April 15, 2024

Upskilling: What’s The Real Impact of Falling Behind in the Gaming Industry?

Max Kurton

According to recent research, as many as 68% of gaming companies are struggling to fill workplace vacancies. At the same time, 59% feel their company’s growth is being hindered as a result. 

High turnover is far from a new phenomenon in the gaming industry. Today, the industry’s turnover rate sits at 22.6% - well above the average of 12%-20%. Skilled gaming professionals are difficult to find and even harder to hold on to. 

For people teams at gaming companies, this creates a key challenge. High turnover and unfilled vacancies ultimately have a real impact on your ability to ship high-quality games to market on time. So what’s the solution?

Why gaming companies should focus on talent activation

There are many reasons why the gaming industry has such a high rate of turnover and unfilled vacancies. Crunch culture undoubtedly plays an important role here - the prevalence of long hours, high stress, and tight deadlines all play their part in encouraging people to shop around. 

But in truth, much of the issue here comes down to simple supply and demand. Gaming skill sets are highly specific and it’s difficult to quickly find a like-for-like replacement in skills. For game developers themselves, it’s often easy to find a better deal elsewhere. This creates an additional level of challenge for organizations looking to attract and retain the best talent. But it’s not insurmountable.

The task for people teams, therefore, is to become better at building the skills you need internally and simultaneously more effective at retaining the skilled employees you already have. That involves two strategies:

1. Developing your employee value proposition so your company remains attractive and competitive in the eyes of current and potential employees

2. Investing in training, learning, and development so you’re less reliant on a volatile hiring market for the skills you need. 

In this blog, we explain how to do just that.

The cost of ignoring internal talent activation in the gaming industry

It’s easy for gaming companies to forget about training and upskilling - particularly in the mad rush to get a new game out on time. But over time, it can start to become endemic and employees start to think there are no chances to grow, learn new skills, or get a higher salary. This can lead to: 

Longer game development timelines - If people are leaving projects and you don’t have a structure in place to replace vacant roles internally, it’s likely that the game will suffer. Often juniors have to step in, but they might not have all the required skills. Or more experienced staff end up working extended periods of crunch time to ship on time

Unhappy employees - Again, if gaming employees don’t feel safe at their workplace, are taking up extra work from leaving colleagues, and don’t have a clear progression plan, they’ll likely be dissatisfied at work. In fact, the average employee net promoter score for all types of gaming employees in Europe is 4.3 (over 100)

Dysfunctional teams and weak leadership and management - 14% of game developers feel the need to work extra hours because they feel pressured by their managers, 11% do it because they feel peer pressure, and 74% feel they need to. This leads to a poor business culture, and cultural problems need clear direction and changes coming from managers and people teams

Damaging EVP (employee value proposition) - Ignoring L&D as part of people's growth plans can damage your brand perception. This can cause people to look at other places with better career opportunities—and better commitment to the EVP

Focusing on talent activation can help you increase employee engagement and retention.

Why do current upskilling strategies fall short?

Before we can start to improve upskilling and talent activation, we first need to understand why current strategies fall short. Let’s look at some of the biggest pitfalls: 

Critical soft skills get deprioritized: In the gaming industry, soft skills such as communication, emotional intelligence, and people management are crucial but often overlooked, especially in remote working environments. Managers, particularly those promoted from technical roles, often lack these skills, leading to poor employee experiences and a detrimental work culture.

Short-termism dominates: Reskilling involves training employees in transferable skills for new challenges or roles, enhancing cross-department collaboration and business understanding. However, a short-term focus in businesses frequently neglects long-term learning and development (L&D) plans, including reskilling - which should be used to promote employee growth and a sense of belonging.

Lack of visibility: Gaming studios often lack centralized information on employee learning and resource popularity. This hampers effective upskilling efforts as people teams can't track what's effective or identify skill gaps and learning priorities. This makes it challenging to improve L&D plans and support studio executives in their strategic decisions.

How can people leaders at gaming studios develop the best approach to upskilling?

You’ve seen the importance of upskilling and potentially reskilling your team members. How can you implement an L&D plan that takes talent activation into account? 

In this section, we'll delve into strategies and solutions for developing the best upskilling methods in the dynamic gaming industry. These are:

1. Accept that you can’t be a content expert

Be kind to yourself and recognize that it's impossible for people teams or leaders to keep up with every aspect of gaming or every department's specific needs. Different core topics need tailored approaches and no HR professional can stay on top of it all or vet all the materials themselves.

Putting people in charge of their own learning guarantees everyone identifies their training needs and takes proactive action to learn those skills. But this doesn’t mean asking managers or department heads to make a request every time they need training. This will put you and people teams in the middle causing bottlenecks. It means giving departments or individuals a dedicated learning budget for them to spend on the resources they need—spoiler alert: You can do this on Learnerbly.

2. Give individuals access to the learning materials they need, whenever they need them

A better approach to L&D is to give each individual access to a budget they can spend on a learning marketplace. An example of this would be Learnerbly, we provide teams with access to multi-modal learning resources from over 200 vetted providers. 

There, employees can use their budget to learn soft or technical skills in the method they prefer, by reading books, attending live or async coaching sessions, watching webinars, listening to podcasts, or having regular training sessions. This flexibility enables them to learn when it suits them—during work, on their commute, on weekends, or as part of a team book club.

3. Consider a multi-pronged strategy

Mix your tech with internal L&D strategies for people to experience teachable moments at every step of the way. Offer leadership and first-time management coaching courses, mentorship programs, graduate coaching, and microlearning, but support this with continuous access to self-directed learning.

A good example of this is Activision Blizzard's “Level U Up”. This three-month training scheme is for engineers who like and use its games and want to start a career in the gaming industry. The candidates learn directly from Activision’s best talent and become full-time engineers at Activision Blizzard after graduation.

4. Don’t make technical teams step away too often

If your developers and designers need to step away from the game for a prolonged period frequently to learn soft skills, it might be too disruptive—and managers might be against it.

Your team members don’t need to step outside the office to attend courses to learn new skills. Many times, people can learn soft (and hard) skills in the office, through on-the-job experiences, and short, focused training sessions. Encourage people to train each other through quick asynchronous videos or by creating processes for others, and foster a culture of continuous feedback and open communication.

5. Put employees in the driving seat without losing oversight

Delegate control by using a learning and development marketplace. It puts employees in control of their learning journey because they can choose the resources that best suit their needs, without constantly seeking managerial approval. 

At the same time, you can keep track of usage by setting spending caps and ensuring that learning aligns with the organization's goals. This approach also provides you with valuable insights into the allocation of learning budgets and the popularity of specific resources within the organization.

Step up your talent game with Learnerbly

In an industry where finding the right talent is so challenging, you just can’t afford to lose your best team members to the competition. L&D strategies fall short in most studios because people struggle to find the time to learn, and they don’t know where to turn to find high-quality resources that meet their specific training needs. 

To fix this, you should look into giving your employees individual learning budgets to spend on L&D so they can own their upskilling. With an L&D marketplace like Learnerbly, your managers can work directly with employees to set learning objectives based on their individual goals—while keeping them aligned with the company strategy.

Learnerbly specializes in the gaming sector, with clients ranging from the top 10 gaming companies (by revenue) to smaller, rapidly expanding studios. Their employees get complete budget visibility and access to over 200 of the best learning and development resources for developers, including platforms like Game Institute, Gumroad, Pluralsight, and Codecademy—all under one roof. Like them, your people could discover hundreds of books, courses, publishing, and news subscriptions, and coaching services to help develop both their technical and soft skills.

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