Why Video Game Developers Hate Business Types

Pull up a comfy chair Mr. Business Suit Guy and please allow me to explain to why game developers hate your guts.

I know, it's practically a cliche - video game developers don't get along so well with the business types. "But why?" you ask. "Don't I smile enough in meetings, chit-chat in the break room and throw up the high fives in the hallways?"

Make no mistake - things seem cordial on the surface but we game developers seethe with anger and resentment towards you clean-shirt-with-no-holes-that-lacks-a-video-game-logo types.

It's instinctual - and here's why:

We Bleed to Make These Games
Look, with game development, you have all the enormous headaches of software development. And not just any software development, likely development that pushes the boundaries of technology or at least gets several significantly complex kinds of technology to play well together. That shit is hard enough to start with.

And then on top of that, we have to make it "fun". And what the hell is "fun"?!? Nobody knows but everybody sure has an opinion. (Mention Raph Koster if you want a punch) So we're supposed to hit an ill-defined, ever-moving target which nobody can reliably articulate - but that everybody will second guess you on.

"Real" jobs are so much easier than game development.

This is just a job for you. We had to fight like wildcats to break into this business. We will put our blood, sweat and tears into making this game for years. We are probably making huge personal sacrifices - okay, maybe your average game developer sacrificing their social life isn't much of a loss - but still.

Your job just looks so fucking easy by comparison. 

You Don't Even Bother to Understand Our Product
I'm not talking about having memorized the bullet points from the marketing copy on the box.

Raise your hand if you're a CEO who completed Bioshock. Tried different endings in Mass Effect? A Marketing Manager who runs a guild of level 70's? A Biz Dev Director who unlocked the cow level?

Can you imagine the Ford CEO who rides a bike to work? The vegan Director of the Beef Council? The Television executive who prefers to curl up with a good book?

We care about this stuff - probably a lot (and more than is healthy). And you're really proud when you got out of the newb zone in WoW.

Did IQs Suddenly Drop While I Was Away?
It is really hard to keep a job in game development unless you are sharp. I'm not saying game developers are geniuses or without an exceedingly large number of crippling personality flaws. But being dumb is typically not one of them. Game development tends to foster a meritocracy environment for smart people - often at the expense of social niceties like pleasant conversation, non-threatening eye contact, regular bathing....

There are a lot of roles in business that can be occupied by, let us say, the less sharp pencils from the box - as long as they have a few social graces. 

When you march in that perky little PR associate with the perky little, uh, associate bits, we know damn well you didn't hire her for her IQ score.  

Liar, liar pants on fire
Look, there are weasels everywhere. Spectacularly slippery cunning uber-weasels. Believe me, there are no shortage of poseurs, preeners and pimps on the game development side.

BUT, the nature of creative work means that honesty can be rewarded. People who are honest about a game design that sucks have a chance of making it not suck. Which in turn, has a tendency to make the game more appealing to an audience. Sure, there are lots of exceptions - but we're talking general trends here.

And let's face it - how often does business reward honesty?

To be Truly Successful - We Have to Become You
Whether it's climbing the corporate ladder, going the indie entrepreneur route or building a game company studio, if a game developer is going to really succeed - they need to understand the business. And we fundamentally hate that.

Honestly, when you boil it all down, would rather just make and play awesome games.

Details like "making a profit" or "running a business" be damned.

- Sean Dugan is The Boss Monster’s founding editor and all-too-frequent contributor.

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Image by Mafleen


  1. Sean, I often find your blog to be insightful and worth reading, but this one is definitely a miss.

    Having worked on a few different products and with various teams over the years, I'm thankful that not all game developers are as filled with resentment and anger at their partners as you seem to think they should be.

  2. If I may add:
    Crunch Time Doesn't Apply to Business Suit Guys
    After the dev team has been putting in 80+ hour work-weeks for a few months the CEO decides to "show some solidarity" with the workers by staying in the office after business hours for a bit. What's he doing in there? Playing the game we're working on.

    The Myth that CEOs Earn their Pay
    The idea that somehow top level management deserve their exorbitant pay by "adding value" to a company is shown to be the farce it is in game development. We're making a product; the success or failure of that product will determine the future of the company. The quality of the team makes the difference between a poorly conceived and implemented flop game and a gorgeous, innovative runaway success. Why is the CEO of our tiny company getting paid five times more than I am?

