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Can game studios radically transform how they hire?

Failbetter Games, Sports Interactive and TT Games discuss their approaches to improving diversity in recruitment

To a majority of young people, the games industry can appear to be a pipe dream; an out-of-reach fantasy full of mysterious careers that don't lie at the end of the most traditional routes.

According to UKIE's 2020 industry census, only 21% of people working in games identify as LGBTQ+, 28% are women, and a shocking 10% are people of colour. It is essential that all of these groups feel welcome and represented in games, and it is up to studios and organisations to make that possible.

However, in the past few years, many companies have started to address this concern, opening their doors to make information and resources a little more accessible. In light of the events of the past ten months, many UK games studios are looking critically at their hiring processes, taking into account remote work, accessibility, diversity, and inclusion. We spoke to a few of such studios about the initiatives they are exploring as we head towards a new year.

Sports Interactive, the studio behind the Football Manager series, has introduced a trainee placement programme for young people. It's an opportunity that will provide participants the chance to explore various roles within a studio while gaining an understanding of how everyone comes together to create a successful game.

"Training should be 'designed for people who can't or choose not to go to further education after school'"

Sports Interactive

"The studio-specific training scheme is designed to be a two-year placement across three departments of eight months each," COO Matt Carroll tells us. "For the first intake, we concentrated on more 'support roles' -- community management, communications, business intelligence and quality assurance. We hope to give the trainees the background and experience to see for themselves where they might fit most, and how they can further develop themselves to be more relevant to the roles that exist in the industry."

Carroll believes that visibility on industry processes is vital to "help young people focus on what they need to do themselves to be more in control of their future." Sports Interactive works within education, allowing schools to visit the studio and offering short work experience or shadowing opportunities to students. It also offers placement years to university students, which act as industry experience between the second and third year of studies.

However, Carroll argues that this new traineeship is particularly important because it's "designed for people who can't or choose not to go to further education after school... Unlike apprenticeships that are fixed to a course of study and usually very specific, this is 'on the job' training that gives the individuals a chance to change direction or focus while on the placement."

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Matt Carroll, Sports Interactive

Not everyone knows what direction they want their career to go when they finish A-Levels, or need to decide on a university. Opening pathways to those not in higher education is essential in making sure there is equal opportunity across the industry.

Failbetter Games is embarking in a similar direction, offering a six-week, paid, remote training opportunity for those interested in exploring games writing. According to creative director Emily Short, "the trainee will work on a guided game writing project, from concept through writing, editing, revising, and briefing artists, and receive mentoring from our senior writers."

This traineeship in particular is specifically open to Black candidates. Following recent, vital conversations surrounding representation in games -- spurred on by the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter -- many studios are looking internally to what they can do better for both Black creators and players.

"We wanted to take positive action in a way that leveraged our strengths as a company," Short adds. "We have a robust writing team and are experienced with working with junior writers, so this kind of traineeship seemed like the best way to use our resources. We felt that giving someone the opportunity to train and network had more value than any financial contribution would."

Sara noticed that being more targeted in their approach by marking the traineeship as explicitly for Black candidates, Failbetter saw a larger number of applicants than any internship experience they had offered before.

"People question whether creating accessible opportunities will mean lots of unqualified candidates. We found the opposite"

Failbetter Games

"Sometimes people question whether creating accessible opportunities will mean that there will be lots of unqualified candidates. We found the opposite: there were many applicants who were very talented but who hadn't come up through traditional paths, and who therefore might have been excluded by a lot of traditionally phrased job ads."

In terms of what advice she would give to other studios interested in running similar initiatives, Failbetter marketing manager Sara Veal highlights careful wording and comment moderation as key in promoting opportunities.

"We recommend taking particular care in the wording of the initiative and finding ways to make the application process as positive as possible. We recommend targeted outreach in order to reach a variety of applicants, beyond our existing circles."

Veal adds: "We learned a few things in the process of promoting this opportunity, which included turning comments off where possible and finding ways to circulate the opportunity that minimised detractors from making abusive comments that could be harmful to potential applicants, since there were some people who were upset by the existence of a targeted opportunity."

This targeted outreach is valuable to studios and potential candidates alike, particularly for studios with a highly specific focus like Sports Interactive.

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Sara Veal, Failbetter Games

"We talk to the local colleges like ELAM and community groups like Badu Sport, as they tend to spot those with potential and can help give the young person the confidence to apply," adds Carroll. "I am still very disappointed by the low interest and application rate of women, and this means we need to look in other areas to show that we are a serious option for a fun, engaging, challenging career with growth prospects and a supportive environment. One group we're starting to work with is Code First Girls for example."

Noticing this and acting to level the field and open up opportunities is essential in creating a welcoming environment within this ever-changing industry. Studios have nothing to lose and everything to gain from doing their bit to be more accessible. Carroll shares that the most valuable things he has learnt from young people in the industry are new ideas.

"Young people always come with lots of questions and suggestions and their point of view. The way they interact with media and their expectations of game quality, service, and more are all useful inputs. I enjoy the energy of new team members looking to establish themselves."

Similarly, TT Games does lots of work with young people at college and university level. Head of design Arthur Parsons says that if studios aren't advocating for similar initiatives then "we are not, as an industry, investing in our own futures -- and that's the next generation."

