Why the video game industry remains a talent magnet
Despite growing to rival both the film and music industries in terms of size, revenue and cultural impact, the general public’s impressions of the games industry remain somewhat confused.
Part of this stems from the comparative lack of glamour that the games industry has compared to its counterparts in entertainment, and so the outdated notion of games development being a job done by basement dwelling social shut-ins tends to still be prominent.
For those a little more up to date on their stereotyping, another negative impression might come to mind – one of an unstable industry caught in a cycle of boom and bust, with employees regularly being overworked and underappreciated.
Anyone holding onto those outdated ideas of what the industry is like will probably be surprised to learn just how many candidates apply for even the lowest level positions at game studios.
Almost without exception, every position attracts a truly overwhelming number of talented candidates, whether it be a role in coding, design, video game marketing, communications, finance, business development or even HR.
The industry has changed drastically in the last decade. Not just as a result of the influx of investment, but as a result of some hard-learned lessons from its formative years. It has moved from the basement to the boardroom, becoming more professional but holding onto the elements of fun and creativity that made it a success in the first place.
This means that it has been able to pull in a more diverse range of people for a more diverse range of roles than ever before. This growth makes recruitment and retention more important than ever and where the industry begins to take on its own unique identity.
With hundreds of applicants going after the same role a common occurrence, the vast majority are turned away before they even reach the first hurdle, simply because they don’t hit the high standard the industry requires.
This comes as a surprise to a lot of people with outdated ideas about the space - but the sheer volume of candidates has meant that the industry can insist on a high standard from aspiring applicants. Just “liking games” doesn’t do much to help your chances when billions of people now play games worldwide. Experience and soft skills are now key for employers.
Whenever you get an influx of people into an industry that alters its demographic, you can expect to see changes in the way it operates, or even experience outright friction. In the games industry we see this happen between the old and the new, developers and business leads, and between introverts and extroverts.
Incompatible priorities and ways of doing things are responsible for one of game development’s most pervasive negative features: the concept of “crunch time” – where employees are kept working long hours to finish a game in time for its release, often to the detriment of their health and wellbeing.
This is why so many companies have doubled down on taking care of their employees. Strong benefits packages, flexible working, and a near unparalleled focus on mental wellbeing are common features that many people don’t associate with the industry.
We have made huge strides in addressing the lack of diversity and inclusivity in our sector too, for instance employing a proportionally high number of LGBT people, and having the strong forward momentum that will enable us to keep doing more.
While these are features in other industries too, they are unique in how they combine with the fun and creativity that surrounds gaming, making it a very “sticky” sector in which to work. Once applicants have their first role in the industry under their belts, they are often in it for life, no matter how far they rise.
You can take your skills outside of it, absolutely, but it is testament to the nature of the industry that most don’t want to.
Recruitment and the broader HR function are the reason this happens. The move towards becoming a fully professional “grown up” industry may have been the catalyst for many of the positive changes we see now, but the practical day-to-day activities that make that happen stems from studios wanting to take better care of their staff.
More people than ever, from more diverse backgrounds, in more diverse roles, call the games industry their home now, with no sign of that growth slowing down any time soon. I for one am proud to be involved in helping rehabilitate its image, and take its place as the leading entertainment medium.
Emma Russell is head of human resources at Jagex