The team behind the Total War franchise actually improved its Best Places rating year-on-year, which is an impressive feat for a business that continues to expand (it's now working on eight different projects).
Part of this improvement is possibly due to the introduction of a new career development model.
“We are still improving and expanding on the new career development model that we launched last year, and we're focussing on improving our training programmes by bringing in a dedicated learning and development specialist,” says Tim Heaton, studio director at CA and EVP of Sega Studios.
“This will ramp up our ability to personalise training opportunities, as we recognise that everyone has different goals and ambitions. Whatever these goals are, we want to help our people get there.
“Alongside this, we continue to work on and expand our internal diversity, inclusion, and general wellbeing initiatives with additional resources, training and specialist in-studio support. These are such important issues within the industry, and we want to ensure we're taking the right action that supports our team and future generations coming into games.”
Heaton says the key to success is to support teams with diverse products, a good work/life balance, training and great benefits.
“We try and make sure our benefits recognise CA's diverse demographic,” he says. “Our studio massages and Pilates classes are always popular, as are ice-cream Wednesdays. For those with families, our flexible pension programme, insurance options, free medicals and extended private healthcare and dental provide that extra security.
“For those from outside the UK, our VISA and relocation packages cover them and their families, and we also look to continue covering these costs once someone has joined the studio - that's important for us to be able to do, especially at times of political uncertainty. Our dedicated in-house relocation specialist is on-hand to provide one-to-one support for the move to the UK.
“Of course, parties. There are plenty of them. We have our Christmas party, including a separate Kid's party, and our famed Summer Festival, which saw DJ Yoda play his history of gaming set in 2018, and plenty of wrap parties.
“Our Legacy Project is also an area that offers fantastic opportunities for our talented people, as well as benefiting the wider industry. We have a breadth of opportunities to engage with the rising talent of tomorrow, speaking at events across the globe, running in-studio workshops for local schools, and these all support the development of our staff.”
At 25 years old, Frontier Developments is one of the oldest winners of the Best Places To Work Awards.
“We've made shooters, platform games, motion-controlled games, creative Hololens experiments, genre-leading simulation titles, huge movie licenses and, of course, massively-multiplayer space adventures,” says CCO Jonny Watts.
“We've made games that have launched consoles and sold new hardware, and we've worked with some of the best publishers in the industry before finally going it alone in 2015. Everything we've ever made has brought us to this moment, where we can stand proudly as an independent publisher and developer.”
Frontier boasts almost 400 employees, and regularly treats its teams to parties and outings. The company has expanded significantly in recent years, with the introduction of its own publishing team. It has also opened a brand new HQ in Cambridge.
“I think everyone wants to feel involved and everyone wants to have an impact,” Watts says of the team. “The important thing is for everyone to be included in the process. Frontier has benefited massively from experienced talent who have been here at the studio for more than 20 years, but the studio also benefits from the new insights and expertise brought to the table by our talented graduate recruits.
“Involving every voice in the creative process makes for better games. When everyone feels rewarded and involved, and that they're making a game they can be proud of, then I think you're running a great studio.”
NaturalMotion operates two studios in the UK - one in Covent Garden in London and the other in Brighton. Both studios are very different, but when it comes to benefits and support they have a lot in common.
The Zynga-owned company offers discretionary bonuses, Zynga stock, impressive maternity (and paternity) leave, private healthcare, life insurance, mental health training, yoga, discounted gym memberships, and tonnes of social events - including once hiring out the Brighton Pier for a beach party.
“The games and tech industries are super-competitive for talent so we're always looking for ways to improve, and we want to offer more innovative benefits for our staff,” says HR senior director Paul Evans. “By staying ahead we can attract and retain the best people to work on games that reach tens of millions of people.”
He says there are three elements that are key to making sure you have a happy and motivated workforce.
“Open and honest communication, regular studio updates on business performance, and progress against our studio initiatives,” he begins. “Also, enabling people to work on and solve some of the most challenging problems, whilst letting people know its okay to fail and learn lessons as we go.
“And finally, providing new opportunities for those who are early in their career to learn from some of the best talent in the industry creates a huge win-win for us.”
The team behind the smash hit Forza Horizon 4 is expanding fast. Once in the mid-sized company category, the firm finds itself among larger competition this year. But it still shone through thanks to its unique culture and bonus schemes.
