games industry recruiting

Gamasutra: Pay employees as little as possible

Gamasutra’s just posted an Opinion piece (so it’s not GS’s position, they’re just giving air-time to the author) about the interview process for getting a job in the video game industry.

Right up-front the author states that one of the three aims of the employer is:

“To pay as little as possible”



Don’t work for companies who have that on their agenda, unless there really aren’t any better opportunities available (hey, it’s a recession – maybe you just have to accept a second-rate job right now).

A company that wants to pay as little as possible cares less about you than they do about sucking value out of you for their profit and spitting you out once you’ve been used up. Note: this is not “making best use of their assets”, this is “carpet-bagging value-extraction”. It’s an attitude that leads to miserable work environments and unstable teams.

So, to anyone getting a job in the industry: Please stop propping-up the bad business models of the companies that do this, and work for the most decent company you can find instead.

EDIT: clarification, after several people responded to say that the statement really meant the company was just aiming to “pay no more than is necessary to secure your services”:

  • I will pay a contractor “no more than is necessary”.
  • I want more from an employee. I will pay them how much I value their contribution to the company.
  • Then when I ask or hope for more from them than 37.5 hours a week and a “I only do what it says in my job description” attitude, I can feel that the balance of payment is fair.
  • And when a contractor says “that’s not in my contract”, I’ll feel guilty for trying to sneak a freebie past them – and blame *myself*, not them, for saying no.

(NB: I like the overall idea of the article, but I object to quite a few other details, especially from the employer perspective; for instance, telling candidates to pretend to be something they’re not just in order to get the job is not appreciated, dude. Both company and candidate need to be honest in the interview, because otherwise one or both of you will get rather unhappy starting about 2 hours into your first day on the job, and it’s not a relationship that’s going to last)

5 replies on “Gamasutra: Pay employees as little as possible”

It’s capitalism… the employer always (say) wants to pay you as little as possible and you always (say, again) want to charge as much as possible

I agree, and I’ll qualify my opinion regarding why paying as little as possible is totally counter-productive. This is fairly vague because things have improved significantly and I’m still in employment at this company, so I don’t want to rock the boat. I merely want to illustrate why paying the minimum is a bad idea.

First, a little bit of background regarding my experiences so far.
I’m a recent graduate, and it’s a problem that is particularly relevant to recent graduates. When you’re fresh out of uni and wet behind the ears, it’s very easy to just say, “yes” to whatever is offered to you. After all, we’re all extremely keen to work in the games industry when we start out. Way, way too keen.

I came from a games course so I’m in a minority, but one thing that has absolutely got to change at university/college games courses is the absence of business nous. I don’t understand why I spent four years learning various things about general programming principles, maths, collision detection, shaders etc. yet the first things I encountered in my professional career was the one thing I was totally ill-equipped for — working out what I was worth, then securing it (or at least coming somewhere close to it!)

I went to the interview for a technical job. I wanted to work at the company — it seemed impressive and I had a few mates working there who enjoyed the job. This company is _not_ short of money; it’s an established developer. Long story short, I was put on the spot in the interview and, after thinking the pay would be a little less than what I had hoped for, what I was offered was significantly lower still. It wasn’t just low, it was barely minimum wage. I didn’t come to work in games for the money, but there’s low and then there’s derisory. After studying for years and achieving an excellent degree award plus doing programming & other games related stuff in my own time, I felt utterly crestfallen to have capitulated so meekly.

I was naive enough to accept their offer, thinking “it won’t be so bad, I don’t need much to live on and the job will be fun, then I will steadily work my way up and get what I’m worth”. It goes without saying I made a bad decision, but the company’s hiring policy was also short-sighted. Their policy on pay backfired big-time. It took me about three months before reality beckoned and I started to become totally dissatisfied with my lot. I certainly wasn’t the only one, either.

At the pub after work, you would constantly hear streams of bitching about pay and everything else that goes with it. When you are paid poorly, everything else becomes easier to complain about. The working practices and benefits are nice, but they are no substitute for a decent salary. At that point, if a friend had asked about the company, I would’ve told them to try elsewhere.

Anyway the crux of it is that within months of being there, a few people had started to apply for other jobs. Think about that for a second: The company is saving £x by paying lower salaries, but a high turnover rate means hiring more graduates, training them up and then doing it all again when the next lot say “stuff this”. At the time when I wanted to go elsewhere, I had gained a solid foundation and was starting to learn my trade, yet I was keen to leave. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for both parties. Companies that pay as little as possible will hold onto their employees for a honeymoon period and are guaranteed little else.

This realisation seemed to finally give various levels of management a jolt, and we were all given significant pay rises to bring us up to what I expected in the first place (nothing spectacular, but enough that I feel like I’m being taken seriously). Since then it’s been a lot better. We’re much more satisfied, the atmosphere is better, we all work harder, the pub bitching is down to a minimum and so on. It may sound shallow, but it’s the truth. You can’t expect people to stick around once they realise they’ve been taken for a ride (see: EA).

Most importantly for the company, none of us is considering leaving! We’re all learning more and more and becoming more effective at our jobs. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why this is a good thing!

My summary is simply this: Most people don’t come to work in games for the money, but that’s not an excuse to take the piss and take advantage of people. It’s counter-productive. Pay something resembling a respectable wage and it’s much better for all concerned.

Thanks. Your summary doesn’t go far enough, IMHO :). You hilight a great point here:

“When you are paid poorly, everything else becomes easier to complain about”

Fixing company morale problems is an amorphous and painfully difficult thing to achieve in any company. Think: how the heck do you do it? I’ve worked at more than one company that had “compulsory fun”. Oh, yeah, that worked *really* well.

Paying people well, paying them to the standard that you’d like them to live up to, is a great way of motivating good people to go above and beyond their jobs. Sometimes that “above and beyond” requires extra work from them, other times it requires nothing of them – their general increased happiness and comfort is enough to create the extra value all by itself (as in your example).

IMHO the standard you should be aiming for is that your staff “live to work, not work to live” – that shouldn’t be hard in the games industry. But if a company wants that, it needs to go a bit beyond just paying what it can get away with :).

“Paying people well, paying them to the standard that you’d like them to live up to, is a great way of motivating good people to go above and beyond their jobs. Sometimes that “above and beyond” requires extra work from them”

I definitely agree. Case in point: there’s a chance that I’ll have to do some unpaid overtime early next year due to something cropping up, but I don’t mind doing it. If they’d asked me half a year ago, I would’ve told them to take a running jump (or probably just hacked in the functionality that was needed in the shortest possible time).

As for enforced fun.. Oh, I bet that would be great. Adam, you’ve only got 13 pieces of flare… Come on, smile. THIS IS MEANT TO BE FUN.

By the way, I enjoy reading this blog and the diverse topics it touches upon. Keep up the good work :)

The impact of employee churn cannot be overrated. You spend more on Human Resources and recruiting, there is a large amount of time it takes for a new person to be productive (not to mention the time it takes your staff to interview and recruit new hires), if you have vacancies for extended periods of time (or even short periods of time) in project-based work like games, you are likely to have non-linearly bad schedule slips (if you know how to schedule at all).

Oh, when someone is unmotivated, sees layoffs or feels that they are being treated badly, not only are they not going to do extra work, they are often going to do the bare minimum necessary… and spend their time updating their resume and looking for a new position.

Comments are closed.