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).

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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