Three people high-fiving while in front of computers

Hiring for the games industry is changing

With just about everyone locked up in their homes throughout 2020 and into 2021, the games industry grew much more than during pre-pandemic times.

The U.S. market saw roughly four years' worth of user growth in 2020 alone, according to Brian Nowak, managing director at Morgan Stanley Research. That's about 50 million new users, given that the average is 11 million per year. That rapid growth contributed to the $177.8 billion generated by the global games market in 2020, a 23% difference from the previous year.

Gaming is projected to decelerate slightly in 2021 as restrictions gradually lift in many communities globally, but the growth trend is set to continue for years to come. Video game companies are enjoying their heightened popularity, but how are they handling increased demand on their customer support teams and services?

With two billion gamers in the world, there's no shortage of work. There is, however, a shortage of talent. Game studios have historically had long lines of candidates waiting for their shot at the big leagues, but the battle for talent is now fiercer than ever, even for the big shops. That's forcing game developers and player support teams to be creative about the unique ways they woo and retain talent in a dynamic industry.

How the hiring profile of games companies is changing

Game developers have traditionally hired people that look — and play — like them. Blizzard's careers page is topped by an image of team members storming a castle, invoking the kind of energy you'd find in one of their games. The "Choose Your Role" section turns the typical job search process into a hero's quest.

No doubt, game studios are great at appealing to the true fans among their applicants. For example, Riot Games used to almost exclusively hire people who played League of Legends, says Tony Won, vice-president for games at TELUS International, who ran the company's European player support operation from 2016–2018.

However, measuring candidates by placing too much emphasis on their gamer cred can be a mistake, says Won. “You don't want your finance director to play games all day. If they have a business background and play your game, great. But don't not hire someone who is good for the role just because they don't play your hit game."

That runs counter to a prevailing belief in the industry that only gamers can effectively support other gamers. In the realm of player support solutions, there can indeed be benefits, like in-game knowledge and "speed to competency" in learning new games. It's also easier to empathize; if someone is struggling with a game, another gamer can easily feel their pain.

On the other hand, some non-gamers possess a great combination of attributes. “I've had some of my best team members say 'I don't really play games' during the interview, but they are on top of things, fun to talk to and they help people out quickly, which ultimately is what game support is all about," Won says.

How hiring and onboarding for games companies is evolving

It may not always make sense to hire gamers, but there are some key attributes, like tolerance for ambiguity, that remain valuable to games companies. As an industry veteran who also ran the Epic Games' player support operation, Won says great games hires still need that tolerance. "Being able to deal with ambiguity is really important, because the whole direction of a game can change in a day," he says.

One way the industry is changing? Roles are becoming more specialized. The ambiguity inherent in the game development process is becoming more confined to creative teams. That frees up HR, finance and other corporate teams to tighten up their processes.

Other long-overdue changes are happening in the industry too, particularly around diversity and inclusion. Nowadays, candidates want to see more diversity in games, and among their colleagues. Top gaming talent also want the hiring process to be smooth and sophisticated. Where game developers used to revel in long, often disorganized hiring processes, Won says companies can now differentiate based on a fast and seamless transition from interview to offer.

Candidates are also looking for incentives and perks like flexible schedules, lavish parties and extensive learning opportunities, along with a variety of wellness programs. It also means creating more organized onboarding programs. These can all help woo and retain candidates in the evolving world of games, where mental health is becoming more highly prioritized among employees.

Post-COVID hiring outlook

Even though the pandemic accelerated industry growth, it also created additional challenges for development and support teams. That's why, despite the monetary and other incentives, Won says work-life balance is going to become an even bigger differentiator among games companies.

A clear remote work policy will be important, especially since members of Gen Y and Gen Z prefer experiences over material rewards. “Even if you offer an attractive salary, most are not going to want to be locked up for 12–16 hours a day in perpetual crunch," says Won. “The places that get ahead of work-life balance and do it better stand to win and retain the best talent in the future."

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