Sometimes, I feel like I am suddenly waking up and a 9 years old version of me goes “Where the hell am I?”.

To get the feeling, imagine that you had been swimming for a long while, focusing on nothing but your breath. Then you stop and look around, water up to your chin. You realize that you cannot see the shore anymore. You are far from everyone and the water is deep. So, so deep.

I think that living abroad, in a foreign culture, often feels this way. It also means that you have to build a new definition of home. I believe most people build it around the relationships they forge: the loves and the friendships.

I surely did.

Here is the last chapter of my adventure with CDProjekt RED, a defining love story that never felt quite right.

This post is the fourth part of a longer story. Read part 1, part 2  or part 3.

 

Raising up

The one element that is getting in the way of my Senior promotion is that I am apparently too stubborn. For the months prior to my review, I decide to say yes to absolutely everything.

What I find out is that it saves a lot of energy and that people are much more open to new ideas if you first say yes to theirs.

On top of that, of course, I handle my duty at best. But this is something I would do even if there was no promotion on sight.

When the day of my review comes, I get called to a room with the Director and an HR. The review starts very well as the first words are “Congratulation, you have been promoted to Senior”.

Everything goes well until the Director tells me that he still had some feedback saying that I was sometimes stubborn. I am shocked as I have literally agreed with every single person who came to me for the last 3 months. I do believe that this feedback came from people who I didn’t interact much during the past few months and who based their opinion on what they knew of me. After all, how much can a person change in 3 months?

The moment the director says this, my no-opposition security belt breaks and I ask for more explanation. The meeting lasts almost an hour, with only the first 2 minutes being positive. When I come out of it, I don’t know if I am promoted or fired.

It actually took me a few weeks to feel like my work was worth anything. HR came to me after the meeting to explain that it’s not how it was supposed to happen. They had tons of positive things to say, but unexpectedly got stuck on the stubbornness, the only negative point in the list.

All in all, everything is in order and they are more than satisfied with my work.

The AI team grows with two more designers that become dedicated to the subjects of A.I and Systems that I was in charge of designing.

One day, a meeting pops up on my calendar. As I stand up to go, I notice that the other designers of the team are not moving. I remind them that we have a meeting. Apparently, they don’t.

This is how I learned that I had become the team coordinator for A.I and systems in the game.

Once this new status is clarified, I decide to call up a meeting with what is apparently my team now.

I am straight up with them: I don’t want to be a coordinator. This is just a Lead without a Lead salary and only half the decision power. I asked them if any of them is opposed to the idea of me being their Lead. They are cool with the idea, everything is alright.

The next stop then is the Director who promised me a Lead position.

When I finally get to talk to him, he explains to me that everything will come in time and to not worry. If I can prove myself as a coordinator, there is no reason I won’t get a proper lead position.

Okay, let’s do this.

Recognition

I love being a coordinator. Not the title exactly, but being in charge of a team and having the opportunity to implement my vision in game. The Director was right about one thing: if I had become straight up a Lead, I would have probably never known if people listened to me because they believed in me or just because I was Lead.

I love it, and it is about to get just a tad better.

One day, the director comes to me. There is a design that he had been working on at a high level, but Adam Badowski, the Head of the studio, is not satisfied with it. He wants it to have more flesh.

As you will later see, this will turn out to be the biggest opportunity of my career… and I flat out refuse.

No way I am going to spend time doing that! The design is basically already done, I just need to fix some technicalities and do a prototype to prove that it works. I am not a programmer!

The Director just knows how to push my buttons and is used to me throwing fits. He and the Lead sit me down to talk me into it. Apparently, Adam himself said “It’s an important mechanic and we need much more from it. Give it to Ryan”. I was sitting arm crossed, sure about my position, categorically saying no to the task… and one corner of my mouth smiled.

The Director caught it immediately. It was done. I would take care of the task.

I spend a full week on the design. I make sure to keep the main ideas the Director had envisioned and redo about everything else. People seem to get excited about it and I finish just in time to present to Adam by week’s end.

