Update On Recent Events

I’m no author, but I thought I’d write up a quick summary of why I’ve been absent the past month and some thoughts on the future.

The problems started on July 15th, when the company I was currently working for missed payroll. Oscar Mike Games was a small start-up created at the request of outside investors with the goal of making mobile games. It started in March 2011 from the wreckage of a previous independent game developer called Pi Studios. We had all been burned in the Pi Studios collapse, but the stability of having investors financing the company and the opportunity to continue working with friends was enough to get a decent sized group together when forming Oscar Mike.

The problem was none of us had any experience in creating mobile titles, and we underestimated the difficulty of making money from them. We used trial and error to slowly learn the basics of mobile game design and effective monetization. Unfortunately it just took too long, the scope of the projects were way too big and these lessons came far too slowly. With every new project we’d pivot our strategy and get a bit closer, but this only happened every 3-4 months and we were constantly behind the latest monetization craze when we did finally release our titles.

Regardless we did good work, but after a year of game failures I started realizing that at some point the investors would have had enough. At the beginning of the year, Meredith and myself realized we should hedge our bets and look at making a move out of Houston to a city where my game development employment options weren’t so limited. Our top two choices ended up being Austin and Seattle. We spent the next 5 months working towards making this move, but due to some other issues the only two cities on the initial list that we could organize a move to at the time were Los Angeles and Dallas. After much consideration we opted to delay the move another year to have a shot at ending up in our top two cities rather than settling for a backup.

So that decision was made during June, and at that point I told Meredith that my major concern would be the longevity of Oscar Mike. There hadn’t been any signs of problems yet, but I am not oblivious enough to realize that if a company isn’t making any profit it has a limited lifetime. We just hoped it could last at least another 8 months. But as I previously mentioned, a month later on July 15th we missed payroll. It was only delayed two days and we were given assurances that this was just a mistake, but I instantly had deja vu back to the slow demise of Pi Studios. A week later on July 23rd it was abruptly announced that we’d be having layoffs.

Over half the company was let go. The reasoning given was that the investors had pulled out of the company, and the layoffs would leave us enough remaining cash to make one more payroll at the beginning of August. So it was apparent at that point the company was done, but at least hopefully we’d have a few more weeks of paid employment to transition to a new position. Unfortunately finding a new game development position would absolutely require relocating out of Houston. Our moving window had already passed, Meredith had signed her teaching contract and would have to work in Houston for the next 10 months. Relocation now was going to be an absolute mess and result in some drastic and unpleasant life changes for nearly a year.

Regardless I began papering the country with my resume and portfolio. I ended up applying to 25 different game development positions. Over the course of the next 3 weeks I wrote countless cover letters, wrote thousands of lines of code for practice tests and slowly worked through the interview process with a dozen studios. This process was extremely slow, with all the constant layoffs these days most studios have a deluge of applicants to sort through. On August 1st, instead of getting our last paycheck from Oscar Mike we instead received a phone call that the studio was officially shuttered.

The last month has been a really dark period in my life. As usual the money issues came at the worst possible time, our 2 year anniversary and a week before a planned 7 day beach vacation to Roatan. Your life goes on hold, and a constant unease and worry permeates every minute of every day. If I wasn’t doing something to directly enable me to get a new job, I felt guilty for wasting time. My wife was amazing, instantly planning our new money saving procedures to give us as much time as possible, and ensuring we’d be able to temporarily survive off her salary, our savings and unemployment. She also made sure I kept at least somewhat social, still visiting our families and maintaining any planned activities that didn’t require cash outlay.

So that brings me to last week, August 13th. At this point I had applied everywhere I could and it was mostly a game of constant inbox refreshing followed by a flurry of practice tests and occasional interviews. Around that time I applied to what I considered a backup position as a mobile developer at United Airlines. It wasn’t game development, but it was local and since I had two family members already working there it seemed very likely that I’d get the job and could use it as an absolute plan B if none of these other positions panned out. Within days I had an in-person interview, and on Friday August 17th during an inbox refreshing session, an offer letter arrived.

At the time, I had some in-person interviews scheduled with game studios in Austin and one with Amazon in Seattle. However the United offer was surprising, a large raise on top of the other benefits that come from working for an airline. The weekend consisted of a long session of pros and cons. I crafted what I considered the best case offer from my top choice game studio that I was currently in talks with and compared this hypothetical offer against the United one. After much deliberation, my only concern with taking the United job was the impact on any of my possible future game development hopes. However after looking at it more, and discussing it with other game developers, it was agreed that it would only have a minimal effect on my future job endeavors.

So starting September 10th I’ll be a Senior Mobile Developer with United Airlines. I’m really excited about the work I’ll be doing, and it will allow me to stay in Houston and hopefully save a lot of money. In the future, we might think about the possibility of moving again when it is actually conceivable. It still means at least another month of poverty, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and has provided an immediate sense of relief. I still plan to continue to moonlight in game development, finding contract work where available and making small mobile titles with some ex-Oscar Mike folks. Hopefully this respite from hard core game development will allow me to enjoy playing them more as well.

Wow, that was a 1200 word essay but I wanted to get all this news out there as I feel bad about being so off the grid the past month. Hopefully this explains that, and when the new income stream begins rolling you should see me out and about once again 🙂 Lastly Meredith and I just wanted to thank everyone who has sent us reassuring messages or offered to help out in any way during these past few weeks, it has meant more then you could ever know.

To the future, flying high and looking much less scary,

– Ryan