Are game job vacancies really on the up?

Are game job vacancies really on the up?
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

February 21st 2011 at 8:02AM

Develop speaks to experts across the industry to find out

With the long shadow of the economic crisis still stretching over games, and studio closures an all too familiar sight, it’s certainly an intimidating time to look for a new job or hire new talent.

The good news is that most in the know forecast that 2011 will be a good year for job hunting, with many predicting that the number of vacancies will climb as studios expand and restructure.

While the UK market is still nervous after the recent spate of high profile studio closures, on the global stage opportunities continue to be in plentiful supply. In particular those with a wealth of experience who are prepared to tackle either travelling or relocating should find a number of suitable roles available to them further afield.

“We’ve seen incredible increases in vacancies in all areas of business,” says Kim Adcock, managing director of OPM Recruitment, who takes a pragmatic view of the current jobs space. “There still seems to be some nervousness about committing to hires though, especially at the higher level.

There are still more candidates on the market due to recent redundancies, so the market is very competitive.”

Another specialist agency, Avatar Games Recruitment, is particularly optimistic, and sees the number of vacancies increasing over the next 12 months.

“2010 was a big improvement on the previous year and this trend should carry on,” states managing director Eamonn Mgherbi, who, having considered feedback from a number of his clients, has concluded that the next three years will see very encouraging developments affecting those looking for work in the coming three years.

CRISIS AVERTED?

Overall, there’s a consensus that as games companies are inching free from the recession they will be looking to make more hires in 2011. And yet an atmosphere of cautious optimism prevails.

“We feel that whilst there will not be a significant jump in vacancies, there will always be the need for talented development staff who can make good things happen, and the demand for contract staff will increase,” suggests Stig Strand, head of games recruitment team at Amiqus.

It’s certainly not going to be easy for those hoping to secure entry-level positions, thanks to the continued fallout from the global recession.

“I think new candidates coming out of school face increasing pressure from experienced candidates who might have been laid off in the recent months or years,” proposes Felix Roekin, general manager of middleware outfit Trinigy.

“It’s difficult for those new candidates because they don’t necessarily have the skill set that their experienced counterparts do. Conversely, some of those experienced developers are now starting up studios of their own, which provides a great new market for the right candidates.”

Roeken has hit on a key point that may be of great encouragement to those intimidated by today’s job market. As microstudios become midistudios and social and digital gaming continues to rise, there is a wealth of new avenues opening.

“With the surge in popularity of social and online gaming the number of vacancies will certainly increase,” confirms Noel Krohn, business development director at recruiter MPG Universal.

“Larger budgeted triple-A titles and new technology create the need for larger teams or very specific skill set requirements that open up
new positions.”

ROOM TO GROW

Speaking to those in studios proactively recruiting, it’s clear an appetite for expansion prevails. Creative Assembly’s Total War team has grown consistently in recent years, retaining key staff while welcoming many new team members to the fold.

“General attrition has been really low, but we have been lucky enough to still be able to add to the team by hiring programmers, artists, designers and animators during the course of this year as well,” says Emma Cole, The Creative Assembly’s operations and HR assistant.

Craig Duncan is development director at Sumo Digital, another studio undergoing ambitious expansion: “At Sumo we use a number of methods and I think you need a good blend to cover all potential talent bases, we have done expo events such as Develop, which we have seen some success, we use agencies and we recruit directly through direct applications via our website.”

Duncan also points out that word of mouth referrals and staff recommendations still bring in a number of new hires.

“LinkedIn is also a great tool for sourcing and communicating with potential candidates as well as keeping an eye on company activity,” he adds, pointing to the power of social networks to improve traditional recruiting methods.

ON THE UP

Yet whatever the size of your team, increasing studio headcount is never an easy task. It can upset the balance of a creative force, and stretch resource if not handled carefully. So how do studios and tech companies hoping to hire new talent smooth the process?

“One method that has always reaped benefits for our clients is to ensure that you hire a more modest sized team with a larger amount of experience and proven skills in the industry areas that you are looking for, and having this account for about 80-to-85 per cent of your team.”

These individuals cost more per head, but they can save costs down the line in terms of development as their experience will ensure higher quality work is producing more efficiently, while remaining places can be filled with relatively youthful candidates.

“With all companies, clear direction and communication are important foundations,” adds Andy Campell, founder and CEO of Specialmove, on the subject of growth.

“Once new employees come on board, integration is important, making sure new employees feel welcome and are introduced to existing employees and co-workers.”

It is also important not to grow too quickly so as not to upset the inner workings of a studio by introducing team members at a rate which does not allow to see if the new talent fits with the culture of the business.

“It’s best to plan a steady and manageable ramp up and ensure the team structure and communication is focused with every addition,” suggests Sumo’s Duncan.

It’s also worth looking beyond traditional talent pools, and turning attention closer to home, says Cortney Endecott, talent manager at middleware giant Crytek:

“[One] focus is on our modding community. Crytek has a large fan base of talented individuals, actively working in our modding communities. We regularly hire talent directly from this source. Even our CEO Cevat Yerli, takes the time to look at the newest mods.”

TOUGH TIMES

Whatever techniques a company employs to secure the best staff it can, there are numerous challenges that penetrate the very root of the entire recruitment infrastructure.

“It’s an increasing problem to identify the really good people amongst the undifferentiated pool of applicants available via online recruitment or social networking,” says Datascope founder Julien Hofer.

And then there’s an aforementioned problem, as highlighted by Avatar’s Mgherbi. “The most recent challenge that we have faced has been the economic difficulties which has led to the closure of some major studios resulting in mass unemployment, which subsequently leads to an increase in direct applications.”

Studios themselves also have their own set of recruitment issues to deal with. The Creative Assembly admits that overcoming the visa restriction and immigration cap on recruiting from outside of the EU has been tough.

“We regularly receive applications from fantastically talented candidates from around the world who are interested in building a career in the UK, but we find it very hard, and in some cases impossible, to take on the staff we’d like,” reveals the studios’s Cole. “It feels as if we’re not on the same playing field as our competitors in other countries.”

And the Total War studio isn’t alone, as Peter Lovell, talent acquisition specialist at Jagex confirms: “The cap on immigration has made things a little more difficult for us already as we are struggle to widen our net to attract candidates from outside of the EU.”

“Home Office restrictions for the UK are having a negative effect at the experienced level, which, says MPG Universal’s Krohn, means studios are unable to hire new talent wanting to move to the UK, or worse.
 
“Importantly, those experienced staff who actually started their career in the UK but who later moved abroad are now unable to relocate back to the UK, which means we are losing a great resource and our graduates could in turn benefit from their experience,” Krohn says.

And things are getting tougher for recruitment agencies too.

“Internal recruiters are now playing a larger part – picking off talent from floundering and failed studios seems to be their speciality,” confirms Aardvark Swift’s Ian Goodall.

“This inevitably leaves less room for agencies and means we’re having to work a great deal harder for less money.”

Such challenges are an inevitable part of an evolving games industry, and in reality are a sign of an expanding sector, and will ultimately allow for far more positions in the future.

The way games are made is shifting, and this sea change is exactly what will allow a wider range of specifically skilled workers to enter what has traditionally been a difficult sector to penetrate.

“Consider for a moment some of the current best selling and/or groundbreaking games like Doodle Jump and Minecraft; both are from small, one or two man bands, not from the core games industry, but both are massively successful titles,” says Train2Game director Clive Robert.

“This would never have been possible five years ago when the industry was obsessed with 100 man teams.”

Most agree with Robert. There are many new opportunities, and numerous new ways to source staff. Despite the challenges, the future of the jobs markets looks to be a good one.