1/29/2013

Working in gamedev: HRM

Here comes the cecond part of the "working in gamedev" cycle. For the first part - you can visit here. It was about the atmosphere in gamedev. This part will be a little bit more managerial - I wanna talk about Human Resources Management. 

For those who don't know it, HR splits into two main categories: one is "hard HR", which means all the stuff related to payments, benefits, vacation days, work agreements - all the stuff that is mandatory for all the companies if they want to hire employees. There is also the "soft HR" that deals with things like employer branding (how the company is perceived by potential employees), motivation, talent development, recruitment, coaching, leadership... The list goes on, as soft HR is a field where people constantly come up with new ideas that become more or less trendy and widely misused for propaganda rather than actually increasing the satisfaction of employees.

I happen to have a Master's degree in HRM. I have worked in HR for some time as well and you wouldn't believe how many brilliant theories on team building, motivation and personal development I have heard of. In all the places I worked before, lots of these theories were well-known. The HR departments often had more people than an average gamedev studio. Still, the only means of motivation they could use effectively was salary. The only means of team building was an occasional "conference" causing boredom in the day, double vision in the night and extreme hangover the next day. Personal development in 90% of the cases were position name changes from "junior manager" to "manager" and then "senior manager".

Corporate HRM often claims to treat everyone as an individual while applying unified management methods and programs.


How does it work in gamedev?

Hard HR works pretty much like everywhere else. If you are used to corporate approach, you are probably familiar with HR system or applications on the intranet, where you can manage your vacation days, check payment grade and see the number of overhours you have accumulated, based on the times on the entrance/exit gates. If you happen to find a job in Blizzard, EA or Square-Enix, you most likely have a chance to see this kind of systems too. Most of the time though, even studios that are widely recognized for their games, can have no such things, just like small companies of any other type. All the vacation days, absences, overhours, you need to count by yourself or trust the person that is supposed to do it. On the plus side - every request can be handled face-to-face in 5-10 minutes. In big companies, where everything is "one click away" it often means that after you click, someone needs to accept it, then someone else needs to verify it and you end up feeling grateful that at least one of these functions isn't outsourced and that getting the acceptance only takes 48 hours max.

Soft HR is where the main difference exists. Would you believe that studios employing over 150 people can have no HR manager? That recruitment is being done from scratch by Team Leaders? That "Jobs" sections of their sites are often so out-of-date that not a single position mentioned there is vacant or needed? There are of course some reasons for that. One is level specialization. In many cases, an HR manager conducting a general interview with a candidate is wasting everyone's time. People in gamedev are most often hired based on strictly determined sets of skills that can be verified with an art test or portfolio and cannot be assessed by an HR manager. Second reason would be the market size. In most countries the industry is so small that every Team Leader looking for a specialist knows exactly the names of people with skills and experience he needs. The international recruitment isn't as popular as you might think (you need a really strong brand for it).

Paradoxically, managing a horde of individuals proves to be easier than it looks - in a creative environment lots of HR tasks just take care of themselves.

Recruitment is of course only one of many elements of soft HR - who is taking care of the other ones? Well, in gamedev, lots of problems take care of themselves. There is nothing more motivating than seeing the results of your work in a short period of time. Most of the stuff you make or help to make gets integrated into the game as quickly as possible, so in a relatively short time you can see your drawing modelled, animated and attacking you. It really is an amazing feeling. People do meet after hours on their own, play multiplayer games together... Integration conferences happen, but they are just a cherry on top, not the sole means of letting people get to know each other.

Being a dynamic and project-based industry, gamedev takes care of talent development without any special programs. For example, you are a 3D artist. You start your career making a game X for 2 or 3 years. If your skill improved enough to become a senior 3D artist in any other project, you will almost certainly be offered such a role (gamedev needs lots of specialists, so a skilled person rarely has problems finding a job) - in your current company or any other in your country or abroad, depending on your mobility. People's loyalty lies with projects rather than companies. If they want to do an RPG and their current company is making third shooter in a row, they will migrate as soon as they have a chance. To do something new, to work on new skills and new type of project. This of course means that the industry can be cruel for those that lack initiative. There won't be any programs that will artificially encourage you to broaden your horizons. 

Another really nice thing is that people in gamedev rarely have problems sharing their experience. If you are willing to learn, you will always find someone to teach you. Mentoring and coaching relationships appear more naturally when people's tasks interconnect. There's no real need for company-coordinated mentorship programs. There's this "new" HR trend called Lifelong Learning and lately poor corporate employees are being bombarded with encouragement to learn and develop their potential towards their personal and professional goals (or some other mumbo-jumbo). Luckily in gamedev, people rarely need incentive too learn, so there's no annoying, bullshit-driven HR manager doing anything he or she can to make our jobs seem less miserably pointless.



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