Player engagement and retention are frequently used buzzwords at the moment, but former Ubisoft Toronto MD Jade Raymond believes developers are neglecting these areas when it comes to their staff.
Speaking to Develop just ahead of her BAFTA games lecture, the woman who helped bring Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell: Blacklist to market discussed the irony that companies who pride themselves on retaining a loyal audience could be doing more to support and develop their creative teams.
“Every company has a certain set of rules as to why you get a raise, what’s valued, why you get promotions, and so on,” she told Develop. “The thing that has struck me is sometimes the company’s stated objective is not in line with the practices and structures in place.
“I find it interesting from a games design and developer perspective, because we’re experts at engaging players and keeping them motivated. That’s part of our job – and yet we don’t apply the same knowledge to the way the companies are structured and the processes they have.
“I’m definitely not advocating the gamification of the workplace. But we have some things to work through in the games industry, in terms of ways we can improve our management practices and keep our best talented people engaged and motivated. And I think we have the toolset already in the same toolbox that we use as developers.”
Pressed for an example, Raymond pointed to the games – particularly MMOs – that have a “long-term, almost impossible objective”, such as EverQuest’s bosses and Destiny’s raids. These give players of all skill levels something to strive for, and the producer feels this is something studios could benefit from.
“There’s a parallel with these things and with jobs,” she said. “People want to understand their career path, they want to know there’s growth potential where they are.
“That doesn’t mean that everyone has to aspire to be the president of the company – it actually means the opposite, because that should not be the only thing people strive for. People have to know there are ways for them to continue to evolve and improve themselves, and be engaged for the long-term at their company.”
A crucial point Raymond wished to emphasise was encouraging a “culture of transparency”, where staff feel that they are able to bring their ideas to the table, and that their opinions are valued.
“Make sure your studio is a place where people feel like being creative means their ideas will go somewhere – not just left in the suggestions box,” she said.
“There’s not some special person like the producer, like myself, who’s the only one who can have good creative ideas for what’s going to make your game better. We have a lot of talent throughout our teams, and a good idea can come from anywhere.”
Branching out from your main project can be instrumental in identifying that talent, Raymond said, citing an instance where the Assassin’s Creed III team took a two-week break in the middle of production to prototype new ideas.
“When you do something like this, you get to see people display skills that you might not know they have,” said Raymond. “We did a few game jams at Ubisoft Toronto, and discovered that people we thought were just hardcore gamers actually had good ideas for children’s games – some of them had just become parents and played a lot of games with their kids. That helps you know who the right people are when it comes to trying new projects that are in different areas.”
The ex-Ubisoft producer also touched on the need to encourage more women to consider careers in games.
“The great thing is there are more and more young women playing these titles,” she said. “Games have become more mass market, so more people are becoming exposed to them and therefore consider it as a career opportunity.
“What also helps is having examples of women in the industry who are out there and talking about what they do – and not just as examples as women, but as examples of their role and what they actually do. This will help young girls see that there are women working in games and doing well, and it won’t feel like they’ll be the only ones if they join the industry or that there aren’t enough roles open for them.”