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Video: How Riot Games dodged the pitfalls of rapid staff growth Exclusive

[Note: To access chapter selection, click the fullscreen button or check out the video on the GDC Vault website]
August 14, 2013 | By Staff

August 14, 2013 | By Staff
More: Social/Online, Design, Exclusive, Video, GDC Online

If you've ever worked at a quickly growing game company, there's a good chance you're familiar with the dangers of rapid growth. With new developers flooding into a studio, processes can collapse, communication can break down, and your company's culture might suffer as a result.

But if your studio is careful about its hiring procedures, you can easily avoid these all-too-common pitfalls. Riot Games senior producer Travis George helped tackle this problem when building and developing the team behind League of Legends, and at GDC Online 2012, he offered his own tips for building an improving a successful team.

As an eSports developer, George said that Riot Games often focuses on hiring what he calls "athletes."

"I don't mean that in the sense that you have to be good at sports or even eSports but I mean it in the way college football uses the term, which is that it's about finding a student that has the attributes that allow them to play numerous positions on a team," he said.

"For us, it's the same as that paradigm. We aim to hire people who are a great fit for the role they're being brought in for, but who also have the agility, passion, and assets to be able to be involved and help make other areas or other roles successful as well."

George explained that a number of Riot's best employees originally started in different roles, and after taking the time to grow and improve their skill sets, they've moved on to become producers, eSports personalities, and much more. "

It's not that they were perfect [in their new roles] from day one, but they all applied themselves to become experts at their craft because they are athletes from the get-go."

By hiring individuals who demonstrate similar drive and adaptability, George said other studios will have a much easier time avoiding those common mistakes that often plague a quickly-growing team. Without its driven and multitalented staff, George said Riot simply wouldn't have gotten where it is today.

Throughout the rest of his presentation, George offered even more anecdotes about how Riot Games has managed its growth over the past few years, and you can check out his talk in full in the above GDC Vault video.

About the GDC Vault

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent GDC events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers. Those who purchased All Access passes to events like GDC, GDC Europe, and GDC China already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscriptions via a GDC Vault inquiry form.

Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can find out more here. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins.

Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for even more new content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from other events like GDC China and GDC 2013. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Tech.

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Ramin Shokrizade
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I agree that "A"s only want to work with other "A"s, for a number of reasons. Recruiting these people is not all that easy, though a company with a good reputation like RIOT can do it. Companies with compromised reputations (Zynga as an example) may WANT to hire "A"s, but since "A"s only want to work with "A"s, these companies will have a hard time recruiting them even if they offer premium salaries.

Now if you consider that RIOT has not put out a new product in 4 years, and only has one product, this causes this company to risk the reputation of being a one hit wonder as the speaker admits. Because of this RIOT has become more of a distribution company (distributing only one product) than a development company. This reputation will make it easier to recruit producers, marketers, community people, BI, etc., but make it harder to recruit designers (who obviously want to make new games). This was the case for me. RIOT was one of only two companies I applied to for full time work in the last two years (the two companies were the ones I positively featured in my Supremacy Goods microeconomic model). In my cover letter I told them that if they were not planning to start a new product in the next year to not call me for an interview. They didn't, and they didn't. So I ended up being scooped up by the other company (WG).

I also agree that if you are going to hire top talent that a resume, recommendation, or traditional interview is not going to cut it. You have to have them demonstrate some aptitude that does not already exist in the company. I did this with the other two AAA companies I interviewed with. In the case of RIOT, when I applied for their Monetization Director position, instead of submitting a resume (I've not had to submit a resume in years) I offered to submit what I thought was a superior business model for LoL. Since I never had that interview they never even saw it. My new employer will though :)

So in conclusion I would say that rapid staff growth in the context of increased distribution is really pretty easy. Rapid growth of product development (exactly what RIOT is not doing) is indeed pretty hard. So here RIOT did not have a lot of obstacles to clear other than hiring the appropriate people to overcome cultural challenges to wider distribution.

Arthur Hulsman
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Are there even companies that will hire you based on just your resume? Wouldn't that be a signal that the company in question is quite lame, thus should be avoided? :)