My "Dream Job" destroyed my life.
#1
Hi Everyone,

I have a degree in Game Art and Design.  The path to this degree was extremely rocky... but somehow I've managed to get a few paid opportunities to provide art (mostly 2D) for small games.

Last May I was somewhat unexpectedly offered my "dream job."  I was contacted by a startup who needed character art for a large-scale fantasy-rpg-inspired web browser game.  I was soooooo excited.  Finally all my college struggles were going to pay off and I could FINALLY feel validated!   I would be mostly working from home, as the other people involved were living in other states.  The core premise for the game is a really good idea, the guy running the start up was really excited to have me on, and he told me multiple times that I could see this game as "my baby", making clear implications I could be involved in it's core design.

When I started there were 4 people on this team.  My boss, my boss's friend as lead programmer, a student programmer, and myself as "Lead Artist".    I started off doing the logo and some odds and ends to get a webpage going for the game.  My boss (an "entrepreneur", not an artist) would Skype me daily to check in on my progress, usually only for a few minutes of a screen share.   The lead programmer and the student worked together pretty closely throughout the day from what I could see, but I didn't interact with the programmers much.  There were never any meetings or discussions with all 4 of us, and no emphasis on collaboration between either department.

The job pretty quickly went south; I was asked to do a lot of web-layout stuff, which I struggled with quite a bit, so I was eventually moved to doing a bunch of small assets for a Kickstarter campaign.   As the work progressed I was seeing more and more problems with the core structure of the game; unfleshed-out ideas, things that just didn't make sense for game-play, unstructured systems that would require potentially years of work and practically unlimited content, stuff that was totally out of scope for a team of 4, for 1 artist.   

The main thing I was hired for was to build a 2D character generator that could create a large volume of characters (500+, and counting to this day, I think its 700+ now?).  I needed a some structure and limitations in order for this to be feasible.  I spent some extra time one weekend and put a pitch to clear up the lore and propose that each faction (2) should have a set amount of clearly defined races (5).  My pitch was a bit of unique twist on classic fantasy races, and the 10 total races I chose were clearly distinct humanoids that individually would all be about equal in terms of power. Previously my boss had staple fantasy races (Elves, Dwarves, etc) mixed with ideas varying as widely as "Spider" to "Giant" to "Undead Horse".  A great number of things he wanted to include could not even be technically considered "races".  I attempted to consolidate some of these into the races I chose in my pitch.  I felt this new lore would put a much needed limit on the potential different characters and combinations I'd need to create, a limit on the possible permutations the programmers would need to code for, and create a compelling lore story that made the world and structure of the game believable and unique.

He said he thought the lore twist was interesting, but couldn't make the creative leap to make it work for him.  He liked some of my other ideas, and some of the races, but none of the things that were important in the much-needed structuring the game.  He was unwilling to set any limits on the races.  So it was basically "yeah great, go with that idea just minus all the important parts that made it actually work".

A lot of the time I was just told not to worry about that stuff until it came up, that we're using SCRUM methodology and planning wasn't important.  This didnt work for me: I'm used to concept design, I'm good at GDD documents and planning, I believe games need structure and clear goals.   I needed structure and clear goals, and I wasn't getting any of that.  I saw so many glaring problems in the future if the game's structure wasn't defined and the scope wasn't reigned in.

After the kickstarter campaign failed in October my boss started contacting me less and less.  The student programmer was "let go".  They were starting a closed alpha instead.  Contact and workload kind of trailed off and it seems like this project has taken a backburner for my boss, but I cant tell with so little contact.

