[In this interview with Loot Drop's Karen Clark, the studio operations director talks with Gamasutra about the processes and trends in the social gaming recruitment market and how they affect employees at traditional developers.]
Sometimes, it feels like the last days of Rome. The rigid structures of the past are crumbling, their leading lights struggling to adapt. Aggressive new tribes are on the move and gaining ground.
Where once the games industry had consolidated into a small group of publishing clusters dedicated to feeding the console market, it is now also a chaos of start-ups serving digital, mobile, social et al.
Large companies shed employees as a part of "normal business practice" (in their own, vile words). Meanwhile, start-ups compete to attract the best-talent swirling around the market, often people with technical and entrepreneurial skills that were not highly valued by the big employers.
I visited with someone at the center of this morass, Karen Clark, recently appointed
director of studio operations at Loot Drop. Yeah, that's the social start-up
headed up by big names like John Romero, Brenda Brathwaite, Laralyn McWilliams and Tom Hall.
Clark is interesting in ways not often highlighted by the media. She's in charge of "everything from the recruiting pipeline to managing employee needs, vendors, outsourcing...everything that is not the actual game itself."
If you're thinking of a move into social, she's worth a listen. She has bags of experience at Playdom, EA and Linden Labs.
Loot Drop is just 18 people right now, all but one in San Mateo, CA, with Tom Hall the beginning of a planned Austin studio. The company is looking to double-up in the next few months.
It is finishing its first game, Cloudforest Expedition
, which will be published by RockYou this summer, with a second unannounced title further down the line. Core team members previously worked on the social game Ravenwood Fair
for LOLapps, currently bringing in over a million DAUs.
Clark says the jobs market is in a weird place. Cost-cutting publishers and the weak economy mean there are "a lot of people on the market right now." But a VC boom in social gaming also means "everybody is hiring." (Loot Drop is boot-strapped.)
She adds, "Everybody in the social space is growing. You can look at job postings and you'll see a large volume of candidates being hired from places up and down the [Bay Area] peninsula, the south bay and in San Francisco. There's a lot of competition for this particular market segment."
Loot Drop says it isn't working with recruiters. "Everybody is coming to us. We're in a good position. We have a lot of talented people applying and talking to us."
Interesting that the hot roles of a few years back have been superseded as the market has shifted. "There are a lot of people coming from triple-A who have been displaced due to changes in consumer appetites. Unfortunately, not all of those jobs map well. For example, there are a lot of 3D texture artists, but it's hard to map that role to a Facebook game. Flash animation, traditional illustration are more important than making 3D levels. A really hardcore Flash coder is at the same kind of premium that those 3D texture mappers were five years ago."
It's not just refugees from the console games sector. Hungry young talent is out there, looking for a challenge and for their big chance.
"Some people in the industry are more entrepreneurial than others. They want to shift into social right now because that's where the money is, but also because it's a very different sort of creative challenge. If you look at John and Brenda, they aren't doing this to chase a buck, they are doing this because they're pursuing something that fascinates them."
Clark concedes that farm-building games won't attract the big creative thinkers, adding that Cloudforest Expedition
will show that social games can be built that include narrative, depth, characters and a sense of exploration.
"We're going to see more story-driven games with plot structure. It's not just going to be about 'let's build a bunch of buildings...hooray...what now?' We're making games with a higher level of emotional engagement and that's attractive for a lot of the players on social networks, especially given the female bias in that sector."
The massive disruption in business models - and therefore required skills - is also a reason why many are looking to social. This is an opportunity to learn. Games must be built that can grab players instantly, that can lure them in over a period of minutes, hours, days and more, that can be monetized incrementally.
"Playing games [on Facebook] isn't about laying down $50," she says. "The player makes a tiny commitment with a minimum of exertion. There's an extremely low barrier for entry, and that makes people explore more. What does that mean for game design?"
She adds, "The biggest trend right now is being able to react to the metrics, to consumer behavior. Game design isn't just about the designer; it's about how the designer collects and reacts to the metrics. We need to put the user first, but we need designers who aren't just following the numbers."
"This approach appeals to people who really know what they're doing in design, who enjoy the constant feedback and love to iterate quickly and come up with something that is even better than what was originally made. That's the trifecta, right?"
[You can follow Colin on Twitter @brandnarrative. As well as being business editor he works for a marketing agency that supplies content to companies.