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How to hire free-to-play Game Designers?

by Ilya Eremeev on 07/20/15 01:37:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Hey there! I want to share our experience in hiring game designers.

The basic principles are suitable for most professions, but since I am responsible for hiring game designers we will focus on them.

The first step in hiring a new employee - strong need in a new team member and a crystal clear picture of who exactly is necessary to be hired.

Since we are a small company we can not afford to hire weak players and try to train and coach them. One weak link in a company of 200 employees can catch up with the others to the company’s level, but one weak link in a 10-15 members team will sink alongside the whole crew. So let's find the chosen one we need so much.

Game designers are basically divided into 2 types: Game designers - storytellers and game designers-mathematics.

The first ones see their role in developing a “feeling”, writing a plot, quests, items descriptions and game universe backstory.

Second ones are all about balance design, economics, gameplay formulas and calculations.

In all conscience, most designers†unite those skills but usually they focused on the one side more than on the other.

Usually, I hunt people with math\programming background and surely add this condition to our vacancy, which helps immediately cut off a half of unsuitable candidates and save some time.

Based on our needs I design a vacancy and place it on the popular HR resources (in Russia it is DTF.ru, Gamedev.ru and HH.ru)

I place 3 blocks into my vacancy:

  1. Requirements for candidates
  2. Future job responsibilities
  3. Work conditions

Also, I necessarily indicate that candidates will be asked to do the test assignment.

Okay, vacancy is designed and placed on HR resources, good job - my mailbox started to fill with designers CV. Usually, it is about 30-50 CV per vacancy and now my primary goal is to process them.

First of all, I isolate too juniors without any experience.

Say goodbye to these candidates. I try to be polite and answer to all interested candidates who wrote me because you never know where you will meet this person next time and friendly attitude is an important strategic move.

Okay, next step. To the rest of candidates, I send a letter about our interest in their CV and our test assignment.

I am sure, that test assignment is a necessary step in game designer hiring and let’s take a closer look at it.

Our test assignment contains 7 tasks and designed for about 8 hours of work. Of course, I do not expect that the candidate will spend the whole work-day on the test assignment and just ask potential employees to set the deadline for yourself. That's an important moment, which will indicate the candidate’s ability to give right estimates and reveal time management skills. 5-7 days is an optimal and usual time for delivering the result.

First of all, I warn the candidate that the test assignment is synthetical, can not and would not be used to get any profit for our company - that eliminate the doubts that we just want to do our ongoing job by candidate’s hands for free.

So, what’s inside the test assignment? Come closer, let's see.

TASK 1

Choose one of the most successful †(in your opinion) free-to-play RPG (client-based, browser or social) and shortly describe it’s core loop, main mechanics (PvE, PvP, Loot, Craft etc.) and monetisation scheme.

This task reveals candidate’s knowledge in the actual free-to-play games market, understanding †of terms “mechanic” and “loop”, ability to search information and skill in compilation thoughts into the meaningful document.

TASK 2

Pick any free-to-play game and suggest three major improvements of gameplay, monetisation or GUI.

The result reveals candidate’s area of expertise, highlights their ability to think analytically, †see problems in products and suggest possible solutions. We pay extra attention to the reason for the decision provided by the candidate. Good if potential employee verifies their decisions by examples from other games or products, where those problems are solved fine in his opinion.

TASK 3

Write specification of the crafting system in Minecraft. Describe the system including resources, items and their craft chains. Format: Specification for the developer who will implement that mechanic into the game. No need to describe all recipe book, just basic categories and logic.

This task indicates candidate’s competence in creating and supporting game functional specifications and ability to catch details. If candidate describes functional in lyric descriptive style, referred to “well-known” principles (“as usual”, “like in most RPG’s” etc.) or arguing that he did not play Minecraft - it is a bad sign. It means that there will be problems with research, processing and compiling information. If you did not play any game or played it the long time ago - you can always go to forums, find game encyclopedias etc. where you can find any information about the game.

TASK 4

Rare item drops from the treasure chest with a 27% chance. The Player has 3 treasure chests. What is the chance to find 0-1-2-3 rare items in these chests? Describe your reasoning and calculations.

Since I’m looking for game designers with a mathematical background - math tasks are the mandatory part of the test assignment.

This task allows me in a primitive example evaluate candidate's knowledge of the probability theory, which is necessary for game balance calculations.