At this point, I grew quite attached to it but my job here is just to provide something that a dedicated team would take over, under the supervision of the Director.

Well, at least that’s what I thought…

Adam gets really excited about the idea. That’s great, but the real surprise is not there. At the end of the meeting, the Director throws a completely unexpected:

“I am happy that you like it, Adam. Don’t you think Ryan should be the Lead of the team implementing this feature?”

Wait, what? Who?

And Adam answers, simply, “Yes, obviously”

And just like that, on top of my duties as Coordinator, were added those of Lead for a team that would grow to 17 people.

Stress

The team I inherit of contains almost all the positions you can find in the studio. Designers, 3D artists, Cinematic Animators, Gameplay Animators, Writers, and Coders. The job is thrilling.

[Here, I decided to change the team that I am referring to for something random, like “Animators”. Indeed, some news websites used this part of the story to make completely ludicrous extrapolations about potential issues with Cyberpunk. Issues that never existed, but make a good headline.]

The most challenging part: the Animators hate the design. I obviously can’t talk about the specificities, as the game hasn’t come out yet, but Animators straight up hate it.

The most striking example is a meeting where the Lead animator openly expresses his issues with my concept, echoing the opinion of his team. I keep it straight and manage to defend the idea with the promise that I won’t disappoint them.

And I don’t. I rewrite the design almost entirely and come up with a better version that satisfy everyone, including the Animators. Before that, I had nightmares involving them. For real.

Having to handle so many people, from so many different areas of development (some I never even touched) has me drinking a full cup of anxiety every morning before going to work. I love it, but god is it hard.

I have never been so excited to go to work, all the while my stress level goes off the chart. I now cumulate the duties of:

  • Senior Designer
  • A.I and System Team Coordinator
  • Strike Team Lead.

My salary? 2100 euros before taxes. 100 euros more than when I was a Junior.

Standing up for something, or just making excuses? Why I left

I talk with HR and the Director about it. They cannot give me a raise. After all, I had been promoted to Senior just a few months ago.  Apparently, however, they are doing an overhaul of the whole company salaries and I should get some news in the next 6 months.

Almost a year ago, I took the decision to stay instead of going somewhere I could be living the life. And here I was, a year later, having to wait 6 more months to know if I would get more than a Junior. I am pissed.

In my head, it’s 4 years and 6 months of waiting. 4 years of being paid under what my participation was worth and fighting for raises. What even guarantees that the news after 6 months won’t be that I need to wait another 6 months for a raise?

At this point in my life, money is not an issue anymore. My salary is more than enough to live comfortably in Warsaw. There are still many things I can’t afford, but I can’t complain, as long as I stay in Poland.

But these rules.

These rules that I set for myself, for my own good. Remember when I said they would push me to quit?

  • I must get paid for the precious time and skills I put into someone’s project.

No matter how much I like the job, I am not being paid fairly for my contribution. If I can’t stand for myself now, how can I ever expect the situation to improve? Is it how I want my whole career to look like? Being paid half my worth, feeling like I owe everything to the company I work for and that they don’t owe me anything?

I would get my raise or leave.

Freedom to fail

Leave but to go where? There’s no other studio that does projects I am that excited about, or that would give me the kind of crazy responsibilities I have here. I had been struggling with this question for about a month when the best gift CDProjekt could give me arrived: The Witcher 3 bonus money.

Bonus money in the game industry is a payment that you get when you complete a project. The amount is usually based on the success of the game and the number of sales (among other things).

Each employee who worked on The Witcher 3 (and was still in the company at this time, around September 2016) receives a mail announcing how much they can expect to get. The amount is based on the level of seniority they had during the production of the game until may 2015. I open my mail and discover that I am entitled to 24,000 euros (after taxes).

This is the opportunity I was waiting for.

I don’t actually need to go work for anyone.

I can run my own business full time now.

My thought process goes like this:

In about a month, I have an annual review. I have been pretty vocal about my issue with my salary so I expect the subject to be raised.

I had been straight with HR beforehand and asked for 3000 euros. Actually, I didn’t simply ask for a raise for myself, but for the entire design team; explaining that the level of technical skills required here is way higher than average and that it is impossible that we get paid below said average.

