One of Creative Assembly's most exciting initiatives is its Legacy Project. This started back in 2014 and is designed to give people the skills and information they need to become the game developers of tomorrow. It's also an initiative to promote games as a force for good in the business.
The firm has an ambassador programme to educate and inspire young people, it partners with BAFTA, the Digital Schoolhouse and the East London Arts and Music Academy, and supports schools with game jams, studio tours and developer-led workshops.
"It's important to the whole team at Creative Assembly," says studio director Tim Heaton. "It's their opportunity to share their expertise with future generations, to give back and to inspire others. In doing so, they are reminded of their own passion for the industry.
"When the Legacy Project began, it very much started out as charity-focused. But actually, it was our people -- at the time there were around 200 of us -- asking to get more involved in education work that led to the project's expansion. It just made sense. We want to continue seeing more and more talented, passionate people enter the industry, so of course we should help them on that journey using the expertise we have. Over the years the project has very much become our ambition to provide a sustainable and valuable impact for future generations to come."
Despite now having over 500 employees, Creative Assembly is frequently amongst our highest-scoring companies in the Best Places To Work Awards -- this is its third year in the Large Company category.
"We can always be doing more," Heaton says. "We think about the workplace environment a lot, looking at where we are as a studio and how we hold ourselves to our values in everything that we do. Despite being the largest UK studio, we really do fight to keep that close-knit feel and to break down any perceived barriers between our teams and our leaders. I think that's important. We promote creative freedom, encouraging an environment that allows everyone's great ideas to be heard, no matter their role.
"Our development practices and our work ethic focus on providing creative ownership for everyone; designers own a feature from beginning to in-game, as do our artists. For example; we don't have dedicated texture artists, hair artists or sculptors. It's crucial to us as a studio that our developers take creative ownership and accountability for their work, with our character artists being responsible from initial sculpt all the way through to implementation in the game.
"For them, being able to point to a specific asset in the game, knowing that they created it, is fantastic."
Many of the Best Places winners have different strategies to develop a friendly, welcoming work environment and culture. NaturalMotion and sister studio BossAlien are no exceptions.
"In both NaturalMotion [London] and BossAlien [Brighton], the game teams work in an open plan office so everyone can communicate very easily and share their ideas, presentations and plans around the overall creation and running of our games," explains Paul Evans, senior director, HR business partnerships at Zynga.
"While working together, we encourage the studio teams to actively build their own unique cultures around their products so working on each game feels different but right for each team.
"Our dedicated People Ops and Social teams organise various events and get togethers to share ideas, get new information or just simply kick back and have fun. That can be anything from our Wellness weeks where we invite experts in to talk about healthy eating or running competitions on a spin bike, to board game nights and parties on Brighton beach for the whole team. BossAlien moved into their brand new Brighton studio earlier this year, so they are really proud of their new facility and the team gets to work on a new Star Wars game, which they are excited to share with the world."
One of NaturalMotion and BossAlien's ongoing efforts right now is to improve the diversity and inclusivity of its team.
"The gender and ethnicity gap between game makers and players is still something our industry is dealing with and rightly putting huge energy in to," adds Evans. "We're extremely proud of the initiatives that we've put in place that make sure we have well-balanced pay and benefits combined with a hiring process that makes sure we hire the right person for the role and pay the market rate. We have set up a dedicated D&I Steering group this year and are beginning to make headway on several initiatives, which focus on Diversity and Inclusion training and outreach to schools, colleges and universities to highlight how rewarding and varied games careers can be.
"UKIE's Diversity census kicked off earlier this month and we're interested to see the results and understand how UK developers can work more closely together on sharing what works and what doesn't."
It has been a busy 12 months for the team at Playground Games. The firm has been expanding its second studio to build its unannounced RPG project, it released the critically acclaimed and smash hit Forza Horizon 4, and it has been formerly acquired by long-term partner Microsoft.
Acquisitions can be a tricky thing to manage, and studio director Gavin Raeburn says it was vital that Playground retained its identity as it moved to new ownership.
"It was a key objective of the acquisition, both for us and for Microsoft, that the studio culture we'd built was preserved and protected," he tells us. "We're now more than a year on from the acquisition and I think Playground feels very much the same as it did when we were independent. Microsoft deserve a great deal of credit as they identified that our culture is a key element in our ability to make great games.
"The last year has also seen us expand to two facilities in Leamington Spa, and retaining our culture in a new studio has been a priority. We've achieved this by seeding our new RPG team with key members from the original team and by replicating many of the behaviours which contribute to our culture. Regular social events also allow the two teams to bond, and the fact that the two studios are about five minutes' walk apart also helps communication."
In addition, Playground has weekly Town Hall meetings, monthly 'ask me anything' sessions with management, and constantly feeds back to staff on questions or criticisms that have been raised.
Going forward, it's looking at the supply of new graduates entering the industry and how it can increase diversity in the teams.
"For me, this starts at school and is as much about teachers and parents recognising video games as a viable career option as it is about students wanting to go that route," Raeburn says. "We do a lot of outreach to schools to talk about career opportunities in games, and evangelise STEM subjects at the point when students are first faced with a choice. Hopefully we'll see this result in better gender representation and greater diversity of candidates coming out of computer science, technology and games courses in years to come."
As the company behind the engine that so many game creators use, it's perhaps unsurprisingly to learn that one of Unity's biggest strengths as an employer is its learning and development initiatives.
"Unity recognises that learning and development are critical to the success of any company," begins the firm's senior HR business partner Jamie Trentham.
"As such, we have a Learning and Development team whose focus is to create developmental opportunities for Unity employees. The team will host interactive workshops and sessions, one of the most well known being Leadership Training, where all employees, not just managers, are coached on four fundamental skills: active listening, giving and receiving feedback, striving for alignment, and building relationships. Unity also provides full access to LinkedIn Learning to its employees, which means 5,000 professionally developed courses are available whenever, wherever -- covering topics such as software development, people leadership, or sales effectiveness."
Beyond training, Unity provides a budget to managers so that they can properly thank their teams with perks or a group outing. And they also prioritise physical and mental wellbeing.
"Our Workplace Experience (WE) team hosts several events, workshops, and activities that promote employee wellbeing," continues Trentham. "For example, the WE team ensures that all employees are catered for with healthy snacks and beverages, game nights, yoga, meditation, and more. These initiatives ensure that Unity is going beyond valuing employees simply for their work but also caring for their mental and physical health."