EA recruiter: game degrees like a fashion accessory

EA's Head of European Recruitment says game-centric university courses are too vocational, but dismisses claims of a European recruitment crisis.

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BRIGHTON, UK--While Electronic Arts projects like Spore, Crysis, and Burnout Paradise generate the most press coverage for the publisher, it's been in the limelight almost as much for its high-profile recruitment moves lately. First, there was the appointment of John Ricitello as EA's new CEO, and then the company picked up former Activision Publishing president Kathy Vrabeck for its casual division and Peter Moore, the corporate face of Microsoft's gaming division, to head up EA Sports.

One of the men in charge of recruitment at EA (in Europe at least) is Matthew Jeffery. Jeffery took a break from his duties overseeing over 350 hires in one of the world's biggest games companies to deliver a Develop Conference presentation titled "The Pitfalls of Game Development." In a lecture focusing on the industrywide issues of employee recruitment and retention, Jeffery dismissed any recruitment crisis as a complete myth, argued that the current crop of game-related degrees were like fashion accessories, and discussed the aftermath of the infamous "EA Spouse" incident.

Arguing against the existence of a recruitment crisis in the games industry, Jeffery claims that the UK and Europe possess the best creative talent in the world. He cited the Canadian team behind EA's own FIFA series and animation studios such as Pixar and Dreamworks as examples of companies actively recruiting from Europe to secure the talent that they need. Add this to the fact that workers are increasingly mobile and willing to move to another continent, he said, and the bigger issue for Europe is not in creating talent, but actually retaining it.

The solution, Jeffery claims, it to move away from hiring from within the industry in favour of talent straight out of university. He claims that graduates are confident, enthusiastic and ambitious, and create an internal culture of promotion.

However, Jeffery also stated that EA prefers graduates who have completed more traditional courses such as maths, physics and computer science over those with more specialised game-related degrees. He expressed concern these courses were creating too many graduates trying to break into the industry and the degrees themselves were not providing students with the skills that EA needs. Of the most concern to Jeffery were courses in game design--of the last 350 hires made at EA, only two were in entry-level game design, and neither of them had took a degree in that area.

Ending the discussion on the EA Spouse incident (where the disgruntled partner of an EA employee complained vocally and publicly about the unreasonable hours EA staff were forced to work), Jeffery claims that the company has learnt from it and is now promoting a more healthy work/life balance. This was of particular concern in an industry adapting to a maturing workforce--employees who have spent 20 years working in games are now likely to have families, he said.

Nevertheless, Jeffery reluctantly agreed that crunch time is still inevitable not just in game development but in many parts of life, and as many games developers are perfectionists, some of the extra hours at the end of a project can be self-inflicted. The solution, Jeffery claimed, is better planning at the beginning of the development cycle.

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