I've started having to initiate conversation with him, and we started butting heads a little when I tried to express my concerns with scope.   I've tried to offer what I felt we're reasonable compromises to problems I was having with the scope (like, after 13 classes we're added to the game one week based on "community feedback", I suggested we just pick 5 or 6 I could focus for now: not acceptable).  My ideas and suggestions we're talked around or shot down every time. I was told not to worry so much about the future implications, or to do just do it the same way I did it last time (after my first race template, which at the time was more of a proof-of-concept).  I left most of these conversations feeling defeated and depressed.  Currently I'm in the process of making character templates.  The number of races needed right now has been narrowed to 7, 2 of them are done, and 2 of them have never been discussed or concepted, all due on April 1st.

But hey, he recently got me an unpaid intern that I have to manage!  When what I need is a peer...
  
I know I am super lucky to have a job paying me a living wage to just make assets in Photoshop all day.  I'm super lucky to have a job in my degree field at all, because I am not confident in my work and I'm scared of the industry.  I know I should just stop caring and just do the work, just half-ass whatever random thing he requests.  He's clearly not an artist, not someone who really values art, and will probably be just fine with everything I give him.   I could probably spend 5-6 hours a day working on "work" and the rest just working on my own stuff.  But I just can't.  I can barely work on this anymore, I just get distracted and frustrated and super depressed.

I hate my job.  I've been saying that for months.   I'm scared to talk to my boss.   On top of this working from home and living alone as an introvert has completely isolated me, leading to a deep depression.   I know I need to quit, but I'm terrified about what this says about me.  I'm scared that this means I can't be an artist or a game designer.  That I don't have what it takes, that I just can't put in the effort to be good at this, that following this path will only ever hurt me.  Do I even enjoy this?  Do I even want to be good at this?

Part of me really wants someone to come out and say "Just stop, you're not supposed to be an artist, go do IT or something."   Part of me wants to think the dilemma I'm having is proof that I am supposed to be an artist and I'm clearly passionate about Game Design.  I'm so torn over this.





TLDR; My "Dream Job" destroyed my life.

Sorry for the rant, I just want people's opinions or ideas or to know if anyone has a similar story and how they dealt with it.

Thanks for reading,
-Facto
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#2
'Scrum adopts an empirical approach—accepting that the problem cannot be fully understood or defined, focusing instead on maximizing the team's ability to deliver quickly, to respond to emerging requirements'

I'm going to make a guess and say that your boss probably read that as: 'Predicting where problems may occur and reacting to them ahead of time is a form of planning, so forget that. People can't really  plan ahead, they think they can, but actually the best thing you can do is try to dodge bullets at the last possible moment.'

Sounds like your boss is a postmodernist and doesn't know what he's doing. If that's what's going on here it explains most if not all of the problems you are having. This kind of approach sounds tempting if you've never tried to apply it to a real problem because of the freedom it promises, and it's true that completely structured systems are rigid and you can't easily make changes at later stages if you rely on them, but systems without a structure just fall apart halfway throughout construction, unless you induce them with the structure called 'knowing what you are doing'. The nice thing about systems that impose a structure on your approach is that they take away part of that burden from you.
You can apply this concept to art as well: A lot of highly skilled artists don't have a structured approach to painting, but as a beginner you need  those structures to be able to learn, and you're reliant on them until you've internalized their underlying logic. Sure, it's restricting, but you can't skip the internalization process and jump straight to doing whatever the hell you feel like.

As for your question: Obviously, if you need the money you can just keep going, but you don't seem to be all too happy with your situation, and finding meaning in what you do isn't just healthy, it's also pretty important to progressing as an artist. If you feel like you aren't enjoying art because of your job, and perhaps even stagnating, you may want to prioritize your wellbeing and your love for art over your financial situation.

Hope I got across what I'm trying to say, and it makes at least a little bit of sense. If it doesn't feel free to disregard it.

________________________
Project / Sketches / Paintings
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#3
(02-24-2016, 03:24 PM)Lodratio Wrote: 'Scrum adopts an empirical approach—accepting that the problem cannot be fully understood or defined, focusing instead on maximizing the team's ability to deliver quickly, to respond to emerging requirements'

I'm going to make a guess and say that your boss probably read that as: 'Predicting where problems may occur and reacting to them ahead of time is a form of planning, so forget that. People can't really  plan ahead, they think they can, but actually the best thing you can do is try to dodge bullets at the last possible moment.'

