The alternative is the way Hollywood does it: unions. A production company calls up the unions and says “I need fifteen carpenters and half a dozen electricians for the next six weeks.” The people work in short spurts, get paid staggering amounts of money for it during that period, and eat beans the rest of the time. They live by the clock, earning time-and-a-half and double overtime when their contract requires it. This is part of why movies cost so much to make – amounts that we in the game industry cannot possibly afford to pay.
Trust me, unions are a direction we don’t want to go. Too much of game development has turned into a boring grind as it is, without adding union contracts and rules and strikes and all the rest of it to the mix. We’re here for fun and creativity; game development isn’t an assembly line. Also, unions and small-scale entrepreneurship, which is the game industry’s best hope for future innovation, don’t go well together. If every developer had to pay union scale, there would be no Introversion Software, no Darwinia or Defcon, no Independent Games Festival.
Although it sounds strange, most developers want and need the freedom to work for substandard wages when they have to… because most of us would rather be doing this, even for less money, than just about anything else. If the only jobs were high-paying ones, there would be a lot fewer of them around.
So don’t dismiss recruiters out of hand. They’re better than the alternative and they perform an important service that keeps the wheels of game development greased, moving people to where they are needed. And if that means some other company loses those employees’ services… well, that’s why it’s called competition. Employees leaving isn’t really that much different from customers leaving – in the end it’s all supply and demand, and whining about it, or trying to keep your employees in the dark, won’t help. Keep them happy and well-paid, and you’ll get that loyalty and productivity you want. It’s your company: deal with it.