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  • Edge Magazine Issue 220 Get Into Games: David Smith, Interactive Selection

    Mentoring prospective students and employees has become something of a free-for-all over recent years, what with publishers, developers and even governments using the latest online channels, among other things, to pick the fruit straight from the tree. Not that it bothers the learned industry recruiter, whose role can extend far beyond the knowledge and self-interest of employers. David Smith founded Interactive Selection in 1996, its success coming not through paid advertising but pure word of mouth. The company has offices in Japan and the Nordic territories, and conducts its own developer interviews on its website.

    Thanks to things like forums, modding and trade shows, the game industry gets closer to its audience by the year. How does that affect the job of the recruiter?
    You haven’t mentioned social networking, which is probably a bigger influence than the other three. Sites like LinkedIn are a godsend for internal recruiters in particular, as well as for people with their own LinkedIn profile who want to talk directly to employers. But in terms of the role of the recruiter – and yes, it’s changing all the time – I’d say that recruiters these days are much less a necessary middleman than a necessary guide or confidante, or even a trusted professional advisor. That can be for employers as well, not just jobseekers. We offer that extra bit of expertise in what is a very fast and changing market.
    But aren’t developers trying to step into that mentor role themselves to an extent?
    The difference between that and a jobseeker talking to a recruiter is that developers only have the one job to offer, which is with their particular company. Recruiters are paid to have a knowledge of the overall market and don’t just offer a portfolio of potential jobs – they can also talk to jobseekers on a job-by-job basis. If you’ve got a job with Quantic Dream, they’re not going to offer you a job at Ubisoft down the road – they’re interested in their immediate needs, so they’re never going to be able to offer the advice that we give, which is really to look after people over their whole career.
    What tends to happen when a company like Realtime Worlds goes into administration?
    Realtime Worlds is an interesting situation because there have been companies going up to Dundee to meet RTW staff, or offering to meet them. But it’s been very public. There’ve actually been press releases about Sega, Sony, Activision, Blizzard, Crytek and CCP going up to talk directly to RTW staff. Now, historically, if a recruiter had done that – and don’t forget the recruiter’s working on behalf of the developers who can’t find their way up to Dundee – they would be called ambulance-chasers. Recruiters have been known to stand in car parks as people have walked out the building with the doors closed behind them giving out business cards. That’s always gone on yet, in the RTW case, people are trying to highlight themselves as the saviours of the employees. In reality, there’s an element of self-interest, and that’s always been the case whenever a high-profile developer with top talent is in serious trouble, certainly over the last five years.
    RTW hired the most talented people they could find in the industry, and because of the MMO genre they were hiring a lot of people from outside the UK, because obviously the UK’s not a hotbed of online games. They were hiring people from outside of Europe, getting them work permits and that kind of thing. And these are the people who are going to be really stuffed now because you can’t transfer work permits, so they may have to go back the country they originally came from.
    What you advise people who look at that and balk at the idea of working in the industry at the moment?
    I don’t think people from the UK industry, or people thinking about working the UK, should be overly concerned. It’s obviously a blow for the industry, and it’s a blow for Scotland in particular, but the factors at RTW were atypical, and so it doesn’t call into doubt, necessarily, other developers within the UK.
    Can something like that destabilise an ecosystem like Dundee or Newcastle?
    Some of that depends on how big that ecosystem is. Don’t forget that Cohort Studios had 50-odd people in Dundee and went down a week or two before RTW, so there’s no chance of that particular area being wiped out. But there can be a dent there. It’s a bit like Midway Newcastle and CCP, because there’s talent that’s available and would prefer to work locally if they can, so people who are looking to build a team or studio locally are going to be well-received. And there’s enough developers doing well around the world for top talent to be snapped up. So as far as Dundee is concerned, it’ll be a blip but there may well be four or five smaller developers springing up as a result.
    Where does your role start and finish during a candidate’s overall journey?
    That’s an interesting one because technically – legally – the job of the recruiter is just to make the introduction between the jobseeker and the employer. That literally takes a split-second in terms of an email hitting the relevant person’s inbox – but I would argue that the job of the recruiter never ends. We’re representing people over their careers, not just for the next job. That’s certainly the principle we’ve tried to adhere to.


