aqua fortis

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sad Job Nostalgia

I figure I ought to explain in a little more detail my job nostalgia from a few posts ago, and what better prompt to do so than a strange dream last night in which Peer Schneider (IGN Network Director) was hitting on me? (Actually, I think this was the nighttime manifestation of my occasional unrealistic daydream that IGN would come crawling back and ask me to write for them again, this time for actual money.)

So, in the interests of...well, nothing, really, except my procrastination, I should note that my job at IGN was the Potential Dream Job, which then turned into the Schizoid Job From Hell. I was fresh out of the Art Institute, newly embittered about artmaking and bearing heartfelt grudges for many individuals who purported to teach it; I was looking for work to support myself and Rob, who still had a year-plus left on his MFA degree; and I was already two weeks into a marketing job that I realized was a very poor choice.

Earlier that summer--the summer of '99--I had applied for a job at IGN as Custom Publishing Assistant. It seemed like the perfect place: They reviewed videogames--I liked videogames. It was a lowly position promising growth--I was pretty lowly, job-experience-wise. It was a dot-com just before the boom. I went down there; the interview went great; I was pretty sure I got the job. And then I didn't.

So I took another job as a Marketing Assistant or something at a different dot-com. I liked the people okay, but after a week I realized I was really going to hate the job, despite getting to go bowling as a "team-building exercise." I also didn't like driving from El Cerrito to San Ramon and back. Then one day I got another phone call from IGN. The Custom Publishing Manager had quit, one of the assistants had moved up to take his place, and there was a sudden opening. They'd really liked me during the interview and since I was their second choice, they thought they'd ask if I still wanted the job.

I was ecstatic. I went in for a second interview, but it was a mere formality. I apologetically quit the job I hated and boldly went forth into the world of videogame reviews and adolescent male-oriented humor. My job primarily consisted of editing e-mail newsletters and doing daily updates of the headlines on the main IGN page from the individual sections of the site (PC, PlayStation, DVD, For Men, etc.), via a customized backend, which is computer talk for Fields That You Plug Stuff Into and Then Hit Submit.

It was pretty menial, but I got to read the site all day, which was fun, and I knew a lot more about videogames than everyone else I knew. Plus, my awesome boss, Mike, had started as a Custom Publishing Assistant and was now not only manager but was planning to move to writing content for the site full-time, so I had hopes I might be able to do the same. In order to do so, I agreed to take over Weird Wild Web and Quote of the Day for extremely low pay, and thereby prove myself. Life was good. Work was fun. IGN was a No Farting Zone.

Then, several things happened. One: Mike moved to IGN Gear and instead of promoting Matt Kruse (the guy they hired right before me) or me, they hired somebody from outside. But life was still good. We were in the midst of dot-com delirium. IPOs everywhere, stock options flying like...uh...flies. People riding razor scooters around the office and having impromptu Quake sessions on the LAN. Even though we suddenly had the lame name instead of Affiliation Networks (encompassing IGN, ChickClick, PowerStudents, and InsideGuide), it was cool. We had our holiday party at the Great American Music Hall, with a big buffet, raffles for snowboards and crap, and hired help dressed like silvery elves wandering around taking black-and-white polaroids of people. There were parties thrown by Sega and UbiSoft, with free crap like Tomb Raider watches.

Then Two happened: They decided to merge IGN's individual marketing and custom publishing departments into the monstrosity of Corporate Marketing. Suddenly I had to give a shit about Snowball. I had to do other networks' newsletters. I had to write smarmy copy for ad banners and sit through excruciating weekly meetings first thing in the morning. And suddenly we had an Uber-Boss, and the Uber-Boss was kind of a meanie. The Uber-Boss held weekly meetings with just our IGN marketing group, also first thing in the morning, which was very difficult when I had to commute across the Bay Bridge. Occasionally I was a few minutes late to morning meetings. One day this happened before one of our group meetings, and the Uber-Boss decided she would upbraid me for it in front of the group for several minutes, which I thought was inappropriate.

And Three: Suddenly they were not going to be able to pay me directly for all the writing I'd been doing for them, because there was a new company policy not to pay freelancers within the company. Even though we were planning to move into a giant, cavernous new building, things were going a little downhill already in the dot-com world, and I guess they were saving a little money. First they said they were going to give me the money disguised as a bonus. But that didn't fly. So they supposedly gave me an extra-large raise.

Then the layoffs started. One round happened while I was on vacation; I came back to find one of my immediate co-workers gone. We started having to take care of work other than Custom Publishing and Marketing, like Customer Service, which blew. I was instructed by my boss to keep a low profile around the Uber-Boss if I was working on my articles. There was certainly no chance of me moving to the content side, as they'd entirely halted hiring more writers. Except for IGN Wrestling, which was apparently very popular.

There were more layoffs, but somehow I escaped; it was just me, my boss, and one other guy who was partially in another department. Rob theorizes they would have just kept dumping work on me and paying me the same crappy salary. My co-worker Linda, who was in a different area of marketing, and I would hold two-person meetings just to bitch. (Fortunately, our cavernous new building had meeting rooms aplenty.) Then, instead of taking up both floors of the building, they compressed everyone onto one floor, since it was huge and echoing anyway with all the layoffs they'd done. Every time the CEO called a company meeting, people shivered in dread. Anonymous posts to on FuckedCompany abounded.

So I quit. We were probably going to have to move anyway depending on where Rob got a teaching job, and I was kind of thinking about grad school. I was pretty sad about it, but I had to get out of there. Watching my stock options plunge, I was convinced that the whole company was going to fold, so I sold them before they got too low. But IGN survived. They amputated everything non-IGN and contracted to their original, pre-Snowball, pre-Affiliation size, back when they first split off from Imagine Media (now known as Future).

But I don't regret any of it, intolerable as it became. It was actually two IGN people who were Mills alums (Linda, mentioned above, and Sarah K., now of Entertainment Geekly) who inspired my interest in Mills College, and it was all the writing I did for IGN For Men that made me think about going to writing graduate school. And sometimes I can't help hoping that, since they called me back for that second interview, they'll call me back a third time, years after the fact, asking me to write for them. But that probably really is a daydream.