Industry experts weigh in with advice on how to land a job in game dev
The opening months of any year are a tempting time to ramp up your career or bolster a studio with an intake of fresh talent.
But in 2013, as far as the jobs market is concerned, the global games development sector is in perhaps its greatest state of flux yet seen.
New studios open while others close on a near daily basis. Development hubs across the world are shifting in status and location. A new console generation is dawning. Tools outfits, publishers, retailers and developers are overlapping their established roles. As much as it’s an overused buzzword, the democratisation of games making continues.
As a result of all this, established career paths are increasingly tangled, and all in all, it’s a bewildering time.
But 2013 is also a period of opportunity, thanks to the very reasons that make recruitment and job-seeking an increasingly multifarious business. Things are tough out there, but the industry headcount is arguably on the up.
“Triple-A closures are creating hubs of activity and microstudios with exceptionally talented, experienced people able to work on their own creative terms on easily accessed platforms,” confirms Noel Krohn, director of games and film recruiter MPG Universal, reflecting on the situation.
“The bar for entry has been lowered and the whole atmosphere can be likened to the original 8-bit days with the industry coming full circle.”
That perspective will sound to many ears like wonderful news – with the era when the NES saved the industry from its most dramatic crash so fondly remembered – but now, as then, challenges abound.
Emerging markets like Brazil and the Middle East present new dynamics and potential brain drains, and more than ever before, competition for both jobs and talent is at a high.
“Globally, the sector is expanding and diversifying,” says Giselle Stewart, general manager of Driver: San Francisco creator Ubisoft Reflections. “Mobile, tablets and digital distribution are broadening the market and there is now more choice than ever for skilled individuals.
“In addition, many countries have recognised that the video game industry is a high skilled, high tech industry of the future, and have therefore sought to stimulate domestic growth through favourable taxation policies, leading to intense global competition.”
It’s undeniably an exciting and changeable time, but one not without difficulties, for both studios, and the agencies that often provide them with fresh staff.
“There’ll be a number of challenges for both sides of the games recruitment coin in 2013, mainly in the form of increased competition,” explains Alex Wright-Manning, talent acquisition manager at Sega outfit The Creative Assembly, who suggests studios and recruitment agencies may increasingly work more closely to address such challenges.
“As well as competition internally, traditional specialist game agencies are seeing their market share eroded by IT recruiters looking to expand into an exciting and potentially lucrative recruitment sector. It used to be extremely difficult to break into a games studio as a recruiter, but as the war for talent intensifies, studios will be more open to working with agencies that can provide top candidates, regardless of their specialist area or history.”
But there remains good reason to be optimistic for individuals looking for either a promotion, a new employer or their inauguration in the games industry.
The next hardware generation is increasingly the current generation, and backed up by the debut of machines like the Piston ‘Steam Box’, the games business may be poised to enter a new era of great prospects.
“This year could see the launch of future next generation consoles from both Microsoft and Sony, which will require substantial developer backing,” says an optimistic Stig Strand, who serves as manager of games at recruiter Amiqus.
“This should result in more job openings on high-end future console products taking place globally, therefore making it a perfect time to enter the gaming world.”
And in terms of popularity, the game industry is enjoying a phase some are keen to frame as a new golden era, in spite of the challenges. Whether that’s a reality, certainly a career making games is increasingly tempting youngsters, resulting in a remarkably competitive space around entry-level positions.
“What we are experiencing at the moment is a large number of young people who want to join the industry,” explains Crytek’s talent manager Tatiana Hoejengaard.
“We receive a huge amount of applications for QA, community management, sound design, game and level designers, animators, project managers and producers. The most difficult vacancies to fill are usually programmers, senior environment artists, and the roles in cinematics, engine and R&D departments.”
By Hoejengaard’s analysis, there are roles to be filled, meaning even if applicant numbers are sky-high, those with the right ambitions have a good chance of finding work.
Meanwhile, others highlight that now more than ever, it isn’t just the role a jobseeker targets that increases their chances of securing employment, but a willingness to take their hunt for work far from home.
“There aren’t enough candidates that are mobile,” reveals Kim Parker Adcock, MD of games recruiter OPM.
“The games industry is incredibly niche, and the chances of candidates finding the right studio with the right game and the right job title at the right price is very unlikely. The more open a candidate is to relocation, the higher the chances of finding the right project for them.”
Parker Adcock also echoes Hoejengaard’s suggestion that programming positions remain among the toughest to fill, and the two are not alone in that opinion.
However, where a particular effort is needed is in creating an ecosystem to attract those with skills not typically associated with games making.
“I foresee a massive increase in demand for specialist skills that you wouldn’t normally attribute to the traditional game industry, such as data architects and scientists, business intelligence analysts and online services developers – all the sorts of roles we would normally find outside of the industry,” states The Creative Assembly’s Wright-Manning.
“In order to hire in these growth areas, we’ll have to work hard to attract candidates that wouldn’t normally consider games a viable career path.”