In math tasks it is very important to look into the calculation process, because in the future I have to delegate the responsibility for the balance and formulas of the game to this person and I do not want a trash in the logic.

TASK 5

13% percent of players buy a Premium Account in a free-to-play game. 55% percent of those who bought Premium Account also bought a Newbie Pack before. Meanwhile, 9% of those who did not buy Premium Account bought a Newbie Pack. What are the chances that a player who just bought a Newbie Pack will buy a Premium Account?

One more probability test, a bit complicated this time but the correct solution will be a big advantage and reveal the deeper understanding of math. Sure, this task is more from the analytics area but I believe that a game designer must have at least a minimal expertise in analytics, just because they should be able to assess the consequences of his decisions in design on practice.

TASK 6

In a mobile free-to-play game, there is a unit, which has a base attack of 35 points per strike. We armed this unit with a weapon, which gives him +12% of the attack. Also, this unit has a buff for +6% of Attack. Let's imagine, that this unit has a trauma from the previous battle which reduces his attack for 17%. Question: How much Damage will be inflicted by the squad of 40 of those units (identical) by one strike? Describe your reasoning and calculations.

There is no single right solution and the result depends on the calculation method selected by the candidate. By this task, I check the hardcore/casual balance of the candidate’s mind and their ability to adapt mechanics for the target audience.

TASK 7

Come up with a legendary item, weapon or character for a hypothetical MMO game in a sci-fi setting: Describe its characteristics and special abilities, write a text description (which will be showed up in the game) and choose references for its visual appearance.

And the last but not least task, revealing creative abilities of the candidate. By this task, we check stereotypical/creativity of the candidate’s mind, skill in writing meaningful fiction texts and pick references for artists. Washy abstract text - is a fault, neat and expressive - success.

***

Some candidates are disappearing immediately after receiving the test assignment, we are not interested in those people who can not afford 8 hours of their time for getting a job so we are not too upset because them. Good for us that percent of disappearances is very small.

After a week or so we start to harvest completed assignments and chose 3-6 candidates who successfully and originally complete the assignment.

We severely cut off plagiarists and insane answers like “it is fundamentally impossible to calculate drop chances, pure luck”.

To all candidates we send a message with a short analysis of their solution and our resolution about his candidature. If someone asks for detailed analyse of one of his task solutions, usually I agree and explain what was wrong and where was the problem, but, of course, I do not give the right answer.

With chosen candidates who passed the test, we set up an interview in our office or a skype call - but only video. Text chatting does not allow to evaluate the candidate’s personality and it is absolutely unacceptable in my opinion.

First of all we give a short excursus into the company’s history and then discuss candidate’s assignment result in details, his decisions reasoning and games which he selected to analyse.

Also, we delve into the candidate’s professional experience - which tools they used in his workflow, what specifically was included in their duty on previous occupations, which games they play and what achievements they got. I love so much †lvl 90 elves and do not understand who call himself a free to play game designer but has not at least lvl 20 in Clash of Clans.

We need people who already moves in the right direction, in our case - mobile free-to-play games. If candidate before developed only Hidden Object or console shooters but if he have to he can try to understand mobile games - that is definitely not the one we're looking for.

It is very important to catch a free-to-play haters, ideological pirates and peoples who stuck in the past. To understand how to make free-to-pay games it is necessary to play and pay by yourself.

It worth asking - do the candidate knows anything about your company? Did they play some of your games? What do they think about them?

It shows a motivation of the candidate to work in your company and not anywhere just for money. I believe that it is a very important point, because motivation and commitment into the company’s mission - great source of loyalty and productivity of an employee.

After discussing formalities and compensation we take a couple of days break for a decision making and enter candidate’s data to our potential employee table, from which we will make a final choice.

The shortlist table contains following parameters: location, contacts, test assignment result, comments and notes from the interview, experience, wanted salary and contact of people who can recommend the candidate.

Recommendations are a very useful tool in hiring, which unfortunately often ignored. It is great if the candidates can provide a few contacts of their previous employers but if not I do not hesitate to contact them by myself and get a feedback about candidate’s performance.

Game†Development is a very close and flat industry, everyone knows everyone so the reputation has a value here.

After the final pick we sent a job offer to the chosen candidate and if he accept it our crew is grew by the new teammate.


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