Big Fish Swims Against Current, Looks To Make New Hires—and Not Only for Games

“We’re not just a gaming company,” says Glenn Walcott. The chief financial officer of Seattle-based Big Fish Games is telling me about his company’s focus on new hires, and this comes as a bit of surprise. People tend to think of Big Fish as a game producer, but Walcott stresses that most of its engineers don’t work directly on games. They work on other aspects of the business, like e-commerce, distribution platforms, and real-time memory systems for personalized user experiences. “It’s a lot of fun for new guys,” he says.

But the main message is the company is hiring—period. It’s a welcome change from the doom and gloom we’ve been reporting lately. On a sunny Friday afternoon, I checked out the Big Fish offices on Elliott Avenue West, where the company moved last July. The open floorplan means most employees have a striking view of Elliott Bay. And the beautiful aquarium in the lobby is getting new fish this week (no word on their size, but I have a hunch).

There has been a lot of talk about whether the gaming industry—particularly “casual games,” which are relatively cheap and don’t require much time commitment—might be recession-proof. Walcott eschews the label, but he notes that Big Fish’s October sales were up 23 percent over September, and November sales were 10 percent above that. The company’s latest big release, Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, has sold 100,000 in its first week, and Thanksgiving weekend was Big Fish’s biggest sales weekend ever, says Walcott.

It all adds up to unprecedented growth for the company, which landed an $83.3 million investment led by UK-based Balderton Capital in September. Walcott says Big Fish currently has 35 open positions—mostly for engineers, programmers, and software development testers, but also for a director of marketing. Native foreign-language skills are a plus, Walcott adds; the company does a lot of business in Europe.

A few more tidbits about the Big Fish workforce:

—Of its 320 workers in Seattle, 45 percent are engineers. Only about 15 percent of the staff work on game development (for the company’s studio). The rest work on things like building a software platform to handle two million game downloads a day.

—The company’s talent mostly comes from the Northwest. Walcott estimates 95 percent of the staff had a previous job in the Seattle area before joining Big Fish.

—The firm opened an office in Vancouver, BC, in August. It has five workers there, with the goal of building up to about 30 people, primarily for game development. Why Vancouver? A great talent pool, and it’s easier to get work visas there for employees from Europe, for instance.

Looking ahead to next year, Walcott predicts there will be a lot of talented workers available in the first quarter. Big Fish would love to snap them up, of course, but people might be hesitant to make any career moves because of the economy, he says. With those people in mind, I asked him what his company’s greatest selling point is.

Besides its “fun, family-friendly product,” Walcott says the Big Fish culture is open and very collaborative. “I think it’s the best company to work for in Seattle,” he says. OK, he’s a bit biased, but his message is clear. “We really try to take care of our employees…I’m proud to say people here have a very good work environment.”

Sounds like Big Fish is trying to reel in its new employees, hook, line, and sinker (sorry, couldn’t resist).

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7 responses to “Big Fish Swims Against Current, Looks To Make New Hires—and Not Only for Games”

  1. AJ Masters says:

    Big Fish Games has been laying off people silently as they make new hires – a hire and fire strategy.

    I was told that it keeps “bad press” under the radar and a steady flow of hopeful job applicants gravitating to a company with overstated projected revenues. They are doing great but not as great as they say.

  2. GameTrigger says:

    Big Fish Games does NOT do anywhere close to 2 million downloads a day – try more like 300,000 a day – on a good day. This is not speculation on my part. I know a long-time employee at Big Fish and she says that exaggerations such as this are commonplace at the highest executive level to build industry hype.

  3. Walcott did not say Big Fish is doing 2 million downloads a day—not yet, anyway. He said they’re building a platform to be able to handle that kind of volume.

  4. Rhonda says:

    Don’t believe the hype. Big Fish is just like any other corporate environment. They require that all of their customer service employees have a degree, yet only pay $13-$14 an hour. Not to mention that when they moved, the new location was less than a mile from the founder’s house, yet it caused more than half of the employees an average of a 30 minute longer commute than their prior location. Last time I emailed, it took over a week for these so called great reps to answer my email. Maybe they should move some of those engineers over to customer service to help answer their customers’ emails.

    My best friend works for them and the only reason she is staying is because the economy is so bad right now.

  5. Bonnie says:

    I won prizes in April and still haven’t received them. The company wrote me a hateful email last time I asked about the gifts. They are not following through on their promises. Anyone else having the same problem?