As one of the fastest growing industries in the UK, the video games sector is constantly hiring new talent. As anyone will tell you, there is no singular path to becoming a video game developer. However, there are many steps that studios can take to improve the hiring process as well as widen access to diverse applicants.
The Job Listing
The first stage of is the job listing itself. Job posts can often be overlooked as basic copy that merely functions to express the basics of the role, the requirements and the general procedure. However, job posts can actively discourage suitable candidates with arbitrary job requirements. Speaking to us anonymously, Jobseeker A, a producer, describes seeing junior producer jobs with requirements like shipped titles and specific production certifications, which could wall out producers with significant experience.
Take shipped titles as an example; an experienced developer may have spent years on a AAA title that was never released, while a less-experienced developer may have released many smaller titles. This kind of job requirement can prevent studios from reaching qualified talent and unknowingly snub diverse applicants with non-standard career paths.
As Colin Macdonald, director of Games Jobs Live, says: “[Marginalised] applicants may be put off applying unless they strongly tick every single box. I suggest keeping the job specs down to the bare minimum of what you want everyone to have.”
Khally Saarman-Jones, HR manager at TerraTech developer Payload Studios, believes that ‘nice-to-haves’ can also deter diverse applicants. “Removing desirable criteria and being as flexible as possible when it comes to the required experience means that you’ll likely end up with a higher number of applications but hopefully these will be from a broader range of candidates.”
Many jobseekers have adapted and know that many job requirements are arbitrary, as Jobseeker B, a 3D Artist, explains: “I'll often ignore ‘3+ years experience required’ for a junior position if they are asking for skills that I know I have or can improve on”. This lack of clarity can cause applicants to apply for unsuitable roles. Job postings that are more open-ended with a smaller number of more realistic requirements benefit applicants and employers.
When it comes to wording job posts, Jobseeker B goes on to say that there are a variety of ‘red flags’ when it comes to job postings: Frequent references to ‘passion’ and work outside of standard hours or phrases like ‘we’re like a family’ can imply that a studio is willing to take advantage of staff, which may deter potential candidates.
Eden Buchet, lead game designer and co-founder of Samurai Riot developer Wako Factory explains how to use a job post to actively attract a more diverse talent pool: “Writing job posts with inclusive language, explicitly encouraging diverse applicants to apply and affirming that the studio is a safe space (if it is, of course!).”
Kay Purcell – lead community manager at Avalanche Studios Group, the company behind Just Cause, Generation Zero and TheHunter series – says that the words in job posts must be backed up with substance. “Job listings for senior positions may encourage women and minorities to apply, but these same companies do little-to-nothing to identify, nurture, and help develop the careers of the amazingly talented, diverse people already working (and often struggling) in their companies.”
Masao Kobayashi, Producer at Montreal-based indie Cut to Bits also offers actionable advice: “[Studios looking for more diverse talent] can work with organizations looking to improve representation of minorities in the industry and look towards a global talent pool by working with remote staff.”
The Hiring Process
Hiring processes can vary wildly from studio to studio. This can be due to the differences in studio size, infrastructure, or the amount of resources a studio can commit to the process. In a smaller studio, it should be quite straightforward; post the job, select a handful of applicants from their CVs and portfolios, interview them, then hire someone.
Kobayashi explains that there are a lot of other avenues to find new talent: “In addition to posting the job on our site and sharing it on social media, I also post on job listing sites like Work With Indies and various Discord servers. If we don’t receive a sufficient number of applicants or we are not happy with the applicants we’ve received, we look through places like ArtStation or Portfolio Day posts on Twitter to see if we can find anyone interesting.”
Saarman-Jones offers some useful methods for attracting diverse candidates: “Signing up to the #RaiseTheGame pledge [from trade body Ukie], publicly discussing your commitment to inclusion, showcasing the diversity that you do have, supporting some of the incredible groups working to promote inclusion in the games industry, right through to utilising internships to create entry-level opportunities.”
