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Moving to California - Working in the industry

polycounter lvl 5
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Skeepy polycounter lvl 5
I wanted to get some opinions on the topic of moving to California to pursue a career in the industry. Preferably from those who are actually working in the industry in California. 

More specifically, I'm close to the age of starting a family, wanting to buy a house, continuing to save for retirement. None of which seem even slightly plausible to do while trying to get into the industry in LA (for example) because it seems just be living there - you have a consistent major drain on your finances even if you have a job. Of course, if you land a gig at a high-end studio and they pay your above average salary - then there you go, but I'm trying to be realistic about someone who has no industry experience. 

With the pandemic, my current industry (themed entertainment (theme parks)) has completely stopped, I'm wondering if switching to the game industry is a safe move for someone with those goals in mind. 

For those of you who moved out west, found a job, and are living the dream - what's the reality of moving towards said life goals in a high priced area like Cali? Do the salary trends for the industry have you living paycheck to paycheck? Is buying a house (median value = 600-700k for a small house) even seem like an option unless you are established at a top studio for multiple years? 

I know of so many who are my age (31) who still have room mates working at big studios. They are living the dream, if the dream is having almost no finances for your future - but you get to work in games so its worth it.

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  • rollin
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    rollin polycounter
    I guess you already know the answer to your questions: 
    It's not impossible.. but very unlikely.. 
  • zachagreg
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    zachagreg ngon master
    Moving somewhere expensive to get a job in the industry is a bad move. Getting the job then shipping out is a much better one. You job hunt where it's cheap and follow the money. I've lived in Cali for 18 years its rough regardless of job. You can't really expect just your job to carry you out there. Software engineers and computer science fields are a different story but with the price of living starting artist positions aren't going to give you a comfortable life w/ out worry.

    You have more luck in housing if you have the credit and savings to back it up and can find some nice places but it is still an effort. Generally having some know-how and buying a "starter home" that needs fixing will give you a better return.

    In the same vein I can't really say moving to the game industry would be considered a safe move or anywhere near a guaranteed one by any stretch of the words. Especially starting in the industry in California. From your last line that doesn't really seem like your dream so I think it may not be such a good move for you.
  • Domslice
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    Domslice polycounter lvl 5
    I'm thinking that there would have to be other strong motivators to pickup and move entirely without first having a contract gig e.g. a spouse or loved one there with an opportunity in Cali themselves. Or perhaps you've simply always dreamt of living that "west-coast-best-coast" life?

    If you got a contract and had the chance to get a sponsored visa it'd be even better. Right now with Covid going on though that'll be quite unlikely... 

    Personally I'm 33 and married and would definitely pickup and move if given the chance! Don't shy from that risk/reward.
  • Obscura
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    Obscura grand marshal polycounter
    Can't say anything about California, but I can tell you that what works in the reality is usually the other way around. Get good, apply for a job there, and if you get the job, you can move. This is safer. I moved to another countries 2 times this way. Some companies even offer relocation support. If you are good, companies will even notice you and reach out to you offering a job.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J veteran polycounter
    A few thoughts:

    Don't need a big name job to have fun making 3d all day and make a living from it too.

    You can live like a king on $20k a year if you are sensible about where you live and what you waste your money on.

    Financial stress ruins everything.

    Nothing is fun when boss forces you to do too much of it.

    Personal opinions don't mean much because human psychology. Battered wife believes her husband is great. Look at the day to day lifestyle of the people in the position you want. Is that what you desire?
  • sharsein
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    sharsein polycounter lvl 7
    I live and work in the games industry in California near San Francisco. The jobs I've gotten I've gotten in part because I already lived in California. Maybe if you're already very senior level they'll relocate you, but there's already good local competition for art jobs. I'm lucky I already have friends in the area who helped me out a lot when I first started my career here and I have no student loans to worry about. My current company floated the idea of moving the California folks to Georgia, but I have no idea if they're actually going to ask that especially with covid screwing with things. In terms of covid, game companies are doing fine but most have hiring freezes for the pandemic right now.

