We ask Amiqus's Stig Strand how students identify where they need to hire for their new projects

The Big Question: How do studios hire for new projects?

Hiring is a serious business for any studio, after all this is a creative but commercial endeavour. Creative teams must not only survive but thrive to produce the great games they aspire to make and keeping that vision can be the beating heart of your project. With so much to do, what are the key considerations when deciding what team to put together? We spoke to some studios to find out more.

Questions, questions, questions

Derry Holt, Co-founder & CEO of gamification specialists Stormburst Studios sets out some early questions to ask “When we start a project or even a new phase of development we have to weigh up what we need to finish the work on time. Perhaps more importantly we have to consider how we’ll get the project into the market or in front of the right people. Generally we ask; – do we have the required skills to achieve our goal? Do we have the resources to complete the work on time, have we factored in leeway for unexpected problems? what will adding a new resources to this particular area bring to the team? What’s the long-term impact? Then you then need to weigh up the costs of acquiring those resources.”

Roadmap, Capabilities and Culture

Tom Gillo, VP of Development explains the view from market-leading VR developer, nDreams.

“Hiring is a key operation of any growing business and it’s crucial to get it right. Hiring should never be simply about sticking bums on seats – in my opinion that’s a disservice to your current team and any prospective candidates. At nDreams we’ve been steadily growing for the past two years. In order to identify and prioritise our hiring we look at three key things: (1) Our current skill set and capabilities (2) Our future product plans and (3) Our studio culture. By mapping our existing staff skills’ profile against our future product requirements, we can determine what’s missing and whether our future product plans are realistic.

There’s a symbiotic relationship between our current capabilities and the kinds of games that we develop. If the delta between what we have, both in terms of skills and scope, is too large, then perhaps we need to revise our ambitions and tailor our product roadmap slightly.

Culture is perhaps the single most important factor to get right. Sure, you can write work mantras, slogans and mission statements – but they mean nothing if the team doesn’t reflect those virtues. It can be useful to think about what that hire will be doing on a daily basis and give yourself some reference points by identifying great qualities in people you already know”.

Specialist or generalist

It’s also important to think about skills distribution – do you need significant depth in one area or someone who can turn their hand to many things? There is no right or wrong answer to this balance and what you need will be specific to your goals. Russ Clarke, Founder & Studio Director of Payload shared his thoughts:-

“As a self-publishing indie startup, we are accustomed to sharing among our small team all the work involved in creating and selling a game; so everyone ends up wearing several hats. It’s rare that a new job materialises, fully-formed, needing a new person to do it – more usually, there’s something that one or more of us are just about staying on top of, which we realise is set to keep expanding. There comes a point where it’s clearly more efficient to have one expert own a process than rely on the whole team mucking in. At Payload our resource planning is based on ongoing needs and running costs, rather than fixed budgets with a defined scope. That said, the thought process is probably similar: we look at upcoming requirements and decide when the amount of work in a particular area, or the skillset required, justifies an additional salary.”

Tom Beardsmore, CEO of full-service indie developer Coatsink agrees. “As a relatively young and small studio, we generally look to hire people with some versatility to meet the demands of our projects. To that end we’ve had great success bringing in talented graduates, but we have had to seek specialists in certain cases. Specifically, critical positions like Producers, QA Managers and Network programmers have proven challenging for us to fill in the past. Recruitment agencies can be very useful in these circumstances as otherwise it can be difficult to identify suitably experienced people.”

Short term

The project demand and subsequent hiring landscape can change quickly so a key consideration is whether to opt for long or short term hires. Derry Holt of Stormburst make an important point about the impact of hiring on your brand, warning of a “use ‘em then lose ‘em” reputation. “What are the consequences of short term hires? Will my remaining staff be demotivated due to low job security? How does this impact us in the long term?” he asks. One solution is to hire a professional Contractor who has taken an active career-decision to work for short periods of time on a project by project basis, as Andrew Bennison of Prospect Games describes. "Every project a studio takes on will come with a unique set of requirements, ultimately they will have to pick the right staff to get the job done. Scope, time and existing resources must be assessed before any hiring decisions can be made. Each new hire will also increase your company overheads so ascertaining if a project can be carried out with contractors is very important"

Long term

From another perspective, HR Manager at Outplay Emma Purvey describes their approach. “We are focused on growing a world-class strong and engaged team at Outplay and that comes with a responsibility to consider what they’ll be doing in years to come, not in the next few months on a project. When bringing someone into our team we involve our Production team and department heads to consider the overall makeup of the teams. Shortage of resources might indicate that we need to grow, but there are often options to borrow from other teams, outsource, or use off the shelf solutions. We look for developers who are passionate about mobile gaming, love and play our style of games, and who have the energy and creativity to create awesome games. Once you have a team that can work in this way your options for staffing your project team when you need to grow, with the right make up of great attitude and excellent skills, become a lot more workable”. 

Forewarned is forearmed

With an eye on the future, Russ Clarke of Payload offers some thoughts on the timing of new hires. “The real knack is spotting resource bottlenecks before they occur. My best advice is to make sure that you aren’t so focused on putting one foot in front of the other that you forget to look up once in a while and check the road ahead. Rather than relying on one person to do that, we have regular company get-togethers where the whole team meets in a relaxed setting to talk about our hopes and challenges. This is a great way of maintaining a shared vision, and spotting problems before they happen”. 

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