and have specifically avoided the larger gaming companies because we know what it's like.I realize this is from 5 years ago but would you mind telling me what you meant by this? I'm currently wanting to go to college for programming and I'm considering trying to get into the gaming industry and trying to join one of those larger gaming companies, specifically... a dream job would be at Blizzard Entertainment.
Problem is that a lot of people want to do that. It's doable, but worth it ? From what returns I had from former colleagues (I work in France in IT)...
Demand >>>> offer, there is lots of competition, lots of back-stabbing, low wages, high hours, low respect, easy lay-off and so on. And everyone wants to be devs, but actually if you do look at the credits screen... most people working on a video game are not devs. It's probably easier to enter into a game company by not doing development in the first place.
Second point "working" as a dev in the game industry... does not mean you'll do the fun stuff. Mostly means being a "code monkey". Game developers are not game designers in large structures. You'll be given a task, then you'll execute it, and probably another team will be in charge of the tests. Basically if what you want to do is code, you could code a website or a program for a bank, or a program to switch phone numbers around and there would be little difference in what you're doing from game dev. If you want to have a say on how the game is designed, don't focus on code. Go for management-like schools and get credit for designing stuff like board games, managing teams and leading, and / or find a few friends / associates which focus on dev. Then find an idea, investors and create a company, or join a company at that level directly.
Last, the "game" industry is not stable. Most games fail to make a profit too. I don't know what your life plans are, but personally I need something more stable.
It's only *my* personnal opinion, but if I had to try to get into that, my 'best' way to do what I think of the fun stuff would be to go indy on my free time until I succeed, then move to get bigger. Competition is very fierce and probably you won't make a profit and lose a lot of your free time. That said, I'm a very cautious person.
PS: I'm being quite pessimistic in my approach. That's part of my nature - I'm not very competitive and I'm cautious about what can prevent me from having a roof and food. It's probably very much doable for someone which takes more risks IRL than what I do (which is low). Just be aware that your "dream job" may be less dreamy than you think =).