    Budget breakdown (no kids ,no pets ,no spouse(and no dating life), no car, no 401k, no travel):
    + $1800 a month rent if splitting with a roommate for a 2 bathroom apartment. Budget $3000+ if no roommates, though apartment prices are rising as we speak. It is not uncommon to see $5000 a month prices.
    + $50-60 a month for internet
    + up to $60 a month for pge (higher when you're using heating during the winter, can be around $20 a month during the summer if you don't have AC)
    + $12 a month for laundry
    + $163.50 a month for a monthly Caltrain pass. 
    + $100 a month for Uber for when you miss the train. Uber/Lyft is extremely reliable here, always been able to get one
    + $500 a month for food for one person. For me this is a combination of turkey egg sandwich groceries, Soylent, 7/11 quick meal and casual dining with friends
    +$300 a month for other expenses (shampoo, laundry detergent, outings with friends, disposable income)

    DO NOT BUY A HOUSE. Even if you don't live in California. It seems to me everyone in the games industry, or even outside the games/entertainment industry but still a 3d artist, who buys a house ends up getting let go a few months/years later and is just fucked. If you want kids, make sure your combined income with your spouse is at least $200k a year. Even then, you have to factor in childcare costs, school, future college tuition, summer programs & extracurricular activities so they can qualify for that college with the expensive tuition, toys, medical bills plus a buffer for dumb decisions, so it still might be tight. If you do have kids, I definitely think being raised in California will be an advantage for them.

    Is it worth it? For me, so far, heck yes. The majority of companies are startups with just as much financial insecurity (and toxic work culture that inevitable follows a company losing money) as game companies. At least in games you're making creative decisions everyday, so there's another outlet for peoples' ambitions other than company politics (though the politics still very much exists). The hours are long, but they're just as a long as they would be in a startup outside the industry, and far more rewarding.  That said, I am kinda of looking forward to moving out if that happens. I have enough savings to last 1 year unemployed in California, but that same amount could live comfortably for 5 years in Georgia. 
  • zachagreg
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    zachagreg ngon master
    sharsein said:
     The jobs I've gotten I've gotten in part because I already lived in California. Maybe if you're already very senior level they'll relocate you, but there's already good local competition for art jobs.
    Relocation expense is a fairly common practice as I have seen. Relocation expenses are also tax deductible for most LLCs and larger businesses. This therefor offers tax incentives for larger companies as relocation in nation does not fall under the same statutes as visa costs, which you don't require anyway.  Startups simply are not the same as established production studios. They each have their pros and cons. Be aware of this when making your decisions.
  • rollin
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    rollin polycounter
    sharsein said:

    I knew it's bad but THIS is ridiculous!
    My two last flats where 300€ / 500€ with everything - the latter big enough for two people. Food for one person around 100
  • thomasp
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    thomasp quad damage
    It's also about where you want to live. New/decent building, good area, pleasant neighbors, good transit connections, etc. Not going to be cheap if you are not accepting a student lifestyle anymore. Give me a fancy flat in a posh area any day over some 'urban' hideout above a graffiti-stained fetish bar.

    Anyway, need to get good first to score jobs. If you are starting from zero at 31 that is your major hurdle right there. Unless you are some unreal prodigy it will take several years of full commitment to get to a level where you get actual job offers.
  • sharsein
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    sharsein polycounter lvl 7
    rollin said:
    sharsein said:

    I knew it's bad but THIS is ridiculous!
    My two last flats where 300€ / 500€ with everything - the latter big enough for two people. Food for one person around 100
    Oh Europe (or at least, assuming based on the € ) . Which reminds me that I didn't include healthcare/dental. Your employer will probably provide this, but a lot of plans have a deductible you have to hit before the plan starts covering the cost and there's usually still some sort of copay. It's confusing. I rarely go to dentist, haven't been to a doctor in years. With dental insurance teeth cleaning is free, but a crown will still cost $300. Don't know if California has higher healthcare/dental costs than the rest of the country. 
  • garcellano
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    garcellano greentooth
    It's risky, because even for games, things can happen. It's not impossible, though.
  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR interpolator
    You could also look at other applications of 3D art besides the game industry. The ones outside of the entertainment sphere like Architecture Visualization, Medical imaging and simulation and defence.
    There's also childrens animation and mid sized companies that will give you an easier time to get a start and can have a longevity.