At the end of my annual review, if I get the money I asked for, I stay. If not, I leave.

As weeks go by, the idea of running my own business grows more and more within me. As crazy as it sounds, I end up hoping that I won’t get the raise.

In the meantime, the Leadership thing goes so perfectly well. I hear compliments on my work that I had never heard before. Working on a key feature of the game, I am at the top of my career.

Then, the annual review happens.

Best review I ever had. Apparently, I have a bright future in the company.

The subject of the salary comes, once everything else has been said.

Unfortunately, they cannot give me any raise.

I am at peace.

I remember everybody being shocked in the meeting room. I have nothing to add? I *always* have something to add!

But No, not this time.

I can’t admit it to myself at the time, but this is what I wanted to hear. I leave the meeting room without much more than a “thank you”, a smile on the lips.

I stay silent about my intentions for a few more weeks, until I sign an official paper stating that I would receive the bonus money on my account.

I remember how the meeting with the HR who hand the paper over to me went:

“So, now that I signed this paper… what would happen if I was to get fired? Would I still get the money?”
“Yes. of course”
“Okay okay. And what if I was to quit today? Would I still get it?’
“Well, yes… you would.”

I left the room, knowing that it was time to go and quit my dream job. Information travels faster than me, though. Before I reached my desk, the Director already knew my plan, as he heard it from a suspecting HR.

Saying I quit

In my head everything was clear. I was actually happy, excited. As the Director wasn’t in his office, I had time to talk about my decision with my fellow designers.

What a unique experience, to quit your job.

I am completely confident in my decision, until the moment where it’s finally time to go talk to my own Lead and Director.

As I am walking to their office, I remember reality suddenly catching up with me.

What the hell am I doing?

There is so much blood rushing to the upper part of my body that it feels like it is wrapped up in a blanket. My heart beats like it’s actually punching my chest.

Are you really going to leave a job at CDProjekt RED? You won’t have another chance like that!

Well, I will run out of time before I run out of fear. My heart may be punching, but I am in automatic mode, the emergency mode for stressful situations.

I cross the door.

“Can we talk?”
Only the Lead is there, he doesn’t know.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
I quit

 

 

Post scriptum note

I left CDProjekt on the best possible terms. I wholeheartedly recommend the company.

Only 6 months after I left, more or less everybody got a salary bump. I don’t know the actual numbers, but I think I would now be earning the 3000 euros that I asked for.

The management also greatly improved, and I heard most of the problems I went through have been fixed or mitigated.

Coming up

In the next post, I will start talking about my life as an entrepreneur who knows nothing about entrepreneurship.

How my first application, supposed to be a 2 months project, took me a year plus half of my savings only to end up in the depths of oblivion (by my own decision).

We’ll see what happens when you start working without unavoidable deadlines, as well as without doing any prior research.

 

Stay tuned.

 

Read the next post: “Starting the wrong way”

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38 Thoughts to “Leaving CDProjekt RED, a first step in the dark – Part 4”

  1. I cant wait to read the next part… (I already subscribe to the notification)

    I have one question for you:
    Do you ever participate in a game jam in the years you work in game development ?

    1. Hey, I am really glad you like it! The next part is coming soon 🙂

      I only took part in game jams when I was a student. I had several opportunities after I started my career but never followed through. I think the idea of 48 hours without sleep to essentially do what I was already doing at work didn’t appeal to me strongly enough 🙂

      I do believe that game jams are great though.

      1. Hey Ryan!
        I’ve just read your blog last friday and soaked in every word you put into this intriguing and sometimes a bit daunting story. I honestly felt like I was reading some kind of sci-fi thriller(I know weird association), and sometimes a description of struggling between passion and love for a special kind of media and the fight with money. The bit strange and daunting part of it was/is that I see a lot of coherence between your and my person. I always wanted(and still do) to make/design videogames since my 3rd age. I also plan to move to poland and work for CDPR by the end of this year,… and this since a long time too ^^. I’m going to graduate this june my 5 year education about GameDesign in Vienna and after I’ve taken some months of rest I will going to execute the plan mentioned before. I’ll finish my eighth project by the end of march and I finally managed to produce(together with a team) and design a game which actually does make fun and elicits emotion set aside from mere frustration caused by the game being unfair. Since you’re an experienced designer, you can tell that it is quite difficult to get a game to beeing fun^^.

