I’ve just spent the last ten years of my life working inside of the Xbox Advanced Technology Group, a merry team of techninjarocketsurgeons known for being air-dropped into games companies to help them optimize their games for the Xbox console, and in doing so I’ve worked on thousands of games, from AAA to Indie titles, and helped everyone I could wherever I could. Including helping Xbox get together with Sony and others in the industry to set up an open-standards body around HDR gaming.1
We also did a bunch of things like helping developers write Windows games, write Kinect-based games for Xbox 360, a little research and development here and there on technology which may or may not have ever shipped, and who knows what else. We also did a bit of tech support, documentation, education (I also ran our games technology conferences - usually owning the entirety of the content production, strategy and planning side of the house, and doing everything from writing and structuring keynotes to giving a ton of highly-rated talks myself).
Xbox ATG has been around for 19 years at this point2, and I’m proud to have been a part of it for half of its lifetime. Not a bad innings.
Either way though, ten years is a long time. It’s time for a change.
As one chapter ends another one begins…
So where am I going now?
I’d love to be able to say that I was starting my own games/software company, or becoming a screenwriter, or ditching all of this to become a full-time musician, or any of those things. Unfortunately I can’t say that yet. (Boo!) That’s still high on my list, but top of the list is getting to the point where I own a house.
Shelter’s important, after all. Even more important when working for yourself is a) having a place to live with predictable rent, b) having a mortgage for tax-deduction reasons (in the US, you can’t deduct expenses in any way that makes sense for a small business unless you have a mortgage - starting out, it’s that which tips you over from taking the standard deduction towards itemizing everything). And it’d be very useful to have a nest-egg to fall back on - especially when running a company means that you have to pay for your own healthcare. Realistically I only get a few shots at this before I run out of time on this spinning rock, so that’s not going to happen yet.
Throw into the mix that it’s pretty apparent that we’re due for a recession and it’s going to land any second now. Everyone’s saying it already, so it must be true. If you don’t believe me, see this previous tale of fashion signaling recessions - particularly the part about skirts, becaue in the past month or two I’ve started to see a lot of above-the-waist high pants on women instead of skirts (and a recession makes way more sense than anything else for that particular example of retro fashion boomeranging back into the zeitgeist, because it makes over 50% of women’s butts look absolutely terrible in them - I’m just glad that it’s not heading in the direction of men as well, because I’m not wearing mid-torso pants for anyone, and it’s make my gut look more like I’m about to give birth than anything else in recorded history).
All that said and you still haven’t said where.
Get to the chopper… I mean, large stable tech company with some Gamesy stuff
The answer is… I’m going to Google. This week I start my new employee orientation and will be joining their Android Gaming division. The goal? To make android gaming better for game developers (I think you can see the theme here).
At this point you might be thinking Why aren’t you going to Stadia?, to which I’ll retort that I almost went there, but I didn’t want to move to New York or San Jose.
Why Google at all? They’re not known for their hard focus on gaming, and they’re certainly not known for having any kind of stamina in their gaming strategy and plans. The general opinion in the gamedev community seems to be that they just seem to lose interest and aren’t a real force or player.
That’s the word on the street… now are those opinions correct? I’ve seen enough in my talks with them to imply that they’re serious this time. Really serious. No, honestly, you have no idea how serious they’re being. Trust me.
Serious, at least, enough for me to risk a few years of my limited time on this planet on them. Look, I could just take my savings and try to put out an album and make it big on the EDM circuit. I’m not.3
If not them, where else?
I did consider a couple of other places, and it was (to be completely honest) an insanely hard decision to make. I had offers on the table from Tesla and Oculus, and I was also considering a few other places, including Epic, Harmonix, and Warner Bros/Monolith. But this time it was a combination of an established large company, (including a friend who was asking me to come on board and is promising to mentor me), and some really tough back-and-forth with the pro’s and con’s.
I can still go to Tesla or Oculus (or, for that matter, Harmonix) if I change my mind. That’s reassuring.
The difference this time is that if I find that I don’t completly relish the experience at my new gig, I’m willing to leave in a much shorter time frame than I ever have in the past, and bounce around until I find a home that was as much of a home as Xbox ATG was. Historically I’ve been really stubborn about trying to muscle on through and make it work. (That said, all signs point to Google being a place that is kinder than many companies in the industry, and where people put collaboration first - which is something I’m really looking forward to).
Heck, after a few years, I might just take a spin of the roulette wheel and start my own thing (after all I’m not getting any younger). And yes, in true Simon Cooke fashion, it might come completely out of left field and be a tiki bar like Zombie Village, but located somewhere near Seattle.
Ultimately I don’t want to move any further away from games than I have at this point though - that’s a requirement for me. I really enjoy being in the entertainment space and working with creative people who think in curves as well as straight lines. :) And at the same time, I’ve got to pay for college for the kiddo, put a roof over my family’s head, and put food in their bellies. Something that has become surprisingly expensive in Seattle over the past decade.
The future begins here…
So as I write this it’s 12:18am the night before “Noogle” (New Google-r) orientation. They have a lot of people coming tomorrow, so many that registration starts at 7:30am and I’m in the group that is supposed to show up earliest. Are they sure this is a software engineering job? Have they met software engineers? Half the time you’re lucky if they show up before 11am, never mind 9am. And those are the early birds!!!
(Four days later, and In retrospect, traffic around Mountainview is painful… and this avoids a good chunk of it).
Wish me luck, I’m going in. I don’t even specifically know what I’m going to be doing (I have hints, but they’re in the realm of “it’ll be kind of chocolate flavored, with a bit of spice” rather than deep down to the E numbers, palm oil, and cocoa liquor).
I just know it’s going to be interesting and a wild ride.
I’d claim that I had a hand in enabling Sony and Microsoft’s recent partnership to provide backend services for PSN Network, but to be honest, I have no idea if I did or not. That said, I’m relatively certain that if the stuff I’d worked on with them hadn’t work out well, and had soured the relationship between the companies (which was at risk), it would have been much more difficult for that deal to happen. So maybe that went a little easier because of me. I can’t really say. ↩
I came up with the Latin motto4 for Xbox ATG for its 16th (or 0x10th, or %1000’th if you prefer) anniversary. It reads: “INDISCRETA MAGICAE • SCIENTIAS ET ARTES • IGNIS, LVX ET SONVM” which means “Indistinguishable from Magic - Science and Art - Fire, Light and Sound”… because any sufficiently Advanced Technology Group is indistinguishable from magic… ↩
I’m also not crazy. Call me when I make more than ~$2.47 per year making electronic music and I’ll reconsider. My minimum is probably $5 a month before I start getting giddy, quit programming, and start planning to play Burning Man or Coachella. (I’ll open for Infected Mushroom… it’ll be great, and I’m sure they won’t mind…) ↩
You can do this by round-tripping between English and any other language you want in an auto-translator such as Google Translate. Just keep slightly changing your sentence until you come up with something that you can translate with it to the other language and back again intact. If it does this, then you’ve probably got something which is a stable translation (if not always a good one), as it’s not shifting when it’s translated in either direction. ↩
Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.
The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).