Interview with Edge


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Interview with Edge Magazine on recruitment in Gaming

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Interview with Edge

  1. 1. s the game industry expands, the convincing graduates that they can enter the issue. I would say that EA covers the key benefits A audience that plays games becomes industry with the skills they have and progress compared to some of the other industries that broader and the craft of making games up. It could be persuading women to come into we’re recruiting from, and if you take film, it’s becomes more sophisticated, developers and the games industry and show them what career mainly made up of contractors, who obviously publishers have found the task of attracting development they can have. That can be a only get a set fee and none of these benefits. In new talent a growing challenge. In fact, many challenge, because there’s that perception of terms of salary our biggest challenge is with the industry leaders have recognised that game the industry as being quite male and geeky. But experienced talent pool contracting, because we production is facing a recruitment crisis, with with the advent of casual gaming that’s not the have worries that someone accepting an offer too few skilled graduate programmers coming industry we work in today. Some of the senior from EA may get offers from other companies as out of UK universities to satisfy demand. As leaders at EA – Fiona Sperry at Criterion Games, well and leverage their salary upwards with a result, recruiters are having to look outside Kathy Vrabeck, president of the casual gaming that. That leads to salary inflation. Again, these the traditional avenues of computer science division, and Nancy Smith, who leads The Sims. are things that we’re learning, as well as career students that only ever wanted to make games, So, instead of competing with gaming development. How they receive training and to women that might never have considered a competitors, let’s reach outside the industry, opportunities to be promoted stands us in a career in the field, and into other industries, attract more graduates and females and people better position in the future. from film to financial services. As its global head of talent brand, Matthew Jeffery is in charge of promoting the idea of working at Electronic Arts, and in videogames in general, to these fresh pools of potential employees. But he faces a big challenge – perceptions of working in the game industry range from overwork and bad management, as epitomised by 2004’s infamous EA Spouse blog, to stereotypes of companies from industries we haven’t recruited from Is it still the case that people will work for purely staffed by introverted and awkward before – could be film, public sector or financial little to get a foothold in the industry? young males. We sat down with him to discuss services. Interestingly, in the UK, some of our A few years ago some games companies saw EA’s recruitment strategy, the effects of anti-EA most recent programmer hires were from the graduates as cheap labour, but now the point is chatter on the internet, and the possibilities Ministry of Defence in missile programming. that a graduate is the future of your company newcomers to the industry can bring to games. Their knowledge of AI programming is superb. and you have to pay them a good salary and A few years ago, if you had asked whether we’d make sure they’re incentivised to go forward. How have you recognised this crisis? be hiring from the public sector, I’d have said The key thing is competing and making sure Well, what we recognise is that the experienced probably not. We hadn’t thought of that. But they don’t go off into film or mobile or anything talent pool – the people that have established with the technology we have, it’s pretty exciting like that. But in games now we have such skills in the industry – are becoming in short that we can reach out and attract people from technological advancements that we’re able to supply as the entertainment industry grows. different industries into EA. compete with the likes of film. A few years ago, With the convergence of film and game and people in the film industry perhaps frowned and mobile, we’re all competing for the same talent. How do game industry salaries, benefits thought they wouldn’t want to work with the So, how can we continue to grow across the and working conditions compare to the PS2’s memory limitations to make the visual world and bring in new talent, and not have to expectations of people outside it? effects they create in film. But now we have compete all the time with salaries or promise One of the perceptions of the games industry people from film volunteering to come across to extra things in terms of career development? is that its benefits and pay may not be as the game industry because they can see that on The graduate market is pretty critical, so we’re advanced, and that’s been a communication 360, PS3 or PC they’re able to bring across the 74 EDG196.f_jeffrey 74 6/11/08 10:55:20 am
