A lack of work experience is a major challenge to anyone wanting to get into the games industry right now. Most employers want people with a few years prior experience and, quite often, a number of published titles to their credit.
That is a big problem for a raw graduate or college finisher. The cream of the crop (the top 5%) will always land roles on the strength of their grades, the quality of their portfolio and their ability sell themselves but what about the other 95%? I know people that sent out over a hundred CVs/enquiries but hardly got any responses back. I have to ask, however, to what extent does a lack of experience hinder someone from fulfilling a productive role within the games industry? Should we not attempt to bring more of these passionate and committed young people into our industry rather then turning them away?
I have, over the last decade or so, probably employed 50+ people in various technical and creative roles in the five games and digital media businesses I’ve been involved in. Those roles were a mix of full-time, part-time, temporary, freelance and lengthy paid placements.
The vast majority of these people had little or no prior paid employment history in the industry. This was mainly a result of me being a start-up addict and nearly always attempting to get stuff done with little or no resources. I’d be lying if I claimed that better things couldn’t have been achieved and in a more timely manner with more experienced team members, but nonetheless, as a four times company founder, I am quite satisfied and in some cases very proud with what was achieved.
In an age when every start-up is being told to ‘bootstrap’, to get minimum viable product (MVP) to market and customer/market validation before taking in any funding, the supply of inexperienced, yet highly motivated, talent is, I believe, being wrongly over-looked. More than this, from an industry-level and societal standpoint, we’re being grossly unfair to a large number of people who we’re enticing to undertake expensive degree courses, then failing to provide them a chance to show what they can do.
The paradox is this; if one looks at the output that student and graduate teams are achieving through initiatives such as GamerCamp, DareToBeDigital, Digipen, the many degree courses and numerous game jams, it is clear that these inexperienced individuals are actually quite capable of achieving some pretty impressive things. I attended a mobile games ‘meet em up’ at Birmingham Science Park Aston last year and was, quite frankly, blown away by a series of presentations from students and recent graduates. I’m certain that this is happening all ten time up and down the country.
Yet still, when it comes to building up internal teams, established studios usually take a conscious decision to filter out these people. This is, to a certain extent, a product of it being an employers’ market right now when it comes to graduate and junior roles. Yet almost every games studio has open positions for mid-level and senior roles and the industry is growing – albeit painfully – very quickly. Those more senior roles won’t find candidates if the conveyor belt of talent is restricted because no studios hire raw graduates. Those dejected graduates that get turned away from the games sector will find roles in marketing, web and other creative or technical roles. That is our loss.
I know how hard it is for a small/young games studio to carry inexperienced team members or to find resources (people, cash or time) to develop them, but I believe if the willingness is there from employers (it is from employees!) then it can be both practical and beneficial to bring raw graduates into a team.
When we needed to build a MVP of MusicFestivals Game at SoshiGames in 2011 without any meaningful cash, we turned to ‘free-sourcing’ the game. The proposition was this; if graduates were willing to commit some time, we would commit to providing them with an environment in which they can learn and gain useful industry experience. We had, I would estimate, something like forty people involved in the project over the course of 18months. Some gave one day a week. Some gave 40 hours a week for six months or more. I won’t pretend it was easy and that there were not challenges, however SoshiGames got it’s MVP and the volunteers got their much needed experience. Several of the volunteers were given full time employment once funding was secured and many others got jobs within a short time of leaving us.
Recruiting the ‘free-sourced’ team was done in an extremely ad-hoc manner. There was no single route to finding potential candidates. We approached colleges, universities, alumni groups, placed adverts, plastered info all over the internet and social networks, put up posters and mentioned it in conference sessions and TV/radio adverts. It was hard work but it proved worthwhile for everyone concerned.
I’d like to see an attitudinal change amongst games studios with regards to hiring more juniors. I’d also like to see some services designed to better connect graduates with studios. If this happened it would only be a good thing for the UK games industry.