    CEO as Game Designer
    It's an industry cliché: the guys in suits (who have no actual development experience) dictate game design to the developers. Sometimes it's due to "market data" or player surveys, sometimes it's driven by personal whim. The CEO has decided the new MMO should have a section that plays like Mario Cart. The designers have explained that this not only won't work, but will gobble up all our development resources to implement it, leaving a feature-barren game, but the CEO has spoken! If he really wants to be a designer that badly, perhaps he should take the pay cut...

    Developers Have the Most Invested in the Success of the Company
    If a company goes belly-up, it's the developers who suffer, not so much the "guys in suits." Years of blood and tears with nothing to show for it; one less shipped title on their resumes to hurt the developers when they go to look for a job. The guys in suits have a few more years experience on their resumes, though: it hardly matters to their futures even if they drove the business into the ground.
    Not to mention the compensation issues: the developers are working for less than average pay, but with the promise of a bonus when the game ships. If they're lucky the game will ship, if they're really lucky they won't be laid off just as the game ships. Management will be getting their bonuses, though, and even if they aren't, their higher salaries gave them a financial cushion to fall back on.

    You can't Polish a Turd, but you can Flush Gold down the Crapper
    Great marketing can only help a terrible game so much, but the best game in the world can be let down by a bad release effort (not to mention that money spent on marketing a game during development can mean that it doesn't have the funds to be finished). So in some sense, developers know that once the game has left their hands, all anyone else can do is screw up its potential.

    @ Kevin Balentine: What magical fantasy land do you hail from? I like to imagine it has talking dogs and streets paved with gold. ;)
    Seriously though, I find all the kvetching and venting of spleen happens well outside the office, so unless you spend a lot of time hanging out with developers in your free time, you're not likely to ever see any of it. Also it's perhaps not so much "filled with... anger" as "containing some portion of irritation."

  3. @bob_d Actually, I do spend a lot of time hanging out with game developers in my free time and I consider a lot of them to be very close friends. This is why I understand that Sean's column is only indicative of a certain portion of the dev community.

    And forgive me if I see anger when someone essentially calls me a stupid liar, but telling someone why you "hate their guts" is not indicative of "some portion of irritation."

    Tension between marketing and development can be a positive force for both teams. Name calling is not. Blaming "suits" for all the ills of the gaming world is not productive and it's an oversimplification.

    I've worked with Sean in the past and I've seen plenty of spleen vented in the office (not necessarily from him to be clear). That's why this IS a problem for developers, publishers and the game industry as a whole. Rather than building partnerships, you've got a house divided.

    That doesn't benefit anyone.

    One last thing, if I lived in a fantasy land, the beer would be Belgian, the games would be old school pen & paper RPGs, and the dogs wouldn't talk. I know what my dog would say if she could, "Is it time to eat? Can I have some food? I'm so hungry!!!" Who wants to put up with that? I'm ok with streets paved with gold, however.

  4. @Kevin Balentine:
    I thought Sean's post was written in a tone of comedic hyperbole that pokes fun at irrational developer prejudices while also explaining why they exist. (I think Sean's last point is a good example.)

    I also could easily see Sean writing a post entitled something like "Game Developers: Why Serious Business People Hate the Miserable Little Toe Rags"... and it would overlap with this post. (Gods know game developers have serious problems that annoy those working with them, and I say this as a game developer.)

  5. It's fine, we can agree to disagree on the tone of the article. I can admit that it's possible I read too much into it, but personal experience always colors interpretation.

  6. Kevin man, you're the exception that proves the rule! I mean, you actually have, like, played a game or two. Heck, if you refused to shower regularly and were filled with spite, somebody might mistake you for a developer. :)

    I'd write about the reasons everybody hates game devs - but come on. Fish + barrel + Bazooka.

    Seriously though, underneath it all, the horse I suppose I'm beating to death with this blog is that the business and game development sides of the equation really need to get closer together. It bothers me how separate the two sides can be from each other. I mean, how shocked is the industry when EA's Riccitiello can actually talk about the games themselves and say intelligent things about the design of Mirror's Edge or Deadspace. And how heartbreaking is it to see game developers get into business situations way over their heads that result in Infinity Ward. You see a lot of business savvy technical types in Silicon Valley focused on web business/products - and I'd like to see more of that in the game industry.

  7. I've tried to kick that pesky showering habit, but it just doesn't work for me!

    But yeah, 100% agreed, the business side and dev side MUST get closer if we are to move past the current industry paradigm and toward whatever the next phase is going to be.