"I want to apply for a role at another studio that could be viewed as a rival, but I’m worried I’ll be blacklisted by my boss if they find out. How do I broach the subject with them?"
Although this might sound like a tricky situation, with careful handling it needn’t be. It’s normal to feel loyalty to your studio and as with any career move it needs lots of thought. If you can, split the two decisions in to whether it’s right to leave your current job and secondly where you want to go to.
If you’re unsure it can help to think about what you’re moving away from and what you’re moving toward. Have you decided to leave anyway and just happen to be considering a rival, or do you feel fine where you are it’s just that there is something really attractive about the rival? Often this is where the complexity lies so have a good think and try to organise your thoughts. Do nothing in a rush and go in to this with your eyes open.
If you decide to go for it, first of all check your current employment contract for restrictions or non-compete clauses. Constraints are usually date-bound, however if you feel there are clauses that appear to stop you ever getting another job in games you could look in to whether these restrictions are enforceable. The worse-case scenario is that you have to wait a while before you can move to a direct competitor. Whether or not this is an option for you depends on individual circumstances such as your financial position or the flexibility of your current or prospective employer. In all cases however you must be respectful of any NDA’s around IP when sharing your portfolio or discussing the work practices of your studio.
If all’s clear, you can make a start. Try to remain confident in your freedom to make this decision; moving to a competitor is not so shocking when you apply a bit of logic. Unless you are looking for a total career change it makes sense to move to an employer within your existing field of expertise. Any job move carries a few risks but you can make sure all your job-hunting activity is in your own spare or holiday time and continue to give your current employer your full attention. It’s unfair to be paid for doing a job if all your focus is on leaving it; consider how you would feel if the situation were reversed.
You don’t have to tell your boss in advance that you are going to apply to a rival, but if you have a good relationship you may want to. Leaving the conversation too late could create resentment. Whenever you chose to speak to them it’s important to keep an open mind, allow them some time to react then listen to their response. If your boss points out something you might not have thought of remember it’s not weak to reconsider, so try to have as open a discussion as you can. With a good relationship this could be an opportunity to solve any issues that lead you to consider a move in the first place.
It may not be realistic for your boss to be happy with the situation
If you do decide to resign, prepare yourself for the meeting. It may not be realistic for your boss to be happy with the situation so your goal is that they are accepting of your decision and comfortable that you have respected your current work duties. What is super important however is that they find out where you are going from you and nowhere else, including social media. Your boss will find out sooner or later anyway and you will leave a much better impression of yourself if you’re honest and up front. By going to a rival you are going to give your employer a problem. The loss of your skills and the prospect of you taking them to a competitor. This is not a nice feeling, but if you have decided to go ahead then it’s one you must accept. Most employment relationships aren’t expected to last forever and people moving jobs are just a fact of life for all businesses and staff.
Whatever the response try not to take it personally; be empathetic and make every effort not to burn your bridges. This is where calmness and confidence in your decision comes in while keeping emotions in check. Be prepared that if your boss believes there is a conflict of interest that you may be asked to leave site but remain employed to the end of your notice period or agreed leave date so don’t be all over Facebook about your new job just yet and however your resignation has gone, don’t forget the golden rule - never bad-mouth an ex-employer to anyone, negativity actually gives a bad impression of you rather than them.
The key question at the heart of this is whether going to a competitor is the right move for you. It can be tough to put yourself first but the only person responsible for your career is you. Good luck.