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Ask Amiqus - Should I hire a permie or a contractor?

15/05/17

Whatever the size of your studio, the decision to hire always needs great care and attention.

Once you’ve identified the need within your art team, you’ll need to consider what employment model will be most appropriate to fulfil the role. The short answer to the perm or contract question is that it depends on whether you have a short or long term need for those skills. However, there are many factors to consider when deciding whether permanent or contract is the way to go. 

The perm option

If you can foresee an ongoing demand in to your company’s future then it’s possible that a permanent hire would be the most cost effective solution long term. A permanent member of the team will be on your payroll, add to your headcount and brings the responsibilities that this entails around their wellbeing at work as well as the cost implications of employers NI, holiday and sick pay etc. You will also need to keep their skills up to date through training and development. If you want to grow your company employees and capacity over the long term then adding to your perm headcount will make a positive impact to this. However many studios find themselves wanting skills but for many reason aren’t ready to commit to a permanent hire. If you find yourself in this boat, a contractor could be the way forward.

The Contractor option

A contractor is someone employed to work in your team for a flexible period of time typically 3 months upward though many are kept up for 6 or even 12 months. They are experienced games professionals who bring a specific expertise in to your project only when it’s needed and they leave the team when the work is done. When you hire a contractor you know up front that these skills don’t ‘belong’ to you, you are hiring them only for a period of time but that your can gain a lasting benefit. Comparing hour by hour a contractor is typically more expensive than a permanent employee’s salary though this is offset by the lack of associated employment costs, the shorter time-commitment and higher flexibility of deployment.
Typically freelancers have experienced a wide variety of projects and understand the need to present project-critical deliverables. They’re used to assimilating in to a variety of studio environments quickly and they can hit the ground running right from the off; there’s no induction or development plans to worry about.  Due to their employment preference Contractors have a naturally high awareness of their employability and work hard to keep their skills-base sharp and up to date.

Who uses Contractors?

Studios right across the industry use Contractors for different reasons. After all, no-one can afford to be paying people who are not utilised however no-one wants a ‘hire and fire’ reputation and using contractors mitigates the risk of having to let people go. 
For many studios, their first taste of freelancers is when something unforeseen puts key milestones at risk and someone is needed quickly to get over a key milestone or catch up on a drifting deadline. Nasty surprises can pop up at any time, such as the resignation of a key team member, accidents, illness, or business hazards such as movements in publishing dates or being let down by suppliers. 
Where there is a high turnover of project variety and constantly changing demand, contractors can be used as part of a long term resource strategy, such as outsource businesses. For some, specialist skills are only needed at key points in the lifecycle and don’t warrant a full time demand. The beauty of freelancers in this scenario is that in-house capability is never a restriction to your ambitions, you just bring in the skills when you’ve won the work and ramp up the team when you need to. Moreover contractors can be brought in as part of your business development strategy and can make a key contribution to bid for work for hire or to a prospective publisher to showcase a new game. 

Using the contractor model can be a great way to go for start-ups with uncertain investment milestones and who don’t want to add to their fixed cost overheads. Getting the work done without adding to headcount can be a real bonus, and if it’s not working out you can part company very quickly. 

The Benefits of Contractors 

Whereas a perm hire will bring long-term capability, growth and expansion to your team, contractors offer several short-term benefits to be considered:-

  • Skills – get key skills through the door and get the work done on-demand
  • Flexibility -  ramp team numbers up and down when you need it 
  • Speed – shorter time to hire. It’s even possible to hire is less than 24 hours
  • Simplicity - no redundancies, contracts end on a date or on a notice period
  • Experience – contract staff hit the ground running and management overhead is minimal
  • No fixed overheads - no payroll or National Insurance costs and no HR time

In our experience many studios successfully deploy a combination of permanent and contract staff to fulfill their project demands. The key is to put in due diligence around planning what you need, when and how long for to meet your goals.

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