What is a typical day in the life of a video game developer?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Mpho S., who asks, “The main thing I’m worried about when it comes to considering a career in gaming, is wondering what a day to day cycle looks like. What is a typical day as a game developer?”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What a typical day is like for a video game developer
  • The common stereotypes of a game development studio
  • Where the common stereotypes come from, and why even the bad ones have a grain of truth

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello there. Welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide podcast. This is episode number 18. I am Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games. Today’s question is from Mpho S. Mpho left a comment on the website to ask, “The main thing I’m worried about when it comes to considering a career in gaming is wondering what a day to day cycle looks like. What is a typical day as a game developer?”

Thanks to popular movies and comic strips, I think there are two different stereotypes for a game studio. One is that people come into the office late, spend all day playing ping pong and shooting Nerf guns over the cubicle walls, and spend very little time at their desks actually working. Desks which, by the way, are covered in Lego toys and Star Wars action figures. The other stereotype is almost the exact opposite. It paints a picture of a game studio as a hellish, white-collar sweatshop where bleary eyed and beaten down developers consume gallons of energy drink so they can slog through day after day of relentless 90 hour work weeks.

Which one of these stereotypes is closest to reality? Like many stereotypes, each one actually contains at least a few grains of truth. I’ve certainly played my fair share of ping pong when I could have been working, but I’ve also slogged through the 90 hour work weeks trying to get an unreasonable product done in time to meet an unreasonable deadline. Although my stimulant of choice wasn’t energy drinks, it was a combination of strong black coffee and speed metal turned up way too loud in my headphones. Game development is a project based job so the amount of work and the amount of stress is variable depending on which phase of the project you’re currently in and how well the project is going at any given time.

But Mpho asked about a typical day, so let’s avoid either of those extremes and instead we’ll walk through a description of what an average day as a game developer might look like.

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First off, game studios generally start the day later than most offices. There are usually a few people who start work early like around 7 or 8 a.m. but most of the office really starts warming up closer to 9:00 or 9:30 in the morning. Since most game employees are salaried workers, there’s no punching in and out to track hours. There’s a lot of flexibility as to which hours you work and when each employee starts and stops work for the day is up to that employee.

Once everybody is in the office it’s pretty common to have a team meeting especially for studios that use Scrum as a development method. Teams will usually have a morning stand-up meeting to talk about what they accomplished the day before, what they’re going to accomplish today, and discuss any problems that might be blocking their progress. After that everybody goes back to their desks to handle email, plan their day, and get to work.

Most of the day is spent doing the core part of the job. Artists will spend that time planning and creating the game art. Programmers will spend the time writing and debugging source code. Designers might spend it by writing documentation or putting together a game levels and so on. Then worker usually go lunch around noon, sometimes later. If the studio is at a location nearby a restaurant some people might go out to eat lunch. Whereas some might go to the studio’s dining area to eat lunch that they brought. Some of the larger studios might have a cafeteria and serve a daily lunch that’s subsidized or even free for studio employees.

Throughout the day there may be additional meetings among a game teams subgroups. Usually to make additional plans or make specific decisions about an area of the game. For example, what certain characters should look like or do or how a particular game system should be coded. There are also occasional play-through meetings where parts of the team play areas of the game that have recently been completed and then they talk about what might still be missing or about what can be improved. Then at the end of the day, maybe around 7:00 PM in the evening, that’s when people start ending their workdays and going home for the night.

That’s what a typical workday looks like at a typical game studio. But what about a non-typical day? What about that stereotype of 90 hour work weeks, where does that come from?

The fact is that many game studios do have what we call “crunch-time.” It’s when a project is getting close to being completed but it’s actually running behind game schedule and the game developers are expected to work overtime to get everything finished. That can mean working late nights and even working all weekend long, whatever it takes to get a job done. If the crunch-time is short, like maybe just for a week or two, it’s not too bad. The work life of a game developer is generally comfortable so a little bit of overtime in short bursts is pretty easy to swallow. But when it goes on for too long, for weeks or even for months, that’s when it starts to cause problems with the developers health and a personal life. That does happen sometimes at some game studios and that’s where the bad stereotypes come from. They’re partially true.

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I spoke more about work-life balance in episode three of the podcast. So you can go back and listen episode three if you’d like more information about crunch-time.

But overall, working at a game studio is very comfortable compared to many other jobs, even compared to other white-collar office jobs. Game developers are generally a fun, pop-culture loving group of people and they bring that sense of fun into the office. That’s why you’re definitely going to find action figures, Lego’s, Nerf guns, remote controlled drones, and other “toys for grown-ups” in any game studio you walk into. It’s how the relatively well paid game developers express their interests and how they blow off steam during crunch-time.

I hope that gives you a good sense of what it’s like to live a day in the life of a video game developer. Thanks to Mpho for the question and thank you for spending a few minutes with me today. It was fun. Please help me spread the word about this podcast by sharing with a friend. For more information and inspiration on getting and growing your job making video games, come and visit me at gameindustrycareerguide.com. I’m Jason W. Bay and I will see you again next week right here on the Game Industry Career Guide podcast.

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2 comments on “What is a typical day in the life of a video game developer?
  1. Destiny says:

    Omg! This really helps. I want to be a video game developer, and this is information that I needed for my research paper. Thank you. ^ ^

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