Recruiter Hot Seat: Playground Games

Recruiter Hot Seat: Playground Games
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

November 1st 2013 at 10:00AM

Leamington Spa’s Playground Games is beginning a new chapter with its first Xbox One project. Here's CEO Trevor Williams on why you should be part of it

[This feature was published in the October 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad]

Name: Trevor Williams
Title: Chief Operating Officer
Developer: Playground Games

What differentiates Playground from other developers?
I think there are a few things about Playground which stand out. Firstly, everything and everyone at Playground has a focus on quality. Gav [Raeburn] and Ralph [Fulton] strive for excellence in everything they do, and that drives through into our processes, workflows and creative decision-making. A lot of games companies are technology-led – in other words, they make creative decisions with reference to what their tech is able to do.
That’s not how we work at Playground – we are constantly challenging what we do and striving to do everything better. That is a very rewarding environment.

Our close relationship with Microsoft obviously puts us in a somewhat privileged position. We are well funded and that in itself creates opportunity for what we are able to achieve with our new game. There are only a handful of independent developers worldwide working on showcase Xbox One titles, so it’s great to be part of that group.

The other thing which stands out is the way we recruit. We do not have a traditional recruitment or HR team. Our recruitment is led out by our discipline leads and their management teams. That is pretty onerous on them, but it works really well for both the company and prospective hires. At interview, candidates always get to meet the people they will be working with, and usually a few of the directors too. That makes our recruitment process very transparent.

How many staff are you currently looking to take on?
We are currently looking to add about 25 new people to our team, although some of those are contract roles. They are across all disciplines – programming, art and design – but there are also a few specialist roles which we realised we needed after Forza Horizon was completed.

What perks or privileges are available to staff at the studio?
We offer a good remuneration package. Our salaries and benefits are very competitive, but I think what stands out is our ongoing commitment to our staff. There’s no point hiring the best people and then not looking after them. And that goes for their families too. A lot of our staff moved from outside the area, outside of the UK in some cases, so we try to help them integrate. Simple stuff, like running a Facebook group for partners, pub evenings and so on. We just had our summer barbecue and everyone brought their kids along. It was mayhem.

What should aspiring developers do with their CV to get to an interview?
It’s always worth checking our website for open positions. We always keep that current. If you are interested in applying for one of the roles, then you should drop your CV into our inbox. That is our recruitment ‘clearing house’ and is sorted numerous times a day. The CV and covering email will be passed onto the appropriate discipline lead. It’s worth stating on the covering email which post you are applying for.

Who is the best interviewee you have ever had and what was it they did that impressed you?
I’m not sure I recall any particular interviewee who stands out, but I have interviewed some great people over the years. I try to filter out how well they interview and focus on how well they will be able to do the job.
For instance, do they casually demonstrate deep knowledge and experience in the discipline you are hiring for?

And who was the worst?
An interview is a very artificial scenario – particularly for development staff. It can make people very nervous and cause them to do and say some quite strange things. I’ve had people fall asleep, faint and one guy was actually physically sick. He blew chunks in the lobby. But I think the worst crime is when candidates decide not to turn up because they have taken another job. That’s happened a couple of times. All it takes is a phone call.

What advice would you give jobseekers for a successful interview at Playground?
Be calm, be respectful and demonstrate you can do the job. The interviewers at Playground are never trying to trip you up. They just want to know that if you do join our team, you will be able to make the game better.

If your studio has recruited talent internationally, what was the process like for your studio and for the applicant?
We have hired about a dozen people from Europe and North America, but we have never hired anyone who needed us to sponsor their visa – although that’s purely coincidence rather than avoidance. They either had EU citizenship or ancestry visas.

We try to gauge how committed they are to living in another country and how long they may stick around. From experience, international hires are much more likely to leave and go home. Two years seems to be the sweet spot. So they join us for a project and then move on, which is fine.

Why should developers join a large studio when indie and self-publishing have become so much more accessible?
I think it’s really a matter of security. Indie development and self-publishing is absolutely accessible, but just because it’s easy to set up on your own doesn’t mean you should. It’s a tough life being an indie dev. Not everyone is suited to running their own company.

I’d say that on average, an experienced developer is going to earn more working at Playground than working on their own indie project. There are obviously exceptions to that, but I think for many people, a well paid, stable job works for them. And I think Xbox One is a big pull for a lot of people. Working on cutting-edge technology is challenging, but rewarding.

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