    With games there are many many factors besides your portfolio that influence the hiring process. Who you know and the experience you have makes a massive difference. There's also the matter of how much work is actually there to hand out, as well as internal hiring and outsourcing.
    Add to this government subsidies to schools that have hiring arrangements with game studios for entry level positions and you have quite a challenge to even get a start.

    Not saying don't try, and maybe moving to California might help with networking, but be aware of alternative ways to enter the market, like for VFX you have render wrangler and runner positions that can give you a leg up sometimes.

    Really depends on the lifestyle you want to endure doing this, I'd say its important to strike a balance and live a good life. Don't let the other aspects that make life worth living (family, friends, being comfortable in your living arrangements, having time for events outside of the industry.etc)

    You mentioned you're in the theme park industry? This usually means that you can probably approach the animation/ design industry a lot more directly by speaking with your company managers and HR about possible opportunities.

    Also where do you stand in your artwork currently? Are you currently working on your portfolio?
  • Skeepy
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    Skeepy polycounter lvl 5
    Wow guys, thanks for all the help. Really helps me understand what's going on over there. 

     NikhilR said:
    You mentioned you're in the theme park industry? This usually means that you can probably approach the animation/ design industry a lot more directly by speaking with your company managers and HR about possible opportunities.

    Also where do you stand in your artwork currently? Are you currently working on your portfolio?

    I have a bachelors in game art, but went the path of toy sculpting and then to themed work, such as rock work, fiberglass characters, etc for theme parks. 

    I'm knowledgeable on the game art workflow so won't be starting from scratch. There are of course some differences in the workflow since I graduated but I'm getting up to speed. I've been working on my portfolio to get it more in a game art direction for only a couple of months. It's outdated and most of the work is going to be removed (should probably be removed now)  once I get a view more pieces that are of quality. 

    Portfolio : https://www.artstation.com/dmartine

    I'm coming to the realization that getting in the industry through Cali might not be aligned with the lifestyle I'm looking for. Not saying I won't end up there at some point, but I should pursue other ventures in different parts of the country and make my way there when the time is right. If I wanted to make it happen, I should have risked it all and made my way west when I was younger. No regrets though, I was able to build a very nice life for myself through other avenues, just wanted some insight on if the game industry in Cali was worth the struggle for someone like me. 
     
    Please keep posting your thoughts if you have any, I hope that this subject could help a lot of others like myself to get a little insight on the situation over there. 
  • zachagreg
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    zachagreg ngon master
    A little two cents on this, there are game studios all over the world Cali is not by any means required during your career.
  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR interpolator
    Skeepy said:
    Wow guys, thanks for all the help. Really helps me understand what's going on over there. 

     NikhilR said:
    You mentioned you're in the theme park industry? This usually means that you can probably approach the animation/ design industry a lot more directly by speaking with your company managers and HR about possible opportunities.

    Also where do you stand in your artwork currently? Are you currently working on your portfolio?

    I have a bachelors in game art, but went the path of toy sculpting and then to themed work, such as rock work, fiberglass characters, etc for theme parks. 

    I'm knowledgeable on the game art workflow so won't be starting from scratch. There are of course some differences in the workflow since I graduated but I'm getting up to speed. I've been working on my portfolio to get it more in a game art direction for only a couple of months. It's outdated and most of the work is going to be removed (should probably be removed now)  once I get a view more pieces that are of quality. 

