Gettin’ Rich or Die Tryin’


So recently a friend has asked for some help finding work in the games industry, and in attempting to help him out I found some interesting questions being asked by other people as I talked to them about my buddy.

These were people from outside the industry who kept asking why I was spending my time and my contacts to help this person and what happens if he makes a mint at where-ever he ends up at, cos we all know game developers drive ferraris right (Well, apart from me, obviously, but apparently I am just a crap negotiator to my friends).

Annnnyway. Basically the subject of “how do you get rich in the games industry” came up and I was explaining my thoughts on the subject and I thought I might echo them here.

Firstly, if you come into the games industry to get rich, you might as well go back where you came from. The number of people in this industry who generate serious wealth for themselves (and I define that as Never Having To Worry About Money Again Even If They Just Sat On The Beach All Day For The Rest Of Their Lives) is vanishingly small.

In fact, the old joke goes that the fastest way to make rich man poor is for him to invest in a video game company.

You have to a) be in the right place at b) the right time with c) the right product and d) have a contract (or own the company) that entitles you to some of the impending profits.

Good luck making all that happen.

Still, it can happen and it does for some devs. There are several ways to get there -

1) Be on a small team who makes a mega hit in a company that likes to reward the development team. Epic, Gearbox, Bungie, Infinity Ward, 3D Realms are all companies with policies like this, and the teams are small enough that the sums awarded are most assuredly worth having. Having said that unless you are one of the leads / top guys you won’t be retiring on the bonuses and maybe not even then.
NOTE – coming in after a massive hit has happened makes your chances of making out big time on bonuses far less. Thats just the reality of it. a) the team is now larger and diluting the pool and b) you weren’t there to start the magic in the first place, so you come second in the hand outs.

2) Own a company that has a massive hit. That way you hand out the bonuses and you can award yourself anything you want.

3) Be a top level Exec at a place like EA or Take 2 and award yourself gobs of stock options and bonuses.

4) Own a company with some decent IP and sell out to a big company like Microsoft.
NOTE – you do need the decent IP for the serious wealth here – being a great port house means you’ll sell for 10m (which isn’t 10m after fees and taxes are done, and in most cases is stock which you can’t sell for a set amount of time anyway). Owning a hit IP means you’ll sell for 30+m. IP ownership is everything in this business which is why publishers will *always* try and own it.

5) Have a very rich relative who dies and leaves it all to you.

That last one works for all industries in fact; if you have a rich and elderly relative that wants to adopt a 40 year old, please let me know.

So basically you either have to Become An Exec (and there’s a quite a lot of competition for that) or Own a Company to make out like a bandit in this industry.

Now that’s not to say a very decent living can’t be eeked out, particularly if you are considered to be an Above The Line (ie better than the average) developer – depending on where you base yourself you can live a very comfortable life making games.

But don’t expect to make out unless you have enough entrepreneurial ability to start and sustain your own games company.

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