HR Insider Nov 17 2011

Electronic Arts Hiring 5,000 by 2020 to Compete with Zynga

By joseph walker

For almost 30 years, Electronic Arts has been a marquee career destination for gamers. But since 2007, the success of Zynga and others on Facebook has threatened EA's dominance of the gaming talent market.

To help the company compete, EA has made a string of acquisitions, adding at least 500 employees this year alone. The job of integrating these new concerns into the company's larger corporate structure falls to Gabrielle Toledano, vice president of human resources. A Microsoft and Oracle veteran, Toledano joined EA in 2006. She is also tasked with hiring 1,000 new employees over the next three years, and 5,000 engineers by 2020.

FINS chatted with Toledano about the company's plans, why it needs statisticians to join the company, and whether it feels threatened by Zynga.

Joseph Walker: How many employees are you slated to hire this fiscal year?

Gabrielle Toledano: Well over 1,000 in the next three years. We have a lot of hiring going globally. Over 50 percent of our revenues are outside of the U.S. We're doing a significant amount of hiring in Ireland. We continue to hire in Romania - there's great technical talent in Romania. Montreal has been very good to us, and we continue to grow there. In the U.S., Salt Lake City is a great spot for us in terms of great talent and people love to live there. Austin, Tex., too is a big plus for us.

JW: EA has made a lot of acquisitions in recent years. How you go about integrating those company's employees into EA?

GT: We have a very strong philosophy of maintaining the studio culture. We do acquisitions both for intellectual property and very specifically for talent. Whereas you might see bigger tech companies acquire just for IP or technology, we really do target acquisitions for talent. As such, we don't often close down these offices, we keep them open wherever that acquisition may be. We want the talent to grow. We retain that studio culture and we often maintain the acquired leadership.

This isn't just a process where we look at a bunch of numbers and go make an acquisition. There is a rigorous cultural filter applied by HR against each one of these acquisitions. Having been at Microsoft and Oracle, I've gone through hundreds of acquisitions in my career, and it's very unique. This morning we were talking about another possible acquisition, and HR is in the room as a voice relative to cultural fit, location and how to retain that talent.

JW: The gaming sector has gone through dramatic changes in the past few years, with the mobile and Facebook platforms taking off. How has your department, HR, adjusted?

GT: We're right in the middle of it with managers and employees. We're doing a lot of training and development with the leaders and studio heads around online games. We do an annual conference called DevCon where we bring everybody in and we share across the studios all of the learning relative to where we're going. We've been running some leadership retreats off-site with our CEO twice a year where we bring in certain groups of people and we share learning.

JW: How are your hiring needs different today, in terms of skill sets, than they were in 2006 when you started at the company?

GT: In 2006, we were heavily focused on producers, artists, and designers, and we still are. What's different today is that we've also taken on a heavy load of hiring around people with very high analytical skills, and people who understand services and online companies, annuity streams and everything from the business standpoint of that to the technology standpoint.

We're also ramping up our hiring of engineers. Server engineers, platform engineers. We've always hired engineers and that's accelerating now for EA. We'll be adding 5,000 engineers by 2020.

EA is more and more becoming a platform company as well as a content company, so we look at ourselves as content plus platform. As a result you need a lot more technologists and analytical skills in the company.

JW: Is there a talent war going on in gaming like there is in other parts of tech?

GT: It's very competitive, especially in the Bay Area, which makes it difficult to grow in California, because the competition is highest here. So many start-ups emerge here and they're built with talent from companies like EA and Yahoo or Google. We compete as well as the rest of them, though. Our attrition is not particularly high. It's healthy, and one thing we have going for us is we are a very fun and engaging company. We have some of our best games in front of us that are about to launch. It's a super exciting time to be at EA. Good games are a marquee draw for us -- great games make people want to work for us.

JW: Have you had to increase compensation or perks to compete with companies like Zynga, which is said to "throw money" at people?

GT: I'm well aware of what companies like Zynga have done. They have tried to get a lot of people at EA. I'll tell you, we haven't had to make significant changes to be quite honest. We're very strong on compensation and we're constantly evolving it and staying a little bit ahead of it. There's a lot of loyalty at EA, and people love the work. They love what they do, and we pay very, very well.

JW: Have you tried to do anything keep people from defecting to other companies?

GT: Some high profile people or who people think they are high profile have shown up and actually got lucky in some cases and those particular start-ups did well. But you're talking about five, six people we could name and honestly these are all great people but there's always a time and a place for people to move on, and it's all OK. The media picks some names up as high profile when the reality of the situation is everything is fine. We have a deep bench of talent here and we really embrace succession.

JW: What's your advice to someone who wants to break into the gaming industry?

GT: Go study economics and statistics. Don't go to a bank, come here instead. You look at the folks who went off and got their MBAs or even undergraduate degrees in economics and statistics, they used to go off to be investment bankers on Wall Street, I'd say come here because those are the kinds of folks we need.

The metrics for a digital company are significantly different than a consumer packaged goods company in terms of metrics for success. Units sold is the traditional metric for a packaged goods company, but metrics for a services company are very different. We're doing a second by second analysis of what our players are doing and so you have to have those skills to work in a services environment.

Write to Joseph Walker at Joseph.Walker@dowjones.com



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