Game development has become a significant industry in Finland, expanding its workforce every year. As a continuation of previous research on employment within the game industry, we studied how Finnish game companies recruit new employees and what issues affect their recruitment choices. Previous research has mainly focused on game industry students applying for industry jobs. The results may be found here: Doomed – Employment difficulties among game industry students and How to attract the game company’s interest when searching for a job? Let the pros guide you.
A total of 12 game industry companies took part in the study, seven of which were based in Helsinki and five elsewhere in Finland. Company employees responded to semi-structured interview questions about recruitment, showing which factors affected company recruitment choices and what type of workers the companies were seeking. The interviews were conducted via remote interview in April-June 2020.
The companies were divided into two size classes, depending on how many workers they employed in Finland. Both classes included six companies. When interviewed, the smaller companies employed less than 40 people, while the larger companies employed more than 40 people each. Two of the larger companies represented international corporations.
Company job advertizing
Small companies used very few job ads as a recruitment channel; the volume of applications was also meager, on average less than 10 per available position. Small companies received open applications — mostly for internships — about once a month. The most important channels for finding new potential employees were personal networks and interning, which companies also felt were easier and cheaper as methods.
The larger companies surveyed used job advertizing more often and they received between 10 – 300 applications per open position. Workers were sought out globally and ads were published most often on LinkedIn, Games Jobs Finland, and ArtStation. Large companies received many hundreds of open applications per year, but some of the companies declined to handle such applications.
The companies that received lots of applications estimated the biggest reasons to be the high general awareness of the company’s products as well as their reputation as an employer. Companies that received fewer applications said reasons for the lower turnout were likely to be low awareness of the company’s brand and/or location, and that open positions were rarely advertized. Many companies from both size classes had also used headhunters in their recruitment processes. One company said they regularly attend recruitment events and consider them an important asset, but all the other companies said they almost never attended them and considered its impact on recruitment to be marginal.
Positions that did not require extensive expertise received the most applications. Likewise, fewer applicants expressed interest in positions with expert requirements. Most interviewees mentioned that experienced game programmers were difficult to find. Programmers beginning their work with the Unity software were numerous among the applicants, but programmers with experience in C++ or UE were largely absent. The positions of game tester and community manager received the most applications. People also applied actively to the position of artist, but the quality of the applications varied greatly. Some companies found it hard to promote applications for positions not directly related to game development. Companies speculated that the game industry may not be generally considered a desirable workplace for people with backgrounds in business education. Large companies typically called in 3 – 5 applicants per position, while small companies tended to hire most of the applicants they interviewed.
Large companies had recruited some 140 new employees in total over the course of the previous year, while small companies had recruited around 30. Almost all new recruits had previous experience in the game industry. The extent of their experience ranged from one year to 25 years, and most had spent several years in the industry. Some companies only hired highly experienced game development veterans, while others hired less experienced applicants. Some large companies frequently had the means to offer paid internships, for which participants were also recruited without any prior work experience.
Small company recruits almost all lived in Finland already, as did most new hirees in large companies. The more people a company recruited, the larger the proportion of non-Finnish recruits. With the exception of one person, all those recruited into positions from outside of Finland were hired by companies based in Helsinki. Small companies reported that recruiting workers from Finland was easier, and that they lacked the resources to seek recruitment outside of the country.
Large companies competed internationally over high-skilled professionals. Migration always proved an impediment to the recruitment process — especially for recruits from outside of the EU. Many respondents emphasized the suitability of the recruits in corporate culture as a major element in recruiting those already living in Finland, and said that the main reason for hiring foreign employees was their expertise.
Factors affecting the choice of recruit
Almost all responses to questions about factors affecting the picking of new employees emphasized previous work experience. Most companies sought out only applicants with industry experience. Many companies that hired junior recruits brought up the possibility of making up for their lack of working life experience by rewarding their personal dedication.
Portfolios were considered very important, and many of the respondents called them the most important criterion for choosing artists. The importance of the portfolio differed among other positions, but it was usually considered to be a plus. Many said that proof of ability was most important in picking an applicant, but they did not limitany forms of presentation for said proof.
