Keeping it fresh at Cambridge games firm Jagex
Trusting employees pays dividends for the world's leading online games franchise.
Jagex HQ on Cambridge Science Park is the centre of a worldwide, 24/7 online business, and its workforce has to be adaptable, creative and efficient, in return for which the firm does everything possible to ensure its premises and its culture are nurturing and flexible to the needs of its team.
One of the way Jagex achieves a vibrant work culture is to place scant importance on dress code. It’s impossible to tell someone’s status from the way they dress. Another is a flat management style: not having a boss who shouts at you is always going to be a big draw. Put the two together and you notice the positivity as soon as you walk through the door.
“Predominantly we operate on trust, that’s how we get great performance from people without having to play big brother,” says Dave Lomax, VP of HR and operations.
What makes a good games developer? “Someone who’s immersed in games, a problem solver, someone with creativity who’s passionate about what they do.”
It helps that there’s always something amazing to work on. The Runescape app is just about to be launched, which means the world’s biggest and most successful massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) ever will be mobile-friendly, with results that are going to be very interesting.
Another thing that might help is that Runescape has a new COO and CEO. Phil Mansell is a games industry veteran of 18 years standing and had been at Jagex as VP of studios since 2011.
Internal promotions are good for a firm’s culture, and this one follows stints by financial services expert Mark Gerhardt and Rod Cousens, an industry veteran who seems to have been responsible for pushing through the architecture that meant the firm was acquired by Chinese games firm Fukong Interactive Entertainment last year.
A tour of the site reveals that a refurbishment of the recreation area has just been completed – and the smells from the canteen are as awesome as always.
“We differentiate ourselves from other employers,” says Dave, “because if you look at it holistically it’s not just about pay, it’s the environment you work in, so we’ve created a recreational area with a small pub, a canteen and everyone gets free gym membership and private health care , including dental care – and which gym is your choice. In terms of the social scene there’s events like football and pub quizzes, plus free evening meals – and the food is as good as ever.”
Working from home is also part of the sketch, and if you’re reading this and thinking ‘damn, how do I get to work there?’, you’ll be delighted to hear Jagex is taking on people, lots of people…
“The big thing for us at the moment is growth,” says Dave.
“We have ambitious plans backed by our new owners, there’s 40 open vacancies being advertised by agencies and on our own site, we’re looking to grow quite aggressively in the last quarter.
“The jobs are in service, customer support, game development, game engine, plus a number of senior management posts including VP of tech and VP game development. We’re looking for a blend of homegrown talent and external industry talent. We’ve cast a wide net – my view is you need a good mix.”
Running a runaway worldwide success like Runescape needs all sorts of talent, of course, and that includes translators fluent in French, German, Spanish, Portugese and Chinese, plus data scientists and coders. “We’ve switched client on Runescape from Java to C++,” says Dave, “which has improved fidelity. The jobs market is very competitive – as an industry we’re fighting for the the same brain skills as the financial sectors, so we look closely at recruitment, benefits and retention for people who want to work at the home of livign games.”
Dave’s own course says it all: he started off in customer support ten years ago, and is now VP of HR & operations.
But it’s not all inward-looking at Jagex. There’s a dedicated team looking at leanring and development which goes to events and conferences.
“Plus we make a lot of effort with charities, in 2017/18 that means the YMCA, MIND CPSL and the Prince’s Trust. We also supported the #IAMWHOLE campaign which is about breaking down the stigma of mental health for adolescents. Just today, Tanya Byron came in and gave a talk.”
Prof Byron is a broadcaster and clinician working advising on international policy relating to children, young people, mental health and education. We go to the conference theatre, which holds 300 people, where she spoke at lunchtime. On the way, we pass the drinks machine. Now, most drinks machines have the usual carbonated cans and sugary orange concentrates, but at Jagex there’s Naked juice smoothies, coconut water, fresh orange juice, which kind of says it all about the culture at Jegex. Keeping it fresh is what they do very well.
• This article was published in association with Grant Thornton’s Vibrant Economy initiative.