The Big Shift: Life at 3rd Party Studios

I will start this by saying that I entered into the gaming industry circa 1995. Before that, it was college (BS Computer Engineering) and Intel Corp where I wrote factory automation software. That was a completely different world.

With games, I started at Realtime Associates, but was soon drafted into the big leagues of AAA titles with companies like Activision and EA. My duties were usually crafting the AI system and the Player character but soon I was elevated to a position where I was responsible for other systems such as tools used by Design and Art plus a range of tasks including the Physics module, the graphical/animation pipeline, audio implementation, portability, and global optimization. This metamorphosis covered the span of 25 years in the industry. It was because of this shift in workload that I was transformed into a Full-Rail Generalist engineer. It was the prep I needed to make it possible for me to make it into the ranks of a TLM Principle.

Credits: Darlene Alderson via Pexels

That being said, each company I joined before TLM was a pure 1st party developer. This means that all team members participated in the design and creation of the Technical Design document and the Game Design document, as well as the development timeline and roadmap. Every person on the team was hyper-aggressive when it came to problem-solving and this was not always a good thing. It led to much turnover and confrontation with the members of the team.

“There was nothing more important than the project. It was your religion. It felt like running with a pack of wolves.”

Image Credit: Red Dead Redemption 2

Sure, we used 3rd party teams to handle certain tasks where we had neither the resources nor the technical expertise to pull off. Our work schedules were reliably unbalanced and 7-day, 10-12 hours a day were more common than not. It was a pressure cooker at the very least and I do not look back on those times nostalgically.

As I sat down for orientation at TLM, I had brought much of that with me, and it took time to acclimate to the new culture. I discovered that TLM was a highly coordinated group and well-organized. They preferred strategy to tactics, but tactical situations could be addressed with aplomb if they arose. TLM also seems to care more about the employee’s well-being than it does about day-to-day performance. The “Big Picture” is what they seem to care about. I have witnessed no confrontation or heated debate here. Problems are skirted with an understanding grace. This was never the case at the 1st party.

TLM procedures aside, in the 3rd party realm, not much emphasis is placed on innovation unless it is to solve a known issue. We do not create our own issues. That slight change in paradigm relieves much stress and leaves the mind focused on the well-defined tasks. Our hours have become manageable and stable and because we are fully remote, we get to work with people all over the world. Although we are all professionally dedicated to whichever project we choose to join, we are an independent unit and that is where our allegiance lies. This is far different than the mindset of a 1st party developer.

Credits: Cottonbro via Pexels

The last to say is that after being a 1st party developer for so long, I understand my role at TLM better.

“Instead of being that stressed-out, sleep deprived person on the other end trying to answer your questions, you must be the serene person that brings order to chaos. That empathy for your 1st party counterpart is a huge tool to have on your workbench here.”

In conclusion, the experience has been new for sure…and I love it. I have the ability to continue to work on AAA games on terms that are more agreeable to my life – I don’t know if I’d ever be able to return to work in the traditional studio model.

Author: Clancy Imislund
Principal Generalist Engineer
TLM Partners, Inc.


Reality Bytes is written and curated by the gaming community. If you’d like to submit your own blog from one of the given topics below, simply click on one of the links below, fill it out, and submit. Our team will review just to make sure the content is suitable for our audience. We do not tolerate any hate speech or disparaging remarks against individuals or groups.