And so it is that most agree the number of vacancies has climbed in the past year, even if it is equally the case that the volume of applicants directing CVs to the game business is also increasing. As for 2013, it appears that trend is set to amplify.
“The number of vacancies will increase over the next 12 months,” offers Amiqus’ Strand. “It’s key for the launch and survival of future platforms to have developer backing, so there will surely be an uplift and desire to hire experienced staff as well as talented juniors to accommodate the larger pipelines required to make a future console product.”
Strand also predicts that the continual growth of the social and mobile gaming sector – in tandem with the unprecedented numbers of start-ups opening their doors – will establish even more avenues to work in games.
Fortunately, for studios looking to employ staff in this changing business, there’s a wealth of advice available. But what about the individuals looking to increase their prospects as they apply for new jobs? Fortunately, studios and recruiters alike are keen to share their tips on making the grade.
“When applying, ensure you send a short, relevant CV, along with targeted work samples that make it easy for people to see what you are capable of,” suggests Reflections' Stewart.
“Make sure you tailor your application to the job and company you are applying to, show an interest and understanding of that company and explain why you are the right person for the role.”
“Before sending out your application to any game company, do your research as thoroughly as you can,” adds Crytek’s HR manager Mariele Weber on a similar note, who believes that the better a jobseeker understands the company in question, the more chances they will have to secure work.
“Write a cover letter, no more than one page long, explaining who you are and why you have chosen Crytek,” she adds with reference to her own employer.
“Make sure your portfolio is up to date, is easy to access and browse, and showcases your best work.”
Meanwhile, for those seeking their first role in the game sector, it is important to do your research, claims Eamonn Mgherbi, business development director at games recruiter Avatar.
“If you are just starting out in the industry then you have to be up to date with everything that’s going on, such as the latest jobs, new trends and what companies are looking for in a new recruit,” he advises.
“And if you’re aiming to become something specific, such as a character artist, then make sure you have a strong, up-to-date show reel containing various types of realistic characters.”
Amiqus’ Peter Leonard, principal consultant for social and mobile, meanwhile, reminds job hunters that they should also consider freelance work.
“There are some small – sub-ten people – studios that can utilise the skills of talented developers, but may not have the funds to offer permanent employment,” he advises.
"Talk to these companies to see if you can create freelance work for them, or perhaps even offer temporary services for free to get experience under your belt.”
The last tip for developers looking for a new role comes from OPM’s Parker Adcock, who asserts that being clear about what field an applicant wants to work in is essential.
“Be professional in your approach and highlight how your skills are relevant to that role. If you do not have commercial experience in a particular area, work on a personal project relevant to games to show that you have those skills.”
“If you know you’re good don’t give up applying. ‘No’ is only a ‘no’ today,” she continues. “Social networking in related forums – for example for artists at www.cgsociety.org, and on LinkedIn – are also great ways to get noticed. They do say it’s not what you know, but who you know.”
A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
Overall, there is a wave of optimism from studios and recruiters alike about the state of the games jobs market. Studios have an abundance of enthusiastic applicants to choose from, and jobseekers have an increasingly numerous selection of roles to chase.
As a result, the sector is increasingly competitive, but as George Bray, head of technology on games at MPG Universal, says, today is a time of opportunity.
“It feels like the birth of gaming again, with so many new studios opening up globally, either from unfortunate lay offs, or the current generation wanting to make their mark with their ambitions and ideas,” concludes Bray.
“Exciting times lie ahead.”
Is your studio looking to increase its headcount? Industry experts offer advice on how to do it right, whatever your outfit’s size
“It should be done slowly. Making games is a team effort, and you want people to work well together. You want a group of people who challenge, respect and understand each other. It takes time for the new recruits to find their place in the team.”
Talent Manager, Crytek
“Tapping previously inaccessible territories, offering sizeable relocation payments and extra benefits, attractive referral schemes for our staff and development of relationships with schools and universities is important.”
Talent Acquisition Manager, The Creative Assembly
“Look to grow organically based upon success of previous projects, profitability and making some steady and effective headway, until understanding where the market will be in six-to-12 months. And staff up – or stay steady – accordingly.”
Principal Consultant, Social and Mobile, Amiqus
“Growth in a games studio is an area that can be hard to manage. With most things, communication is key, let your current staff know the benefits of this growth. For example, security in the knowledge that the company can create more IP or take on more projects giving it more financial stability long term.”
Director, MPG Universal
“Write a pessimistic business plan and cash flow forecast. Don’t hire somebody key without informing the team, asking for their input and asking for internal applications. Make sure you write comprehensive job and person specs.”
Kim Parker Adcock,
Managing Director, OPM
“Get organised. Sit down and decide what it is you need, and if you definitely need it, because today it is really a very, very tough market to go and find talent in. And get yourself in a position where you can actually make offers and get contracts to people."
Managing Director, Aardvark Swift