Saturday, November 14, 2009

Insert Quarter To Continue

Bunker down for a long read.

So Dragon Age is out.  It’s getting stellar reviews, and outselling our wildest expectations.  We’ve broken several EA records.  It’s so rewarding to see people loving what I sunk so many hours in to.  Though PRC is where I was put into a more important role with more creative input, so it’s the PRC that is my real baby, and I can’t wait for people to see what Bioware has planned.  The initial DLC has already sold over a $1,000,000, so I think it’s safe to say people are liking it so far.

My contract was supposed to end today.  I started at Bioware on November 20th last year, and the longest you can have a contract by EA rules is a year.  But because I’m on the PRC team and they need me for at least a while longer, my contract was extended to the end of January.  I’ve watched a lot of my friends leave Bioware now that their contract is up, and it was hard to see.  Some day my contract will be up too, even if I did manage to squeeze an extra 2 months out of it.  There was a time when the PRC team planned on getting me fulltime, but then the harsh realities of the economy forced Bioware to change their plans as far as hiring new people go.

Now I watch my contract end date get closer and closer.  Dragon Age main game is out, and it’s no secret Mass Effect 2 is coming out soon (January 26, 2010).  QA as a department will be shrinking severely due to these projects ending.  Dragon Age as a franchise still has a lot coming, and Mass Effect is a trilogy, but QA terms aren’t generally needed until the second half of a project.  A QA Design Analyst however, is invaluable to the first half of the project, and that’s the job I’ve been fighting for, and more or less the job I do now, even though I’m only technically a QA term by title (and pay).

I had some friends, Chad and Colin, who worked as QA Terms for the main game and they were sorta the superstars of QA at the time.  Their contracts ran out, and they were forced to take their 3 months off.  Well it’s been almost 5 months and they’re not back yet, though not for lack of trying.  Like I said, the QA pool is shrinking, so getting into a shrinking department is not easy.

Needless to say I’m concerned.  Everyone I’ve worked with at Bioware seems to be very happy with my work.  My old boss from when I was on the main game, Zac, was impressed by my work, as were the PRC lead I work for now, Jason, and the QA leads, Vanessa and Ferret.  They all tried to get me fulltime.  But the economy is bad, and the industry is feeling it more than ever before.  EA just laid off 1500 people, and while it was no one from Bioware, it still reflects the times we live in.

Sadly, the reality of the situation seemed to be that whether or not I get full-time has less to do with my work ethic/quality and more to do with budgets and fiscal year projections.  So I really started to get realistic about things, and even started planning for the worst.

The possibility of leaving at the end of my contract and then waiting months to get back into Bioware, either in a fulltime position or even just another year long term, and not getting it month after month started to scare me.  I pictured being in Edmonton for 6 months after my contract ended, but just working some entry level job.  I moved out here for Bioware, and Bioware was my chance to get into the industry.  If Bioware was no longer available to me, what would I be in Edmonton for?

The idea of eventually moving back to Winnipeg started to seem like a possibility…  Even though it would only be temporary, because I know I’ll never give up on getting into the industry.  But if I’d just be biding my time while applying at studios, I might as well consider doing it from Winnipeg where cost of living is cheap and my oldest friends and my family live.  But I like Edmonton and have made friends here too, and do have connections in Bioware here…  Either way, It was time to make a backup plan.

So today I had a meeting with my boss, and I told him about my concerns and subsequent plan, and he sounded quite a bit more optimistic than I had been.  He told me several things which raised my spirits:

  1. The company is aware of me and the hard work I’ve contributed to the projects I’ve been on.  They do want to keep me, and are just waiting for the opportunity to arise to allow them to do so.
  2. There is the odd full time position that opens up, probably more so with the natural restructuring that comes when projects are completed and new ones begin, and he’s definitely got my name in mind for one of those positions.
  3. I can email my resume directly to Zac when my 3 months off are up, since he’s in charge of hiring and is impressed with the work I’ve done.  This will make it much easier to get back in after my 3 months off, instead of taking my chances with the regular hiring process.
  4. Even if Bioware doesn’t work out, he made it clear that with my experience at Bioware, one of the top studios in the industry, and with references from some important people within that studio, not to mention some very successful products with my name on them, my chances of getting a fulltime position somewhere within the industry once I start looking are much higher than I originally thought.
  5. He also told me of several other opportunities which I unfortunately can’t write of in a public blog, one of which being the best of them all, the one that makes me the most optimistic.

While Winnipeg remains a possible backup plan, fortunately it looks like I have a lot more options to pursue before it comes to that.