“Soft skills become hard skills.”
Some respondents said that having experience with a specific genre or scale of game was a significant merit. Respondents also held motivation in high esteem, and considered personal dedication, portfolios, or published games to signify high motivation. Many also found it important for the applicant to express interest in the specific position for which they were applying.
Most respondents considered the applicants’ self-expression skills to be important. They were also combined with other communication skills and fluency in English. Many respondents said the importance of communication skills depended on the position, and some emphasized it as one of the most important attributes. Many also said that even if self-expression were not to be considered an outright criterion for qualification, such skills were considered significant in the interview process.
“Hiring people without experience is one of the hardest things what to do. Cant look at the resume. Have to look at the potential. One way to measure is to look at what they have done with their time.”
The importance of networks and contacts split opinions among respondents; especially small companies emphasized their importance in choosing a worker, and a majority of the recruits were previously familiar to the company’s employees and came with positive recommendations. Large companies emphasized that they always recruited applicants according to skill, and proofs of ability were more central to the choosing process. Networks and contacts helped applicants secure interviews in cases where they had an in-house reference, but they did not affect the final choice. Some respondents also said that networks and contacts could be helpful when applying to certain specific positions within the company.
When asked about factors used to rule out applicants from the interviews, the responses again emphasized work experiences — or lack thereof. The quality of CVs and motivational letters also strongly affected the likelihood of being called for an interview, especially in those companies that received a high volume of applications. Especially for artist applicants, a missing or inadequate portfolio was the main reason for ruling some of them out. The biggest problems for the interview situations were poor communication skills, low aptitude in the English language, and a lack of suitability for the workplace culture. Most companies also asked applicants to perform various tasks, and success or failure in them clearly affected the outcome.
The importance of a degree
The importance of an academic degree was not a point of particular interest, especially among more experienced applicants. Junior positions were filled with degree qualifications somewhat in mind, but even more important to the respondents was the contents or focus of the studies involved. The credibility of the institution and the level of the degree were generally considered to have some effect on the choices of the recruit. Some respondents said they hoped that the volume and awareness of game industry graduate degrees would increase, and become more central to the recruitment process. These respondents also said they wanted to collaborate more with schools and educational institutions.
“Degree is not that important. It is important for trainees, but not for experienced people. For data science role we want PhD’s, otherwise not important.”
Many responses referred to two special cases when a degree was clearly involved in the recruitment. The first case centered on the residence permit process of workers from outside the EU; permits were more readily granted to applicants with degrees in higher education. The second was about the position of data analyst or data scientist, for whom having a PhD. in a field of mathematics or technology was considered more than suitable.
Almost every company surveyed had employed interns. Two of the small companies had employed a high number of interns in relation to the salaried employees. Only some of these had been hired directly into the company in question. Some started work in some other game company after their internship, but most continued with their education after the internship period was over.
“We are insisting that even interns have their saying in the projects they are working on.”
Large companies took on a steady 1 – 2 interns per year, most of whom signed contracts after the internship. These internships usually came with a salary. Large companies said they sought to only accept interns whom they could recruit after the trial period ended, whereas small companies said they wanted to offer internships to students, as well.
“We actually have employed two people from internship programs and this was very good experience from our side.”
Securing an internship was likely to be easier for applicants if the company had positive preconceptions about students from a certain school. Some respondents said they would directly contact certain educational institutions when seeking interns.
- Small game companies trust in networks and contacts when seeking new employees, and tend to hire local applicants. Large companies purchase job ads and seek out the most qualified professionals around the world.
- Previous job experience was the most important aspect in recruitment. Lack of working life experience could be supplemented by the applicant’s personal dedication.
- Portfolios are the most important way for an applicant to present their skills and motivation.
- Communication skills are important or very important depending on the specific position, but especially in job applications and interviews.
- Academic degrees held almost no importance if the applicant had work experience, but they may be of help to an applicant seeking their first position.
- Game industry companies regularly employ interns, but such positions are extremely scarce. Internships often lead to employment in game companies.