Peter Lovell - Director of Talent Acquisition at Jagex, discusses the delightful dichotomy of recruiting in the games industry.
The value of the Video Games market is now bigger than Hollywood and the music industry. Combined. As a profession it sits at a crossroads of the business, artistic and tech sectors – and is one of the most popular industries in which to work for young creatives, with all levels of role attracting an overwhelming number of talented candidates.
At the other end of spectrum, the last few decades of rapid expansion in gaming mean that the most senior roles are often difficult to fill, despite the industry drawing in top talent from other sectors, and fighting to retain it at every turn. This kind of dichotomy runs throughout much of the games industry. At its best, video game studios are alchemists’ labs – combining creativity with intensely data driven research and unparalleled programming expertise. At its worst they have been accused of keeping the same hours as a sweatshop, with the maturity levels of a primary school, and the fiscal responsibility of a toddler with a credit card.
So, what is it like to recruit in an industry known for its volatile cycles of boom and bust and intense crunch periods, but that remains perpetually popular and alluring to jobseekers?
It’s complicated! The industry often looks like a creative funhouse from the outside, built on the cutting edge of science, research, data crunching, analysis and strategy. The continued growth of the industry has shifted the way we operate drastically over the last two decades, pulling the day-to-day processes out of the programmer’s bedroom and firmly into the boardroom, with all of the standards that this kind of change engenders.
This raise in standards has made recruiting a much more involved process. Thousands of aspiring dreamers want to work in this space, and sadly a huge majority of these people are often missing the skillset needed to perform at the required level. We have to break hearts! Having a passing interest in coding and having once owned a Nintendo is no longer enough to get your foot in the door, and polite rejection has become something of an art form across almost every recruitment role we work to fill. The highly intersectional nature of the industry has created a variety of very niche roles that can only be filled by a small subset of applicants.
The most talented artist in the world may be unsuitable for a job because they lack experience with certain software, superstar project managers may miss out due to a lack of live-game experience. This is where the industry’s “stickiness” comes into play. Once applicants have their first role in the industry under their belts, they are often in it for life. You can take your skills outside of it, absolutely. But most find they don’t want to. While only a handful of applicants may be able to fill a particular IT or creative role, at the leadership level, games companies often find there are only a handful of people globally who fit the bill. While this is true of a lot of business and finance roles, the relative newness of the games sector as a significant and credible business opportunity has made competition for its veterans particularly intense.
The main challenge on the recruiting front is conveying an accurate image of what the industry is in 2020. While it still uses its image of office-wide Nerf gun fights and LAN parties to pull in new staff, the reality is that the games sector is a fully established industry, and increasingly behaves as such. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as this change has helped alleviate a lot of the negatives associated with the industry, like excessive workloads, lack of diversity and inclusivity, long work-hours and crunch time.
It used to be the case that when newcomers to the industry complained about the long hours, or the crazy expectations, they would be reminded how lucky they are to be employed in the industry. This led to people believing that they needed to go above and beyond, just to feel secure in their jobs. This was particularly obvious in entry level roles, with a lot of developers pushing their staff towards burnout from the moment they walked in the door.
As an industry we’ve only just got the hang of organisation-wide scheduling and time management, which has been instrumental in reducing the amount of “crunch” teams have to go through. There are still plenty of horror stories about poor working conditions in the industry, but things have drastically improved thanks to many companies doubling down on employee wellbeing schemes. Conveying just how much things have improved in the games industry is an important part of every conversation we have with potential recruits.
It’s a delight to be at the forefront of this cultural shift and leading the charge to alter perceptions and covey the modernisation of practices within our beloved industry. There’s always more work to be done but the last five years have seen a massive shift in sentiment, demonstrated by the incredible people from all walks of life and from a huge variety of sectors that are now proud to call the games industry their home.