August 5, 2023

8 Employee Retention Strategies for Gaming Industry Leaders

Rhiannon Stone
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The gaming industry is having a moment. Its growth is unprecedented—and experts predict the number of users will skyrocket to 3.1 billion by 2027.

But even while the industry thrives, gaming companies are finding it hard to retain employees. At 22.6%, the gaming sector’s turnover rate is well above the average range of 12 to 20%. Employees love how challenging and exciting the industry is but, ultimately, they’re looking for bigger pay cheques, less overtime, and more creative control over their work.

To stay competitive, companies need to find ways to hold onto top talent—and it’s not necessarily a case of raising their salaries. 

In this article, we investigate why employee turnover rates are so high and share eight retention strategies for the gaming industry.  We’ve got examples, resources, and expert insights, so you can take an evidence-based approach to boosting retention.

3 reasons why turnover is high for the gaming industry

If HR teams don’t get clear feedback from ex-employees, it’s tricky to pinpoint the exact causes of high turnover. Depending on your company’s size, location, and industry niche, there could be various underlying reasons. 

That’s not the only way turnover rates can be mystifying: “Retention rates are rarely consistent—there are peaks and troughs,” says Viki Freeman, Chief Strategy Officer at AirShip Interactive. Seeing peaks and troughs is much more normal than, say, seeing no turnover at all. “As a benchmark, I’d say an overall turnover of 10% is healthy and natural,” says Viki.

If you are seeing unexpectedly high turnover rates, here are the top three most common reasons:

1. Widespread skills shortages

While the gaming industry is booming—so is the need for talent. This rapid growth has outstripped the supply of skilled workers which means businesses have to compete for employees. 

And it’s all exacerbated by the rise of remote work. People can work from anywhere in the world, giving you access to a global hiring pool—which you’re also sharing with major gaming companies.

“Larger studios are able to pay above market average so there’s an element of salary trapping happening there,” says Viki. “Higher revenue means they can be a more generous employer, which puts smaller studios at a disadvantage.” 

From salaries to flexible working, everything you have to offer employees is being compared to that global market, meaning you have to work extra hard to stand out and hire top talent.

2. A lack of creative control

Budgetary constraints, time pressure, and executive decisions can force development teams to change direction. But employees may become dissatisfied and unengaged when they have no autonomy over their work. 

Limited creativity can have a significant impact on retention. A report by IGDA found that 76% of developers chose to go self-employed “to make the content they wanted to make” and 54% “to have more control”. Is that any wonder when gaming is an aspirational career that many professionals chose due to their love of video games?

3. High competition

The gaming industry can be a competitive place with big projects and tight deadlines. This may lead to friction and dissatisfaction as teams work hard to complete on time. 

Some employees work longer hours to finish tasks so they can outshine their peers. In fact, IGDA found 47% of gaming industry employees reported working long days in the lead-up to a deadline.

For some junior recruits, this might be an exciting challenge. But employees' priorities can change with experience and different personal circumstances. When that happens, they may choose careers in lower-pressure industries like software development and tech. 

However, the pressure can be alleviated when employees feel valued by the company. They’ll realize they can adjust their tempo and don’t have to choose between following their passion or, say, starting a family.

How to retain your top employees

While the gaming industry has its share of challenges, it’s nothing companies can’t fix. Here are the top strategies to build high-performing, engaged teams at your business.

1. Champion work-life balance

Faced with an impending deadline, gaming industry employees may work longer hours or ‘crunch’ to get results. Research shows many of them see it as a necessary, even good practice. But that doesn’t mean crunch should ever be part of your working culture. 

It’s no secret that overworking takes a toll on our physical and mental health. In fact, studies show long hours can impair judgment and reduce awareness. The same studies also show that crunch makes teams less productive than if they were working a standard 9 to 5 working week.

Since crunch is so embedded in the industry culture, it’s not enough to ban it at your organization. You need to advocate for work-life balance and actually give employees the tools to achieve it. 

For example, you could try a four-day working week like indie company Crows Crows Crows. No matter what deadlines are looming, founder William Pugh decided to make Fridays a day off to combat burnout. He says that productivity has remained consistent and “it just makes people happier.” 

Otherwise, flexible working arrangements could make your workforce up to 90% more productive. UK-based company AirShip Interactive has a hybrid working policy and offers remote hours to both local and international employees. This means workers can choose their own working conditions and schedules.

