Thursday, June 30, 2005

Can You Beleive We Get Paid For Playing Games?

You know, I thought crappy false advertising was just the domain of the diet-pill pushers, the get rich quickers and the ‘you can earn a million in a day, guaranteed!” Crowd.

It appears I was mistaken.

Even Colleges and Universities are now getting in on the act.

Now I personally would have loved to have earned my degree online. It’s easy with an academic subject like English. They’d email me a reading list, give me access to an online forum or IRC chat room so I can ask my virtual tutor questions, then they send me the exam questions, and I email my completed essays to them.

Bing bang boom, I get a degree.

Unfortunately I went to a traditional university, you know the ones, the ones that actually make you get out of bed in the morning, drive there and have actual human contact.

I feel like I got my degree in the stone age.

These days, online courses are all the rage. Online Uni’s like Devry and the like are offering associates degrees, bachelors degrees, even masters degrees, all done in the comfort of your own home, and at your own speed.

On second thought, I think it’s damn good thing I didn’t get my degree online, if I could pick and choose when to do any work, I wouldn’t have got that 4 year degree in 3 years, as promised…I’d be 87 years old thinking: “Tomorrow… I’ll definitely start it tomorrow.”

It’s possible to get almost any further education online. One online college even offers an online Physical Education degree! Can you imagine what that must look like?

“Do 20 push ups. Click here when finished”

I wonder where this is going to go. Online singing lessons?

“Sing ‘AaaaaaAAAAAAaaaaaaaaAAAA’. Click when finished.

Art class?

“Draw a nice picture. If it’s good, click here, if it’s crap, click here.”

Maybe even public speaking.

“Make a speech, if it was heartwarming and well articulated, click here. If it was stammer filled babble, click here.”

Online Degrees! It’s the future people!

Of course, a lot of these ‘degrees’ they give you aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. I think everyone has received an email at some point offering them an ‘instant’ degree. One I got even said, as though it was a selling point: “Get any degree, right now, from any number of unaccredited Universities!”

That’s right, they emphasized the unaccredited part.

Learn what the words mean before you slap them in your emails, guys!

In other words, you send them anything from 20 to 200 bucks, and some 12 year old in his bedroom will run off a certificate on MS Publisher, and email it to you.

Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Anyone reading this, if you cover the cost of postage, I’ll send you a Bachelors Degree in anything you want from Paulius University. Hey, at least it’ll be signed by a genuine Bachelor of Arts!

Anyway, I’ve been going off on more tangents than a drunken chimp with ADD. Let me try and get back on track.

As some of you may know, being qualified in the Computer field isn’t quite a lucrative as it once was. Ten, maybe even five years ago, if you had a degree in some area of computer science, you had your pick of the jobs.

Not so much any more.

In fact, Microsoft certified systems administrators get paid buttons nowadays, for the simple fact that every man and his dog surfed the silicon wave of the late 90’s, and millions took to computers as a career. In the same way the dotcom industries all went south, so has the traditional computer career path. Where at one time, someone with a degree in computer science would be head-hunted by pretty much everyone, nowadays there’s about 100 people for every job. Yes, computers are a rapidly expanding area of employment, but the number of people going for those jobs is expanding more rapidly…and when you have one opening, and 100 applicants, wages drop. Hey, if you don’t want to work for $4.50 an hour, there’s another hundred guys who will!

So, what to do?

Well, apparently, some bright spark noticed that computer games are blowing up. What was once a ‘3 guys in a garage’ cottage industry is now big business (For example, the budget for Halo 2 was in excess of 50 million).

Of course, as soon as something becomes popular, big business sticks its oar in, usually removing every inch of creativity, and replacing artists with accountants. In other words, they want a slice of the pie, but don’t want to pay for the ingredients.

I’m going off on a tangent again, but this is something that really pisses me off. When anything becomes profitable, and therefore lucrative, the corporations step in and ask questions like “Do we really need that? Our last product didn’t have it, and it sold well, let’s just churn out the same crap again! Balls to originality and innovation!”

Anything in the entertainment industry has to be made, first and foremost, because the person making it loves making it. Profit should come second.

Making a TV show, game or writing a book for the love of doing it gets you the Mona Lisa. Doing it purely for the money gets you a paint-by-numbers picture. Creativity gets you Mozart, copying the original for cash gets you elevator music.

If you think I’m being a dumb conspiracy theorist, look around you.

Big Brother was groundbreaking television, but look at how many crappy reality TV shows there are on TV right now. Look at the number of DIY shows and makeover shows.

One original, good idea…cloned so many times that there isn’t a scrap of originality, creativity or interest left. ‘They made a shitload of cash off the idea, why shouldn’t we?”

Because it was their idea, and we don’t want the same thing on every channel.


So now, overnight, every university in the world, both online and traditional, are grabbing games programming with both hands. I don’t think there’s a university around now that doesn’t have a games design program in the pipeline.

So now we come to the advertising part.

You see, designing video games isn’t easy. It involves actual programming. That means math, complicated logic diagrams, the works.

In my life time I have created one game. I was 12 years old, and it was a text adventure written in BASIC. That’s the type when you get a paragraph, explaining where you are, what is around you, and you type what you want to do, IE ‘Go North’ ‘Pick up sword’ etc.

My game consisted of 3 rooms, nothing to pick up, and all you could do was go into each of the rooms. Oh, and if you typed anything but ‘Go north’, ‘go west’ or ‘go south’, it would crash.

