Q&A: Colin Macdonald, director of Games Jobs Live on recruitment

If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that we can never take too much for granted. Covid-19 may or may not be something that we continue to look at through the rear view mirror, but its legacy of remote and hybrid working continues to provide opportunities while posing questions around productivity. 

Throw in the ever-present issue of a persistent skills shortage and a cost of living crisis that was nowhere to be seen twelve months ago, and it’s clear that it’s a unique and challenging time for game industry recruitment. To help us get a clear picture of how things have been, how they are now and how they might develop over the coming year, we’ve asked a crack team of in-house and agency recruitment experts to give us their take on the state of games industry recruitment, both for those with positions to fill and those eager to find their next challenge. First up is Colin Macdonald, director of Games Jobs Live.

What have been the main challenges that recruiters have faced during 2022 and how have they/you worked to overcome them?

This year has been a real rollercoaster for many HR departments – the first half of 2022 saw massive talent shortages as salaries rose and people felt less attached to teams they hadn’t seen much of the past few years, and vacancies in the UK’s games industry hit an all-time peak of 2,816 open roles in June.

How is the worsening cost of living crisis manifesting itself in terms of recruitment and in-work support?

But as inflation continued to soar, the bigger studios starting with the Sony and Microsoft owned ones started to reduce their open vacancies over the Summer, and open positions in November are the lowest they’ve been all year. Although my sense is that people are consequently a little more nervous about leaving otherwise seemingly secure jobs, so staff turnover may be lower now as well.

Is remote / hybrid working here to stay?

I’ve certainly heard quite a few people say they’re choosing to go back to the office more to save heating at home, so it may depend on gas prices! But remote/hybrid is undoubtedly going to stay more common than pre-pandemic, although many companies are still evaluating their policies and what works for them. Many companies have found ways to make remote/hybrid work well, but others are still seeing deadlines slipping even more compared to pre-pandemic levels, and the crux of the problem seems to be that many individuals feel they’re more productive at their own tasks when working remotely, but their remoteness has unmeasured impacts on other parts of the team. Given the often long development cycles of many games projects, it’s going to still take some time for many companies to figure out what works best for them – and for most that probably isn’t as simple as either fully remote, or fully in-person, but includes personal circumstances, time-zone, proximity to the office, etc.

Do you feel the industry has moved forward in terms of diversity and inclusion this year? How so? Can you offer any examples?

I think we’re inching forward, but we’ve still a very long way to go. We’re slowly getting better at championing diverse success stories, and at being more open to candidates joining the industry compared to years of old. But I don’t feel we’ve made much progress in the earlier stages talent pipeline – with girls being disinclined to work towards the industry as it’s seen as male-dominated, and kids from families unable to send them for an expensive university education, who still have to compete with almost 1,500 graduates coming out of games-related degrees every year. Right now for example there are just 94 junior positions open across all games companies for the whole of the UK – those are daunting odds for those with a degree, but almost unthinkable for those that don’t.

What industry initiatives or programmes put in place recently (by your organisation or others) have inspired or impressed you and why?

Although it was a government initiative rather than an industry one, the Kickstart scheme that ran over much of Covid was a fantastic opportunity for studios and individuals alike. It gave hundreds of young folk that elusive first bit of experience on their CV that’s so sought after, whilst encouraging studios to take a chance on people they might not otherwise have – I know a number of folk that got taken on for six months but have ended up proving themselves so valuable the studios have created a new permanent role for them which didn’t exist previously.

What are your predictions for 2023 in terms of the challenges and opportunities that recruiters might face?

Although a number of studios will continue to successfully work remotely or on a hybrid model, we’ll see more studios want to get their staff together in-person more, potentially both making recruiting harder, and causing some attrition where employees took advantage of Covid to move to other parts of the country and want to stay.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give someone looking to find or fill a role that you wouldn’t have considered a year ago?

Given how many more studios Embracer and Tencent now own between them, learning to speak Swedish or Chinese looks like a smart move.

About Richie Shoemaker

Prior to taking the editorial helm of MCV/DEVELOP Richie spent 20 years shovelling word-coal into the engines of numerous gaming magazines and websites, many of which are now lost beneath the churning waves of progress. If not already obvious, he is partial to the odd nautical metaphor.

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