Video game developers seem to have it made. It’s almost as if they live inside their own little bubble, one in which there’s no talent shortage, where resumes come flooding in the moment they publish a job ad. You might be thinking: “That’s because everyone wants to work in the games industry, Jess!” And while that’s partly true, it’s not the sole reason game developers consistently hire some of the best talent out there.
While the rest of us noobs have to deal with a narrow talent market and a surplus of jobs, the gaming industry has the exact opposite problem (i.e., not a problem at all). According to a 2016 Indeed article, the industry will be worth more than $91 billion within the next two years, yet jobs at game developer companies have declined by 65% since 2014. On the other hand, searches for games industry jobs are steadily increasing, and have grown by about 50% in the same time frame. It’s a scenario that could inspire envy in even the most recruitment-savvy employers.
The Video Game Industry Is Chock Full of Awesomeness
What’s driven the explosive growth of video games? Well, first and foremost, people love games – duh. Video games have transformed from simple pastimes to sprawling, multi-media artistic masterpieces. Story-centric games capture our attention through carefully-crafted writing, visuals, and sound. Shooters thrill us with inventive gameplay mechanics and non-stop action. Strategy games intrigue us with mind-boggling situations that require deep, critical thinking. It’s no wonder so many people want to work for game developers; from artist to analyst, there’s something for everyone. Can you name another industry with such a high density of dream jobs? Doubt it.
…But It Still Has Its Pitfalls
Video game jobs aren’t easy. Grueling schedules, infuriating limitations, and unpredictability are just a few of the problems that plague the industry. One minute you could be sinking all your time into designing a single NPC, only to have it scrapped the next. You could be forced to compromise your artistic vision because of time and budget constraints. You could spend years working on a title just to end up with a slew of horrible reviews from angry basement-dwellers. For an industry rooted in the fantastical, there’s a hell of a lot of crippling realities to deal with. Anthony Burch, former lead writer for one of my favorite couch co-ops, Borderlands 2, sums it up perfectly in his article for Kotaku:
“Everything – everything in game development was more difficult and complex than I thought.”
The industry isn’t immune to problems. Game studios close all the time. Layoffs are common. To make matters worse, there’s no shortage of horrific tales of employees being paid poorly – or never paid at all. And, as with most tech-oriented companies, diversity is slow to catch on. Despite these challenges, game developers still have their pick of the litter when it comes to hiring talent – and they’re really, really good at choosing.
What Makes Game Developers So Damn Good at Recruiting?
Game developers have some of the best hiring strategies I’ve ever seen. I mean, they truly have their shit together. Even if video games weren’t wildly popular, people would still be knocking down doors to work for video game developers. Here’s why:
They Know Who They Are
Game developers have a strong sense of identity. Take a look at Bioware, known for heart-achingly-gorgeous games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
The opening and closing sentences of their About Us page bookend the Bioware brand story:
“role-playing games focused on rich stories, unforgettable characters, and vast worlds to discover…Our vision is to create, deliver, and evolve the most emotionally engaging games in the world.”
Right away, you know that working for Bioware is going to be a deep-dive into a sea of creative exploration. Their story-driven games require collaboration across multiple departments to ensure gameplay, artwork, and sound design reinforce the narrative. It's immediately obvious that Bioware is the perfect employer for imaginative team players who appreciate storytelling and character development.
They Know Who They Want (and How to Talk to Them)
Knowing your audience is an inherent advantage of knowing who you are. It also makes it much easier to target your job descriptions to your ideal candidates – something we talk about often. Riot Games is a great example of this. Their chart-topping multiplayer online battle arena game, League of Legends, set the bar for player-focused games.
Every aspect of the Riot Games website illustrates their credo that it’s always about the players, right down to the job openings. Their job descriptions are presented not as dense, endless strings of keywords and jargon, but as a casual narrative that inspires excitement and camaraderie. Most importantly, each description drives the point home that players and employees are all part of one vibrant, evolving community.
They Have Near-Perfect Career Pages
Check out Blizzard Entertainment if you want to see the epitome of a successful careers page. Immediately upon entering, you’re met with stunning visuals that are literally making me want to stop writing and go play video games right now. Next, a short, three-sentence blurb hooks prospective employees and delivers a succinct summary of Blizzard’s company quest.
Moving down the page, there are ample ways to learn about the culture, including Glassdoor reviews, an overview of their employee service rewards, and even a video about Orange County (where they’re headquartered). The Choose Your Role section of the page invites you to explore openings in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re searching through job ads. Finally, the page wraps up with information about what makes each discipline and location unique. Blizzard seizes every opportunity to sell their company to job-seekers, and they do it in the best way possible. Also, it doesn’t hurt they have, like, a billion accolades.
They Make Work Exciting
Obviously, not all jobs are as cool as making video games. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be called work. But that doesn’t mean your business is totally uncool. A successful hiring strategy should play up your company’s unique offerings. Maybe you’re one of the most innovative businesses in your industries. Or you have a coveted company culture. Or you offer mentorships to help your employees grow.
Game developers are great at distilling what matters to their employees and conveying it across all facets of candidate experience. Furthermore, their perks make sense – they’re not a random collection of benefits and ping pong tables. For example, Naughty Dog (The Last of Us; Uncharted; Jak and Daxter) offers discounted Sony games, monthly PSN vouchers, a PlayStation Perks card for food and entertainment, free movie screenings, daily raffles, relocation assistance, and more.
They Have Rigorous Interview Processes
Normally, a long interview process would be a detriment. In the video game industry, it’s a necessity. Video game developers make better hires because they often have hundreds of candidates, meaning they can look for culture fit and technical skills. Their process usually includes a phone screening, video interview with a panel, and an invitation to visit the headquarters for a final, in-person interview. Of course, not all companies have this luxury, but it might be worthwhile to revisit your interview tactics to make sure they’re aligned with your talent needs.
Game the System, Win the Game
Video games have come light years beyond pong. They’ve made their way into our everyday lives, and their applications have spread into education, government, the military, psychology, and so many other segments of our society. Games teach us lessons in decision-making, problem-solving, and critical thinking - and video game developers have become the demigods that present us with those lessons. It makes sense, then, that they could also teach us a thing or two about sourcing and hiring talent.