Feature

The Man And Story Behind I Get This Call Every Day

by Jeff Marchiafava on Feb 14, 2013 at 12:07 PM

Every once in a while, gamers are regaled with the uplifting, rags-to-riches story of an indie developer who is successful enough to turn their passion for game development into a full-time career. David Gallant's story is decidedly different. As a customer-service representative for the Canada Revenue Agency, it was Gallant's job to help callers with routine tasks like changing their address, while dealing with the demands of his superiors and government red tape. Rather than being dejected by his day job, however, Gallant was inspired by it. He funneled his frustrations into I Get This Call Every Day, a short indie game he describes as a "personal tale of unwinnable realities." Shortly after the game's release, however, Gallant experienced the punch line of I Get This Call Every Day firsthand.

Thanks For Calling:

I Get This Call Every Day centers on a single telephone interaction with a caller attempting to change his address with the Canada Revenue Agency (presumably, anyway; while Gallant based the game on his day job, the CRA is never mentioned by name and the caller's information is fictional). What entails is a 5-10 minute conversation where players choose the customer-service rep's responses, as the caller is walked through the endless security questions required to change his address.

Get too snippy with the caller, and he'll demand to speak to your supervisor, which ends with you getting fired. Give him a break and bypass some of the security questions, and your boss will fire you for not following protocol. Walk the tightrope of bureaucracy and customer service, and you keep your job, but still fail to help the caller.

As a game, I Get This Call Every Day isn't terribly fun, but it does a good job of encapsulating the frustration Gallant faced at his former job. That frustration didn't stem from annoying callers, but rather some fundamental problems with the call-in procedure that don't have any easy solutions.

Sure, the caller doesn't have any of the information he needs to change his address and asks "why?" more than a two-year-old. But some of that information, such as the caller's net income from the previous year's tax returns within two dollars, seems excessive. At the same time it's hard to blame the CRA, as the security measures are there to protect its citizens from identify theft. Rather than simply stating these problems, I Get This Call Every Day demonstrates them over a course of a few minutes in a way that feels authentic.

Game Over:

The CRA didn't see the same value in Gallant's modest indie game. After catching wind of the project, the communications director for National Revenue Minister Gail Shea released a statement to the Toronto Star calling Gallant's actions "offensive and completely unacceptable," and asked Commissioner of Revenue Andrew Treusch to "investigate and take any and all necessary corrective action." A few days later, Gallant was fired.

Community Support:

When news of Gallant's termination surfaced, indie-game fans rallied to his support. Sales of IGTCED have increased exponentially over the past few weeks, and the game has currently received more than 9,600 Yes votes on Steam Greenlight. That said, Gallant is still a long ways away from the fairy tale ending so many indie developers dream of. The increased sales have given him and his wife some breathing room for paying the bills, but Gallant will soon start looking for another part-time job to make ends meet, as he continues to pursue his love of game development in his free time.

After playing I Get This Call Every Day, we spoke with Gallant to get his thoughts on the game, his termination, and the struggle of being an indie developer.

The character you speak to in IGTCED can be a bit of a jerk, but some of his responses also seem totally reasonable. Was the source of your frustration with your job the callers or the bureaucracy?
Yes. Seriously, my frustration came from both sides: certain unsympathetic and unprepared callers, as well as a bureaucratic system that prevents agents from being able to treat callers like human beings.

Do you think the CRA is plagued by red tape, or is that also a necessary evil? Dealing with the security questions in the game is humorous, but they also seem somewhat justified.
There's a level of security that's certainly justified, thanks to the world we live in; when dealing with people over the phone, it is very difficult to determine if the person you're speaking to is actually the person whose account you've accessed. Those security questions are certainly necessary because telephone interactions have the least inherent identifiers and, thus, are the easiest to defraud.

That said, they have led to a lot of what I consider to be inhumane treatment. For instance, being unable to provide a grieving widow with needed information from her former spouse's file, because she had been reassured the proper documents had been filed by the funeral home but they never were. Or being unable to change the address for the person whose home burned down, because all the documents that could help them pass security were lost in the fire. There were eventually ways to help these people, but none that respected the urgency of their situations. I didn't get calls like this every day, but I got them enough to recognize a problem...and I was beginning to feel like part of that problem.

It's really easy to get fired in IGTCED. Did you feel like your employment with the CRA would inevitably end with you getting fired? Did you think you had a future with the organization, or was it a day job you were just waiting to quit?
There was a time, when the job was still new, when I felt like I had a future there. Unfortunately, the reality of being a public servant during a time of austerity and spending cuts soon became crystal clear: A career as a government employee was as much of a gamble as becoming an independent game developer.

At the same time, I discovered game development and realized it was the thing I wanted to do with the rest of my life. By the time I made I Get This Call Every Day, I knew that I would leave CRA when the opportunity presented itself; "opportunity" meaning "having some form of income aside from being a government employee."

When you were making the game, did you ever consider that it might lead to you being fired? What made you decide to release it anyway?
I always knew there might be consequences to releasing I Get This Call Every Day. I never thought it would lead immediately to termination. Still, I was proud of what I had made. I had expressed a part of myself in a game I had created; there was no way I was going to keep that to myself.

What was your reaction when you were told you had been fired? Were you disappointed?
At first, I was really worried. I felt like I had let down my wife, because now we were going to have to struggle even harder to make ends meet.

In the aftermath, it seems you've found a lot of sympathy and support from the gaming community. What has that been like?
It has utterly overwhelming. Sales have spiked tremendously; I won't have to worry about rent or bills for a few months. Votes for the game on Greenlight have shot up, and part of me thinks there may be the slimmest chance that I Get This Call Every Day might actually make it to Steam. Above all, I've received so much encouragement and support from strangers, developers, and folks in the industry. It's been mind-blowing.

Can you share with us any sales numbers, or what the average price people are paying?
I expected the game to make $20 at most, so it was already successful before I lost my job. As of this writing, the game has made just over $6,700 (that's net profit, after all the fees). The average price paid is about $4.60; a lot of people have paid just the minimum, and a few have paid $100 or more.

Do you have any plans on expanding IGTCED, or do you plan on working on something else now?
I don't think there's much else to say with I Get This Call Every Day, so I don't plan on expanding it. I will be making a Mac version, since demand for that is high. Beyond that, I'm looking ahead to something new. I still haven't figured out what that project might be.

Do you plan on jumping into game development full time now? Have you gotten any job offers from companies?
There have been a couple offers from areas too far for me to consider, and since I'm self-taught and relatively inexperienced, it'll be hard to find work within the games industry. I'd really like to work on games independently and full-time, but even I Get This Call Every Day's success can't allow that. Eventually interest in that game will dry up. I'll likely find a part-time job to maintain my income.

Is there anything you've learned from your experience that you would like to pass on to people stuck in unfulfilling jobs?
You can't always afford to quit your day job, but don't let that stop you from creating something better. I'd love it if everyone made a game, but I recognize that path is not for everyone. Regardless, everyone should express themselves however they can. It helps things get better, and you might discover a passion in the process.

As for anyone struggling to make their first game: Do it. Make it, release it, talk about it, show it to people, even sell it. But do it. Don't hold anything back.

Players interested in checking out I Get This Call Every Day can purchase the game on David Gallant's website, and vote for the game on Steam Greenlight.