What Do Video Games and Oilfields Have in Common?

The answer is more than you would think. While the end goals for oil companies and video game studios are obviously different, there is an increasing amount of overlap in the skillsets needed to do business.


Nowadays, many downhole tools have hundreds of complex parts and moving pieces which create a steep learning curve for new hires. As a result, the most efficient and cost-effective way to train new engineers for field readiness has become advanced simulation training where they can practice operating virtual wells before they ever step foot on the real thing.

Arguably the more realistic, detailed, and engaging the simulation training is, the more prepared a trainee will be once they have to implement their skills in the real world. This is where the two seemingly unrelated fields are starting to converge. Technical simulations and first-person games share many similar technologies, and many of the resources to develop them are essentially interchangeable. Whether you’re designing a realistic well simulation or a PlayStation game, you’ll still be looking for the same engines (Unity, Unreal), languages (C++, C#, Python, JavaScript), and assets (3D Max, Blender) when recruiting.

Why would an oil company recruit directly from the video game industry and not from established developers with a background in the oil and gas field?

There are a few reasons why this is an attractive alternative:

  • Talent Pool: there is now a huge talent pool of millennials who grew up playing video games and often went to college specifically to study game design and programming for interactive experiences. This means they have a wealth of formal education and firsthand knowledge of what makes a compelling interactive experience, combined with a genuine passion and interest in the development process.
  • Industry Burnout: the video-game industry is still young and going through the associated growing pains. Companies regularly go through boom-and-bust cycles, crunch their employees to meet unrealistic deadlines, and pay them peanuts because it is considered a “dream job” to many starry-eyed young people. After a few years of this, the stability, benefits, and higher salaries of the oil and gas industry can be a very attractive proposition to game developers that are burnt out by the meatgrinder that is the video-game industry. What might be considered an average salary and benefits package in the oil and gas field can translate to an extremely competitive offer in the video-game field, giving oil companies access to more seasoned talent at a lower cost and a competitive edge in the recruiting process.
  • Fresh Perspective: hiring from outside the industry gives you a fresh pair of eyes. What might seem obvious to someone who has been drilling for their entire career may not come intuitively to someone just starting out on a rig. Hiring an outsider to help create the simulation creates an extra checkpoint to make sure the simulations are easy to understand, accessible, and—if they’re a good game designer—engaging and fun to play.

So, where do you find these video-game designers and how do you recruit them? The first thing to know is that while the skills are transferable, the title is frequently not.

Here is a quick breakdown of some of the more common conversions:

  • Programmer = Architect, Developer
  • Artist and Animator = UI/UX
  • Producer = Project Manager - Product Owner
  • Game designer = BA

The important thing is to look at the skillsets and experience on the resume and match it to what you need.

Once you know what you’re looking for, there are a few avenues to finding talent. First, if you are targeting new graduates, career fairs and hiring events are a great way to recruit. These events are put on specifically for students to connect with employers, so they are an excellent source for entry-level talent who are eager for their first jobs. In our experience, we’ve had the best results with this approach.

For more seasoned talent, you’ll want to attend networking events and talk to people who are currently in the industry. Because it is a niche industry with high churn, often just broadcasting what you’re looking for via word of mouth can yield good results. And finally, there’s always formal industry networks and website such as Gamasutra which can prove lucrative as well.

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