Social Gaming Industry Growth Looks Great for Potential Employees

Since the social game industry suddenly ramped up last year, hiring and new company formation has been intense. We recently sat down with VonChurch, a specialized recruiter that has made over 120 placements since it got into the industry in September 2009, to get some perspective on the state of the market.

The first and most important detail, according to VonChurch senior partner Katy Haddix, is that it’s a seller’s market — in other words, there are fewer qualified candidates than positions, even with social gaming companies drawing from traditional games, web development, graphic design and other fields. “Consistently, we see clients planning on doubling or tripling in size between a 6-9 month time frame,” Haddix says.

Together, a handful of top companies now employ thousands, and there are numerous small and mid-sized developers who are striving to gain a place at the table. Experienced employees are using the opportunity to job-hop to better positions, while less experienced newcomers are still drawing big salaries.

Across all of VonChurch’s placements, the average has been $95,000 a year. We also asked for breakdowns across a few specific fields:

  • Flash engineer, mid-level: $90,000 – $115,000
  • Flash engineer with social gaming experience: $150,000
  • Front-end web developer: $120,000
  • Product Manager: $115,000
  • Artist: $65,000

Some 98 percent of VonChurch’s placements have received equity, with more senior candidates getting much larger packages. The largest companies, of course, are giving out less equity than they used to, but there are still new startups that balance lower salaries with much larger equity packages.

Haddix says that candidates have become extremely picky, with demands beyond just high pay. Some turn up their noses at large companies or those that they don’t think produce original games, while others want a more favorable work / life balance than some startup jobs offer.

Perks can be fairly easy for companies to offer, especially if they’re profitable — for instance, Haddix says that CrowdStar, her biggest client, recently flew its employees to Italy for a one week working vacation. Most employees are young men, so a smattering of nightlife and adventure can go over well.

Companies that don’t offer the right working environment may suffer. Haddix says that a big trend right now is the “Zynga effect”, in which employees of the large incumbent are looking for a way out.

As for what, exactly, the Zynga effect is, here’s Haddix’s definition: “Zynga has 1) Hired in mass and worked their talent to their max and 2) have quickly replicated basic games … Candidates are ready for an environment where they are no longer a number within a mass organization. They want some semblance of work-life balance. They want a larger contributing piece to the project they are working on, and they want a project that is going to be unique and not a replicated version of a Farmville.”

If that seems a bit tough on Zynga, it probably is. The company is no hellhole; we’ve heard of a number of special events that it has put on for employees, and there are perks, most famously the freedom to bring dogs to work. By the measure of much of the tech industry, Zynga looks pretty good.

Still, VonChurch’s larger point stands — until the supply of good employees evens out with demand, the most talented candidates will have an unusual amount of power to dictate the terms of their employment.

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