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  3. 3. quality of work and effects, and are presented gamers who could grasp the mysterious with new challenges, like realtime and multi- interface got a lot of enjoyment out of it, but camera work. That’s all attractive. These are it was hard to market. pretty exciting times. At the same time it’s easy to look at But is that good for games in the long Frequency and see some of the initial DNA run? Do these people have a knowledge of the later Harmonix games such as of and passion for what games represent? Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Well, bringing in people from other industries Yeah, totally. A lot of the interface specifics gives us different perspectives and will take our and gameplay concepts are inspired by those industry forward. Take film – go back to when it early titles. Amplitude was an attempt to fix all was on the technological curve, from Jason And the problems in Frequency and make The Argonauts through to Star Wars, Terminator something more accessible. We had a 2 and to Toy Story. But today, a lot of people in spaceship, it shot energy ... film are saying about Transformers: ‘Great film, but a lot of that has been seen in the past’. In So the player could identify with an terms of creativity and pushing their talents avatar as opposed to a total abstraction? they’re seeing games and thinking: ‘Wow, there Yes, but looking back on it, it was not terribly are a lot of exciting challenges there’. Even coherent. We were treating the symptoms, just people from public services or consumer goods band aiding. Sony really pushed on us hard. companies, they’re maturing our industry at a They said “Look, we’ll fund a sequel because faster pace, and that’s great for gaming. we think your concept is good, but you’ve got to put characters in it,” and we thought “But Have Wii and DS changed attitudes of that compromises our precious vision!” candidates from outside the industry? Definitely. We’re starting to see more females How did it compromise your vision to put wanting to work in gaming. We want to reflect a character in the game? our games with our workforce, which means We had intentionally made the interface we’re encouraging more ethnic diversity and abstract. We had an approach where form more females, and that has started to show in follows function and it’s all got to be our games. With DS and – short, beautifully integrated. Even in Rock Band sharp, fun games – people who wouldn’t have there’s something inherently messy about the wanted to work on more hardcore games are visual design. We render this beautiful scene, realising: ‘Wow, these are great, I’d like to work and then we slap a huge HUD on top. In on these’. It’s great that casual gaming is taking Amplitude, we took a small step with those off, new audiences are being attracted and little avatars who would dance and switch these people are realising that they can make from drums to guitar, but they weren’t well fun family entertainment for all. The interesting enough realized to have any emotional beat, thing is that there are a number of countries and they were off in the corner! we are recruiting in, India for example, which is a huge area for potential growth for us. But They’re a postage stamp. some of the parents there think that the games Yes, and as anyone who has played a rhythm industry is all about shoot ’em ups, and now action game knows you look at the “now bar” they’re starting to learn that there is family and six inches above that, and that’s all you entertainment and educational software can deal with. We were resistant to the whole that’s breaking those misconceptions. idea of characters because we couldn’t think of an elegant way to integrate them that did Do you see much potential in looking justice to the core concept. at user-generated content and web application creators for new recruits? So the concept behind Frequency and Yes – in Spore, for example, we’re seeing Amplitude is that the interface for people making great creatures, and in playing the game – the HUD, the notes, LittleBigPlanet you can see who could become and the sight reading stream – was the a level designer. These are key for us as world you lived in? recruiters looking at who is relevant to EA, Yes, exactly, the idea was that everything in who could create a difference. Even for the world was either eye candy or directly Facebook, there are some great applications relevant to the play surface and that we would and we’re looking at them and trying to get a lot of power and occasional clarity out of make contact and bring them into EA. keeping that consistent. But people couldn’t relate to it. The thing we didn’t realize is that Do you think such people want that? Many indie types view EA as a kind of monster. I think the perception of EA in the industry is 76 EDG196.f_jeffrey 76 6/11/08 10:55:23 am
  4. 4. AN AUDIENCE WITH… changing, especially with John Riccitiello How damaging was it to the morale of want to come on to the team. If they’ve worked looking at the EA model and focusing on people at EA and your ability to recruit? on FIFA for several iterations, they have the making studios into citystates and becoming a When we were in that initial period, people wider EA to go on to to develop their career. lot more creative company with new IP. We’re wanted to talk about it, and we were actively seeing a lot of people in the industry talking engaged with it in recruitment terms. The What do you think of the calibre of about that. We saw at E3 John Carmack saying author of EA Spouse, Erin Hoffman, came out students from dedicated game courses? that he would never have considered working in the press and said that the situation is a lot It depends on the area that the students are with the evil empire, but now he’s partnering more advanced at EA now and said that she was coming from. Our graduates with traditional with us with Rage. The key thing is with these encouraging some of her friends to work at EA. degrees – maths, science, English literature, indie developers is that if they want a hit game So I think that says a lot. business studies – not only have more rounded and the support and marketing budgets we skills but also deeper knowledge and expertise. have, they should talk with us. So, do you think a lead-level programmer What we’ve found with the majority of the or artist