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Finding Motivation

I didn’t know what to title this post. “Starting over”? “Looking for inspiration”?

I gave my resignation letter a couple of weeks ago and last Friday was my last day at Google. I left on good terms and they were sad to see me go. Google is a great place to work and I’ve recommended it to all of my friends. But, at this point in my life I was not happy with my life including Google. That’s not Google’s fault it’s mine.

I have no idea what I want to do anymore. As a teen I wanted to start a video game company. I had dreams of being the next Interplay (which was big at the time). I don’t know their real story but from the outside it looked like some programmers/game designers had created not only successful games but successful companies. There were plenty of other examples. Microprose, Origin, Epyx, Activision, etc. I started a game company in 1995. It was not successful but it was a great experience.

But since then I haven’t been sure what I wanted to do. I think I always thought I’d try making a game company again someday. Google was actually supposed to be a stepping stone to that. I told a friend I wanted to make an open source game engine because all the good engines were too expensive. Back when Unreal Engine had just come out I think it was $1,000,000 for a license. Other engines were similarly priced only for well funded studios. At Sony Japan in 2003 I was asked to make a prototype for a game. I said “buy me an engine” and they said “We won’t spend money on an engine until we approve the game. We won’t approve the game until you make a prototype.” and I was like “I can’t make the prototype without an engine so I’m going to have sit here making yet another engine”. That frustration made me want to make an open source engine.

When I mentioned that in 2008 to a friend, Chris Pruett, he told me “come talk to Google” which lead me to joining the O3D team. Google was funding what was effectively an open source 3D game engine. My dream was I’d help them ship it then leave and start a game company and use the free tech.

What happened instead was O3D got deprecated (for good reason). I transitioned to the GPU team on Chrome to work on WebGL and other Chrome related GPU stuff. And, I ended up hanging out there for 4 more years. In the meantime Unity3D came out as an awesome and inexpensive game engine. In fact at this point it’s free on PC and even free for mobile up to a certain level of income which is great. Even Unreal Engine is now free to use so you can prototype. And, depending on your needs there are 50 other free or relatively inexpensive game engines out there. So, the need to make my own engine has disappeared.

At the same time I’ve been spoiled by Google. They pay more than games. Significantly more unless you happen to have written Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga. They have a zillion services, free snacks, free drinks, free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. ~20 cafes to choose from. Free shuttles to and from work with wi-fi. Free gyms. They have festivals at work. They have classes and lectures you can attend. The hours are flexible. You can work from home. They have offices all over the world and you can work from the remote offices effectively letting you have a working holiday. I’ve worked from Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Seattle and NYC. You pay for travel and stay but you don’t have to take time off. They pay to send you to conferences. And, you’re working on stuff that benefits hundreds of millions of people. I don’t think there is a single video game that has touched 100 million people whereas for example Chrome is supposedly used by 750 million people.

Where as if I go back to big AAA games like Uncharted or Call of Duty I’d get less pay, several months of crunch a year, no shuttle, no way to work at home, I’d be 1 of 150 people working on the game (not that google is any different in that regard). No travel. I’d be actively discouraged from attending conferences. I’d get 2 weeks off a year (I think I was up to 5 a year at google)? So you can see why going back to AAA games does not sound so appealing.

I’m also torn on games in general. I don’t play them nearly as much as I did 20 years ago. Sometimes I think of them as a waste of time so I’m torn in that while making them can be fun I just end up wasting other people’s time. Others tell me “no, you’re entertaining them.” which is fine. All I’m saying is I’m not as excited about playing or making them as I used to be. Maybe if the game I was making I thought was going to start a new genre or a become a classic but most games are not even trying to do that.

Anyway, back to the present, I quit, I’d had felt this way for a while but it was so easy to just keep working at Google. I was productive and just vegging outside of work and looked up and see another year had past. Finally when talking to a good friend about wanting to quit which she had heard for years at this point she said “What’s stopping you?” and that was I guess what I needed to hear to finally pull the trigger. She was right. The worst that happens I’m guessing is I go find another job. Maybe at Google if they’ll take me back. Otherwise somewhere else. In the meantime I need to figure out what excites me because I’ve lost that.

Another thing was that I’ve been wanting to move for years as well. My apartment is actually pretty awesome. I live in San Francisco. I have an extremely large apartment 1/2 a blocks from a Whole Foods and several blocks of other stores. The Google shuttle stops on this block. I’m 3 blocks from the Muni. The apartment is 2bedrooms, 1bath with a huge kitchen, a huge living room and a huge dining room. It even includes a garage. It’s bigger than just about all my friend’s apartments and I’m only paying $2500 a month. That might be expensive else where but in San Francisco I’m sure the landlord could easily get $3500 a month from the next tenant. Maybe more with the garage.

So, …. right now my plan is to live out of a suitcase for a while. Visit friends here and there, maybe do some travelling. I want to know what it’s like to have nothing holding me down. No place I have to pay rent. No stuff I have to have a place to keep. And, I guess that gets to what prompted my writing this post. I’m getting rid of almost everything I own. I’ll put some stuff in storage but the less the better. I’ve already gotten rid of 8 boxes of books, 9 large trash bags of clothing, sold all my pro camera equipment and I’ve still got more to go.

But, the process of getting rid of all this stuff brings up a bunch of thoughts. For example I have various clothing items from previous companies/teams. I have a “Gunship Design Team” jacket and a “Pirates Design Team” shirt. I have my Calculus class shirt from High School. I have a “Big Grub” t-shirt from the company I started. I have a Japanese “Sega” company factory style jacket. I have stuff from Gex and Crystal Dynamics. Stuff from Naughty Dog and Crash Bandicoot. On the one hand all of this stuff has sat in a closet or storage for 15, 20, 30 years. Why keep it? On the other hand there are memories attached to them. Is a picture enough?