Sounds like your boss is a postmodernist and doesn't know what he's doing. If that's what's going on here it explains most if not all of the problems you are having. This kind of approach sounds tempting if you've never tried to apply it to a real problem because of the freedom it promises, and it's true that completely structured systems are rigid and you can't easily make changes at later stages if you rely on them, but systems without a structure just fall apart halfway throughout construction, unless you induce them with the structure called 'knowing what you are doing'. The nice thing about systems that impose a structure on your approach is that they take away part of that burden from you.
You can apply this concept to art as well: A lot of highly skilled artists don't have a structured approach to painting, but as a beginner you need  those structures to be able to learn, and you're reliant on them until you've internalized their underlying logic. Sure, it's restricting, but you can't skip the internalization process and jump straight to doing whatever the hell you feel like.

As for your question: Obviously, if you need the money you can just keep going, but you don't seem to be all too happy with your situation, and finding meaning in what you do isn't just healthy, it's also pretty important to progressing as an artist. If you feel like you aren't enjoying art because of your job, and perhaps even stagnating, you may want to prioritize your wellbeing and your love for art over your financial situation.

Hope I got across what I'm trying to say, and it makes at least a little bit of sense. If it doesn't feel free to disregard it.


Thank you for you comments.  

In my attempts to structure things I've always tried to keep the goal of creating something that could be built upon and evolved, but had a solid core to fall back on.  As an artist I feel like the scrum method leads to a lot of wasted assets that aren't going to be useful later, and thus a waste of my time.   I am definitely still a beginner, and not having clear direction or limits, having "pretty much anything imaginable" be a possibility at any given point has been really paralyzing to me in coming up with anything.  My boss clearly wants to let community feedback dictate the direction of the game (this is what he tried to do with the kickstarter), and I'm left trying to figure out how to respond to that, having no say in how it effects me as the artist.

I have an opportunity to move to Seattle and stay rent free with a friend for a while, I'm hoping that this will give me time to come to terms with this job not working out and figure out what I really want to do.
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#4
It sounds to me you have been doing a good job with trying to get the project somewhere. And that your boss has a clear image on how he wants it, but is not realistic about the way he wants to achieve it. And I don't think it means that you cannot do art as a living, because it is not the art part that is not working out, but the way of working. And I doubt that everybody in industry works like that. So, don't decide you are not made to be an artist based on a bad work experience.

And try to figure out if the trouble the job is causing on your well being is worth having the job.

On a bit more positive note; you have some experience, you have worked somewhere (even if it didn't work out), and you also know what to pay attention to for your next job.

I hope it helps a bit.

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#5
First an answer to the existentialist dilemma: NO. Absolutely in no way does your current situation indicate that you don't have what it takes to be an artist long term. Everything actually seems to indicate the opposite to me.

This problem has been created by your boss's management style and approach to your work despite your best attempts at making the best of it and trying to do your best for yourself and the team. From my own experience in IT and using agile methodology including scrum for many projects unfortunately it doesn't really matter what methodology is followed or where and what you work as, when you work in a team where your direct manager is being an ass who doesn't properly show appreciation or allow employees to share their views and who thinks he knows best even when he is clearly out of his depth.

I forget the exact stats but a gallup engagement poll done globally found that the percentage of employees who rated their manager as under performing and being the main reason for their low engagement at work is something in the realms of 75%. Globally! You know what this means? No matter where you work, 3 out of 4 times, you will get an ass of a direct manager who makes your life as an employee harder than it needs to be!  I can attest to this in direct experience from a decade of corporate working myself. I have lots of experience with bad managers and I have managed small teams of people myself who rated me in the 1/4 category. Go me. At least I know what a good manager needs to be doing for their employees, because that's what they are there for: work for the employees, not the other way around!