Other studios will heavily rely on existing talent in their network, as Buchet explains about Wako Factory. “We primarily hire from our own network, including students that we have met as part of our teaching work. As a small studio with a horizontal infrastructure, it is crucial that anyone we hire can thrive without a standard hierarchical framework.”
Buchet does admit that this form of recruitment can be very time-consuming, but they maintain that it is worth it. Meanwhile, Macdonald argues that the oldest methods still have their merits.
“I always try to check references, even informally,” he says. “Sometimes the informal checks are the most enlightening – beware of burning bridges.”
Similarly, Purcell explains that no matter the process her company may use, she always focuses on hiring team players. “I'm looking for people who are able to collaborate, communicate, trust, and improvise… If they have no interest in company culture, if they say ‘I just want to create games, I don't care about the rest,’ or if they treat someone who would report to them, or who is in a very different department from them, differently than they did their superiors in the interview process, then I will not continue the process.”
Many diverse candidates will have gained their experience in non-standard ways or will have worked much harder to gain experience that others have as standard. For Purcell, it is crucial to see the value of an applicant’s potential and non-standard experience as part of valuing diversity.
“If one candidate is more qualified than another, but the more qualified candidate has enjoyed the luxury of a college degree and fifteen years of support and funding via a large studio, while the less qualified candidate has no college degree and a history of doing all their work independently, pulling together teams as needed and shipping a project before moving on to the next – who's actually more qualified? I'd say the latter.”
Although many studios would love to hire more diverse candidates, Kobayashi explains the problems his studio has faced. “As a small studio, we tend to look for people who are self-sufficient… We need to find people with at least some experience so we tend to get similar types of candidates. The games industry as a whole has a lack of diversity but it is a difficult issue to tackle as a small indie studio. [Due to our small reach] we struggle to attract the attention of diverse applicants.”
Interviews are mandatory for the majority of jobs, but there is no consensus on what makes a good interview. Purcell supports any process that involves a wide variety of interviewers.
“I want to make sure that [the candidate] has conversations with a range of people across the team; artists, developers, producers, PR, community and everything in between. There is no part of game development that happens in a vacuum or without collaboration.”
She also warns that interviews can give an advantage to sweet talkers over more qualified candidates: “I've seen many people charm their way into positions they aren't ready for and not rise to the occasion. Beware of big personalities and if possible, have a more soft-spoken person on your team interview them.”
Buchet echoes this sentiment and offers another perspective: “We must all be aware of our biases in order to make the hiring process more equitable. For example, even if a female candidate seems less sure of herself than a confident male candidate, she may be much more qualified.”
Macdonald likes to prime the candidate with an informal conversation before holding any serious interview: “I think that initial call helps make people more comfortable. When you actually get to meet them, they'll be less nervous and show a truer version of themselves.”
Interviewers can also prepare by studying a candidate’s application. Jobseeker A recounted a positive interview experience: “To me, a good interview acknowledges your CV and portfolio. When the hiring manager actually plays the games in your portfolio, which they did for the job I ended up taking, and shows active interest, it makes you believe in the process.” She acknowledged that this is a time-consuming process and may not always be feasible.
In the games industry, roles have become heavily specialised and proficiency tests are now commonplace across all departments. From the employers’ perspective, Purcell believes tests are a double-edged sword.
“While asking a potential employee to work on a project is a great way to see their skills, it comes with a lot of pitfalls,” she explains. “Some companies have used tests as spec work and applicants are now wise to this, even a little paranoid. No-one should be asked to do eight hours of unpaid work just to have the privilege of applying to your company.”
Macdonald prefers to focus on an applicant’s previous work: “I won't spend terribly long reading a CV. But I will spend much longer looking at portfolios.”
Looking from the applicant’s point of view, Jobseeker C, an artist, believes that portfolio reviews should replace most proficiency tests. “Studios will disregard your portfolio and send out a vague art test, even before an interview. My portfolio shows the broad strokes of my skillset, tests should be late in the process and very specific to the role.”
