The Career Crunch

The Career Crunch

By Develop

February 25th 2009 at 3:38PM

With the world bracing itself for turbulent times ahead in 2009, is it really the best time to be looking for a new job? Ed Fear caught up with the games industryâ??s recruitment agencies to divine their forecast for the year aheadâ?¦

Let’s face facts: you’re sick of your job. Maybe it’s because you’re slogging your guts out but nobody’s noticing, or you’re sick of working in a fractured work environment. Maybe you’re battling against immovable beauracracy, or a boss whose moods are wearing thin. Whatever the reason, you want out, and you want out now.

If what we’ve described is something similar to your daily inner monologue – and there’s every chance that it might be – then you’re probably thinking of looking elsewhere. But with the economy suffering a catastrophic facepalm that, if we believe some of the more alarmist sections of the press, is going to stay with us beyond this year, is it really the best time to be looking elsewhere?

“There is no doubt that the global economic situation will have some impact on the games industry job market in 2009,” says Gamesrecruit’s Adrian Brown. “This is inevitable, especially for those companies that have other interests outside of the games industry, but also for any studio that relies on borrowing or external investors. I would say that, looking at the overall picture, there are about a third less positions compared to this time last year. It is obvious that all studios are a lot more cautious – especially larger publishers with studios spread across the globe.”

A quick glance at our lead news story is enough to ram home the reality of the situation, however: a significant number of developers, both in the UK and abroad, are slashing headcounts in an attempt to ride out the economic turmoil. And those are the lucky ones that manage to avoid capsising altogether – let’s not forget the fate of Free Radical, Oxygen Studios or Gusto’s Derby studio.

Stig Strand, head of games recruitment at Amiqus, is slightly more optimistic. Although the market has experienced closures, there are still “a larger number of companies that are pushing forward with their internally developed projects and IP, and as a result their games development teams still need to be bolstered with the right people,” he explains. “This means more programmers, artists, designers and producers are all still in demand going into 2009 – although to a lesser extent than last year.”

What all of these redundancies does mean, however, is that there’s going to be an awful lot more competition for each job out there – which could pose a problem for many jobseekers, especially those who’ve not kept up on the latest developments in the industry. On the other hand, it means a significantly richer talent pool for studios to recruit from. “The past difficulties of finding certain skills and experience have all but disappeared,” says Brown. “I’m confident that anyone with talent should have no trouble finding something pretty quick.”
Culling staff from studios also has the side effect of making your leftover employees that much more valuable, particularly those highly-skilled experts in their field. As such, making sure that you keep hold of them is increasingly important, tieing into the increased number of developers offering their staff extra bonuses (see our salary survey for more).

James Grant, director of Day One Recruitment, is clear on the possible danger of overlooking those added extras. “It’s a competitive market, and if you look to cut corners as a business by not going that extra yard for your best staff that sends out a dangerous message of mediocrity to your employees. They will question why they should commit their time and energy to a company that does not seem to reward their efforts, and they will inevitably look elsewhere and potentially join a company that does.”

And yet, it’s equally as important to remember that a lot more emphasis is now placed on working conditions and quality of life, especially as the industry starts finding itself getting older. “The reality is that some candidates value other things more highly than perks,” reckons Aardvark Swift’s Ian Goodall. “Things like work/life balance, the overall quality of games the company produces, the specific genre of title they will be working on and the financial stability of company. There are many issues that companies need to address but, if they can improve on them all, they will have an edge over competitors.”

One thing that cash-strapped studios might look to cut back on is agencies themselves – although that’s likely a trend that would have continued onwards anyway, recession or not.

“There were a lot of puzzled looks eight years ago when I first approached studios and publishers to talk about making their own pro– active steps in recruitment,” remembers Gamesrecruit’s Brown.

“Apart from a few studios and some of the larger publishers, the majority relied upon agencies to recruit everybody from receptionists to QA and beyond. In the past few years studios have actively taken steps to recruit for themselves either through advertising online and offline, using social networking sites or employing their own internal recruiters to find people direct. At the very least, games companies are able to fill graduate and junior vacancies without having to pay agency fees.”

Amiqus’ Strand has also noticed the change: “Games companies have really pushed their internal referral schemes over the last 12 months. In an industry that is as small and niche as the games sector, networking and successful referral taking is very common in companies with established HR functions, and is a great way to build successful teams based on hiring staff with proven track records.”