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25 Oct 2013

Recruiting Talented Employees to Your Indie Game Studio

The dream of running your own indie game studio is to have ‘the best’ working for you, enjoying developing your studios’ games, and loving the fact that they get to work for you. Everyone wants their studio to be sought after: they want people to actually yearn to work for them in the same way individuals dreams about working for Google, Facebook, Apple, and more. Unfortunately, many studio founders only see this as a ‘dream,’ and nothing realistic, but I’ve got news for you: it’s possible to recruit some of the absolute best employees you are ever going to find by following a few simple tips. Is it possible to make someone stop trying to work for Google or Facebook and instead make them place their focus on your studio? Absolutely! No I’m serious – this is entirely possible. It’s all about selling your company to ‘the best,’ and ensuring them that when they join your studio, they are not just obtaining employment, but they are improving themselves as people. Let’s talk about that for a moment.


Less perks, more personal growth

For the last decade, it seems as if every other studio or startup is bragging about the perks their employees have. Perhaps employees can play arcade games in their spare time at the company, or maybe the employees at said studio/startup get to enjoy delicious, five-course meals for lunch, or they are able to walk to the second floor and get a massage for free whenever they need it. If I’m not mistaken, I believe the clothing company Threadless actually had a slide installed near the employee entrance of their facility so employees could get the thrill of ‘sliding’ before they had to get to work! Yeah, that’s awesome, but if I’m an employee that is looking to improve myself along with the studio/startup I am working for, then I care very little about perks and more about the challenges that await me.

When recruiting the best employees, talk less about the ‘perks’ that you will provide for them, and more about the challenges they will be facing and how this will improve their lives as a whole. If you can tell them a story about how the challenges you face at your studio has changed your life for the better, tell them about it. Moreover, tell them how you approach game development in a different manner. What challenges can the employee expect to solve? Which platforms, coding languages, problems, and more will they be dealing with? Find these types of questions, find answers to them, and provide them to your employees you are trying to recruit.

At the end of the day, perks such as a free shuttle to a nearby train station is awesome, but for the best employees, you know what’s even more awesome? Broadening horizons, tackling challenges that not only improve skills but employees apart from the majority of other employees in their field, and so on. The best employees want to be challenged, and if you can quench their thirst, they won’t care if they have to work in a cardboard box (okay, maybe they will, but you get the idea). As Hank Hill from King of the Hill would say, “less sizzle, more steak.”


Let your potential employees know you support them

We’ve all worked at a job where there is little-to-no room for growth. Remember your dead-end job(s) from your high school and college years? Perhaps you even experienced dead-end jobs after college. No matter the case, how did you feel knowing that when you went to work every day, this was ‘as good as it gets’ with that company? It felt pretty bad, right? How ready were you to leave that company and go onto another venture that would hopefully yield growth not only inside the company but would also help you to grow as a person as well? You were probably ecstatic.

Imagine how your potential employees would feel if they had doubts if there would be any way for them to grow professionally? They would probably be wary of joining your studio, and if there was a better offer where they knew they could grow? They would stop considering joining your studio and would go somewhere else – somewhere better.

Thus, you need to let your employees know that you support them as they strive to become the very best at their craft. I mentioned you need to let your employees know which challenges are ahead, right? Now it’s time to let them know that you support them in their quest to grow. That means if the challenges you discussed with them eventually become not enough for them to grow, then you need to assure them that you support them 100% in their continued growth.


You need to have answers to the following questions:

  • “How quickly can an employee move up in your studio?”
  • “How are employees rewarded for excellent work?”
  • “How are projects decided and assigned, and how can an employee become assigned to a particular project they want to work on?”


And the biggest question:


“How do you ensure that employees continue to grow without becoming bored?”


This is the big one, but there are ways to assure employees that you will be there for them to ensure they do not become bored and are continuously challenged. For starters, assure them that they are free to talk with you at any time regarding any concerns they may have. For example, if they want to work on a game in a different genre when they are finished with their current project, find a place to put them and let them broaden their horizons. In short, never let them feel stuck.


Let potential employees know they will make an impact on your studio

Nobody wants to feel like a statistic. I remember my days of working retail in high school and college had me feeling as if I was the latest ‘cog’ in the store, and that I could be easily replaced by someone else. Sure, this was the type of job I wasn’t going to work at forever and I knew that, but even so, nobody wants to feel as if they bring nothing of value to the table. If a potential employee realizes that they are going to be just another ‘cog,’ believe me, they’re going to go somewhere better – somewhere where they know their talents are valued.

And that’s the trick: ensure that your potential employees know their talents are valued. Ensure that your potential employees know that each project they tackle, they will feel as if they are personally involved with it from the very beginning of the project to the very end. Assure them that their hard work and their feedback are valued, and make them know that if they have any ideas for future games? Their ideas will be considered and implemented into future games.

How do you prove all of this to your potential employees? Show them proof. For example, if an employee provided you with an idea for a future game in the past and you took their idea and ran with it, provide them with proof of this happening. In short, make your potential employees know that by being on your team, they will have the ability to make a huge impact on your studio.

In the end, we all want to feel as if we are needed – that’s just human nature. As an employer, you need to make your current and future employees know that you do not see them as just ‘Employee #542.’ Instead, you need to make them realize that to you, they are vital to the success of your studio, and because they do great work, you want to return the favor by providing them with challenges that will make them grow professionally. Make them realize this, and you will attract the best employees you have ever had to your studio.

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