If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you love playing video games. I do, too. It something you may not really think about but I say video games of today are little modern miracles and the people who put their blood, sweat and tears to make them deserve a lot of credit.
But while we all show out heartfelt appreciation for the more prolific visionaries in video games. We have exemplary icons like Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima, Gunpei Yokoi, Will Wright, Sid Meyer and many more who have our adulation. Sadly, there are also tons more people who languish in obscurity despite having a huge hand in developing our most beloved video games. These are the people who deserve some, if not a lot, of the credit for bringing our favorite games to life. So, with that in mind, let me shine a spotlight on five of the most thankless jobs in the video game industry.
Let’s get the most obvious position out of the way early, shall we?
Let’s face it; without the programmers, we wouldn’t have any video games at all. No matter how creative the likes of the aforementioned video game titans are, they simply cannot will their ideas into reality. It takes dozens or hundreds of programmers clacking on their keyboards, producing everything from the physics of how the gravity works to how pressing a specific button combination at the right time does what on the screen. And yet, video game programmers are still one of the most marginalized and disposable people in the video game industry, forced to work long hours with very little extra incentive to do so. This is only exacerbated when a specific release deadline has to be made.
It certainly doesn’t help that, even when you’re working for a big named developer like EA or Ubisoft, it’s the programming division that will be hit hard with employee turnover whenever the profit goals for the fiscal period isn’t met. You would think you would have better job security if you’re working for those companies but it turns out you’re still expendable because you didn’t help the company make as much money as they thought they were supposed to make.
Now, I don’t want this to be a long rant about how bad being a programmer is in the video game industry but there are definitely a lot of first hand accounts on how bad it can be. I’m also not saying every company deals with their programmers terribly but, even when they are treated well, they still don’t get enough credit. Yes, you can see their names on the end credits or whatnot… but who really reads that long list of names?
Quality Assurance Tester
Fun fact: I used to work in video game quality assurance. And now I don’t. Guess why?
Most people think that a person working in quality assurance in the video game industry has you just playing the game. As someone who’s worked in that very job, this is definitely not the case. There may be times when you will be tasked to simply play a game from start to end as defined by the developers. But this is mostly the exception to the rule. Most of the time, your job is attempting to break the game and go out of your way to not follow your natural gamer instincts.
For example, when you play a racing game like Gran Turismo, you want to get through the track as quickly as possible and get the best time. But as a quality assurance tester, you’re not supposed to do that. What you have to do is go off the track, hit every wall at every possible speed to see if the walls are actually solid. You also have to try racing in reverse to see if you can get to the finish line and win in that way. You also have to check if you can turn left with the same responsiveness as when you turn right. Those are just a few examples. Oh, there’s also an extensive checklist you have to follow so you better be sure you hit all those walls at all those speeds! Because that’s all on that list… each and every wall.
And as a quality assurance tester, you’re also treated to the same unholy schedule programmers get when the launch date draws near. You’ll have to do the same amount of overtime as they do because, since they’re doing a lot more programming, it’s your job in quality assurance to test whatever they’ve been programming and see if it doesn’t mess things up. It’s definitely not all fun and games as a quality assurance tester.
Unless you’re a true geekhead for tech, the hardware designer is always underappreciated by the masses.
Say what you will about Mark Cerny, the head architech for the Sony PlayStation 5. You can call him dull or boring. But you gotta hand it to him for going through an almost one hour or speaking without stumbling over his words once! Oh, and without him and his team, we wouldn’t have gotten the last couple of iterations of the PlayStation. They’re the people who actually design the hardware the games run on. And I don’t believe Cerny as well as the folks who create the architecture for other video game consoles and even PC components get enough credit.
The hardware designer always has his or her work cut out for them. They have to perform this weird balancing act of creating hardware that can produce graphics and sounds that will astonish gamers, create an input system that’s intuitive and comfortable for the average player, hardware that is cheap enough to be mass produced but (hopefully) doesn’t break down or overheat quickly, design chips and boards that will allow programmers to get the most out of the system and fit them into a package that’s can fit easily into your home entertainment network and a whole lot more. Then, when some new tech comes along or it’s time to retire the new video game console, they have to do it all over again. It’s a hard knock life for the hardware designer indeed and they deserve some appreciation.
Gone are the days when “Welcome to die.” “You spoony bard” and “All your base are belong to us” was standard practice thanks to these folks!
It’s easy to laugh at those memorable lines because of how infamous they are but gamers nowadays tend to take the job of localization for granted because of that. Most people think localization is the same thing as translation. There’s a kernel of truth to that but localization is so much more than simply translating one language to another. Localization is a little more than that. Supposed you’re given the task of translating the phrase “pay an arm and a leg.” You know it’s not to be taken literally so you don’t translate it word for word. You translate it to the meaning of the phrase. But there’s a little more to it than that. You have to also make things sound natural for each region as well as adapting it to make sense to a different culture. There may be some cultural idiosyncrasies you’d need to find a equivalent to or you may have to totally rewrite that section to make it work better for the target audience.
Now, imagine doing all of that with the boundless amount of text and dialog for a massive RPG like Mass Effect, Final Fantasy VII and Fallout 4. You’ll have to read through hundreds of pages of words and sentences, completely understand the meaning and subtext and then rewrite all of it. That’s a lot of work and the only time gamers will call you out on all of that work is when they spot an error and laugh at how ridiculous it sounds.
At least there’s a chance what the localizer wrote will be read.
It’s so easy to give credit to the head writer for a video game. It’s the person who basically writes the entire story, after all. He writes the main plot points, the character motivations and the general direction of the entire thing. But what about all the other little bits of text sprinkled throughout the game? Well, there’s still someone who has to write all those little notes you read while exploring the world of Dragon Age or all those planetary codex descriptions when scanning for minerals in Mass Effect 2.
I don’t exactly know what’s the name of this job position so I just call this the “lore writer.” It’s the lore writer’s job to draft all of those unimportant sentences and paragraphs that’s supposed to give the world more life… but most of us generally skip reading them. It’s usually not important to the main story and you can get all the world building just by playing the game and filling in the blanks anyway.
So why do these big budget games always have them? Because they’re still important to the small percentage who actually reads them. But even then, no one really thinks about the people who are toiling away at their computers, thinking of clever little tidbits about the world the game is set in. It’s still the head writer who’s going to take all the credit regarding how immersed they were with the story and the lore writer gets none. If that’s not a thankless job, I don’t know what is.
What other thankless jobs are available in the world of video games? Let me know in the comments section below!