It’s no secret the games industry is going through tough times, sparking a wave of layoffs. The sector is experiencing a comedown from pandemic-induced sales highs while also dealing with poor macroeconomic conditions, and, if you’re in mobile, privacy changes rocking the ship.
One games industry layoffs tracker estimates there have been approximately 8,000 job losses so far in 2023. The wider tech sector has also suffered, with Amazon alone cutting over 27,000 staff this year (and it has made more since).
Yet despite the mass job losses, UK industry trade body TIGA reported that 68% of studios it surveyed have found it “difficult” or “very difficult” to fill job vacancies. Programming, art and design disciplines have been particularly challenging to fill, according to the respondents.
Meanwhile, a surprising 93% said there was a shortage of applicants with the required skills, experience or qualifications. And companies are fighting over talent: 47% said a key challenge they face is other games businesses poaching staff.
The result of the skills shortage, according to the respondents, is hindered growth, delayed development of new products and services, increased workload on current employees and a greater need for outsourcing.
Their solution to some of these challenges? Internal promotions for hard to fill vacancies, new recruitment methods, better salaries and increased training.
No country for young devs
So why is there a skills shortage amid widespread layoffs and studio closures? Numerous industry responses on our social media would suggest low salaries, demands for significant experience and a lack of willingness to embrace junior staff as key contributing factors to unfilled vacancies.
As an industry we have to accept that we have a 'leaky bucket', which we need to plug by retaining more of our experienced talent.Colin Macdonald, Games Jobs Live
Games Jobs Live director Colin Macdonald tells PocketGamer.biz that in his 30+ years in the industry, recruitment has consistently been a primary challenge cited by developers, and that remains true today despite recent redundancies.
According to data from Games Jobs Live, there are currently 1,170 job vacancies in the UK’s games industry, though that’s actually down from a high of 2,816 roles in June 2022. And over the last three years, the types of roles that are most in demand remain specialist experience jobs such as producers, technical artists, senior game designers and VFX artists.
Macdonald says the main discrepancy between the number of people looking for jobs and unfilled vacancies is that most studios are looking for experienced hires. Of those 1,170 openings, just 34 are for junior positions.
“So whilst some studios are making some entry level hires, overall there are fewer hires at those levels than the numbers of more experienced developers the industry is losing,” he explains.
“There are generally only so many times someone will be made redundant from an industry before they start looking to greener pastures - and those with experience are often the ones with larger financial commitments, and who have been around long enough to have clocked up a few redundancies already.”
He adds: "The number of studios hiring at junior levels and investing in training is heartening, but as an industry we have to accept that we have a 'leaky bucket', which we need to plug by retaining more of our experienced talent, but also fill faster by taking on more juniors and investing further in training them up to the seniors of tomorrow."
“Something has to give”
“There are only a finite number of people who have created/coded/marketed triple-A games for five years+, and most are well enough rewarded and happy in their jobs that they won’t be leaving,” she says.
“We’ve always been filling a lake from a pond, now we’re trying to fill an ocean. Until companies either hire from outside the industry, or have structured training and mentoring in-house, this will always be the case.”
We’ve always been filling a lake from a pond, now we’re trying to fill an ocean.Kim Parker Adcock, One Player Mission
Adcock says companies have raised their expectations for new hires, searching for candidates that realistically “only become available once in a blue moon, but they perceive there are lots of them and we hide them somewhere”.
“There are lots of candidates out there with excellent experience, highly motivated, trainable, and employable,” she states. “Yet some jobs stay open for years. There is a clear disconnect here. Also, with most now returning to studio/office based and candidates still feeling they can work remotely, something has to give.”
TIGA CEO Richard Wilson is calling on the UK Government to do more to support the games industry in tackling its skills shortage, including more funding and initiatives for skills development.
But despite all the talent that comes through the education system each year, there are few junior roles available to meet demand for jobs that studios want to fill. With a focus on the most experienced senior talent, juniors and laid off staff could fall victim to that “leaky bucket” and leave the industry for good.
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Learn more about recruitment and employee retention at Pocket Gamer Connects London (January 22nd to 23rd) on our Recruit & Restart track.