This masterpiece took me two days to write.

According to the people advertising these courses in creating modern day games, with such things as ragdoll physics, transformable texture and lighting and advanced AI…you can knock one up in an afternoon.

These ads follow the same formula:

Step one. A group of ‘cool’ men and women in their early twenties introduce themselves as game programmers and designers.

Step two. They either show some pre-rendered computer graphics, and maybe some gameplay from a current game. (That’s right, the ones that cost 50 million to make), or, they show something that looks like it was made 5 years ago, complete with Space Invaders 8-bit sound effects. It becomes a case of spot the mistake. For example, one has a guy playing an X-box game, but somehow he’s controlling it with a PS2 controller. The sound coming from the game was straight from Space Invaders. In other words, it’s obvious that the ad writer and producer have never even seen a computer game.

Step three. Someone will come into the room and ask a question containing some generic, non-relevant computer speak, such as (direct quote) “Hey guys, how are the graphics coming on that game? I’ve got another one I need designed!”

Let’s break this down. First of all ‘graphics’ means, basically, everything you see on screen. So ‘how are the graphics coming’ is like going to a building site and asking ‘how are the bricks coming in that skyscraper’.

It’s meaningless! Hey everyone, how are the words coming on your blog?

Errr, do you mean the actual content? The font? The size? The layout?

These are apparently the people who will teach you to create games.

Secondly, ‘I have another one I need designed’. What….the…f**k is she babbling about?

Apparently, she has a game, that at that point isn’t even an idea. However, she’s on such a tight timescale, she needs them to design a new game…right now!

How can you have something that ‘needs designing’. If it hasn’t been designed, it doesn’t frigging exist!

To put this in perspective, imagine an advertisement for a creative writing course:

“Hey guys! How is the text coming in that book? I’ve got another one I need written.”

Yes, that’s how the games industry works. The big programming houses get requests that read ‘Wanted: One Game.’ Then, the head honcho runs to his programmers, asks them how something generic is coming on their current project, then hurries them along, because he has another one that ‘needs designing’


Step four. This is the part that really pisses me off. The guy or girl looks into the camera, give you a shit eating grin, and says something along the lines of “I can’t believe I get paid for this!” or “Can you believe we get paid for playing games?!?”


I honestly feel sorry for everyone who takes any of these courses. According to the ads, they’ll arrive at the University, go to a computer lab, play games all day, and come out of it with a degree, and games designers will be gagging to get their hands on them.

Imagine their faces when they get the 50 odd tech manuals dropped in front of them. Then they realize they have to actually learn to program the games.

Even if you’re a complete computer game layman, let me put this in terms that anyone can understand.

In a computer game, everything on screen has to be created, everything from the dirt on the ground, to the leaves in the trees. As an idea of how complex this can be, let’s just focus on one object. Let’s pick a tree. Nothing fancy, just a bit of scenery that the gamer probably won’t even notice.

First you have to model and design the tree’s shape. Difficult, trees have complex shapes, and you can’t replicate the same one over and over, or it will be obvious and artificial looking. Then you have to come up with colours and textures for your tree. Then you have to animate it. Obviously the leaves will move in a different way than the branches, and the branches will move at a different rate than the tree. The bark is a different color and texture to the leaves.

Then you have to make it ‘solid’, in other words, if the gamer walks into it, it will stop him dead rather than him float through it. Then you have to think what will happen if the player jumps through it. Will that single twig stop him dead, or will he brush by it? What sound effect will it make? Will it be any different from the sound it makes when the wind pushes it? Will an enemy be able to see it and react? How will the enemy react? How far away does the enemy have to not see it? Can he hear the sound?

You see, that’s one simple object out of literally billions in your average game. But that’s ok, take the Devry course, and you’ll be churning them out.

Can you believe we get paid for playing games?

No. Because you don’t. What you meant to say is:

Can you believe we get paid to program and design, code and test extremely complicated simulations featuring real world physics and artificial intelligence?

Yes, I can, because it’s bloody difficult.


MC Etcher said...

Ha Ha Ha! I know the exact commercial you mean, and I was planning to blog about it myself.

You did a far better job than I would have done!

I have to mute that commercial every time it comes on, it's so awful.

As a tester, there have actually been a few rare days where I just played games from other companies - to write a report on their features and mechanics. But that was a few days out of 5 years.

50 Million for Halo 2 - but they probably spent 10 million marketing it.

In the end, the most important element is gameplay. Far too much emphasis has been placed on creating beautifully animated crap.

Paulius said...

Thank you!

Yep, that ad drives me nuts as well, I actually timed it, so when it comes on I can change the channel until it goes off.

Oh, and I kinda figured that working as a games designer might feature a day where you play games...but those ads make out like you do nothing else.

Like marketing an auto engineering course and saying you do nothing but test drive sports cars.

I'd love to break into the games industry, but I don't want to go back to school, I already spent 5 years in further education.

Hmmm, games reviewer, that sounds like a job for me.

Can you beleive I get paid for playing games? (Oh, and hours and hours actually writing reviews and meeting with games studios)

Vicarious Living said...

I've been told I'd be good at testing, but no thank you. That is some tedious work and I'd have no patience for the BS from the other departments. Sure, they pay you, but it ain't much and you certainly aren't doing much playing in my opinion.

Paulius said...

Thanks cindy, you just made my point.

Even working for a gaming company is still work.

That dreaded W word is the one thing missing from all those ads