Like the rest of the entertainment industry, video game developers have incredibly strict non-disclosure agreements. Sure, you can't leak secrets. But you also can't talk about long hours, or you're fired. You can't pat yourself on the back for hard work accomplished, or you're fired. You can't exist, or you're fired.
Companies say NDAs protect them in a harsh industry. Competitors can used leaked secrets to copy innovative ideas. Unapproved comments can give the video game press the wrong idea of a product. Fans can take an offhand joke the wrong way, sinking months of careful marketing and focus testing. But in reality, it's just a way to prevent you from revealing the Kafka-esque nightmare that is your job.
Think about the last big paper you had to write for a class. Wasn't that rough? Weeks of waking up early and staying up late, working on a project that will decide your future. Ugh. Thank God those days are over, right? Not in video games! In video games, every day is final paper day!
If you get a job in the video game industry, you will be expected to work late every night. And "late" doesn't just mean a few hours after 5. It means working late enough for your significant other to have three or four affairs and still be lonely by the time you get back.
Despite what you've been told, long hours aren't fun. They're not a Red Bull-fueled sleepover. They're not a LAN party. They're hellish memory holes of your life in which you'll struggle to get that Dora the Explorer game out the door before Christmas so you don't get fired.
Two words: Team Bondi.
If you don't know, Team Bondi developed L.A. Noire: one of the biggest and most successful titles of the year. And after designing one of the biggest and most successful titles of the year, everyone got fired and the company shut down forever. Merry Christmas!
Team Bondi, of course, is responsible for its own demise. Its executives didn't pay its employees their promised overtime, and the people who understandably complained about this fact got fired and had their names cut from the credits. So the good employees who wanted to be treated right were fired early, while the good employees who stayed quiet to keep their jobs were fired later. Everyone got fired! It was like Oprah was giving out pink slips.
And Team Bondi isn't the only one. X-Men: Destiny developer Silicon Knights went through a wave of firing only three months after receiving free money from Canada to hire new employees. Disney Interactive has fired over 300 employees this year. And those are just the big ones. Hundreds of smaller companies aren't forced to announce their layoffs to stockholders or the gaming press. They just fire people. They fire people because the project is over. They fire people because the project is slowing down. They fire people because the project is delayed. They fire people because the project is starting and, hey, why not fire some people?
Sometimes there's writing on the wall. Sometimes there isn't. Most of the time, you'll find out when you open Kotaku and see that, oh God, your video game company just fired everyone in the city you live in.
But, on the plus side, you'll get a nice recommendation letter for the next company that's going to fire you.