        I know it might be bold to ask randomly in the internet, but I’m willing to take every bit of chance I can possibly get my hands on. So I straightforwardly ask: are there some tips or contacts you could recommend/give me or people I should talk to prior to moving to Warsaw?

        I genuinely thank you for this great post and wish you all the best for you upcoming project and company :)!

        1. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s good to see such motivation :D.
          It’s hard to give you advice on moving to Warsaw (or anywhere else). I guess the best thing you can do is to get in touch with people who live there. Figure out what you are looking for in a city and if you can find it wherever you are going to.
          And once you are there, try to understand the culture and learn the language of course 🙂

          1. Thanks for your fast response :D!
            I’m already talking to several friends with polish roots and what they think about living there and what the circumstances are etc. Thanks for the advice, but I got another question if that’s okay^^: do you have any recommendations about getting in contact with CDPR or people I can talk to who are working there, because what I heard a lot is that they are quite hard to reach and getting involved with them is not that easy.

  2. Hi!
    These 4 posts were excellent! I just couldn’t stop reading. I wish though, you tell something more about what happened after you said that you quit. What was their reaction, did they see it coming, did they try to convince you to not do it?

    1. Hi! It’s really a great motivation to see people enjoying the posts. Thanks for that 🙂

      They didn’t try to convince me to stay because it was quite obvious that my mind was made up. After announcing that I was quitting, we agreed that I would stay one more month in the studio to close up my most important tasks and write down as much of whatever was in my head as possible.

      I had a one-hour one-on-one talk with Adam in his office before leaving. I shared my experience of the last 4 years with him and he told me about the plans he had for the game and the company. It was a really good talk (Adam is a very genuine person and talking with him always felt good).

      Adam, the Directors, and Leads may not have tried to talk me into staying, but they did insist that I was welcome to come back anytime.

      I don’t know if they saw it coming… Most of my fellow designers knew about my intentions but were still a bit shocked when it happened.

      Hope that answered your questions 🙂

  3. Really great blog with interesting details shared! I keep reading it to my son, who also dreamed about “testing games” and is slowly shifting to “designing games” stage…
    Looking forward to the entrepreneurship part of the blog…
    Regards,
    Marek

    1. Hi Marek,
      There’s no better feeling for me than knowing that my story may help someone start a career in game design. Thank you so much for letting me know, it doubled up my motivation for writing more!

  4. Very interesting conclusion.

    It raise a lot of questions, and also made me understand why so many extremely talented designers ended up quitting to serup their own business.

    1. It’s not always so “grim” though. Sometimes people just leave because they want to try something new :). Thanks for reading!

  5. Don’t stop! 🙂

    This makes you appreciate the “lifestyle” that seems to be necessary to be a game designer/work on games. Move to other countries, crunch regularly, make your work your life.

    Then again, some seem to be directly trying to work against this trend, at least for themselves, ie. I think Jonathan Blow has said that they don’t do crunch time.

    1. Well, as I said in my posts, I don’t think that the crunch part is necessary. I surely am a part of the people wanting to work against this trend. Working out of passion is great, but it’s a whole different feeling to put hours in because you can’t stop yourself and be doing it because you don’t have a choice.
      But I am glad my posts can at least help appreciate the experience that is behind the making of a game. Thank you 🙂

