When people find out I run a videogame media company, it never takes them long to ask: “How do I get a job playing games all day?” Of course, this question really means “please hire me,” because as the president and publisher of The Escapist, it’s my responsibility to recruit and hire new staff.
Normally, I dodge this question by joking about the dangers of carpal tunnel syndrome. But we’ve just finished celebrating Labor Day, the worker’s holiday, so what better time to explain how to get the privilege of laboring here? Thus, if you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get a job at a place like The Escapist, read on.
The first thing to know is that we get a lot of candidates for every job opening. Our recent job posting for a new games editor received over 110 resumes in the first 24 hours. Of those resumes, perhaps 20% will survive the first wave of screening. From there, half will get telephone interviews. Fewer than five will get face-to-face interviews. And one person will get hired. My alma mater, Harvard Law School, has a higher acceptance rate than we do.
Why do we get so many candidates? Well, one recent candidate had heard all sorts of ridiculous things about working here. He heard we had flexible work hours and 100% employer paid health care. He expected that he’d play games during the workday, and that our mandatory team-building exercises were actually just giant nerf gun battles. He seemed to think we were some sort of utopian gamer commune where everyone was working, playing and partying together. He’d even heard that our dress code only had one rule: “Wear pants.”
And that’s silly, of course. Our dress code only requires that men wear pants.
In any event, like every game company, we have a lot of people applying for a very small number of jobs, and we have to winnow the numbers down. We start the way every company does: We review resumes for relevant work experience, academic excellence, sample work product, recommendations, and we interview to assess professional attitude and communication skills.
But The Escapist aims to celebrate the gaming lifestyle. That’s what we write about, that’s what we publish and that’s what we hire for. So we don’t just look for competent people. We look for competent people who get gamer culture. Non-gamers at The Escapist are like non-smokers at Phillip Morris: They’d better be willing to inhale a lot of secondhand game.
To test our candidate’s geek-fu, we like to hit them some oddball questions, five of which I’ve shared below:
1. What’s currently your favorite game?
2. CNN reports civil unrest at local area hospitals, with many dead, and the National Guard has been called in. What do you think is happening?
3. If Star Trek’s Federation fought Star Wars’ Empire, who would win – and why?
4. Kirk or Picard?
5. You can choose between playing with a set of Lego or assembling a thousand-piece puzzle. Which do you choose?
Favored and disfavored answers can be found at the end of this column.
When we find a candidate who has the right skills and savoir-faire to fit in, we have one final test, what we call the Trial by Fire. The Escapist can be a stressful place to work, so we aim to assess how people handle themselves under stress. The tests vary from position to position, and over the past four years we’ve experimented with several different trials, ranging from writing assignments to game challenges.
For our graphic artists, we used to play Pictionary with them to test how well they could translate language to images, but that turned out to be problematic. During the last Pictionary game, one candidate, Jessica, had to illustrate “cottage cheese” to win the game. She drew a beautiful illustration of an idyllic cottage, and an obviously recognizable bowl of cottage cheese. Cottage + Cheese – it was a surefire drawing! Unfortunately, with just seconds left to win the game, the best we came up with was “small house cheese curds.” We hired Jessica, but we stopped playing Pictionary. Losing at our own interview test was too embarrassing.
Small house cheese curds aside; competence, culture, and calmness under pressure remain the main qualifications for getting hired at The Escapist. So now you know – and knowing… (see #6, below).
Happy Labor Day!
1. There is no right answer, but there are many wrong answers. These include Solitaire, Minesweeper, Tetris, and Blackberry Brickbreaker.
2. If you answered “a zombie apocalypse,” you’ll fit right in. After all, gaming is really about preparation for the post-apocalypse, which means knowing when it’s coming. If you answered “I don’t know, what does the news say is happening?” you probably aren’t the right fit.
3. While the official position of the CEO is that Star Wars would win, any answer that shows a general knowledge of the genre is fine. Any answer that starts with “Are you serious?” or “I don’t like that stuff” is… not fine.
4. This question tests whether you view yourself as better filling a command or staff position. People who think about being the captain usually say Kirk. People who think about working for the captain usually say Picard. People who do not get the job say “I don’t know anything about Star Trek.”
5. This question determines if you prefer unstructured creativity or structured problem-solving. The right answer depends on the job you’re interviewing for. But the wrong answer is “I prefer to play outdoors.”
6. Is half the battle. If you missed this one, really, just forget it. Go be an accountant.
Alexander Macris is co-founder and publisher of The Escapist, as well as president and CEO of its parent company, Themis Media. He has also written two tabletop wargames, conceived and edited the book “MMORPGs for Dummies,” and designed the award-winning web game “Heroes Mini.” After hours, he serves as president of Triangle Game Initiative, the Raleigh-Durham area’s game industry association, and runs a weekly tabletop roleplaying game campaign of concentrated awesomeness.