Six months ago, my last blog post was a celebratory one. The game I had been working on, Def Jam Rapstar, was finally on store shelves and it was time for my team and I to experience the hardest part of the development process: the waiting game. Leading up to the game's release, we were excited to learn that our marketing budget was quite high for a rap karaoke game. Talks of celebrity endorsements, TV Spots, and multiple sponsors truly made us believe we could make this game stand out in a very crowded holiday season. A high review average was also expected of us and even our producer expressed skepticism that a karaoke game could score high with critics.
We all worked tirelessly to deliver the best possible product we could, and fortunately, the critics recognized our efforts. The reviews for Rapstar were quite stellar and it warmed our hearts when some called it the one of the best music games they'd played. Talks of a sequel began to rise up within Terminal Reality as well as 4mm Games and design ideas for Rapstar 2 were already being thrown around. However, our enthusiasm was tempered by a very important factor: the sales figures.
As I mentioned earlier, the marketing budget was quite high for Rapstar, so I was a little bothered that the oft talked about TV spots and endorsements were barely seen. To make matters worse, we were competing with other high caliber games including another Konami title, "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow". I even checked VGChartz from time to time and unfortunately the sales figures were incredibly low. However, my co-workers tried to comfort me by saying Rapstar is not going to make Call of Duty numbers right away, it needs to catch on by press and word of mouth.
After working on DLC for months, it eventually came to light in the new year that Rapstar didn't meet sales expectations. The game did sell pretty well for a new franchise, but the amount of spent on marketing ended up hurting us in the end. That budget raised the sales cap we needed to reach in order to just break even on the amount the investors put forth. To make matters worse, I was informed I would be laid off in two weeks.
I read stories about video game layoffs for years, but I never imagined it would happen to me and a small subset of my team. The news hit me really hard because I relocated for this dream job and I was working hard to learn more about level design and the industry as a whole. On the bright side, and this may be a result of how frequent lay offs occur in this industry, the contacts I had established during my work on Rapstar were quick to provide me with other job leads and opportunities. Almost immediately after my last day, I was contacted by another former employee to work on an iPhone game. My linkedIn profile also expanded tremendously and messages started rolling in about possible job openings all over the US.
Even though it was a tough experience leaving a place I considered home, I still had an incredible time working on Rapstar. Terminal Reality is one of the best companies to work for and I hope one day I get to work with my developer family again. For now, I'm going to keep toiling away to stay in this industry in any capacity. Ideally, I'd like to stay on the development side, but I would also love to take what I've learned and transition back into journalism. It's amazing how much my perspective changed by working on the other side of the fence. Guess what? Sometimes the developers know if an element of a game is flawed, but the publisher pushes it anyway. Imagine how frustrating that is when the reviews come out and complain about that aspect, and the publisher then scrambles to patch it.
Anyway, I look forward to updating this blog more often and becoming more active on this site now that I have more time. With any luck, I'll be able to post a successful comeback story within months. I'm much more optimistic than I was before I worked in the industry and, despite the downfalls like work instability and time crunches, it's still a wonderful industry to be a party of.