  6. Hey Ryan,
    I loved every single one of the articles of the series, you’re really telling the story with an open heart and they feel really honest and truthful about your reality at the time. It’s very rare to hear someone talk about their financial struggles and the implications of them. We often glorify the artist life, encourage to “follow your Dreams” without knowing the precariousness it may involve. Even if we are aware of it, we often go for it, because it feels like it will be hell for a little while but it will get better.
    I would just have one comment though, it’s that you often compare your salary to the one you had as a junior in Paris, or even the London salary offer as a criteria to confirm that you were underpaid at CDProjekt; But obviously, by working in Paris, London, or any other ultra developped Capital city of the world you’re going to earn way more than in Poland. I understand the banks do not care about any of that but I’m just wondering if you’re not holding Warsaw to an unfair standard.
    Anyhow, seeing you work on your side projects when you were a junior designer at Ubisoft, I knew you would be achieving great things.
    I am glad you did not lose the envy and the rage to always learn more and always do better. I truly feel like you have come a long way, I can’t wait to read the rest of your advntures.

    1. Hi Julie,
      I am really happy that you enjoyed the read :).
      The main reason why I had such expectations with my salary was that, even though I was working in Poland, the company was doing international business. Meaning that they had the means (actually even more than many French or Engish companies) to pay me at my international worth. Of course, I didn’t expect to get the 4000 euros the London company was offering, but there was still a huge gap between my current situation and the situation I would have literally anywhere else.

      The main idea was to stop acting like I owe the company and be grateful for simply having the job, when I am already giving so much to it.

      It’s also important to remember that Warsaw is still a capital city. The cost life *is* lower, but not twice lower, unlike the rest of Poland.

    2. This is not entirely correct, you can get European payments in Poland and many companies (even local ones are giving this kind of salary). I am coming from gaming industry (15 years in bussines mainly on bizdev/marketing side) and I heard stories about CDP, hope it changed over years, but few years ago things weren’t that great there (and this blog proves this). The problem with CDP is that they know who they are and what they achived so they know that people will join them even if they get underpaid. It’s same with Google EU (talking about Dublin HQ), people there are also not getting great money, but it’s Google!

  7. Ryan this is really inspiring, thank you for the insight!

    It’s really nice to see what it’s like living as a professional Game Desiginer, it seems your struggles made you stronger in the end! Well done for developing your character.

    As someone who is working full time as a Software Developer, although I have more experience in Game Development, there are not many opportunities here in South Africa where I am based, or at least not even close to where I am (I’d have to relocate, but finances is the problem, another reason why I’m really intrigued by your posts and your then financial situation to make your dream come true!). So I would like to start my own Game Development business here, and reading your blog is helping me make my mind up about my contradicting decisions!

    I’m really looking forward to reading more about your adventure! , thank you Ryan!

    1. Hi Mitchell,
      Thank you for reading the blog :).
      I really like the attitude that you are having. “If there are no opportunities here, I will create my own”, that is such a good spirit! My post may be inspiring you, but comments like yours are what inspire *me* to keep going. I hope that the rest of my story will somehow help get your own ambition to fruition.

      1. Hey Ryan,

        Thank you so much for the kind words 🙂 It’s what I’ve always wanted to do! I know that sometimes the location can be limiting, but nowadays with the power of the internet, it’s possible to run a business from anywhere in the world, I’m sure you know this already! So there is actually nothing holding me back from starting it here when I am located.

        I’m glad that I could be an inspiration to your posts! Just as much as you inspire me! I have read your next post, I cannot wait for more. Everything that you have described in your journey so far, I have been through it all. Including the “never ending next week”, I followed this while I was working remotely for a Game Development company, having no deadlines, it really does become a problem to actually be productive and draw the line at some point! The thing is I never knew this was the case until I read your post, the way you can judge your own character and assess your mindset is incredible, I can do it too, but not as efficiently as how you managed to. This is something I would suggest to everyone, by judging and assessing your own daily activities and making improvements on them, this way, you can become successful and run a successful business.

        Keep it up Ryan! I am looking forward to more!

  8. I read the 4 posts back to back (starting from Gamasutra then coming here).
    Great reading! I’d love to go work for a gamedev company to get some experience but as I already have a family, taking a pay cut is not an option.

    hence I’ll just continue to work on things in my own time which is also limited due to family time – no complaints as family time is great, but that’s the reality.
    I think you’re meant to get a solid foundation before raising a family but sometimes life jsut happens regardless of what plans you may have.

