. A lot of game devs dont know how to dress up when the time is right, apart from putting on their formal cargo shorts (those are the ones with the built-in belt). We are an industry that doesnt do Casual Fridays, because how could we possibly dress more casually, unless we showed up in our underpants? We do Formal Fridays, which is the one time a week I get to pull those Gap shirts out of the pillowcase.Our sartorial deficiencies aside, there are other side effects of the casual attitude in gaming studio culture that affect all of us from time to time…
The common spaces in a studio are where a lot of coworker conflicts begin. Especially when the hours start getting long and the overtime dinner dishes start piling up. Coffee grinds clogging the drains! (That may or may not have been me.) Piles of dirty dishes stacked next to an empty dishwasher! Lumpy mold creatures that looked like they might have once been sandwiches, lurking in the fridge! Microwave explosions that look like crime scenes from Dexter! Its usually not long before tempers boil over and someones being aggressively questioned about the location and quality of their upbringing. (And, by the way: If you find yourself outraged at the pile of crusty, smelly coffee cups some concept artist has just dumped on the counter for someone else to put in the dishwasher, asking them Is this is how you treat your OWN kitchen? doesnt work. Most concept artists live in communal tree houses and eat what they can steal from squirrels.)
Look. Im not going to go into a lot of detail here, OK? You might be eating your lunch while you read this. Let me just make two points: One, There are things we do at home that should never be done at work. And Two, this drawing? This drawing happened. Lets move on.
Billion Dollar ShantyTown
A company I worked for built a huge, shiny new multi-million dollar studio a number of years ago. It was a big deal. Curved walls of glass, an indoor basketball court, gym, and a bunch of other sporty amenities that I could admire as I walked past them to the pop machines. It was Nerd-Mecca. We were going to move out of our shabby rented building and come to work in a studio custom built for us! The day we moved in was fantastic. The building practically gleamed. It had that new studio smell to it. But within hours of moving in, the cardboard boxes many employees had used to cart their things over the new space had been cut up and taped over the giant windows behind their desks. Apparently, they werent consulted regarding the amount of light coming into their workspaces, and they were not pleased. Within days, our shiny monument to the financial power of videogames had begun its transformation into a billion dollar shanty town. (The company prevented this from continuing by spending a lot MORE money on exterior window shades later on.) So just remember: An artists mouth may say I want a window seat, but their eyes say put me in an unlit bunker. With a case of Diet Coke.
One of the great things about working in such a casual, forward-thinking industry is that in some studios, you can bring your dog to work with you. This is a huge perk for a lot of people. Not only does it solve the problem of what to do with Rover all day (since doggie daycare can be incredibly expensive), but it creates a fun, warm workspace. Unless, of course, youre either afraid of, or allergic to dogs. Then, it turns a day at work into a sneezy, watery-eyed nightmare. I want to be clear, here; I am VERY pro-Dog in the workplace. I love dogs. Some of my best friends are dogs. But bringing them to work comes with certain challenges. If youre planning on bringing YOUR four legged best friend to work, its important to make sure that theyre ready for it. Your pooch humping your GMs leg, for example, is something you can mark down as a career-limiting move (unless theres mutual consent of course). And If youre walking Bowser through the studio, and everyone you walk past is scrambling to put their garbage cans up on their desks before he can stuff his head into them looking for scraps, its a good sign he may not be ready for the office. I know from experience. I brought my pup to work too soon, years ago. I learned the hard way that the last desk you want your dog relieving himself under belongs to the head of your IT department. I also learned this with my son when I brought him to work on a Sunday as a toddler, but thats another column.
When things boil over, and tempers flare, face to face confrontation is not always easy for artists and programmers, who are generally an introverted bunch. But while they may not be great at clear and direct face to face communication, theyre amazing at putting together disturbingly graphic emails. Ones that express their outrage over what they came across in the bathroom earlier this morning. Complete with photographic proof. Which they send out to the entire company.
Overall, the benefits of a relaxed workplace far outweigh the costs of these little annoyances.
The laid back attitude in games is what makes coming to work every day fun. Its what frees us up to play with ideas and make them a reality in our games. Just try to remember a couple of of things, and your coworkers will love you forever: Put your cups in the dishwasher. And flush.