Is your dev scene close-knit, or closed-minded?
Hibernum's new hire Jesse Divnich lays out how supportive communities can avoid becoming insular, argues for geographic diversity in hiring
If one were to ask developers if they wanted a tight-knit, supportive development scene in their area, the answer would most frequently come back as "yes," perhaps accompanied by a befuddled look wondering why the question even needed to be asked. But according to Hibernum's just-appointed VP of product Jesse Divnich, there's a fine line between tight-knit and insular.
"A well connected community can be great as it fosters a lot of support between studios and people," Divnich told GamesIndustry.biz in a recent interview. "It creates strong friendships among a group of people that understand the challenges of our day-to-day jobs. However, there are downsides. Becoming too insulated gets a group thinking too much of the same. They view every challenge from the same angle. All problems begin to look like nails because the only tool in their belt is a hammer. It can also blind you from new emerging technologies and business models. Even if you catch an emerging technology/model fast enough (e.g. AR), you will run into problems as the insulated community around you likely lack the experience from a technical, design, and business perspective."
"No one can possibly tell me that the best programmers, engineers, artists, and marketers all reside in a 20-by-20 mile radius of your city."
Ultimately the problems arise from homogeneity. When everyone uses the same game engines and analytics tools, works on the same platforms, and went to the same schools, it can be tough to foster a global perspective and make games for a truly global audience. Divnich highlighted a few warning signs for such insulated development scenes: local conferences packing the lineup with local speakers, a strong majority of available jobs being in one specific field, and people frequently churning between companies in the same small- or mid-sized scene without progressing professionally.
A studio can only do so much to change the scene around it, but it can adapt its own business to safeguard against such deficiencies. For example, Divnich is a big believer in working to recruit hires from outside the local scene. Just as diversity of gender, race, and economic background can foster a broader array of perspectives to bring to bear on innovation and problem solving, so too can a diversity of geographic backgrounds.
"Many in our industry have failed to recognize the benefits of hiring talent outside of their own geographical location," Divnich said. "No one can possibly tell me that the best programmers, engineers, artists, and marketers all reside in a 20-by-20 mile radius of your city. While it can be difficult and costly from an HR and legal perspective, these are just hurdles that can and must be overcome for content creators to effectively compete globally. You can't build a game with the expectation of having a global reach unless you have people thinking about the game through multiple different backgrounds: age, gender, race, nationality, and more."
Even if studios can't bring in developers from abroad, Divnich said the next best thing to acquiring them is acquiring the benefits of their experiences.
"The first step is to actually travel to conferences abroad, and not just yourself, but your producers, game designers, artists, and product managers," he said. "Conferences are not always about 'creating business.' We forget the purpose of a lot of these conferences is education. If you can't inject talent, at least try to learn by listening to other experts speak from around the globe. The best chefs in the world do a lot of travelling, constantly sampling other's dishes and trying to see how they can borrow ideas and inject them into their own cooking back at home."
Divnich also said developers can look for government assistance to help subsidize salaries, chip in for relocation, or defray the cost of bringing in international guest speakers for their local conferences. Divnich even suggested getting a GDC Vault subscription and watching old sessions from international speakers at the conference.
"As an industry, we are no longer working with a talent pool, but a talent ocean."
All of this is advice Divnich will look to put into practice himself in his role with Hibernum. In the newly created VP of product position, Divnich will be overseeing portfolio planning and working on platform and monetization strategies to help make the company a global content creator in every sense.
"While there are no longer barriers in global content distribution, there are so few game content creators actually building teams that represent a global mindset: from development, marketing, and business development, right through to live operations. At Hibernum, we want to build an even more diverse organization, injecting professionals with global experiences into both Hibernum and Canada. Alongside bringing in more global talent, we want to continue to train our team on how other regions design their games and handle obstacles that come up during a product's lifecycle."
He added, "In addition to differences in taste in terms of gameplay, each region seems to have its own strengths and weaknesses in the various aspects of game development from art and design to engineering and even marketing. With a global expansion in university programs that offer the different game development disciplines, there are a lot of regional hot spots of talent around the globe. As an industry, we are no longer working with a talent pool, but a talent ocean."
Prior to joining Hibernum, Divnich was VP of product strategy and insights at mobile publisher Tilting Point. He held that position since 2014, when he made the jump from research firm EEDAR, where he spent six years as VP of insights and analytics.