The Lazy Designer

Rejection in the Games Industry

Yesterday I wrote about handling rejection while writing and today I wanted to touch upon handling rejection in the gaming industry.

What kinds of rejection might a developer experience?
The first rejections you will experience in the videogame industry will be getting hired! If you are like me you’ll probably get a few ‘nos’ before you find your first position. I’ve talked a lot in other articles about how to prepare yourself for the industry so I’ll assume that you’ve read those, mastered the skills you need, and are now working.

The kinds of rejection you might experience while working vary on your position. As a programmer you might have a way to refactor the existing code for a game that is ready to ship that will make code maintenance easier but be told by management that there is not time to implement changes. A designer might be deflated when their idea for an exciting story-arc to add to a game that will ship next month is refused.

These are two easy examples with which I can explain why the rejection happened in the first place.
For the programmer in the latter stages of a project a code change that would make the game run faster or more efficiently is valuable. A change to make future changes easier, while logical, is not something management will often sign off on. Near the end of the game development cycle the focus is on getting the game out of the door. Not making behind-the-scenes changes. The code suggestion would be better timed when work begins on the sequel.
Likewise there’s no time to make radical changes to plots in the last few months leading up to ship. Even if the writing changes could be made and the level art required there would not be enough time to bring in new voice actors and get the voice resources into the game.
So in both cases these rejections were inevitable.

So really, the first rule of avoiding rejections is to understand the timing of your suggestions and changes and this will only happen with a little experience as every studio will vary in their expectations.

Learn from Rejection
Another form of rejection is when your actual content is criticized. I explain some ways to handle feedback in my ‘getting feedback‘ post. Basically you’ll become a stronger developer if you understand *why* you are being told to change what you are doing. One way of doing this is to talk to your peers who may or may not have received the same feedback in the past. If they have, how did they respond to the criticisms? What changes did they make?
Even if you don’t, at an artistic level, agree with the changes, realize that you may not have the klout to do things your way until you have proven yourself. So it pays to understand what your managers want you to do.

Inconsistent Rejection
Sometimes rejection just happens because there is not enough time in the schedule to finish things. This is the easiest rejection to accept because it has nothing to do with the quality of your work.
But there’s a lesson to be learned here as well. Are you always having your work cut? Sometimes it might be no fault of your own but if it happens often you should question whether you are delivering your content as fast as you can be. If not, think about ways to improve the process — perhaps you need better design specifications up front to avoid redrafts?

What about you?
Any examples of rejections in the videogame industry you want to share? How did you overcome them?

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.


  • Sohail Mansorry

    I’m not trying to be nosy, but I always wonder Mr. Knowles, why won’t you join a game company which appeals to your taste and does not reject you (or you do not reject them). Obsidian, for example.

  • Brent Knowles

    Hi. Thanks for your comment!

    I have a lot of respect for Obsidian (and other developers) but I’m enough of a realist to know that all the same things that happened at BioWare that made me less than happy do happen at other studios.
    Certainly there might be a better fit out there for me but the three main reasons I’m not looking to re-enter the industry are:
    1. I don’t really need to go back into the games industry to make money (i.e., we are doing okay financially). So it would take a lot of money to urge me back to what (no matter the developer) would be a stressful environment. Not a lot of developers would be willing to pay that salary.
    2. I like writing
    3. I want control and ownership over what I work on. That means I want to own the rights to the world, the characters, and the other details that I’m involved in creating. I get to do this with my writing. No game studio would be okay with that.

    Take care,

  • Sohail Mansorry

    Sorry for being too late to answer. I was on a trip and I couldn’t check your blog. :)

    I think there are many talented people out there who think the way you do and instead of working for other companies, go indie. Some of the best games that I have played in the past few years have been indie titles. If you are financially ok, why not try to make an indie game which allows you to do two things at the same time: write and make games.
    A good example would be Spiderweb games which are very heavy on writing. Even though they lack the quality of the titles you have worked on, they have sold quite well on Steam and iDevice; which means this kind of effort will not go unrewarded. This means there’s opportunity to create a dream indie game which is made the way you want it to be made and even benefit from it.

    I am sure you have already considered this, but at least I tried. You probably know how much I respect what you have done before and I think it’s a shame if it stops here.

    And thank you.

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