"We are not, as an industry, investing in our own futures -- and that's the next generation"

TT Games

TT Games teamed up with Priestley College last year to provide three substantial internships, and since then two have gone on to full time jobs within the company. To apply, students created a portfolio during their Level 3 Computer Game Development course and attended an interview with the studio. Successful candidates were paid to work four days a week while studying.

However, another interesting statistic from UKIE's census to consider is that 81% of the industry has a university degree, which can serve to make those not in higher education believe that a career in games isn't possible for them. Thankfully, people are noticing this -- as Carroll pointed out previously, Sports Interactive's new traineeship is designed for these candidates.

Long-term initiatives to improve diversity within studios will benefit everyone, and Carroll reminds us that it would only create "a more harmonious studio environment where people feel safe to share their ideas and try new things -- and that is the basis of innovation, optimisation and progression."

This article is supported by Into Games, the UK's non-profit careers service for the games industry, and written by its social and content Lead Millicent Thomas.

If you have jobs news to share or a new hire you want to shout about, please contact us on newhires@gamesindustry.biz

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Latest comments (3)

Eyal Teler Programmer A month ago
only 21% of people working in games identify as LGBTQ+
That should be 2%.
we are a serious option for a fun, engaging, challenging career
The question is, does one want to go for a challenging career, where that challenge comes from working long hours, lacking job stability and having a chance that a lot of work you've down gets thrown down the toilet?

Perhaps "fun, engaging, challenging" appeals only to one part of the population, while others want meaningful and stable work that includes interaction with others. Perhaps this specific message won't do a great job diversifying the applicants, or what games and game companies strive for.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eyal Teler on 25th November 2020 1:56pm

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John Blythe 3D Environmental Artist A month ago
"only 21% of people working in games identify as LGBTQ+, 28% are women, and a shocking 10% are people of colour." These numbers are incredibly high for any industry in the UK seeing as they are disproportionate with UK demographics.

Most POC have arrived into the UK since 1998 and so it is not surprising that the games industry would not appeal to most. Integration is not encouraged in multicultural societies and so peoples are free to live by their own group's cultures and lifestyles within the law, a large amount of UK immigration is Muslim. Dependent on what major branch of islam one follows I would not be at all suprised that a great many have zero interest in videogames designed around European liberalism's doctrines.

There is no reason to assume minority identities 'should' want to join the industry, this is an odd form of gentrification from progressives who seem to believe 'others' to be backwards or less progressed than them. This linear view of history makes them see the 'other' as something to be changed and brought to their standard to become 'same'. In contrast to racism there is a universalist and a differentialist anti-racism. The former leads to the same conclusions as does the racism it denounces. As opposed to differences as is racism, universalist anti-racism only acknowledges in people their common belonging to species and it tends to consider their specific identities as secondary importance. By reducing the "Other" to the "Same" through a strictly assimilationist perspective, universalist anti-racism is, by definition, incapable of recognizing or respecting otherness.
Differentialist anti-racism, holds that the irreducible plurality of the human species constitutes a veritable treasure. Starting from the recognition of "difference." The struggle against racism is not won by negating the concept of races, nor by the desire to blend all races into an undifferentiated whole. Rather, the struggle against racism is waged by the refusal of both exclusion and assimilation: neither apartheid nor the melting pot; rather, acceptance of the other as Other and of mutual enrichment.

You name BLM a civil rights movement. The George Floyd affair is a news item to which the media system has falsely given a planetary resonance. Its impact owes to political correctness and the no less delusional fallout of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Americanisation leads us to project American social and political issues onto our own society. All American fashions, whether it be Gay Pride, gender theory or “intersectionality”, have ended up being established in Europe. However, the context is radically different. The United States has been confronted with many racial questions from its origins that it has never been able to resolve. Let us remember that in 1945, it was a segregationist America that won the day over Hitler racism! As for police violence, which is indeed common in the United States, it is out of all proportion to what we can see in England or the UK.

I couldn't agree more with your points regarding university education need not be a necessity. The standards of the UK university system have dropped drastically and are home to a faux middle class that were smiply able to follow the correct instructions in the state education system. The working class are cut off from our industry and it shows in many game's disconnect with their audience. At a time in the UK where universities are so hungry for money and banks so willing to make interest on debt-based economies, it is no wonder it is easier to attend university than it is to join the Army.

In regards to your target opportunities, these are by definition exclusionary opportunities. To focus on intersectional sub-identities one will always be missing out on more than they are targeting(edit: hence your need to mute dissenting opinions). When targetting LGBT in particular it is unclear that someone's sexuality is a strong enough identity to be tailoring highering practices to. Intersectional highering looks at exaggerated minor aspects of their personality such as sports teams, sexuality, product and entertainment preferences, or political persuasion as a feeble replacement for true community identity.

"We are not, as an industry, investing in our own futures -- and that's the next generation"
TT Games should look to the treatment of their own current staff before throwing rocks at the larger industry.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Blythe on 26th November 2020 10:32am

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Ashoke Datta-Chaudhuri Principal Software Engineer, NaturalMotionA month ago
Most POC have arrived into the UK since 1998
Citation needed, although that probably applies to this entire comment
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