Pros & Cons Of Working In Studios In Malaysia’s Gaming Industry

Hearing about the harsh realities of a game studio’s work environment, including their crunch culture, is no longer so surprising.

A few years ago, Rockstar, the game developer behind GTA, saw its alleged abusive work practices (such as working overtime) exposed by its employees, and it wasn’t the first time the company was criticized for it.

This doesn’t just happen in American game studios, as employees at Japanese and European game studios have also shared about the crunch culture they experience with Vice.

Local game studios are not exempt from this culture either, it seems. Recently, Lemon Sky Studios was accused of forcing its employees to work overtime without pay, The Star reported. The art outsourcing studio subsequently issued a statement denying it.

To better understand the realities of the Malaysian game studio employee experience, we spoke to 6 people active in the industry.

Here are their aliases to protect their identities and the nature of their areas of work:

  • Kazuko, who translates 2D visuals / concept art into 3D platforms with 5 years of experience;
  • Lily, 3D artist (involved in post-production as coordinator) and later project coordinator with over 7 years of experience;
  • Kiki, animator for 3 years;
  • RoyalKnight, 3D environment artist for more than 3 years;
  • Jack, generalist game programmer for almost 2 years; and
  • Billy, a 3D animator for over 7 years.

Crunch culture is real, but especially in outsourcing companies

Of the 6 I interviewed, Kazuko, Lily and Kiki are from outsourcing companies, while RoyalKnight and Jack are from in-house production companies. Billy is currently working as a freelance, but has previously worked in outsourcing studios and in-house.

From their share, it appears that outsourcing companies are more likely to experience the harder parts of the crunch culture compared to in-house companies.

“I did my fair share of overworking myself until I was completely exhausted. Personally I think it’s because there’s a mentality where it’s because it’s hard and ruthless, we go to great lengths to avoid it, ”Kiki said.

For Kazuko, she said there are many factors that explain how ruthless the work environment can become, such as the type of project your company is doing or taking, the difficulty of the project, your project manager, your team, your skills. and your experience with the type of project. you are affected, for example.

While RoyalKnight is also no stranger to overtime in his in-house studio, he admitted that it was more his decision to do so than the taxation of his company.

Drawing on his past experiences, Billy testified to the above realities. Because in-house companies have more control over their projects and generally work on a smaller scale in Malaysia, it’s a less stressful environment.

Crunch Culture aside, there are other issues

Now, while crunch culture plays an important role in creating unhealthy work environments, other external factors come into play.

“I have been through late working hours, but I personally think one of the contributing factors is the lack of power in the computer specs provided,” said Lily.

Because of this, their machines might slow down or crash the minute they start running more software simultaneously, hampering efficiency, especially when project deadlines are tight as artists have to take turns using the software. of role.

Additionally, Lily didn’t like the way her company’s operations team handled things. Senior managers would make decisions without consulting the lower level, in which she belonged, and would attract clients with a cheaper project cost or by overly promising themselves that they could deliver the desired quality of work in a shorter timeframe, a she shared.

She had even known the fact that his artists had been taken out of his project and replaced by new people who did not know him, while the tight deadlines had not changed. This gave poor results to the final product, and the customers themselves could also see the sudden difference in quality.

“Even when a client booked and paid the price for that tier or artists to be in the project, our superiors would secretly swap top artists to handle projects that contained bigger titles. I had to pretend to my client that they were still working with the artists they had “booked”, ”explained Lily.

She also added that when junior artists were underperforming, senior artists had to step in and take charge of their workload, which made them overworked and project coordinators like her would be accused of “mismanagement.”

Life in in-house production isn’t all fun and games either

“Games in general take a long time to make. It may take months or even years to see the results of your work. In the worst case scenario, the game can just be canceled, and no one outside of the development team would even know it, ”said Jack.

He added that while planning in advance for production, they should be prepared for breakthrough bugs before the submission deadline, correcting assets that were not performing as expected in the engine, making design changes due to of some game test results, and more.

“Most people think that developing an animated game or film should be very easy and not cost too much. In fact, many artists are forced to work on a project in addition to equipment like a powerful PC, headphones, drawing tablets, rental, etc. It takes at least 1 or 2 years of development, depending on how many employees you have, ”RoyalKnight shared.

For RoyalKnight, working in in-house production also requires a lot of thought and development on their part.

“Sometimes when I get home I need to think things over and look for more ideas, solutions and new methods to get the results we want for a game. It’s really exhausting sometimes and I prefer to work. like a machine rather than using my brain to think through every moment.

While working for outsourcing studios usually means deadlines are tighter and tighter, most of the time what they need to work on is at least already decided, Jack shared.

That being said, there are some bright spots to the experience.

For the most part, these interviewees find it gratifying to be able to see their name at the end of the credits and to have their work appreciated despite the harsh realities of their work environment.

“I also know that I have always wanted to work on games, and living the work of my dreams is very rewarding. I find it fun to work on games, and seeing the game slowly coming together, piece by piece, step by step, is an accomplishment in itself, ”said Jack.

Plus, he finds the welcome from the community after launching their games much more rewarding than even seeing his name on AAA games. “The amount of positive comments, tweets, and fan art are worth it,” he said.

“Not everyone in the industry is bad. Many of my managers and supervisors are nice people and are ready to guide you. When you’re under the right direction in a project, things are a bit easier as you overcome challenges together and keep each other in control. Being in a famous game is great, but being on a good team is better, ”said Kiki.

Some starting tips based on experience

While it’s exhilarating to be able to get credit especially in an AAA game, Billy said it’s also important to be wary of the industry and not be a cinch when negotiating your contract.

On top of that, showing you’ve done research on the assets you’re going to be working on, understanding workflows, being organized, and being able to meet deadlines makes you more marketable, he added.

“If people are really passionate about joining this industry, in my opinion you should at least love to create, think, tell stories and draw. This is the lowest requirement you should have, ”said RoyalKnight.

However, Kiki added that it is also important to know what roles you are the best in the industry.

“Not everyone is an animator, modeler, or concept artist. Some people are better as a project manager or a technical director. There are many positions in the industry, it is good to research how you would like to contribute. “

“In a large games company you will probably end up specializing in a particular department, while working in a small games company allows you to explore the whole pipeline and wear a lot of hats. It’s up to you how you want to develop yourself, but as the creative industry grows, artists are expected to be well versed in various skills to set themselves apart from the competition, ”said Lily.

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Featured Image Credit: Dark Souls

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