Meet the 2020 UK Best Places To Work Awards winners
We interview all 15 of our top-scoring companies on what it takes to be a great company in 2020
The Zynga-owned group of studios in the UK has been busy expanding over the past few years with branches in London, Brighton, and Birmingham getting ever bigger. The firm's biggest priority in 2020 was to continue to hire top talent, and that focus didn't change in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown.
"Our hiring teams across the organisation have done an incredible job of evolving our hiring and onboarding processes to help us find and bring new people into NaturalMotion," says senior HR director Paul Evans.
"This year continues to be a growth year for NaturalMotion in the UK and Zynga globally. Since March, we hired almost 50 people from all over the world and have found ways to either hire them locally where they live or move them into the UK, using our relocation partners and dedicated HR and recruiting teams. It's exciting to see our game and business teams grow while continuing to make great new games and serve our players with new events in our live games of CSR2 and Dawn of Titans."
It's not just the pandemic that's been an issue for NaturalMotion's employees. Evans talks about the "difficult economic and social injustices this year," and says the company has been eager to support the issues its people care about.
"The inspiring work done by UKIE earlier this year to survey the industry and bring together the UK's game studios to work towards common goals with the #raisethegame pledge has helped to share great practices and learnings in the D&I space too," he says.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how that helps drive and influence more positive change. It's impossible to predict how things will pan out and we're still learning lessons from the past six months, but we are best prepared to tackle the future head on."
NaturalMotion offered one of the most robust packages of perks and benefits across all the companies who took part in the awards, but Evans says that alone isn't enough to attract talent to the team.
"It's important to give teams the space to do what they love and get them working on the projects they are passionate about. We have some exciting projects in the pipeline, and the teams are busy building events for our live games and working on new games. We can't wait to share what we're working on with the world."
The Total War developer is always a big winner in these awards, and for a second year in a row, it won the special award for its support of education.
"We take our education work very seriously, not only as our way to give back to communities, but to foster positive, practical change for the future of the industry," explains studio director Gareth Edmondson.
"Higher Education in the UK is increasingly becoming a privilege with underrepresented groups in the games industry, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, impacted by education barriers. However, the desire to learn skills that lead into careers in games development are only increasing. As one of -- if not the -- largest UK studios, we house so many experts who are eager to share their skills and enthusiasm to benefit future generations. The Legacy Project is our way of doing that.
"This is the second year we've been awarded the Education Award and that speaks volumes to the dedication and passion of the Legacy Project team and all our CA Ambassadors who give their time to share their knowledge. This has been especially visible during COVID-19 as students have struggled and missed out on the many benefits of face-to-face tuition and access to technology. We've been providing even more portfolio reviews, virtual school talks, and mentorship, alongside more livestream access to our experts via our Creative Chronicles series."
Creative Assembly has won badges and trophies at all four of our Best Places To Work Awards, so what's the secret?
"Different things motivate different people," Edmondson says. "Fundamentally though, we are always learning from our staff, listening to them and fostering a culture where everyone has a voice. Empowerment and creative freedom are critical. What people want now will be very different to, say, five years ago, and we need to continually listen, adapt, and improve.
"Of course, we offer extensive benefits packages, training, and career development. But I honestly think the most important thing is to listen, and really listen. Figure out what the big issues are -- or even the smaller things that affect lots of people, and work with the team to find solutions."
Looking ahead, Edmondson feels there is some real change happening in games development.
"I hope, and I believe that this is a positive turning point for the industry. We are growing, and we are learning. Some of those lessons are difficult and some of the recent controversies we've seen in the press have been truly upsetting to read. However, we need to continue to have difficult conversations across the industry, to increase transparency, and to acknowledge and address where we need to improve.
"The industry has historically been quite closed to sharing best practices, and I'd like to see that change. There are now positive platforms for doing this for example with UKIE, who we work with on diversity and inclusion best practice.
"Games are at the forefront of the entertainment industry and that is only increasing; we have such an important role and opportunity to affect positive change."
"We believe the world is a better place with more creators in it," begins Amber Hayes, VP of global recruiting at Unity.
"This is our philosophy and is at the heart of everything we do; we want to empower individuals with our technology to help turn their dreams into reality.
"But it's our employees that truly help to deliver this to our creators and it's through four key values that we uphold as a company: 'Best Ideas Win', 'In it Together', 'Go Bold', and 'Users First'.
"Employees at all levels are encouraged to feel empowered to raise their hand in a meeting with a big idea, to chip in as a team to accomplish a challenging task, to think and act boldly, and to always remember that our users are at the core of what we do. Unity regularly encourages employees to honour these ideals, making our workplace an inspiring place to be every day. Our values are important to us at Unity and how we live those out in the office each day matters too. We believe in approaching each employee and interaction, grounded in empathy, respect, and opportunity."
As a connected, global business, the pandemic has become an extra challenge for Unity, with different restrictions taking place in different markets.
"We have 45 offices in 17 countries worldwide so we had to act differently according to which office/country was being affected," Hayes says. "We have a great Crisis Management Team who acted very quickly and helped guide the company through uncharted territory. The challenge is ongoing but first and foremost, the CMT enacted a global office shutdown and set up employees to be a remote workforce. By middle of March, the entire Unity employee base became remote. Almost all of our staff were able to switch from being office-based to working from home straight away as our infrastructure currently supports remote employees."
Hayes concludes: "We have shown that it is possible to work from home with the right support and we are currently in the process of creating long-term plans that look at returning to office and continued remote work. No one knows what is going to happen in the near future, so it is very hard to predict, but so long as employees are looked after, then a combination of remote work and office-based work is a viable option."
Improbable has re-opened many of its offices already following the COVID-19 lockdown, although it's an optional destination for its employees. There has been no expectation or pressure for the team to return to normal ways.
"We don't expect to see full occupancy return in the near future in many places," says VP of People Ian Whiteford.
"The last nine months have seen many games studios and tech companies adapt to remote working out of necessity, but we're also seeing remote working embraced as a positive choice. I think we're going to see a far greater openness to more mixed and flexible forms of working.
"We've also seen many events move online. And again, although we hope to see physical events like GDC, E3 and Gamescom come back when it is safe to do so, this has opened doors to making more content available to developers across the world who might not be able to travel to San Francisco or Cologne."
One of the big challenges during COVID-19 is to keep the community spirit of the company alive, especially for the new businesses it has acquired, including a co-development studio and a game hosting and operations business.
"We've been working hard to create a sense of community and belonging in these new businesses," Whiteford says.
"We've worked hard to keep our people connected, especially around our weekly town hall, and provided allowances for home working equipment such as desks and chairs, while offering weekly yoga and meditation classes to all our employees."
Whiteford believes the appeal of Improbable is the fact it gives its team tough technical challenges, and provides the support and teamwork in order to solve them.
"It's one of the most satisfying things we can offer," he says. "However, employee wellbeing and a sense of community are also vital, which is why we focus on ensuring our employees have opportunities to take vacation, access to physical and mental health care, and a weekly all-hands town hall and regular AMAs, where any member of Improbable can ask questions of senior leadership."
One of the focuses for Improbable moving forward is the ongoing challenge around improving diversity.
"Current events this year have driven some challenging but necessary conversations across the industry around diversity and inclusion," Whiteford says. "We have not just applied this to discussions about our hiring practices and work environment, but also to ensuring that the games we're making contain a range of diverse characters.
"During the recent quarantines and lockdowns, more people than ever have looked to video games for entertainment and connection, and we want the diverse audience of game players to feel represented by the works our studios are creating."