Many applicants are used to unpaid tests and will often complete them, but assignments that require significant time investment are hard to complete if an applicant has an existing job or cannot afford to invest the time when they could be earning. The solution? Paid tests improve the process for applicants, allow applicants with precarious incomes to commit to the process and set the tone early on in creating a positive studio image. As Jobseeker B explains: “Nothing says you respect your applicants than paying them for their time.”
Even for applicants who complete every test without fail, there is a risk that their hard work is ignored, as Jobseeker B has experienced. “It is always frustrating when a company leaves you hanging indefinitely, especially after you've put the energy in for a test. I understand that oftentimes there are a lot of applications, but if I've done a week or two of work for free, I'd at least like to be told I didn't get it.”
One issue that every jobseeker we interviewed brought up was poor communication from studios. After investing time into an application, applicants want to hear back from employers and know that their efforts are being considered seriously. In the case of an unsuccessful application, studios should provide feedback to help applicants improve.
Jobseeker D, a narrative designer, explained that following up with studios can be a torturous process: “The same communication issues persist across many large, well-respected studios; you may never receive a response. I have had it happen after final stage interviews and week-long writing tests. Why should an applicant have to follow up multiple times with a major studio to get a straight answer?”
As Jobseeker A recounts: “I’ve received glowing feedback, but then don’t get the job and receive no further feedback. There is nothing worse than being told you were great, getting rejected, then seeing someone who looks like the hiring manager in the role a week later and not knowing what they did better.”
Saarman-Jones explains the importance of candidate experience as part of the application process: “We try to be clear on what the process involves and make it as fair and inclusive as possible. We get back to everyone, even if they don’t make it to the interview stage.”
With longer application processes, there are many opportunities to assess applicants on their skills. If an application is unsuccessful, most applicants want to know how to improve. Jobseeker C explains that receiving feedback can be difficult and time-consuming, and many studios will not actively provide it. Furthermore, a lack of detail in feedback may only add to the frustration of an unsuccessful application.
The Company Culture
When applicants are looking at a job, the culture of the studio is a very important consideration. Two roles with similar job descriptions can have wildly different experiences depending on the company culture. Jobseeker A was very discouraged from continuing an application after she asked about a studio’s culture: “They said ‘Our culture is that we swear a lot’ and they weren’t joking. They kept digging themselves deeper down this hole.”
Saarman-Jones shares her mindset behind creating a healthy studio environment: “The aim is to offer your team a workplace where they can be their authentic selves, feel valued and included, know that their voice matters, and have the support and tools they need to be at their best. It’s vital that studios create a workplace and policies for the workforce that they want, not just the team they already have.”
Buchet asserts that diversity must be an integral part of the studio to attract diverse talent, “Diversity has to be nurtured within the company and valued internally. [Diversity] will not be able to have any positive effect on the company if it is suppressed in order to cater to a standardised vision.”
Purcell encourages studios to look beyond boilerplates and put their money where their mouth is: “Look at what you are actually saying about your company values in your job listings, but also on your benefits page. Your benefits page will say more about your company's culture and values than your job description ever will.”
She brought up many examples of inclusive benefits such as maternity/paternity leave for adopted children and pets, health insurance that covers gender reassignment, floating holidays and subsidised childcare.
There are many systemic issues across games recruitment that the industry as a whole needs to address in order to improve going forward. Macdonald looks at higher education as a broken pipeline into the industry: “There's definitely an oversupply of graduates, with 2,000-plus games graduates coming out of universities every year in the UK and only around 200 junior positions open at any time.”
Kobayashi discusses how juniors struggle to find work outside of major hubs: “For a studio, the cost of relocation for someone with little to no experience is hard to justify. Remote work is not a great solution either since a major pain point during the pandemic is how difficult it is to train juniors remotely.”
Buchet suggests that that subconscious biases can cause studios to undervalue diverse applicants: “Our societal bias encourages people to reduce the value of skills held by women, LGBT+, non-white and disabled people. As such, many studios only end up recruiting cisgender straight white non-disabled men. Most of the time this is not done on purpose, but as an industry, we need to acknowledge how this bias affects hiring practices.”
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