How much stuff should I keep? On the one hand I usually have no need for 90% of the stuff I own. On the other I did have need for it at one point and keep it around in case I do again. It’s one of those things that generally the older you get the more stuff you have. I’m talking about possibly useful stuff like I’ve got a drill. Should I put it in storage or get rid of it? I’ve got serving dishes. I’ve got various specialized tools. It’s not that they are important to me, it’s more like for those people that stay put and or carry their stuff with them as they move through life, the older they get the more things they can handle themselves. I get some new gadget I need to open I’ve got the tools to open it. I walk over the tool draw, grab the tool and open it. 20 years ago I’d have had to go search for that tool, possibly wait a week for it arrive. Now I have it. There’s tons of stuff like that. If I need a thank you card I have a box full of them. If I need to wrap a present I have various kinds of wrapping paper and bows. If I want to do some crafts I have tons of materials. If I want to bake some bread I’ve got a bread pan. If I want to cook a pizza I’ve got a pizza stone. If I need to connect nearly anything I’ve got all kinds of cables. USB, USB mini, USB micro, VGA, HDMI, DVI, BNC, RCA, Stereo Mini, adapters, etc, etc, etc.

The point is not that I *need* any of it. The point is just thinking about resetting to zero by getting rid of it all is in one sense kind of crazy. I suppose it’s not like I haven’t done this before. When I went to Japan I put everything in storage. I thought I was only going to be there for 6 months and stayed 6 years so clearly I didn’t need this stuff. It’s just the act of getting rid of it deliberately this time instead of unintentionally like last time is making me reflect on it more.

It also makes me wonder what living out of a suitcase will be like. Normally in the past with a permanent residence you have a place to store stuff. So, for example last time I went to Japan 6 months ago I bought 2 jackets and a shirt. Because I could take them home and put them in the closet that was no problem but living out of a suitcase there is no home to take them to. That means I can’t buy stuff (which is good I guess) but that also means no more shopping. Some of you will think that’s a good thing, less consumerism, but that’s a huge activity for lots of people including me. Walking through Ameyokocho trying to find some amazingly cool new shirts will be an activity I can’t really do. Buying some little trinket in Harajuku or Shibuya is even not something I should do as I won’t be able to carry more junk. A lot of travel is visiting a local market. Not being able to buy anything at the market has to remove some of the enjoyment. I guess pictures will have to suffice.

There’s another issue which is that I’m 47 and single. I’m sure some people are comfortable with that am I’m certainly not needy and have taken care of myself to this point but this is not where I wanted to or expected to be at 47. Many of my co-workers at Google were married with kids. I only bring this up to say I have no or almost no life outside of work which puts a big emphasis on what I get out of work. At previous companies my social life has revolved around work and work friends. In fact most of my best friends were all co-workers at one time. At Google I didn’t actually make any friends that I connected with outside of work. I have no idea why that is. Is it the age, that it’s harder in your 40s? Is it that most of my coworkers had separate lives whereas previous co-workers were more like me, looking for work friends for life after work? Is it something about the particular project? Previous game projects have all been relatively small teams. Under 20 people. While the Chrome GPU team was around 20 people Chrome itself is > 500 people. In a game there’s often a lot of teamwork but at least for me at on the Chrome GPU team most of us had plenty to do that didn’t require a lot of collaboration. I think that might be common for a browser. Just go find something you want to add or some standard you want to implement and do it. Other than asking a few questions to get started and getting your code reviewed there isn’t a lot of need to team up.

With that in mind is it even the right thing to live out of a suitcase and travel? How will that get me closer to the goal of meeting someone or having a life larger than just work?

Then, this whole thing is about finding what’s next and honestly I have no clue. As I like to put it I’m super jaded. When I was young anything was possible because I didn’t have the experience to see the obstacles. Now I know about all of them. It’s not that they are harder it’s that being aware of them makes it a far higher mental hurdle to get started.

I’m reading a book called Finding Your Element by Ken Robinson. I hope it has some useful advice and I hope it doesn’t just tell me what I already know which is that I’m good at staring at a computer screen. I also hope I can crawl out of my shell. While no one would label me as shy I’m not very good in a room full of strangers. I’d much rather be travelling with a companion than alone.

I have no idea how long my travels will last. Maybe I’ll try it for 2 weeks and think it was the dumbest idea ever but for now I’m just sticking to the idea that if I try it something good will come out of it, even if it’s only interesting experiences.

  • Jasmine Kent

    Congratulations on making the leap! How about doing gam jam tourism? You can meet people and build lots of games with different technologies.

  • Todd Astroth

    Hi Gregg. I actually am revisiting your site after looking back at some of the “tips on the games industry” info you had shared back when I found your site in 2004. I see a lot has changed for you since then! I think it goes without saying that there are a ton of people out there who could only dream of working for Google and “living the high life” in San Francisco. But as you and I have both found, it is difficult to find not only your passion, but a passion that can be tied to making a living (and earning money). Since I prefer to stay in the midwest, I did not go into the gaming industry (there’s still always a chance!), and I have literally gone back to my “career drawing board” 10+ times over these last 9 years. But the good news is that this “career break” time can be used to think of alternatives. Your travel idea sound like a lot of fun, and I wish you good luck!

  • http://greggman.com greggman

    That’s a good idea!