can comfortably have a family games degrees is that they don’t go as in-depth Those perceptions have been set in part and kids and a job at EA today? into the subject areas. Graduates in games by EA Spouse. You worked at EA in I would say yes. Many of our staff members have courses struggle to reach the results we look for recruitment at that time – how did that families. Yes, there are periods when they’re in our programming tests. The problem then is affect attitudes to working at EA? busier than in their other work times, but it’s that if you’re asking a graduate to spend three The whole thing about work-life balance is that ensuring across the whole company they have or four years studying and incurring debts and it happens over all industries. I recruit from film lots of family time. We’re hitting that balance they can’t get a job because they can’t compete, at the moment, and today, just as then, they and are always seeking ways of improving it. what do they do? These skills aren’t readily have crunch periods at the end of projects. I transferable. With the sheer number of game have friends in financial services who were With Steam, PSN, WiiWare and XBLA courses – over 150 – that’s a lot of students. working phenomenal hours. Within the game allowing small independent teams to industry, we’ve been maturing, we have a create and publish games, does that make Has the growth of development in places greater knowledge of what it takes to make it harder for EA to attract such talent? such as South Korea, Singapore and India games, how we can understand how to lock No, I think it’s great that the industry is moving affected job markets in Europe and US? Any game company has to look where the talent pools are and where the most attractive locations are. That can be a financial decision – there’s the debate over Montreal, where 37.5 per cent of creative salaries are paid by the government after two years and 40 per cent R&D paid in tax credits. So obviously EA is building up its operations there. We’re investing heavily in India, South Korea, Singapore – strong down game design at an early stage and plan forward and that people have that option. But I talent pools and emerging markets of gamers effective schedules right up to release date. All think people would rather come in internally to mean it makes sense to be there. The effect on this provides us with a balance to affect the EA with their ideas so that a bigger audience the UK recruitment market is that a number of number of hours people are working. can enjoy their games. Global success requires strong candidates want to relocate. Some call it skills, monetary backing and knowledge of brain drain, but talent is very mobile and they But, actually, EA Spouse was about long markets. We’re finding an increased number of want to work on the best games, and if they crunch being built in to project schedules, people willing to partner with us through EA want to work in Montreal or Asia then they will that it was part of how EA made games. Partners and obviously a lot more people do that. That represents challenges to the Is that in any way still the case? applying to us to work internally. We can show country they’re relocating from, but that’s the With EA Spouse we learned a number of new that we can bring out original IP. A few years current position in the marketplace today. things, and the key for us is that we’ve locked back people could accuse us of sequelitis and the process to ensure that we have that fully paying it safe with film franchises, but now you Does EA see itself as having a role in defined process from start to launch. That’s see Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge and Left 4 Dead supporting the industry as a whole? been pretty critical for us. [Pauses to think] which are getting critical acclaim and hopefully The games industry is one of the most exciting Casual gaming, in attracting new people into attracting new audiences and showing that of the entertainment industries to work in. the industry with shorter, sharper games, is we’re not afraid to take risks on original games. We’ve got the most growth potential, the most causing different development cycles. These challenges – so we’re not promoting that we’re new employees have families and so they’re On sequelitis, you have long-running series a great company to work for but, particularly in working with a stronger work-life balance. like FIFA and Madden. Can you convince the likes of India, Korea, China and Singapore, Looking at games with longer development candidates that these jobs are attractive? there’s not the knowledge among parents or cycles, we’re now mature enough to define There’s a whole myth about sequels. A sequel some students that they can have great careers that process and we’re minimising that time has to differentiate itself from its original to in the game industry. So we want to get out the of crunch. We have this annual survey called persuade people to buy it, otherwise the message that if you’re an engineer, come into Talk Back, where we poll all staff about their franchise could die, so it’s a big challenge to the industry. If you’re an artist, rather than go feelings towards EA, and management, and produce successful sequels. No one would doubt into film, come into games. So we see ourselves our head of HR, Gabrielle Toledano, has shown the strides FIFA is taking year on year. When as benefiting the industry as a whole, not just that we’re making great strides ahead and talent sees a successful franchise that’s going to EA. We’re all going to benefit from the have a very positive reputation. have a sustained future, they respect that and growth of our industry. 77 EDG196.f_jeffrey 77 6/11/08 10:55:24 am