Industry Layoffs: First Person Perspective

13 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/bowbrick/1237202/

Gamasutra have been doing some fairly interesting games journalism recently, which is very encouraging in the face of so many sites that copy and paste press releases and add a bit of fluff around them.

This article, interviewing people recently laid off from games companies, has a few interesting perspectives from job hunters as well as wider commentary on the wave of redundancies and studio closures currently hitting the games industry.

Of course, layoffs significantly hamper fresh graduates by freeing up some very experienced people:

“I’m still looking,” he says, “but it’s far harder than I expected. While there seem to be quite a few jobs out there, there are also quite a few people hunting, which means that employers are now able to find the perfect candidate who ticks all the boxes.”

“In the past, a candidate could fulfill 90% of the role and it would be understood that the remaining 10% could be worked on. However, that ‘100% candidate’ is potentially out there in the large job-seeking pool. So the difference between getting that job and missing out could be a very minor feature or attribute.”

One of the things we’ve been discussing at the office is that a lot of firms, games industry or not, are using the credit crunch as an excuse to trim their more optimistic hires away, or even shut a mismanaged firm down while there’s still some of it left. It also functions as a signal to shareholders in other businesses, affecting confidence and making further layoffs likely. As the article and later a commenter point out:

“These layoffs are not the result of the economic downturn that is affecting other industries,” Mencher maintains. “Our industry is having record sales. What we’re seeing is a combination of the not-so-unusual year-end layoffs that we see every year at this time when games have been shipped… plus a few companies that are having troubles, like EA, which has been struggling for some two and a half years.”

These layoffs often come as a result of simple human instinct, much the same way the stock market’s rise or fall is often dependent upon investors feeling confident or scared. If Company A hears constant reports of how bad the economy is, then they also know that their shareholders will be worried, and so they go ahead and secure the bottom line with layoffs…regardless of whether or not actual sales figures would support that course of action.

The comments in particular are at a very high standard for an online news source.

(CC image by Bowbrick)

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NC Allstars

14 10 2008

It’s just over a month since speculation surfaced on cuts at NCsoft Brighton, with the situation ultimately culminating in the closure of their dev studio with almost 70 redundancies as a result. Wired Sussex pointed out that the industry in the region is still quite strong, with many companies hiring in the region.

Some of the ex-NCsoft staff have also taken a very proactive approach to finding freelancing work. Not only did we see them brushing up their linkedin pages a few weeks before rumours started circulating, but they’ve also set up ncallstars.net, a simple but information dense recruiting hub leading to more information and contact details for various ex-NCsoft staff.

Marek Bronstring, formerly a game designer there, also says on his blog gameslol that some of the ex-dev team have been pitching their project to other publishers, it seems with the blessing of NCsoft:

We had a spectacular team at NCsoft and I’m happy to say that we aren’t parting ways just yet. We have been re-pitching our project to various investors and publishers with the goal to establish a new studio (that’s not our final URL or company name, but I like that logo too much not to link to it). NCsoft Europe has actually been very supportive of our efforts to keep the team together. While it sucks to be laid off, it’s great that NCsoft still wants us to succeed.

It’s good to see so much activity in the wake of such awful news, and I wish everyone formerly of NCsoft good luck.





Games Research Problems

20 08 2008

Richard Bartle has weighed in on the current state of affairs between academia and the industry, talking about former polytechnics now being the best universities to get graduates from for the games industry, since they’re more willing to take risks.

the best undergraduate degrees for game development in the UK come from Abertay, Coventry, Derby, Nottingham Trent, Portsmouth, Sheffield Hallam, Staffordshire and Teeside.

We’d add Imperial College London and London Metropolitan University to that list, since both have some heavyweight CS and visualisation degree courses that have successfully led people into the industry (Technically, LMU was founded in 2002, but its constituent parts are well over a century old).

Overall though, Bartle is correct. Traditional, more established universities are way behind on games education in comparison to newer ones. There are also massive problems with games research:

Modern universities focus on training in the way that vocational schools do, says Bartle, while older ones have a tradition of education.

“The difference is that training is the acquisition of skills and knowledge as a result of being taught, while education is the acquisition of skills and knowledge as a result of learning — a more rounded, think-for-yourself ideal,” says Bartle.

The problem is, these modern training houses are doing their jobs, producing plenty of adequately-trained would-be games professionals — “But because the older universities aren’t doing theirs, we’re getting too few educated people,” Bartle says.

And higher education funding in the UK never goes to computer games research, says Bartle — they fund “games as education” research, not games research.

“We also see games as AI, economics, psychology, sociology, therapy, training…There’s nothing wrong with this, but we’re seeing games for everything except for games,” he says.

[…]

“Where will the games industry be if the only public money available is for games-as-anything-but-games?” asks Bartle.

It’s good to see a game developer acknowledge this problem. Many, tied to 18 month production cycles and thinking only of recruiting, are heavily biased toward vocational skills and care little for theory. Academics who seem to be working on the issue are, as Bartle says, tending to go for “Games and *”

Not many people are doing pure games PHDs. In fact, the only one I can immediately think of is Robin Hunicke.

(CC image “Teaching Math or Something” posted to flickr by foundphotoslj)





Rare Graduates

7 02 2008

Rare Ltd, Twycross

Nick Burton, Senior Software Engineer for Rare, has a piece up on Gamasutra about the way games companies treat graduates. There’s plenty of good advice in there, for graduates and games companies alike:

I guess what I’m getting at is that you can train a graduate to become a key part of your studio, in our case to become a Rare-type developer, the team player who’s like a close friend that you trust and respect. Yes, you get experienced hires like this too, but they are much harder to find, so it’s easier to make them most of the time.