    I actually feel like your direction is far more interesting, kinda like what I wanted to go into before I went into 3D art (but more in freelance with some studio experience as a contractor)

    While game art and working in a game studio can be fullfilling, you're usually nameless to the outside world and you very very rarely get to work on something all by yourself.

    For instance one of my colleagues who is character artist at Ubisoft Montreal does retopology of body scans and small props for character. He has never done the body or the face/hair all of which are repurposed or outsourced.
    This is more the trend with realism however where they are heavily relaint on scans, the work does get more techinical than creative if that interests you.

    The camaraderie of working in games together is great, but you'd find that in animation/vfx studios also. Another thing is your age and maturity.

    Not to say that its something you'll encounter in every studio, but much of the game industry crowd seems to be, well to put it mildly, not very aware of the realities outside videogames?

    The high turnover also means that many veterans who are likely your age or older might not be around anymore are replaced by fresh graduates, so unless you mean to play mentor and are satisfied with that arrangement (and they are okay with it) you'll likely not have a very positive time socialising. 
    It may be less stress, then again you may see a lot of incompetency/favouritism.
        
      Skeepy said:


    I know of so many who are my age (31) who still have room mates working at big studios. They are living the dream, if the dream is having almost no finances for your future - but you get to work in games so its worth it.

    This can really really bite you hard when it comes to long term goals. 
    One guy I know who works on star trek online (Cryptic Studios, california) for a number of years is still rooming with 4 people to make rent. 

    I mean I'm not sure if he has long term plans, but most people count on studio hopping to get better pay and then have more options. This gets more complicated if you're having family tag along.

    I do feel that after this covid situation, much of the industry may embrace remote working that might eliminate have to move to different cities, but it remains to be seen if employees who currently are working from home stand together and insist on this. 
    So far I've seen mixed opinions and as expected a lot of misinformation along the lines of,

    "We don't have an extra room so continually working from home isn't possible"
    (You ought to insist on a salary bump from industry savings through shuttered studio spaces to create an ideal work from home environment)
    or
    "I enjoy socializing at work which isn't possible when working from home"
    (Its not like covid situation will continue, you can always socialize after work hours like you normally do.)

    And the most bizarre,
    "I'm not able to manage working from home, my home life is in shambles since I'm not working at a studio."
    (... kinda seems like they never really enjoyed the work in the first place, have horrible lack of self discipline.)

    While popular opinion suggests that you have to have a game ready portfolio clearly showing all steps and techinique, from my experience there is so much variability and speculation over what actually gets someone a job that sometimes I feel its not worth thinking about, unless you explicitly get a valid reason/critique of your work in a rejection.

    I have seen several people with portfolios with unfinished work, only sculpts get a start because someone recommended them. 
    And its not like if they had really great work they'd be bumped to the front off the line after demoting someone who's been there for years. The politics in a studio space is a whole different beast and you can read glassdoor to get a better idea of that mess.

    I've personally interviewed for positions then denied simply because they ceased to exist, yet the job went up again a few days later and I apply again.
    Much of the industry is rife with management issues because of the way it operates which you would likely not see in the theme park/board game industry where its really not feasible to cancel projects in part of as a whole (since their budgets do go into material costs.etc) The board game industry is especially secure because of a very flexible and loyal audience for the most part and the many many avenues for funding available to you. 

    While it is fair to keep trying because who knows, and you could always push yourself to the likes of artists that can command work because they genuinely have made their mark (many of them choose to go freelance since they don't want to deal with political bs)
     in the meantime, I would recommend freelancing, using connections you may have in the theme park industry to get paid work.

     Possibly moving into concept rendering, ride design.etc, and even looking into 3D printing for board game related projects (Fantasy Flight games/ CMON comes to mind)

    You could also look into maybe seeking a transfer to California through your current company into any available departments that align more with your needs if that suits you.


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