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Graduate Futures

Nurturing new talent must become core to every game company's business.

There's an interesting dichotomy in the videogames industry's message about recruiting new talent. On one hand, many job advertisements are adamant about wanting to hire only people who have multiple years of experience - or, more often, multiple shipped products - under their belts. On the other hand, leading lights in the industry are equally adamant about the necessity to attract new talent and to develop a steady flow of graduates with the appropriate skills to work in game development and publishing. Obviously, there's a problem here somewhere - or at least, a miscommunication. What's a young person hoping for a career in this sector meant to believe?

Actually, the logic here is simple. The videogames industry is growing - it is expanding rapidly in a variety of ways, and sectors such as mobile game development, downloadable content, casual games and serious games are sucking talented, experienced staff out of traditional game development, at a time when traditional game projects are seeing their teams growing by as much as 100 per cent in order to address the content needs of next-gen titles.

In other words, there simply aren't enough warm bodies out there in the "talented, experienced" field to fill project teams any more. Developers having trouble filling spaces on their teams are facing a problem which may seem like a nightmare now - after all, there's nothing to upset your schedule and milestones like empty chairs in the office - but which is really only the tip of the iceberg. Fierce competition for human resources is a blindingly obvious consequence of a marketplace where companies demand experienced staff, but the market itself is expanding.

Experienced staff don't pop into existence overnight - internships, apprenticeships, graduate programmes and education schemes are required to turn inexperienced staff into experienced people. Some companies, certainly, recognise this and are making extremely positive steps in this regard. Several publishers have excellent graduate programmes and staff training initiatives, and it's heartening to see that quite a lot of smaller developers are also getting involved in graduate hiring and working to develop new talent rather than simply fighting over the scraps in the experienced talent marketplace.

This, frankly, is going to be one of the major dividing factors between the winners and losers in the development market in the next five years - a distinguishing characteristic which will decide whether a studio is capable of meeting its project commitments in the medium to long term. It's not intuitive, granted, and there are studios in the UK and elsewhere who believe firmly in hiring experienced staff only, on the basis that they can hit the ground running and be producing results almost immediately. After all, a graduate hire will have to be trained before they will produce results - a time-consuming and expensive process, and one which means that you'll be hiring someone that won't do any real work until month two or even month three. On the tight schedules operated by many teams, that isn't acceptable at the moment.

It had better become acceptable, though. Already several studios are facing product slippage because they can't fill staff positions - an old story, but one which we hear more and more often at present. It's the studios and publishers that have graduate programmes, that build training and education into their schedules and budgets and that are committed to creating new talent rather than just trying to poach staff who have been trained up elsewhere, that are now in a position where they have staff when they need them - and who can meet the deadlines and milestones they need to meet, rather than discovering themselves short of coders, artists or designers at crucial points in the process.

The message is clear; every videogame company needs to have a system in place for trialling, employing and training graduates and inexperienced staff. If every job profile you create has a requirement for shipped products on it, then you're dooming your own future projects to failure, because those positions are not going to be filled in time. The well of experience is running dry, and relying on major publishers like EA to top it up through their graduate programmes is a losing strategy. It's up to developers to bite the bullet, and take matters into their own hands.

On the positive front, there's no shortage of talent out there - as long as you're prepared to stop letting other companies look for it for you. We don't use this newsletter to blow our own trumpets very often, so indulge us this once; the London Game Career Fair, which ran for two days earlier this week, exceeded all of our expectations. From an organiser's perspective, it was fantastic to see hundreds of people (we're awaiting a final count, but we expect it to be well north of 1200 attendees) arriving to attend lectures, ask questions and meet with employers - and from the industry's perspective, it was absolute proof that while experienced staff may be thin on the ground, the well of talent is overflowing.

From intelligent, insightful questions asked during the various sessions, to glances stolen at the portfolios and demos being displayed by some of the graduate attendees, it's clear that the games industry continues to attract a truly astonishing level of enthusiasm and raw talent. Now it's time for every company in the sector to respond to the challenge which that represents - and to put the programmes and systems in place to make this into a field of work which is deserving of the country's brightest young creative minds.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.