Over the weekend, I had the chance to go to the movies with a few Shackers, including a couple of D/FW area game developers. One of them was starting to reach his one-year anniversary at his studio, and what he was going through reminded me of what was going on during my one-year anniversaries at both Microsoft Game Studios and Ritual.
Most people who go into game development specifically enter the field because they love games. Note: they don't love game development, they love games. It's this passion for games that carries most people through their first year or so. It carries them through the long hours, the (comparatively) low pay, the milestone stresses, and so on. There are a couple of catches, though.
The first catch is that the act of making games affects how you enjoy games. When you look at a game that you are playing for fun, you no longer just see it as a wonderfully interactive experience...you notice the components. You notice the varying texture densities on various objects, the oddities in pathfinding, the strange concessions made in the interest of certification or compatibility, the strange color mixing of sortless Z-test glass rendering, etc. Because you're essentially noticing the man behind the certain as it were, you are drawn out of the experience. As a result, your passion for games tends to start to wane after your first year.
The second catch is that because your passion for games isn't as prevalent, your passion isn't able to carry you through the difficult times and you start thinking, "What the Hell am I doing this for?" Remember, you've just spent a year prorating your hourly salary down to nothing, ignoring life and love for the sake of your craft...and things won't get any better. Waves of ennui wrack your body, the fuse on your temper gets shorter, and most of all you just start wondering if any of the effort is going to be worth it.
This process is a very personal experience and frankly is not one that you are going to be able to find much help with if you are experiencing it. The trick is to find a secondary passion that game development enables you to do that doesn't involve video games. Some people find that passion in sin: gambling, strippers, and hookers are all good examples that I've seen people get involved in. Some find that passion in collecting: DVD's, anime cels, guns, porn actress action figures, and educational films are all examples I've seen people dive into. I know a few who have focused on community service as well. Back at Microsoft, I went into painting, and at Ritual I focused my energy into this blog.
One thing that I like about no longer being in the industry is that my passion for gaming is recharging, but when you are in the factory that passion can and will wane. If you don't take time for you as a factor of finding a proper work/life balance, you'll drive yourself out of the career that you worked so hard to get into.