This startup is changing how game developers get work

Any business with the word ‘agency’ in it’s title is in trouble.

That’s according to Alex Churchill, and he should know. For 20 years Alex worked at various employee recruitment agencies, and then eight years ago he founded his own company, VonChurch.

Now he’s looking to disrupt the very industry he built his career on with the launch of his new company, Gamesmith.

The Path To Gamesmith

Gamesmith is a business that combines the two things Alex knows best: recruitment and video games. The site is designed to function as an IMDB-like database for the video game world. Eventually it will serve as a recruitment tool for studios and other game builders.

Employee recruitment is where he built his career, but his love for gaming stretches further back, to the cold, grey weather of his youth.

“I remember getting my Commodore 64, and with my brother having a ruler on the TV. We used to, with a ruler, make the marks with a sharpie of where you had to jump and double jump on platform games.

“And we would have these like eight-foot pieces of paper with all the screens mapped out that we would make. So it was inbred from bad English weather, and nothing to do except for sit in and map out very poorly made video games.”

Alex spent his formative years playing in a band. But when he turned 26 it became clear it was time to look for a more stable occupation. Human resources gave him that opportunity.

“I was just at a loose end at the age of 26. And in that day [with] recruitment, there wasn’t LinkedIn, there wasn’t any data out there. So recruitment really was headhunting and I joined a firm and I learned the trade all the way up through in London,” he says.

The skills he learned were easily transferable, which meant he could do the job from anywhere. His job took him all around the world, gaining him more and more experience along the way. Eventually he moved to the United States, settling in San Francisco.

The First Founding

For a while he worked for a large employment agency in SF. But just as it had in the past, the travel bug struck again. He made plans to move to Japan but then his wife became pregnant with twins and they decided to stay.

Still, working for someone else’s company was losing its appeal for Churchill. That’s when he hit on the idea of starting his own firm and founded VonChurch.

“I left the big company and setup my own recruitment agency, and I set it up in games. And eight years ago, the game market exploded. It used to sit on either an Xbox or a PS3. [Then] social games kicked off, Facebook kicked off, and then mobile kicked out.

‘And it was all in San Francisco, and we were here. We hit the market. I hit the market. And I grew the company from that.”

Disruptive Behavior


Now VonChurch is doing very well. With offices in Berlin and San Francisco, it leads the market in the digital entertainment arena. But two years ago, Churchill began to realize that the whole recruitment industry was ripe for disruption.

“I was looking around, and I’m seeing like 45 guys on the phone, and they’re just like plowing through LinkedIn… And I’m looking at it, I’m thinking, this is so antiquated,” he says.

“I’m thinking this is going to get completely disrupted in the next five to six years, because all data should be free.”

Churchill envisioned a new marketplace. In the old model, companies would pay an agency to introduce them to potential new hires. This was an expensive and time-consuming process. So why not create a market where employers could pay to search a database for employees?

From that realization it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Churchill’s next venture: Gamesmith.

How Gamesmith Works


The concept bares some similarities to sites like LinkedIn. But Churchill’s vision is sleeker, less intrusive, and concentrated on a specific industry.

The information that will fuel Gamesmith’s database is already public, but Gamesmith is collating it for the first time. There are 200,000 game makers attached to games, says Churchill. Over the course of the next year, the company will be inviting those people to come and claim their work.

The front-end of the site will work as an IMDB-like database for video games. Anyone who has worked on a game can search the database, find a game they worked on, claim the work they did and build their profile from there.

“So for the first time you can claim your credits and have that displayed,” says Churchill.

After that, there is a social verification process. Others who worked on the team can say yes or no to a claim. This feature is a game changer and one that’s lacking from other recruitment services, says Churchill.

It ensures people receive credit for their work, while preventing them from taking responsibility for work they didn’t do.

“I mean, I hired one guy to come and work for me because he said he went to Stanford. He didn’t go to Stanford. He went for summer camp for two weeks at Stanford,” he says.

“Anyone can write anything, and that is a huge issue. There’s no verified information on LinkedIn.”

Fixing Recruitment

Finding new employees is an expensive and time-consuming process. Churchill says it takes 177 hours to fill one position, while companies like VonChurch charge $26,000 to help in the search.

Over the next twelve months, Gamesmith will fill its database with programmers, designers and other video game creators. Making it an excellent tool for studios looking to hire people for the next big game.

Companies will be able to use the site to fill specific holes in their production team. But it will be just as valuable for people working on games.

“As a game maker, you can go on there, and when you see a job, you just swipe to reply. So there are no bottlenecks, all the recruiters are removed, so your resume goes straight through to the client.”

Tapping Into Change

Things have changed a lot since Alex and his brother started mapping out the levels of those poorly made Commodore 64 games.

For one thing, the cost to build games and the size of the teams building them have both shrunk. That’s largely thanks to the popularity of mobile gaming.

Mobile also changed the way companies make money from games. Where they once sold the entire package for a set price, now they make a lot of their money from in-app purchases.

That’s just what’s happening now. Churchill gets even more excited when he talks about cutting edge technology like virtual and augmented reality; aspects of gaming we’re beginning to see but have yet to reach their full potential. He says these are the things that keep attracting the talented people that companies covet.

“It’s just an insatiable business for the greatest talent and the greatest innovation. It just never stops. The consumer and the teams are constantly on the move for the next greatest game, the improvement of graphics, the speed… The barriers have been completely destroyed from how you buy games, how you play games, how you discover games. It’s just so rapid.”

Change is coming for many industries. Travel agencies, marketing agencies, design agencies, even recruitment agencies, are ripe for disruption. Alex and Gamesmith are leading that charge.

If you’re looking for a team to help build your disruptive idea, Gigster can help.

Tyler Trumbull

Ty splits his time between Canada and Mexico. He’s been writing for Gigster since early 2016 where he really enjoys learning and sharing clients’ stories. He plays banjo in one of Mexico’s only country bands, wishes he could write like Thomas Pynchon, and is generally a fan of the Oxford comma.