Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Trust Issues
Why Developers Dislike Promoting Internally

First, I’d like you to read “My Boss is an Idiot” if you haven’t already, as this topic is directly related to that one. Secondly, I’d like to point out that everything I write here is an opinion piece. Though I have dealt with several game companies over the past 10 years, this is not indicative of EVERY game studio (although, I have yet to find one that doesn’t fall into the trap of this particular line of thinking). That said, this is my impression of what I’ve seen and experienced within the game industry as it related to promoting people internally (particularly to lead positions and mostly lead design positions).

When it comes to promotions, the people in charge really don’t like to move you from one position to another for several reasons.

1. They have to increase your pay significantly. Most people expect a 10k or more salary boost when they get a promotion, or more when it’s a lead position. Most game companies don’t want to hand out extra money like that, so they look for ways to get the same work out of you without promoting you. It’s a delicate balancing act because eventually you’ll get fed up and leave, so they’ll try to dangle just the right amount of carrot to keep you working.

2. They would likely have to replace your old position which means a new salary or promoting someone else up from a junior position. That’s a lot more money they have to spend, but also, they may have lost your services in another area. Are you irreplaceable in your current position? You probably won’t be promoted unless you threaten to quit…

3. The people already occupying your position may feel threatened or may threaten to quit if they promote you. Nothing will keep you out of a lead position like your own lead. Most leads (in my experience) are not able to recognize their own shortcomings (hell, the last 3 lead game designers I had all didn’t play video games and one was an alcoholic to boot). They sure as shit don’t want to deal with you coming into their “territory” and showing them up. They’ll do anything they can to keep you down under their thumb and keep the blinders on the higher ups because as long as they do that, their own weaknesses may never be noticed.

4. You don’t have any lead experience, so the company feels it’s a huge risk. They want to bring in someone who already has had lead experience. It’s the great catch-22, because if no one trusts you with a lead position, you can never get the lead experience you need for them to consider you a good candidate for a lead position. It’s quite stupid, but your only option in these situations seems to be to go to another company where they’ll hire you directly into a lead position. Meaning, you get to go into a new company with no knowledge of their tools or work habits, and you’re suddenly in charge of a group of people who are VERY knowledgeable about those things. Now you’re the stupid boss from the My Boss is an Idiot article…

5. They don’t think you’ll be a good lead. This is a hard one, but if they don’t think you’re going to be a good lead, they’re never ever going to promote you to be one. Why they think you’ll suck as a lead is irrelevant, because if they think it, you can’t get the position. Your only option is to move to another company where they might be more likely to see your positive leadership traits (so update your resume and prepare to quit).

6. You’re too junior. It seems every n00b who enters the industry thinks they’ve got all the ideas and abilities to lead a good project these days. Trust me, you don’t. Even at 10 years of experience I wonder how I’ll do if I’m ever handed the reigns to a project. I have a pretty damn good idea as my game design sense is sharp, but you’re not just leading the design of the game. You’re leading a group of people, and you can’t stomp on their ideas without good reason, but neither should you ignore them just because you like your own idea better. Collaboration and camaraderie are huge factors in a project coming together well, and those things are just learned and earned over time.

7. They think they know you too well and are afraid of what you’ll do. Sadly this has been where I usually get stopped. My passion to make great games often comes across as zealotry. I’ve had more than a few outbursts in my day, but time has taken the edge off and I’m getting better at tasting my words before I let others consume them. When frustrated or when dealing with people who are very clearly being stupid, I can get riled up again, but then, I don’t really want to work with them anyways so it usually ends up exactly as I prefer it (with their company going down in flames and me at a much better company)… 😉

Those are the main factors that I’ve seen when it comes to a company denying a person a promotion, especially a lead position. Sometimes they’re right to do so, sometimes not so much. Though I have seen a flock of people trying to get into the game industry (and into design in particular) that think they have the chops to lead a project when they clearly don’t. So, when you’re thinking about leading a project or asking for a promotion, you need to be honest with yourself first. Can you really handle the responsibility, or are you trying to get something you don’t deserve? Do you want the lead position because you can do a good job, or because a narcoleptic ape would be preferable to your current lead?

There’s honestly little to nothing you can do about the company’s decisions on whether or not to promote a person or hire an outside lead (as poor as those decisions may be). Just make certain that you’re honest with yourself and know when you’re ready for such responsibility, and know to say no when you’re not. More importantly (and this goes out to a lot of my former leads), you need to know when you’ve lost the ability to do your job well and ask to step down when you have.

There’s no dishonor in a commander stepping down, but if you take everything down with you because of your refusal to see the obvious, expect to be hated vehemently (forever).

posted by CommanderHate at 2:55 pm  

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the insight, Commander!

    Comment by Kohyunu — April 22, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

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