Matthew Jeffery, head of recruitment for Electronic Arts U.K., reads the game industry's major U.K. publications and web sites with a grain of salt. Despite the buzz about a painful lack of game developers available for hire, Jeffery says Europe has all the talent it needs -- hiring companies are just looking in the wrong places and using the wrong means to find it.
Jeffery presented his thoughts at a talk at the London Games Summit today titled "The Future of Games Recruitment: The U.K. a Talent Pool in Crisis?" The EA businessman refutes the question in the lecture's title adamantly, arguing that the size and quality of the U.K. talent pool, and indeed the rest of Europe as well, is not at all in dire straits. "These are wrong claims to make," he says.
As the head of all European recruitment for EA, including the studio in Chertsey and Criterion/EA Tech. (makers of Black and Burnout), Jeffery knows first-hand the true challenges recruiters face. What Jeffery suggests is that hiring companies be more flexible and look for talent outside of the pool of experienced game developers, a group that may indeed be shrinking, especially against the needs of next-generation gamemakers whose hiring over the past year or so has been dramatic. The payoff will be greatest "for those companies willing to be flexible," he says.
"I will say this loudly and unequivocally: Europe holds the most potential talent," Jeffery says. The problem in hiring this talent is knowing where to look, for example, expanding into sectors such as defense or space programs to find people who have advanced skills in AI. "As an industry, we have to be open to hires from other sectors," while tactfully inducting these new recruits into the "peculiar ways that we sometimes develop."
Jeffery also worries that recruiters are ignoring or discounting a largely creative talent base: recent university graduates.
"Graduates make a huge difference to a business," Jeffery says. "They do not have the baggage that experienced staff bring with them." Graduates may also be "hungry with ambition" and "still believe they can change the world," reinvigorating others in the business to create an "internal promotion culture."
"Graduates may not bring immediate wins for the project development team ... but the overall benefits graduates bring to the company may be immense," he says. Recent grads may require training, but companies should realize the value this group of talent to balance cost and reward. However, Jeffery combats the idea of viewing graduates as a low-cost or raw workforce; instead, they should be nurtured as the creative talent that they are, he says.
Among other hiring practices, EA often turns to the lucrative and still sexy U.K. film industry, where recent graduates may turn first for jobs. Because the film community in the U.K. is also growing and looking for similar individuals, game companies may be able to recruit across industries.
"Ten years ago, [film] was looked at as an ideal way to have a career. Those in film were probably not as attracted to games at that time," says Jeffery, because they "couldn't harvest their skills fully" due to the memory and hardware constraints on the creative output. But with the third generation of game consoles, those previous limitations are no longer an issue.
Other suggestions from EA's recruiting department are using freelancers, outsourcing some of the creative work, realizing that new hires, particularly graduates, may be more willing than before to relocate (especially to Asia for its booming MMO business), and hiring for diversity. EA also warns against using cheap headhunting techniques, such as mass email, because it immediately damages the brand and reputation of the company.