Q&A: Emma Smith, director of talent and social impact at Creative Assembly 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. Next up is Emma Smith, director of talent and social impact at Creative Assembly. 

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

The key ongoing challenges which prevails in our industry is talent shortage and competition. This is no different in 2022. However, global issues such as the war in Ukraine, the economy, the impact of Brexit and Covid-19, all increase the issue. The continued drive to hire in senior developers across the industry, coupled with a mismatch in availability of those candidates, means we are fuelling a fierce market, which is not going to abate any time soon.

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

Understandably, people are being more cautious about moving roles right now, with many seeking security above new opportunity. We are seeing major names in the industry laying people off, which causes widespread anxiety, impacting both experienced developers thinking about changing employers, and those who might be looking to join our industry.

Candidates are looking for holistic career options that not only offer better pay, but also better career development that includes being able to work flexibly. Hybrid working affords candidates the chance to retain more of their pay by not overpaying on commuting costs, for example. 

Despite the economic outlook, much of the industry is still growing and full of opportunity – right now we have 97 open vacancies for permanent full-time positions across the UK and Bulgaria. We have Total War and our newly announced FPS, Hyenas, and two hugely exciting new projects in the early phases of development.

Is remote / hybrid working here to stay?

Flexible working is absolutely here to stay. It’s not a case of reverting back to previous working models, it’s a case of refining and improving how we work within this new landscape, ensuring we can find that balance to support high performing teams and quality working lives. We continue to see new solutions for team communication, creative collaboration and more and it will be interesting to see how innovations change how teams work effectively together irrespective of location.

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

I believe we are constantly moving forward – we are not the same industry we were five years ago, even a year ago. We are a culmination of all the people working in our industry, and those individuals are more diverse in both background and thought than ever before. Crucially, they challenge us, speak out and drive activism. This can be seen in the growth of Employee Resource Groups, who are now an essential part of any modern studio. Diversity and Inclusion is no longer viewed by the industry as a side exercise, it is absolutely a driver for creativity and innovation which will push our industry toward an endlessly brighter future.

The UKIE census has been a great resource for informing us as an industry as to how diverse and inclusive we really are. The results of the survey demonstrate a small but welcoming uplift in the number of female and non-binary members of the games industry – a move in the right direction.

With hybrid working being embraced, and therefore more flexibility, we also see more opportunity for individuals such as parents with caring responsibilities to consider roles in the industry where perhaps they couldn’t previously.

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

I’m always inspired by BAFTA Young Game Designer. The standard of the games made by these young, bright people continues to excite me. The base level of knowledge and skill we see in the children who participate are leagues ahead of where we were ten years ago, and I cannot wait to see where these brilliant young game developers take their passion in the future. 

At Creative Assembly, we have just launched our second year of the Legacy Scholarship. This scholarship programme provides financial support to those studying Game Design at Teesside University and is open to applicants who identify as female, as being from a minority ethnic background, and/or demonstrate a clear financial need. This follows the success of the first year of the programme, with two students benefiting from financial support and one-to-one mentoring with our developers.

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

With numerous global crises continuing, recruiters will face challenges in terms of the general market of candidates. However, I see an opportunity to turn the way we engage with talent on its head. By deepening the quality of the candidate’s experience, over and above the motivation to just fill a vacancy, we can make this more about long-lasting relationships with current and future candidates.

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?

A year ago, we didn’t have much movement in the global tech industry beyond games. There are so many skill crossovers in different industries, and we are now seeing applicants from streaming services, web development and the finance sector looking at the opportunity in games. We need to adapt how we perceive skills and experience. We should look at a candidate’s potential as much as we assess their skills. Not all game developers arrive in our industry intentionally, but if we can harness that great talent out there, we will all benefit from it.

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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