So that's the reality; the manager makes all the difference and unfortunately you didn't get the lucky 1/4 draw. The upside is you are learning valuable lessons in patience and dealing with frustration and another is you are starting to learn what not to do if you ever have to lead a team in the future.

There is something I think you should try first to make the situation better, before you do anything else.

Open an honest line of communication with your boss.

Honesty I think really is the best policy most of the time. You have tried, but I think you have tried in a round about way by suggesting improvements and other things which are unfortunately mostly being shot down without satisfactory consideration.   Do NOT be scared to talk to him.

You need to talk honestly about your exact feelings with your boss. You have to tell him without pointing the finger of blame at him or being openly hostile or combative. Don't make him feel threatened (like making threats of leaving etc) but you have to say that you have been losing engagement in your work because of the various things you mentioned: Lack of proper communication and discussion, that you feel your views and suggestions and expertise (You may be a 'beginner' but you know a damn sight more about art than he ever will!) is not being given adequate consideration, especially when you believe it is directly impacting on your ability to deliver a good product individually and as a team. You can demonstrate this by things like, saying how excited and pumped you were in the beginning, but that over time things deteriorated andyou have come to a point where you are getting little enjoyment or fulfillment out of the process as it stands, and that you want to be able to be fully engaged and excited again.

You will need to have thought about and have ready, some suggestions for when he asks, "So what do you want me to do?" in the case that he has no suggestions on how to proceed. You need to have your best solutions to the worst problems ready. These don't have to be just related to the game itself, but also how you guys work together, and what your needs are. 

There is no guarantee that he will suddenly turn about and become boss of the year, but if you do not bring your concerns to light, in a way he can relate to, they will get NO focus at all and nothing will change.   They will just get worse. Bad managers often need to be managed into doing their job properly and that tends to fall on the shoulders of the insightful proactive employee.  He needs to realise that something is in dire need of improvement.  If he means well but through incompetence just hasn't realised the effects on you, a key member of the team, there is every chance he will take steps to make things better. Or he may not. The worst managers are that way because they are totally arrogant stupid pricks (can you tell I'm bitter much? :) ) so hopefully he isn't one of those.

This I think is the first thing to try before you make any decisions about your future. I think you should do this soon and let us know what the response is.

In general the fact that he seems to be losing interest and the work is dwindling, isn't really a good sign overall, so you should definitely have a plan B and C formulating in your mind. If heaven forbid the whole thing is canned without much warning, at least you will have a strategy to fall back on.

One thing you shouldn't do is to internalise the situation and question yourself, unless you are actually a part of the problem. It doesn't sound like you are from what I've read.  

I also found this interesting looking article about scrum in game development. I haven't read it all, but there might be some useful tidbits on there when you are looking at how your team is being run within Scrum. Your setup doesn't sound particularly textbook SCRUM-y at the moment, and being remote probably makes it a little harder, but who knows maybe there will be something interesting in the article for you.

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/13...scrum_.php

The isolation and depression is a very common thing as someone who also works from home and mostly only talks to the cat during the week. You have to take active steps to counter that. Make sure you have a life out of work, that you get some face-face social time in, be active, exercise, eat well, etc. Also you SHOULD work on your own projects outside of work. Something that you are in total control of yourself.

I hope this will be useful for you!

 YouTube free learnin! | DeviantArt | Old Folio | Insta
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#6
Thank you Amit!

I do wish I would've tried to express my concerns more clearly sooner (there's a million drafts in my inbox...), but I fear the time for this has pretty much passed and I need to be committed to moving on to better things now.

At this point I just don't really want to be involved anymore. I've developed an intense dislike for my boss and the whole situation in general and I just don't think that can be repaired, regardless of what changes he's willing to make. Even if he was willing to let me write a GDD and control the whole thing. But who knows. I have a feeling he will very much want me to stay and I'm very nervous about the conversation we'll undoubtedly have after I submit my email notice.