    It seems like you’ve almost caught up to the present so best luck for the future!

    1. Hi Steven,
      You should definitely give a game company a try! Taking a pay cut is not a mandatory situation. It all depends on the job and your negotiation skills :). If you have your own project, it could be a great help/boost to find a good position in the industry. Maybe just give it a shot, to see what offers you will get. You don’t have to accept them ;).

      Thank you for taking the time to read through the posts and for the wishes! 🙂

  9. Hi Ryan,

    Thanks so much for writing this series (found it on Gamasutra then followed it here). It’s so enriching and heartening to read about your experiences! As a software engineer who doesn’t currently work in the games industry but is interested in starting her own game company one day, it’s really helpful to read about what you went through and the lessons you’ve learned. I hope to release a few small practice games while working, and once I’ve saved up enough start my own venture here in the US.

    I’m looking forward to future posts about your upcoming projects and wish you the best of luck on your journey. Congratulations on the work you’ve done so far, and I hope you continue to improve!

    1. Hi Pat,

      I am really glad that my blog can somehow help you with your own plans. Releasing some practice games is a great idea! Make sure to read my post “Starting the wrong way”, to not end up like me and get stuck in the never-ending last week :).

      Hope to see you around, I have many more mistakes to share. Hopefully, they will help you more with your own venture.

  10. Haha, I looked for the second game but it disappear went I put one of my personal website down. I was a Java browser-based game. I stopped maintaining it when chrome decided to not run Java in its browser anymore.
    Just for the story, it was a ASCII rogue like in the cyberpunk universe, with a pretty cool combat system. What I liked the most about it was that money was actual bills, that you could keep in your character’s wallet (if you had one). They would also get blood on them if you killed their previous owner.

    Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question about the design that Writers had trouble with. Just to be clear, it’s not the “design of Cyberpunk” that they hated, just the one slice I am talking about here.

    Thank you for the wishes 🙂

  11. I’ve read the whole story. I must say I’ve never read about such naive guy like you. If you are underpaid and you still stay in such a job you are just stupid. Sorry man but that’s the truth. No matter what kind of project you work on. I’ve realized that after just a year of work. You needed really a lot of time. Passion? Dream job? Stop telling bullshiet. No one will give you back time you’ve lost. When I read your story I laughed many times. You’ve learned a lot of game developemnt (and I respect that) but you definitely didn’t pay attention on business classes. Anyway thanks for the story. I only confirmed what I heard from my colleagues about this company.

    1. Your business classes never mentioned the word “investment” I guess, but after all, that’s a very difficult concept to grasp 🙂

    2. Hi Lake,

      My time at CDProjekt was more than just a way to earn money and gave me way more than that. As I said, if I could go back in time, I would make the same choices again.
      I came to realize my childhood dream, and I can now live as a man who has reached success. My definition of success, of course, is not centered on money.
      Now that I can say that my childhood dreams came true, I can peacefully move forward with my life and aim for new goals, like financial success.

      I am glad that you had the strength to live your life your own way. It looks like you learned a lot in your life very fast, and you are very proud of it. It would be good if you could also realize that your way is not necessarily what everybody else is striving for.

  12. Hi Ryan. You put so much genuine detail into this article. I admire how you kept it perfectly balanced – sincere yet appreciative for the good stuff at the same time.

    I’ve worked in games for 8 years and joined CDPR just recently. I find your observations relevant both to my experience so far and to CD Projekt.

    And it reminded me how a lack of proper compensation – in general, not CDP – can trigger a lot of bad feelings about the job, extrapolating even small issues (like bad food in the canteen) into huge obstacles (when you can’t afford another main dish this day, for example).

    Good luck with your own business! And thanks again for taking the time to write these.

  13. Hey Ryan,

    I really enjoyed reading your story about CDP and your time in it. You really have nice style of writing. After reading everything I had a feeling that sky is the limit in your case, but you really need to work on your “soft-skills”. From my experience successful career is mix of hard work,talent,good relationships.

    Take care a good luck!

    PS. Hope your company will succeed as much as CDP did with TW3

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