Oddworld’s Inhabitants: Michael Reifers, Director of Human Resources & Administration

Oddworld's Inhabitants: Michael Reifers, Director of Human Resources & Administration [Hosted by Oddworld.com]

Date: July 2004

Interviewer: Oddworld.com

Interviewee: Michael Reifers

Oddworld’s Inhabitants are as diverse as the world they’ve worked together to create. Here’s where you’ll find interviews and other informative articles spotlighting the many creative folk that work at Oddworld Inhabitants. Be they headline players or behind-the-scenes heroes, the Inhabitants profiled here all share Oddworld’s ceaseless dedication to bringing you the best worlds and games that you’ve ever experienced.

Michael Reifers, Director of Human Resources & Administration img_main_mpr

Q: What’s your background?

Michael Reifers: Hmmm … where do I start? Well I grew up all over the U.S. and lived in Florida, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Luis Obispo (I even spent some time in Barbados). I went to college and studied Mechanical Engineering, then decided I wanted to be a lawyer and switched to Political Science. When I graduated and got into law school, I decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer so I got a job driving a truck. After spending some time on the road, I decided I wanted to go back to school and I got a Masters Degree in Business. I was fortunate to be hired out of school by a space and defense company and they gave me my start in HR. In 1998 I came to Oddworld and am now on my third game here. Oh, you said brief… sorry.

Q: How did you end up in the game industry.

Michael Reifers: Well I figured that it would be an easy transition coming from a defense contractor. I mean the only change is that we pretend to blow stuff up in games as opposed to actually doing it at a space and defense company. Seriously, I wanted to work for a smaller company where I could have a direct impact on the product and the success (or failure) of the company. Oddworld gave me that opportunity.

Q: What is it exactly that a “Director of HR and Administration” does, anyway? You get to pick who gets hired, right?

Michael Reifers: Sort of but not really. I work with production to help decide what type of people we need and when we need them. When we figure that out, I manage the process of screening people and working with the leads to make sure we hire right.

Recruiting can take a lot of time but it’s only part of my job. There is a bunch more to do in HR and Administration. Fortunately, I work with some real pros on the HR and Admin side that help make sure it all gets done.

Q: What is the easiest part of your job, and what is the hardest?

Michael Reifers: The easiest part of my job is dealing with the paperwork. It’s like checking the box, but it’s the part I dislike most. The hardest part of my job is probably hiring folks. It can be nerve racking when you bring someone in to a great team knowing that it only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch. No one bats 1000 when it comes to people. Fortunately, we haven’t made too many mistakes with this team.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

Michael Reifers: My typical day is pretty atypical. It can be a mix of everything from dealing with an insurance problem to interviewing a candidate to solving an employee’s problem to making sure a facilities problem is being dealt with. The common thread of my day is communication. I spend a lot of time talking with folks on the floor, responding to email and talking to applicants or colleagues in the industry. My job is definitely a “people” job. I’m pretty much “talked out” by the end of the day.

Q: Who (or what) inspires you?

Michael Reifers: I have lots of inspirations, but I think I’m most inspired by my wife, Heidi. I know it sounds kind of mushy but she’s the kind of person I want to be when I grow up. Besides taking care of our three small children, she inspires me to improve myself personally and professionally every day.

Aside from Heidi, children (especially my own) are inspiring. To look wake up each day with the excitement and curiosity of a child is something I think we should all aspire to.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Michael Reifers: I’m a total gearhead. When I’m not playing with the kids I’m in my shop tinkering with one of my old jalopies.

Q: What CD are you currently listening too?

Michael Reifers: Umm …Shrek 2. Like every time I get into the car with my kids … errrr.

Q: What’s in your game console or pc right now?

Michael Reifers: You mean the console that my four year old son confiscated. Believe it or not he loves Munch’s Oddysee and I end up playing it with him. Farting is quite a hit with toddlers.

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, with a lifetime supply of one particular office item, what would it be and why?

Michael Reifers: By the looks of this question, white out would be your first choice. I think I’d take the bottled water. Call me practical.

Q: If you could change jobs with one of the other Inhabitants who would it be and why?

Michael Reifers: I’d like Sherry’s job (CEO), but I doubt this is making her nervous. I’ve always had dreams of running my own company and working here has given me a far better appreciation of challenging, and at times misunderstood, that role really is.

Q: What advice would you give someone trying to break into games? What does Oddworld look for in employees that other companies don’t?

Michael Reifers: The best advice I can give is to network and find out how to get your foot in the door. It doesn’t matter what door (testing if you want to be an artist for example) as long as you get your foot in. I meet with dozens of folks each year at shows like GDC and give them tips on how to present their work or ideas, and what courses might help them out. Unless you’re really lucky, really talented or both, you can’t just sit back, and then all of the sudden when you decide your ready expect to get a job in games. Get out there, meet people, be humble and listen to what they say.

Oddworld is different from other companies that I’ve worked with in that we don’t try to “sell” anyone on a job. In fact, it’s more common that we discourage someone from taking a position with us if they’re not sure about wanting to work here. The two most important things we look for are 1) a lot of passion and 2) very little ego. If someone loves what they do and they have the basic talent to augment that drive they can be great. The biggest roadblock for talent is ego. Everyone has one and when you get too many in one room at the same time it’s no fun. This is why we use the phrase “check your ego at the door”.

Q: What type of education does someone need to do your job? How could you specialize that education and training for the games industry?

Michael Reifers: I think a business or liberal arts degree is helpful, or at least it’s helped me. It’s useful to have decent writing and analytical skills and it’s important to know how HR decisions affect the business. Truth is, I never studied HR and never really thought I’d wind up working in this field, but I think that’s not so unusual; to sort of fall into to something you enjoy.

Boy I’m not sure there are any classes that would teach you how to be an HR person or manager of any sort in games. Games can be pretty unconventional and that standard stuff they teach in school doesn’t always apply. Still it’s good to know what the standards are.

I would say that the best way to specialize your training towards games would be to find an internship or a mentor in this or another entertainment field. Again you’ll need to network in order to make this happen.

Q: Who is your favorite Oddworld character and why?

Michael Reifers: I love the Sligs; they crack me up. They’re just totally incompetent and have some of the best lines in the game! Plus, they’re the only characters I can imitate half way decently (voice, not incompetence).

Q: Can you tell us something about the new game? Please!

Michael Reifers: I’ll say two things.

(1) The team working on this game is the best we’ve ever had.
(2) In the 6+ years I’ve been here this is the most excited I’ve ever been about a game we’ve created.