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Catapharact
30-07-06, 12:01
The Game Industry Skills Shortage

Its an issue being exacerbated by a number of factors, with next-gen ramp up, the resulting specialization in workforces and lack of experienced staff all cited as reasons.

The lure of working in other climes have also contributed; and when so many studios around the world are in perma-crunch to finish new titles for console launches or in time for a publishers financial year, the pressures will increase. Thats something many, from studio leader to recruiter, are in agreement on.

"It is abundantly apparent that there is a shortage of talent for the incredible hiring frenzy that has been building up in our industry," says Mary Margaret Walker of recruitment agency Mary-Margaret.

"Some of the existing barriers to entry in our industry are contributing to the qualified candidate pool failing to grow fast enough to meet the hiring needs."

Specialization within studio workloads is also having a detrimental effect on the situation not just the production of games themselves, but in the finding the right people for the role.

Raising the Barriers

At a time when the likes of Autodesk estimates that teams are requiring three artists for every programmer, its also not uncommon to find (amongst the bigger teams both in-house and independent) those with roles solely dedicated to tasks such as thread synchronization, or just model rigging.

But for some the numbers just dont add up there simply isnt enough people to fill all the roles available in games development. What coder or producer, after all, has a few years experience making games for formats that either arent out yet or have only been on the market for six months?

"Clearly, there are almost zero staff with next-gen console experience, says Ed Daly, head of Kuju Brighton, one of the many dwevelopers keenly eyeing expansion. "Weve managed to ramp up our in-house art and animation team relatively easily. Though, as ever, programmers are in short supply."

And what of graduates? With university courses accredited and the number of games co urses rising, how useful are those emerging from the three or four years of study? In a perfect world, these degree-clad kids with game design fire in their eyes and passion in their bellies would all go straight from campus to crunch. Certainly, thats the idea behind things like Dare To Be Digital and Codemasters attempts to draw a line between graduation and game studio. But the reality of isnt always so inspiring.

"I was a little surprised when during one interview for work experience, it was remarked that Id do better to spend my time working in QA," said one current student that asked to remain anonymous. Such errant opinions may, of course, be just one offs certainly amongst specialist firms like Geomerics, graduates are a great answer to any questions of a staff crisis.

Chris Doran, CEO of the the geometry-based tools company, says expansion efforts are moving apace: "One reason is that we are not obsessing about people having five years industry experience, but are willing to consider bright post graduates and post doctoral students fresh out of university. I believe that the industry has got to get better at doing this, which means putting good mentoring programs in place. It is easier in the long run to train bright people into good habits than it is to go around poaching staff from other developers."

Daly agrees, rebuffing the avenue some studios have conside red taking staff from other entertainment fields: There is some scope for looking outside of games for experienced artists and animators working in high-end CGI from other sectors though this is not an alternative to training up the bulk of current teams."

The Safe Answer

Walkers answer is that "a new kind of hiring needs to take place." She says, "The safe answer is not to wait for the person with the perfect skill set and background to walk in the door. The safe answer and the one that will build a solid team and get the project completed on time is to hire people who have the aptitudes needed to be successful in the role, the personality and attitude that meshes with the culture of the company. This applies to all disciplines."

Certainly, something has to give as studios hunt out their required handfuls of extra designers, new animators or engineers especially when the lure of other work in other territories is impossible to ignore as well. But whether it is a problem that will get worse before it gets better, however, is something that remains to be seen.