But, as Viki notes, it’s important to consider each individual team member and support their needs. She says, “We expect juniors to be in [the office] more than anybody else so they can learn through one-on-one interaction from their peers.”

2. Create learning and development opportunities 

Long hours aren’t the only obstacle to an engaging work environment where employees can perform their best. New trends constantly reshape the gaming industry, meaning workers need continuous development to stay updated with the latest software and techniques. But 39% of gaming employees say their workplace doesn’t offer enough training.

Investing in L&D could be a win-win for companies and employees. You can plug skills gaps by creating the team members you need instead of hiring them. Of course, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to training. The gaming industry encompasses diverse cultures, roles, and skill sets across various specialized domains. For example, a software developer will have different training needs than a tester or an analyst.

One solution is to provide employees with a range of training materials to fill skills gaps and meet people’s development needs. For example, software company Bazaarvoice uses Learnerbly to give each employee a learning budget and access to resources from over 200 training providers. Learnerbly includes resources built in collaboration with gaming clients for their employees—from providers like Pluralsight, Skillshare, IAMAG, and Materclass. That means Bazaarvoice’s employees can learn anything from management techniques to coding depending on their position, experience, and individual preferences.

Pro tip

Don’t know where to start with your L&D strategy? Check out our guide to utilizing your L&D budget effectively.   

With more focus on learning and development, workers also need more time to commit to training. Otherwise, they can’t make the most of the opportunities their company offers.

Viki suggests allocating specific hours to development: “we have two or three hours every Friday where people get to work on projects more focused on their professional development,” she says. “And in between projects, they get the chance to work on more personal development. So whether they want to learn the piano or go volunteering, they can do that and we see it as a spiritual investment.”

3. Demonstrate clear routes of progression

COVID-19 continues to cast a long shadow. Gaming employees want career advancement more than ever after the pandemic disrupted their progress for two years. 61% of workers even said promotion was their main goal.

But even the biggest companies don't always deliver on this—many professionals complain that “career growth is limited” and it’s “hard to grow”. To help clarify the routes of progression at your company, try career progression frameworks. You define roles, the skills, and the expertise each milestone requires—and show employees how to move between them. For example, you could say developers need experience with Unity and CryEngine to achieve a senior position.

“You can also use career frameworks to identify how candidates’ skills match up against the role you’re trying to fill,” says Lauren Gomes, ex Head of People at Learnerbly, current VP of People at Build a Rocket Boy. “This is an effective way to make sure you’re not over or under-hiring for the capabilities your team needs.” Not only will it be easier to spot who’s ready for the role and fill vacancies more quickly, but you’ll also find people stay in their roles longer because they’re actually a great fit.

4. Empower managers to lead teams

When teams are striving to complete a project on time, managers are there tracking progress, coordinating the team’s efforts, and showing them the next steps. 

That’s why managers are critical to any engagement and retention strategy. They can help you implement changes by explaining the plan to reports, overseeing changes, and monitoring progress. Say you introduce some strict ‘anti crunch’ policies, managers are best placed to encourage team members to leave work on time and make sure they’re not working long hours.

So, it’s worth supporting managers by investing in specialized training. You can help them develop skills like recognizing the signs of burnout, communicating effectively with employees, and holding career development talks.

Plus, managers in the gaming industry face extra challenges. Some have to coordinate teams across different departments and countries that all use different workflows, techniques, and software. Training can help leaders deal with high-pressure situations like these as well.

For example, Airship Interactive has a specialized learning and development program for managers. “Managers have eight to twelve sessions from an external provider,” says Viki, “these take a holistic approach where there’s a period of self-discovery and participants learn who they are as a manager and how to recognize certain traits in themselves. All the while, they learn how to have difficult conversations, appraise employees, and other hurdles that come with growing teams.”

5. Introduce a mentorship program

Training doesn’t have to be limited to managers—other experienced employees may want the chance to help their peers and show off their expertise.

So, you can offer teams structured support by introducing a mentorship program where senior members of staff offer on-the-job training, constructive feedback, and advice. With so much first-hand experience, your leadership team can also provide support for issues like burnout, job insecurity, and communicating with demanding clients.

If you’re at a small company, pairing all your junior employees with veteran staff may be impossible. Instead, you can contact a nonprofit group like IGDA, Women in Games, or Google’s Indie Games Accelerator to find mentors.

Or you can weave mentorship into your existing training processes. For instance, with Learnerbly, employees can see which resources their colleagues have downloaded and become inspired, leading to a more social, organic learning experience.

6. Invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

Improving diversity and inclusion at your company isn’t just a tick-box exercise—it benefits the entire organization. Here are just a few examples:

  • Stronger company culture: If you foster a sense of community and belonging, employees will feel more connected to your organization.
  • Wider hiring pool: Inclusive gaming businesses attract and retain more skilled workers from underrepresented groups.
  • Enhanced creativity and innovation: The more diverse your team is, the more perspectives, ideas, and solutions they’ll bring to the table.
  • Expanded market reach: With employees from every group, you can target different customers more easily.

And when you create an inclusive, welcoming environment like the one we’ve outlined above, more employees will want to be a part of it.

While the gaming industry has made some progress, a report by IGDA found workers are still predominantly young, white men. That’s despite 90% of employees saying diversity in the workplace was important to them.

To ensure your company prioritizes DEI, it’s best practice to establish diverse hiring practices, establish zero-tolerance policies for discrimination, and encourage an open dialogue. Many businesses also use employee resource groups (ERGs) that focus on specific groups and their needs.

7. Recognize your people’s contributions

Appreciation is a powerful tool. Gallup reports employees are four times more likely to be engaged when their company recognizes their work. They’re also 56% less likely to be looking for a job elsewhere.

That’s why it’s essential to credit each worker properly for projects. You can simultaneously acknowledge them for their contribution and provide public proof of their work for portfolios. 

When projects become complex and involve lots of team members, proper accreditation can become challenging. It might be unclear where people should appear on the billing, under what title, and how prominently. Some workers may move on to new projects before managers have had a chance to clarify. Fortunately, the IGDA has provided a cheat sheet on when to credit employees. The key takeaway is: “when in doubt, give credit. It is better to err on the side of inclusion than exclusion.”

8. Foster a culture of communication

All of these strategies are nothing without buy-in. And, to get buy-in, you need to be able to update teams on changes, explain why things are happening, and check in with them regularly. 

Strengthening communication at your company is an effective retention strategy within itself. 63% of employees say they find their company’s communication style frustrating which means it can contribute to a negative work environment.

With remote international teams, gaming companies have extra hurdles. You can’t always rely on tone and facial expressions to read situations and you may find that crafting the right messaging adds to your workload. You can address these issues by:

  • Defining which communication channels to use in different scenarios i.e video meetings for one-on-one talks, Slack for quick questions.
  • Creating clear policies on how to interact on each channel.
  • Investing in collaboration tools like Git, Perforce, and Subversion.

No matter where employees are, surveys are a great way to collect their anonymous feedback and gauge their well being. Speaking up at work can be daunting, so these questionnaires provide a psychologically safe way for workers to voice their concerns. That might not even be criticism but just a different take on how to manage certain processes.

However, like work-life balance, great communication has to become one of your values, not just a strategy. That’s because great communication and strong working relationships go hand-in-hand. 

As Viki Freeman points out, good communication lets you develop a better instinct for how your people are feeling over time. “By having solid management practices,” she says, “companies can read the room most of the time by just interacting and communicating openly and regularly with their employees. They’re also creating safe spaces so that feedback is commonplace.” 

So, by investing in company culture, and letting teams develop genuine empathy and understanding for one another, a lot of the hard work of communication becomes second nature.

How Learnerbly increases employee engagement and retention

The gaming industry may be growing but companies need to address high employee turnover before it can reach its full potential. Otherwise, companies risk losing their most skilled workers to competitors and lagging behind.

But offering higher salaries is just a bandaid when employees want more autonomy, career progression, and better working conditions. Our advice? You can engage employees with more choices and opportunities, empower managers with the right training, and transform your workplace culture through learning and development.

With Learnerbly, you can achieve all this. Our carefully selected, multi-format marketplace gives your employees convenient access to over 200 top learning providers. Everyone can engage in personalized learning experiences tailored to their development needs: be it upskilling in their individual contributors roles or acquiring additional management skills required to keep their teams engaged and productive. That way, you can fill skills gaps more efficiently and keep your employees fulfilled and happy in their roles, while attracting more talent hungry to learn and grow. 

And the cherry on the cake? Our user-friendly implementation and budget management functionality reduces the time you spend on the admin of running L&D programmes, while giving you visibility into the impact that learning has on your business. You’ll know exactly how the L&D budget is being spent, so you can reduce financial waste and redirect those funds elsewhere.

Give employees a dedicated learning budget and help them set their own development goals with Learnerbly. Book a demo today.

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