“The benefits that really resonate with the team are the bonus scheme and flexible working, with duvet days and flexi-time,” says studio director Gavin Raeburn. “They raise the standard of living for the team financially and promote a healthy work-life balance.
“Another popular benefit are our 'PG Clubs,' which are funded by the studio and allow the team to explore common interests, whether it be badminton, go-karting or even trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering.”
A lot has changed at Playground in the past year. The developer launched its latest game (the critically acclaimed Forza Horizon 4), it has significantly expanded the team, and it has found itself part of the Microsoft family. But the company is proud of its close-knit team, and Raeburn says that even though it has new owners, it will retain all the things that have made such a happy working environment.
“We actually ask our team what makes them happy about working at Playground Games in our annual surveys,” Raeburn says. “Last year, the top five responses to this question were, one: openness, honesty and transparency, two: compassion, three: respect for employees, four: the studio environment, and five: trusting of employees. That's a nice top five to have.”
“Back in 2004 we started with a clear vision of making great games with great people in a professional way that treats people well,” says Jamie Walker, co-founder and director of Rocksteady.
“We actively work on culture as well as the games we make. It's funny, as it's the little things that make this place feel unique: where great ideas can come from anyone in the team, to the friendships built through shared interests, to the feeling of pride of making some of the best games in world.”
Rocksteady's bonuses are significant. There is an annual minimum bonus that is multiplied by the success of their games (which can be significant), great healthcare, pensions and other financial benefits. All of this is partly driven by the studio's London location.
“We offer a great bonus that compensates for the high cost of living in London,” Walker says. “Our aim is to hire and keep the best world's best developers over the long run, as there is such a shared amount of knowledge you gain from keeping great people together as the studio gets older.
“With regards to non-monetary benefits, we run lots of social weekly clubs - wargaming, boardgames, football, yoga, bootcamp, basketball, brewclub, film nights, life drawing - and so there are plenty of ways to find your community within the studio. The social fabric here is something we care a lot about.”
Walker himself cooks breakfast for 190 people during the last Friday of the month when their milestone is due, and they also have drinks in the evening. Rocksteady is now working on improving its Corporate Social Responsibility and supporting local charities.
“To do this, we started what we call RockCare, which is that each person in the studio is given two days per year where they can volunteer to do work outside the office for a charity of their choice,” Walker says. “Since there are around 200 people at Rocksteady, this equates to 400 days of help that we are now offering charities around North London, and so we've felt that's been impactful to the local community.
“Another area we are looking to do more in is our presence at games conferences. As a studio, we feel that we have some amazing developers and we'd like to encourage them to do presentations at events like Develop, GDC and Siggraph.”
“We are focused on making our culture as inclusive as possible,” begins Alexander Bell, recruitment co-ordinator at Unity Technologies. “At Unity we constantly repeat the mantra 'best idea wins', above seniority or job title of those behind the idea.
“This leads to plenty of reflection about the merits and consequences of enacting certain ideas, and it's completely normal to see discussions take place in the company's public communication channels, with input from employees worldwide. Decisions that are critical to Unity's future and ability to serve developers are taken by the entire organisation.
“Empowering everyone to feel they can make a difference to our mission has been a guiding principle for us from day one. Employees are free to contribute to projects around the organisation. For example, we run a global hackweek for hundreds of people to get together and bootstrap new ideas, many of which make their way into the Unity Editor itself.
“Employees also need the opportunity to grow in the organisation for the long term. Not simply through linear career advancement, but through opportunities to solve hard problems and contribute in meaningful ways to Unity's success. Finding the right way to connect these challenges to the right individuals in the right instances can be an art more than a science, but it's something we're continuously mindful about.”
One employee told us that they've never experienced a place of work like Unity. The company also offers a huge range of perks for its staff, but Bell says there's always room for improvement.
“At Unity, diversity and inclusion are very important topics. Across the company, we're all committed to making our hiring, onboarding and development opportunities for employees as inclusive as possible,” he says. “We're pushing ourselves to see more diversity in our hiring processes.
“We're giving ourselves more time and resources to discover more candidates for our positions, and we're carefully reviewing our approach to the way our job specifications are advertised globally, so to encourage a wider spectrum of applicants from a more varied pool of backgrounds, training, and professional experience.”