This goes on for a bit, and is unusually personal…there’s a brief bit of new fiction at the end, if you want to skip ahead to it.
I suppose I should eulogize this.
I have not spoken, except in the most generic passing, about the place I worked or the job I did there. There were two reasons: 1) I generally spent my days working in one way or another on sensitive material–no state secrets, but projects expected to bring in millions in revenue, and I take my NDA seriously; 2) this site is supposed to be about who I am…the pieces of me I’m finding again…and not the slowly-shrinking part of me that was passionately invested in the day job.
However, it’s worth writing about today, at least once. The more astute of you will have noticed the past tense used in the previous paragraph.
Last Tuesday, I was laid off from my job. There were a number of reasons–I’ll probably touch on more than one of them as I go along–but it’s a good idea, I think, to stop and revisit all in one place what the last 8+ years have been…closure’s not just a river in Africa.
And yeah, it’s been over 8 years at one place. I started at Activision in December of 2001, and for the first two years worked in QA as a Junior Tester, meaning I wasn’t technically employed by Activision, I worked for a temp company that provided Activision with 90% of their testers; the other 10% were full-time employees, which was very much the promised land for those of us working project to project, hoping as the end of each grew near that we wouldn’t be placed On Call, meaning our temp assignment was over and we were sent home (this is one major reason why they use temps: when you plan to fire 90% of your workforce at least twice a year, you’ve gotta figure out a way to prevent that from being actual turnover numbers, even if it’s just a technical loophole of semantics).
I made it to the promised land, and a few months after that began working in Production (technically the Production Management Group, or PMG) as a Production Tester on loan from QA (meaning that, at the end of the game, I would be called back to QA to resume life as a tester). A few months after that, PMG hired me in as an official Production Tester on loan from nobody (meaning that, at the end of the game, I would go on to work on another game in PMG). And a few months after that, promoted to Production Coordinator. And then later to Associate Producer, which is the title I held when I was laid off.
In 8+ years, I shipped eight AAA titles (meaning front-line titles by a major publisher, the equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, nothing indie or low budget about it), and two major expansion packs.
For 4-6 months during each of those years, I worked absurd hours, 10-12 a day, seven days a week, not to mention replying to emails and doing other work from home well into the night. I got paid a pittance compared to other people who work similar hours (doctors, lawyers, mainstream hollywood productions, etc.). And I was one of dozens of people in PMG who did this regularly, with no complaints (or at least minimal serious ones).
When I first joined Activision, they were excited to be considered a top 5 publisher by revenue, thrilled to increase annual sales by a few dozen million dollars, staring up at luminaries like Atari and Midway. As I leave, Activision Blizzard is the number 1 third-party publisher–it’s not even close, really, the only real competition is from the first parties: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft–with billions a year in revenue.
In my time there, I pulled off miracles, alongside many other miracle workers. Spider-Man 3 shipped on-time despite extremely late narrative/asset delivery from the movie folks and technical hurdles that had us well behind where we’d hoped to be. I managed to help get good reviews for a game about Jerry Seinfeld as an animated bee; sales didn’t quite match, turns out kids don’t really like Jerry Seinfeld…who knew? I worked on launch titles for all three active consoles today. I led only the second SKU for the Wii with full online multiplayer to pass NOA certification on the first submission, and the first ever at Activision…I know that sounds a bit cryptic, but believe me, if you knew what it meant, it’d impress the hell out of you.
I did none of those things by myself, and for the most part can only really take pride and credit for facilitating the efforts of other brilliant people…but I’ve never bought into the notion that, if things go well, it was all thanks to Them, but if things go wrong, it was all your fault. And so I take as much credit for those things that I did that I feel comfortable taking.
And speaking of taking… In my 8+ years at Activision I saw them take more and more from those of us who gave so much to make the company grow into what it is now. The sharing of the wealth went from equitable to farcical, the extra benefits that show a company appreciates you (whether that’s travel budgets allowing for comfortable travelling, or tickets to use the company-owned box seats, or movie days for the whole company, that sort of thing) dwindled to nearly nothing, and the attitude seemed to be that whatever discrepancy between what we were being compensated and what we felt we should be compensated, given what we were doing and the results of our work, was covered by the subtle intangible “at least you have a job in this economy” benefit that I don’t remember being listed in my employee handbook.
I don’t want to dwell on this much longer, but suffice to say, it gets old pretty fast to hear about some new bit deprivation–layoffs or whatever–just a day or two after seeing the press release roll out about another quarter of record revenue, margins and executive bonuses. Doesn’t really sit well at all.
And so, now we come to where I thought I was going to be writing about why I left, about the business side of things and all the rest…but I’m just not going to. I wanted to record what the last 8+ years of my life have centered around–outside of family–because that center’s gone now, and I’m finding a very strong need to find something to fill it, even if it’s just propping the memories of what’s gone on life support well past the vegetable state. But the more I dwell on it, the longer I keep that part of me technically alive, and it needs to finish dying, so I can bury it, and mourn it, and then consider what life is going to be like without it.
Hopefully it will include more of this kind of stuff. Here’s another brief excerpt from “The Last Star”. Writing it is slow going, and in a completely different method than I’m used to–probably a post soon about that very thing–but I think it’ll be good.
Sean looked up just in time to see the second fast attack ship pass overhead, dropping its arsenal on the far side of the dome. The explosion was enormous, visible over the apex of the dome, but far enough away this time that they were able to keep their feet through the shockwave. Theresa scrambled to his side, pressing her helmet against his.
“What the fuck are they doing?”
“I don’t know.”
“This wasn’t supposed to start for another two hours!”
“Something’s gone wrong.”
Sean backed his head up a few inches to break contact, then keyed his radio over to the band universally reserved for emergency Cadre use. It wouldn’t be secure, not with the equipment in his suit, but if any of his bosses were in LOS orbit, it’d be the only band he could be sure they’d be monitoring.
“This is Key leader. Repeat, this is Key leader.”
There was a moment’s pause, then a response.
“Key leader, this is Breach. Please confirm.”
“Breach this is Key leader. Confirmation is A65043Z. What the fuck are you people doing?”
“Key leader, this is Breach, identity confirmed. You gotta get yourself out of there Travis.”
“We’re supposed to have two more hours goddammit. There are still hostages inside. Repeat: the hostages are still inside.”
“We know. The bastards responded to our first transmission by executing two of them on camera. Negotiations are over. If the two of you have an out, I suggest you use it, immediately.”
“Negative. We are almost inside. We can do this, goddammit. Give us one more hour.”
“The decision’s been made, Travis. We’re just taking out the air defenses to clear the way for the bombers. You have ten minutes to get clear, if you can.
“Acknowledged. Ten minutes. Can you keep them off the south side of the dome? That’s where we have the shuttle waiting.”
“I’ll do what I can, but no promises. Move your ass. Out.”