    In one of your interviews, Quantic Dream refers to understanding their heritage and ‘passing the test’ during interview. What kinds of things should applicants brace themselves for in general?
    All developers are different and all the interview processes are different. Fortunately, the UK and European industry is nowhere near what happens in the US, where people go for all-day interviews and it’s a test of stamina as much as creative and technical skills. Every recruiter at every level will tell people looking for a job to do their homework, and because every company is different you need to play their games and be able to comment critically on what you like and don’t like.
    It’s also important for people to have not only credibility, but also a form of desirability. They’re going to have to add value. And whilst that’s very difficult for people new to the industry, it helps the developer tremendously if the jobseeker has a reasonable idea of what he or she wants. It’s difficult to say you need to be a little bit arrogant and trust your instincts, but for the really big developers like Quantic Dream, they do like someone who’s sure of themselves. Provided that self-assurance is real, I think people get credit for it.
    How else do things differ in the US?
    Interviews in Europe or the UK are a fairly standard format – not forgetting that, besides the face-to-face interview, there may be technical tests to take. But I was quite shocked a few years ago at GDC, where I went to a presentation with the hiring manager from Obsidian, and he was telling everyone what their process was. You turned up at nine o’clock and, over the next eight hours or so, were interviewed by everyone in the company. Then you were called in at the end of the day and quite craftily asked the questions you were asked at the beginning. And if you couldn’t get on with just about everyone in the company and stay focused when your mind was deadened… It wasn’t just about stamina but about: do you fit in? One of my initiatives at Interactive Selection has been the issue of women in the games market. You can imagine that, in that kind of eight–hour stamina test where people in the company are looking to hire someone in their own image, if the company’s full of blokes, girls might find it quite difficult to share most of the common aspects of the average male game developer.
    There is an argument that, in these kinds of instances, that you should be represented by a recruiter who knows what you’ll be going through before you go to these places. That’s a classic reason why people represented by a recruiter are more likely to be successful than people doing it on their own.
    You have a presence in Japan as well as the UK and Nordic region. What’s the truth about Westerners getting jobs over there?
    It’s almost impossible to get a job in a Japanese developer unless you speak fluent Japanese. There are one or two development studios that have been set up by Westerners – mainly Americans – who have hired people in the past from overseas. We’ve helped bring those people to Japan, but the Japanese economy is still very poor. Japanese game developers recognise they need to hire people from around the world so that their games sell globally, but the harsh reality is that Japanese developers are struggling even more than in the West.
    In fact, we’ve found situations where people have been successfully matched with a developer but the developer’s been unable to get the work permits, because there are people out of work in Japan. The government’s been conspiring, just as it does in the UK and other countries, to make it even more difficult for someone from overseas to come and work in their home market. That was one of the reasons why we thought it wasn’t a good time to invest a great deal in Japan.
    Is there such a thing as a universal portfolio for each discipline, or do you have to tailor for the company you’re applying to?
    The most successful weapon in a candidate’s arsenal is going to be credits on successful games. But if we’re talking about people looking to get into the industry at a relatively junior level, or progressing from that level, then of course the portfolio is very important. It needs to be focused on the employers that people are looking to hire. So, bearing in mind that portfolios can be websites and things like that, you don’t want your holiday snaps up there as well as everything else. And you don’t want to spread yourself so thin that you’re a jack of all trades and master of none. There’s really no such thing as a universal portfolio.
    And what if you do find yourself employed on a product like APB? Given some of the review scores, how might an employer interpret that?
    Generally, a lot of hirers look at sites like Metacritic when people have credits on their CV, and if they’re working on games that don’t score well, then they’ll rule them out for interview purposes. The quality and success of games on a CV do matter. With something like APB, I think employers are more likely to pay attention to the fact that, even though the game is new and not yet successful, it is an MMO and they’ve been doing some interesting things. So because it’s a relatively new genre as far as the UK is concerned, it wouldn’t matter a jot. The fact is that they’re working for a well-established and recognised company, and it’s struggled for reasons that aren’t necessarily to do with individual employees. People who worked on APB will be in big demand.
    There was uproar recently when QuickStart Global left flyers shaped as Canadian passports lying around the GameHorizon conference. What’s that all about?
    That was somebody whose business is to set up subsidiaries overseas, in countries like India and Canada. It’s been successful and companies like Sumo Digital and Monumental have used that same company to set up in India. So it has worked, but they were trying to do the same thing in Canada and I guess they were a little overzealous, really trying to get developers to take advantage of Canadian tax benefits. They seemed to be targeting individual developers and that got everyone very excited about people poaching from the UK. When anyone talks about the brain drain from the UK, it’s a bit of a red herring because the UK is brain-draining people from Central and Eastern Europe as fast as they can. People working in Poland or the Czech Republic, or even France and Germany: if UK developers can attract them here then they will do. Brain drains work from typically low-cost countries to those with a higher standard of living, so yes, people from UK want to work in the US, but likewise people from Eastern and Central Europe are dying to get a job in Western Europe. It’s difficult to talk about national boundaries in games development.
    Thanks to Edge Online – Full article was first published at

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