Philip Oliver is one of the Games Dragons, a new video games consultancy agency set up by the Oliver Twins who have over 35 years worth of experience in developing games and running games development companies. They published their first game in 1983 aged just 15 and went on to establish three companies, to employ over 600 people and to create over 160 games across all platforms, selling over 45 million units with a retail value in excess of £1.2bn.
Philip was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for Business Administration from Coventry University in 2008 and recently also became a visiting professor at Staffordshire University.
When you’re making games, your greatest asset is your team – the talent! In this series of articles I discuss how to find, hire, integrate, nurture and hold on to your best people, whilst also dealing with difficult situations with those who aren’t adding to your dream team.
The content is mainly aimed at aspiring indie devs or studios in their early years but many of these principles are useful for larger, well-established studios too.
Attracting potential recruits
If you are in the fortunate position where you need to hire new staff to build your team, it’s worth taking time to think things through before you start the recruitment process.
This is a big undertaking and a big responsibility; there are a lot of decisions to be made. Staff are the biggest cost to a game development studio, but if you hire the right people, they’ll more than pay for themselves in terms of studio growth and success.
Chances are you started out, maybe with one or two friends, with the dream of establishing an indie games development studio. Some people do this from university, thinking “how hard can it be?”; others have established careers, maybe even in the games industry, and know a lot more about how the business world works before they begin.
As founder(s) things were probably very informal initially, but once you begin taking on staff you need a more formal and professional approach. This is a huge commitment and responsibility.
I won’t cover the logistics of getting your studio started here, but instead I’ll aim to give you a good basic understanding of all the issues involved in growing your team, assuming you have the cash flow required and work for them to do.
Establishing your public image
However you find people, they’ll want to know that you’re a viable studio and one that they would like to work at. First, they’ll look at your website, so this needs to communicate what you do, something of the personality of the studio and why potential employees should want to come and work for you.
Do some research on leading studios, particularly the ones you admire. This will give you a pretty good idea of what they think attracts new recruits.
Finding good people takes time
It can often take quite a long time to find the right people unless you get very lucky. I had a policy of raising vacancies three months ahead of when I wanted the people.
However you find people, they’ll want to know that you’re a viable studio and one that they would like to work at.
If in doubt, raise the vacancies and get the ball rolling. If things change and it turns out you predicted wrongly it’s not really a problem. The only problem occurs if you actually offer a job to someone and then realise you don't require the employee.
If you are looking for more specialist roles it can take even longer, and if they are coming from other employment they will be required to give notice too – often three months’ for senior hires.
In the games industry people also often like to finish what they are working on before switching studios, and whilst it’s frustrating to wait, you want people who have that responsible attitude and sense of loyalty.
Define the role accurately
To get the right person for your vacancy you need to clearly define who you are looking for. Take time to work out the job specification and then add the skill levels and other attributes you’re seeking in the successful candidate. You can find good example job descriptions on leading games developer websites.
Once you’re happy with your job description, post it on your website. You’ll need this for your employment contract anyway, but it’s also important for potential applicants to understand what you require and if they fit the bill. If you don’t do this you’ll get a lot of unsuitable applicants, which wastes everyone’s time.
Where to look for potential employees
There are many different routes to finding great people and no one method trumps all others. There’s a huge amount of luck involved and my advice would be to try a few and see what works for you.
Employing friends of current staff makes recruitment cheap and easy and you have nothing to lose by asking them to put the word out.
Actual experience of working with someone is the best predictor of work quality and cultural fit, and if you’ve got happy and engaged staff already, then they are likely to want to introduce their friends and bring them in. Most people working in the games industry have friends who want to get in too or who already work at other games studios.
If you are looking for talented beginners, people who are bright, enthusiastic, and relatively cheap, then colleges and universities are the best places to look.
Obviously they won't have a lot of experience and will require more hands-on management and training when they arrive, so don’t underestimate the ‘hidden’ cost of that support when you’re weighing up salaries.
Find the appropriate course lecturers and contact them to see if you can arrange to visit, maybe during an ‘industry day’, or perhaps offer to give a lecture, during which you can let students know about any vacancies.
Obviously again, they will need to complete their courses, so take the time of year into consideration. You could also consider offering one or two of them work experience, in the hope of finding someone great for a full-time position later; and if you create a good impression, they are likely to spread the word to their friends.
Social media is also crucial to spread the word about your studio and the career opportunities available, always linking back to your website for more details.
Personally, I’ve never found job centres useful. Few people with the kind of skills the games industry requires look for jobs in a job centre. The same is true of advertising in local papers, and they tend to be pretty expensive too.
In our experience, the fastest, most reliable, but also the most expensive, method is to use recruitment agencies.
If you can get an editorial story then that’s far better. Good positive press about your studio is a great way to attract people and makes the people you already have more proud to work there. To achieve this, you’ll need to give them a story they’ll find interesting and think their readers would value.
Online advertising is well worth considering. You’ll see lots of job ads on the leading games industry sites so take a look at what seems to be working for other people.
In our experience, the fastest, most reliable, but also the most expensive, method is to use recruitment agencies. They will cost about 20 per cent of the first year’s salary offered, but will find you people who fit the bill most of the time.
This reduces the time it will take and increases the chances of a successful hire. I’d recommend the games industry-specific agencies that are very active and advertise heavily online – which also makes them easy for you to find.
Contracts of employment
Firstly, make sure you have the contract prepared, so you and they know the terms of the offer. Most candidates want security and will prefer permanent, full-time contracts.
If your strategy is to keep your work-force more flexible, then you can offer short-term contracts, but under UK law if someone remains with you beyond two years, they automatically become full-time employees with all the associated rights. That should be fine for you, and for them, assuming you’d like them to stay.
Unpaid internships and zero-hour contracts are often in the news for being unfair and exploiting people.
Obviously, employees don’t have to accept them, but I don't condone the use of either of these in the games industry. Thankfully I’m not aware of these being used and certainly they’re not the norm. Taking good care of your staff is essential to get the best creative work from your team.
In-house contract staff and consultants
On the other end of the scale, if you’re looking for specific experience in a specialist area you may need to use contract staff or even consultants – experts in their fields.
These are more expensive, but will hopefully deliver what you require. It’s important that both sides know exactly what is expected for the money being paid, or the costs could easily run away.
Outsourced contract work
Whilst this isn’t really within the remit of this article, it’s worth mentioning that rather than hiring additional people you could also consider outsourcing packets of work to individuals or companies. This is how we started and outsourcing always has a place in game development.
Everything’s in place
If all goes well, hopefully you’ll get some great applicants who are keen to join your team.
In the next article, we’ll discuss how you decide who that should be and how to smoothly integrate them into your studio, so you have the best chance of gaining a valuable new employee and a real team player.
Are you from a studio looking for new hires, or are you seeking a job in the games industry? Check out the PocketGamer.biz jobs board to list a vacancy or discover a new job.