I just applied to the small Bioware studio that opened in Montreal for a fulltime QA Design Analyst position.  It’s a much-vied for spot though, so I’m not kidding myself about my chances on that one.

I’m at Bioware until the end of January.  After my visit to Winnipeg I’ll have about 3 weeks left.  My bosses have said they’re still looking for ways to get me fulltime by then, but that it’s sadly unlikely due to budget restraints.  But I can still hope, and it’s not entirely impossible.

If nothing happens by the time I get back from Winnipeg, which is the likely scenario, then I will have 3 weeks to start applying at every other studio I can think of, across Canada and the U.S.  The references I get from the people I’ve worked with at Bioware will go a long way.  I’ll get an entry level crap job once my contract ends, and keep applying at studios the whole time.

If I don’t hear anything back from any other studios, which is actually kind of unlikely, I will stay in Edmonton for my 3 months off, working that crappy entry level job to make rent and keep myself from going insane.  For those 3 months, the PRC team will still be looking for fulltime positions for me.  But if nothing comes up, then after the 3 months are over I’ll email Zac about getting another year long term, which is relatively likely since Zac was always impressed by me.  Then I can try again for fulltime over the length of that contract.  By the end of it I’ll have 2 years experience in the industry, and hopefully the economy will start looking up, and my chances at Bioware and/or other studios will go up even higher.

Not to mention the biggest and most likely opportunity which I sadly cannot describe in this blog, as I said.

But in the unlikely worst case scenario in which that opportunity doesn’t pan out, I don’t get the Montreal position, 5 months go by after my current contract ends and Bioware still isn’t in a position to hire me, even just for another term contract, and no other studios have expressed an interest in me, I’ll have to start asking myself why I’m still in Edmonton…  I love my life here, have made some fantastic friends and had some great times.  But if all I’m doing is working an entry level job to pay the bills, it might make more sense to be somewhere those bills are cheaper and I can see my family and oldest friends more than once a year.  So at that point, if nothing was on the horizon from Bioware or any other studio, I’d probably at least consider the idea of moving back to Winnipeg.  Not permanently, I’m never going to give up on this industry; whatever it takes, this is the industry I will form a career in.  My dedication alone seems to be a major factor that has started to set me out from others in my ambition to get into the industry, no matter how long it takes.  And that dedication is unwavering.  But if I’m just biding my time, applying at studios every few months, I’d at least consider doing it from Winnipeg.  Though I’d definitely then miss my friends and life here.

If Bioware isn’t the studio I end up working at, then chances are I’ll end up moving to either Vancouver or Montreal in the end; those are the 2 major gaming hubs in Canada.  Winnipeg is conveniently right in the middle, and it would be nice (and help deal with the inevitable depression) to spend the time between real jobs with close friends and family.  On the other hand, just living in a city where I have contacts through Bioware and my cousin could go a long way, not to mention I really like the friends and life I’ve made here…  Lots to think about.

The industry is in a tight spot.  I’m trying to break into the industry at the worst time.  But I’ve proven myself with my knowledge and ability, the right people are aware of me, and I have several ways available to me to deal with this.  The absolute last one being my backup plan, which is the temporary move back to Winnipeg / biding my time in Edmonton.  But as I look at all my options, and take in all the info I got at my meeting today, I don’t think that’s something I need to worry about after all.  WHAT happens is very up in the air right now, no question about it.  But I do think chances are actually pretty high that SOMETHING will happen, something that does not involve taking more than 3-4 months off or moving back to Winnipeg.

So while it’s definitely stressful, it’s also exciting.  I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in my new life here, and change is now on the horizon once again.  One way or another, change is coming.  And while it’s pretty likely it’ll get worse before it gets better (contract ending), all signs are pointing to it getting better in the end.  All the things I listed here, and the few I couldn’t write about lead me to believe I have a bright not-so-distant future ahead of me.  I feel good about my prospects right now, despite the stress and uneasiness that comes with the uncertainty.

I’ve gone through many ups and downs in the last year:  From wondering why I moved to Edmonton and thinking it might have been a mistake at first to then realizing I’d found the career and passion I’d been missing my whole life, then finding out the real impact the economy was having on the industry and seeing the hiring cap and contract limitations get introduced, to then being told by the PRC team that they were going to find me a fulltime position, only to then hear that it wasn’t likely to happen due to the unexpected implications of the prolonged recession, then getting my contract extended beyond the normal limit at the last second, to thinking I might have to move back to Winnipeg, to THEN finding out my prospects weren’t quite as bleak as that. 

But through it all, I can’t help but be thankful.  I remember what my life was like when I had no true goal or passion.  And even though it’s been stressful at times, and a real rollercoaster, I can’t imagine life without this goal.

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