Lately I've been feeling kind of down. I see no interesting future at the moment and I think it may be the first time in my life that's been true.
I just quit my job recently. The number #1 reason was salary. I was making less than half my previous job or to put it another way I was making what I made 12 years ago. Obviously I knew that when I started the job, I took the job thinking that it would not bother me and that it would let me stay in Japan but within just a couple of weeks, maybe when I got my first paycheck, I all of a sudden felt like "what the heck am I doing?!?!?!. I'm almost 40, I'm making no money and living like a college student in a Japanese 1DK. A 1DK is somewhere between an American 1 bedroom apartment and a studio apartment.
There were a couple of other reasons I left. I choose to work at my last company for Japanese practice but I wasn't getting any. I had worked there before and last time I was on a team and I became pretty good friends with the people on the team. This time though through various circumstances I was not put on a team. Well, I was put on a team but that project was cancelled within a month. Then I was put on a new team but that team has still not started, 9 months later. I was added to another team where the design is being done buy an outside company. That outside company is not a game development company and was slow so the our internal meetings consisted of the internal designer telling us that the external company still had not given us anything substancial and that any input we might have would most likely be ignored. During that time I was asked to evaluated some 3rd party libraries and then I ended up writing some tools that although I'm extremely proud of (I wouldn't be surprised of all of Sega started using my tools) I specfically told them when I started I did not want to do tools.
My friends from the last time I was there were still there but 4 years had past and most of them had gotten married and had kids so they were not as available as previously. All that added up to less than 30 minutes of Japanese conversation a day on average.
Finally the other big reason is I was disappointed in my position. I was just a programmer. Not a lead, not a techinical director, nothing. I'm not saying that's a bad position but I've been lead of 5 projects. I've even had my own company. The thing I miss the most since then is having real input into the products I work on. Since then, my last 3 jobs, I've had no input. Of course I took them for other reasons. I worked at Sega to live in Japan, not to have input or income. I worked at Naughty Dog for income and to be with friends. And again I worked at Sega to stay in Japan. But at each of those jobs I was surprised just how frustrated I was to have no input. I don't know if that's true for everybody or not but I feel I'm a pretty kick ass designer, I know I can do better than most of the games out there and it's frustrating to sit back and watch people make yet another me−too mediocre game.
Anyway, that's why I left. I didn't plan to leave early and without a new job lined up. I had originally planned to try to find something around May/June but in January they asked me to join a team, a team they wanted to start a project then and finish by November of this year (crazy). I was already planning to leave in May/June so I felt like I needed to either tell them I was not planning to stay until the end of that project or commit to staying. Staying would have meant crazy overtime. I have no problem with overtime. I've worked more than most people I know but it was hard to justify working that crazy for nothing, no bonus, no overtime, no chance for promotion, and no salary. So I decided to tell them and that lead to me leaving eariler than I planned. Many people have told me I should have just not told them or lied and then left when it was good for me but I couldn't do that. It would have really screwed them but then of course instead now I feel really screwed since I haven't found anything.
And that's really what's getting me down. I'm having a hard time seeing an interesting or exciting future. I suppose lots of people don't see an interesting or exciting future but for me it's the first time in my life I think.
From around high school I always thought I would start my own successful game software company and each step from high school until recently seemed like a step toward that goal or at least something better than before. First I was a contractor, then a programmer, then a lead programmer, then I had my own company though it was not successful, then I came to Japan which was pretty exciting and to work at Sega which at the time was like "WOW! Sega of Japan!!!", little did I know they are nothing special anymore. Then I got to work at Naughty Dog to work on a AAA 1st party title.
But my next move so far is not looking so exciting. I'm not sure I want to go back to the U.S. or stay in Japan. There are pluses both ways. Tokyo is pretty cool in many ways. A zillion restaurants, great food, I have some friends here and I even have a few girlfriend prospects. So far the problem is that here there are no jobs. Japan is very age descriminatory. Game programmers are 20 to 35 only. I've been told by at least 3 companies I'm too old for a game programming job and not being Japanese they are not willing to hire me for any kind of upper position.
Coming back to the U.S. means I can visit some of my family (if I'm in L.A.) and it means more money, a car, a nice apartment, interesting TV shows, movies, a bed. I'm on a futon here. A Japanese futon equals sleeping on the floor. It probably means a lot more input at my job if only because I'm fluent in English. On the other hand I will pretty much need all new friends no matter where I go as I've only got 1 or 2 in any particular place and they all have families, wifes, girlfriends etc so it's not like they can be hang out buddies anymore. Also, if it's S.F. or L.A. I can already see myself feeling a lot of that "been there, done that". Back to the same 5 restaurants, the same stores, same theaters etc. There's nothing wrong with that except that I guess I have this image of doing it alone.
I'm starting to think that maybe the #1 reason to get married in your 20s is because by your late 30s you can't have friends anymore. By friends I mean hangout buddies, the people you hang out with 4−6 times a week. You hook up after work 3 or 4 times a week and you go out together with once or twice on weekends. That's easy to do when all your friends are single but the older you get the more likely they will be married and/or have kids and so they can no longer be a hangout buddy. Their hangout buddy is their spouse / significant other.
I've looked all over for new jobs and I'm very lucky, there are plenty of jobs but for some reason all of them seem uninteresting. I guess the word is that I'm jaded. It's no longer good enough just to be in the game industry, I want to work on something I'm actually interested in, that I can actually be proud of, that I actually would want to play. On top if which I want to be working on something that seems like it will lead somewhere. Whether it's to my own company or just the chance to make *my* game and I don't see anything that looks like it's leading there.
I'm also getting some flack about not having stayed at any one company long enough. I understand that concern and it's frustrating because I can see that I've never stayed anywhere longer than 2 years but for the most part from my shoes, each move was basically required. I never planned to have lots of short jobs. I never switched jobs just to increase my salary. Each time there was a fairly normal reason. 1/2 of my experience is contracts. Of the other half. One company went out of business. One company I was young, living across the country and wanted to *go home*. One company I left to start my own company. Two companies I couldn't take the boss (and neither could many others who also quit for the same reasons) I really wish I could find a place I could stay for a good long time. A place I with all the things most people want. A job they enjoy, a job that challenges them, a job with growth oppotunity, a job where they get respect, a job with good co−workers, etc, etc.
All of that is leading me to feel pretty down. I'm feeling almost like I peaked and everything else is down hill and that's a pretty depressing thought.