Job Duel time!
Right now I'm painting book cover #25 in less than two years, among other things of course. And eventually I realized that I've always been passionate about every single book cover I did, no matter if it was supposed to be detailed or a "I can't pay much" thingie. I don't care much about "I can't pay much" if the people who say so are fine with what I can do in the time they pay for. And I never had my hands on any book cover which I just wanted to get done. Each single one was more like: Give me a deadline, or I will paint till I die from lack of caffeine!
Unfortunately this does not happen with all game projects. I don't speak of indie projects, but regular ones, well-paid and with an experienced team. Perhaps its because I have worked as a game designer in a day job for almost nine years. Perhaps it is because a game project runs over many months, up to years, while a book cover lasts one to three days of actual work, plus some time to communicate and get feedback. Perhaps it is because game projects tend do be work for an audience of which I'm not necessarily part, while I am certainly a reader and book fetishist (give me paper! With letters on it!).
But no. I also don't appreciate working all alone over teamwork, nor the other way round. The big difference between my two jobs, of which I don't want to miss one, are happy people.
Game projects wear a team out over time. Most of all the people who have to work overtime, either to catch a deadline or to catch theirs because someone else missed theirs earlier in the process. Changes need and have to be made. And all of that makes someone unhappy; just have a look at the programmers and QA, who work against time even after everyone else finished the bunch of their work.
This is when others disappear into holidays, while the core team lives on coffee and sleeps on the keyboard and sticks cynical cartoons to the office doors. Its part of the job. But it makes noone especially happy. Even when I went into my last three weeks of holidays and barely checked my e-mails in the evenings, I felt with the people who had to wait for my answers on design questions, who probably spent half the night coding or melted away at 38°C in the office, while I was watching underwater life in a cool lake. I think I'm enough of an egocentric to like my holidays anyways; but I did feel bad when I checked my e-mail.
Its hard to get a "yay! That's great!" feedback during the latest parts of a game project, unless everything runs smoothly (enter mad laughter about the impossible here). Mostly you'll hear things like "whew, finally it works".
The usual feedback is necessarily, critique, bug reports, polishing; things which have to be done, but rarely appear positive until they are resolved. The team is busy and focused on this, so there's no "rejoice, only two more months of crunch time!" ... unless someone is being sarcastic, which obviously does not help. Theres not even a reason to try and outweigh the neutral or even negative input with positive input, because the critique is needed in order to keep getting better.
When the game is eventually being announced somewhere, the best one can do is never to read the comments below an article or the forums. Leave that to the community people. There will be motivating comments, but there will also be trolls and mewling sissies. They have high expectations about a game they want, they're blinded by nostalgia, whatever. Even with a perfect game, you can never avoid the mewling sissies. (They are around books too, but try to find a negative comment on a decent cover or illustration from readers ... they're rather rare.)
That's the point when usually someone tells me "go look for a new job!" without realizing how they whine about their own job at times (silently or not), and that game design has its bright parts too, quite lots of them. I simply quitted the smiling, eager crowd who cries out "dream job!" to keep themselves going, which usually ends up badly.
Read this, and you'll know what I mean: http://www.lindsredding.com/2012/03/11/a-overdue-lesson-in-perspective/
I love my job. And I use to criticize the bad parts in things I love, so they'll be noticed by whomever they concern, and can be dealt with.
As much as I like making games, there's almost always a point where I consider a book cover in between as holidays. Even if this book cover means additional crunch time, I can both relax my brain and paint away, and as I mentioned above, the authors and publishers for whom I worked so far are amazing people. They say what they don't like; but most of all, they do say, and show, what they like. They aren't down and out from months of work. They're hitting the finishing straight. There's no severe bug or glitch that can throw a book off at this stage, and they know they'll get it wrapped up, literally. I work for the line in the final e-mail that reads like "thanks for putting color on my book and make it shine!"
With games, I have to wait for the release party, and the (hopefully) happy players are so far away and unheard of when I'm eventually catching up on sleep.
This is why right now, illustration wins over game design
for me. It makes people happy, and I get my share of this happiness right away. Perhaps I was just lucky to get the commissioners I have. To all of them:
Thank you, folks, you're great!
I'm curious how this will turn out with indie games ... once I find some time to work on them. I hope they'll also make a lot of people happy. :)