Right now I'm timing my two weeks to avoid having to do the last 3 races. The two that haven't been discussed or developed yet (and don't really fit into the gameplay IMO) and one that he cherry-picked and added to the roster from my initial pitch. I really like this race idea and I'd much rather keep it for myself to use in future projects.
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#7
Ah good, so you already decided to move on? Ok, well more power to you and good luck!
I think there is a lesson to be learned there, to definitely speak out when you have concerns. Letting things fester definitely makes things worse.
Try not to be nervous about talking to him. Remember after all, you are a free being able to do whatever the heck you want! :)

I'm going to play devil's advocate here for a bit just in case. Be absolutely sure that you have thought out the consequences of quitting a steady art job before securing another one, and that it isn't solely an emotional decision. I rage/frustration quit my day job a year ago to go freelance because I just couldn't "take it" any more. While I don't regret that decision because regrets are pointless, I can say that the naivete and delusion in which I quit because of the emotions was full blown, and I am very much paying for that decision a year later. Financially I'm in dire straits, because of course freelance work is hard as hell to get, and it doesn't pay well or consistently when you aren't hitting AAA level or equivalents in other areas. In hindsight it would have made so much more sense to stick it out at my job a few months more, to get rid of certain expenses, before running out the door!

I'm in no way trying to change your mind, I know how it feels to want to leave a job so bad it hurts, but I just want to be sure you have looked honestly at your situation with dispassion as well. Emotions don't tend to help us make good decisions.

And having said that, good luck on the new adventure wherever it takes you!!

 YouTube free learnin! | DeviantArt | Old Folio | Insta
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#8
I definitely learned a lot of lessons from this.

Unfortunately this is part of a somewhat emotional decision. I'm kind of at a point where a lot of personal stuff is colliding and I need to make a choice. However, I've identified this job as the primary source of my unhappiness. I've known I wanted to quit for a while now, it was just a matter of when. I have an opportunity to take some time to figure out what I want to do and not worry so much about finances. I'll probably do something non-art related (My favorite job ever was as a Barista... or I have a fallback in IT) and just try to focus on enjoying and improving my art as a hobby.

This experience has really gotten me to thinking how much more passionate I am about the actual design of a game as a whole. Maybe my digital art should just be a supplementary skill and I should focus on different skills that could get me involved in actually making games. I have spent a LOT of time thinking about structure and process and management in all this, even getting a little fired up about it. Maybe the spectacular failure of this project and its management is meant to inspire me to take some project management courses?

Would adding that "I'm leaving the project to pursue a career in project management" too opaquely insulting? :P

Yeah, I'm not really gonna say anything like that.
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#9
ha ha, all good! Sounds like you need to do a little bit of finding a direction again so a change is not a bad idea at all. I don't think there is any problem at all in shifting gears and heading towards new found passions. I guess the experience has probably tainted your view of working as an artist somewhat, but there will undoubtedly be roles out there with great teams that work well!

Just tell him he has been an utterly incompetent fuckwit and you are running away from the approaching trainwreck . :)
Anyways, yeah good luck whatever you do!

 YouTube free learnin! | DeviantArt | Old Folio | Insta
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#10
Sheesh. Sounds like some of the failed amateur projects I've lent my help to [unpaid, no less].

I'm surprised you did get paid. I wonder how money could possibly have been garnered from something that wasn't planned, wasn't generating input, and failed a kickstarter that was created after the team was brought together.

Kudos on the degree, and it's ideal that you'd go after indie-projects rather than going for larger studios as they tend to be more profitable in the short run and are a good foothold.

Indie projects should be operated just as small businesses. A marketing plan, a production plan and THEN a personnel plan before financing and working upon a distinguished concept. This just seemed like a hot mess.

Above all, you should take it as one of the most important lessons in your career. The renowned 'What-not-to-do.'



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