An integrated corporate approach to working with and supporting mental health charities
I’m director of player experience at UK video games studio Jagex. I’m responsible for player support, online safety, anti-cheating, localisation and Jagex Charitable Giving. I’ve worked at Jagex for more than 15 years and if I could create my personal perfect job, it would be the one I have right now – it’s challenging, varied, impactful and incredibly dynamic.
Everything we do has an almost immediate impact on our players, leading to immense opportunity for job satisfaction. That, and it’s incredibly fun and hugely rewarding.
Jagex is a game development and publishing studio of more than 400 employees based in Cambridge, UK, and is best known for RuneScape and Old School RuneScape – community-driven games enjoyed by our million plus worldwide community of players.
RuneScape and Old School RuneScape are at an all-time high in terms of popularity, aided in no small part to the fact we’ve expanded the games to mobile phones and tablets as an alternative to PCs. Old School was the first RuneScape game to come to mobile and that’s already won a BAFTA Games Award for Mobile Game of the Year (2019).
Mental health is important to us due to our own experience. Around five years ago, we saw increasing needs from our employees for mental health support, and we invested greatly in our studio wellbeing strategy. As a result of this, Jagex was the first game company to be recognised with a Silver Award by the charity Mind in their wellbeing index, which recognises employers which achieve impact by demonstrating meaningful progress over time in promoting staff mental health.
Poor mental health
Statistics from Mind also worryingly bear this out: one in four people experience poor mental health, with self-harm, anxiety and suicide rates all increasing, especially in young people.
Just over four years ago, I was asked to head up Jagex’s charitable initiatives and it was a logical step to extend this to highlight mental health charities to our communities of players. We’ve subsequently created a programme of fundraising, awareness raising and skill support for three charities every two years. We’ve been recognised with four national and one local award over the last couple of years for this work, which is testament to the way our player communities have embraced and supported it.
The charities in our 2020/2021 Charitable Giving Programme are:
- Local – CPSL (Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Lincolnshire) Mind, supporting its award-winning Stop Suicide Campaign.
- National – The Prince’s Trust, with 33% of the young people it helps experiencing mental health issues.
- International – Rise Above the Disorder, which provides funding so gamers, worldwide, can get access to counselling and medical care when unable to afford treatment.
This is not something that is limited to the games industry. Mental health is a universal issue that isn’t affected by country borders – it’s an increasing global challenge we all face in society. We see our online communities as a microcosm of society – if it goes on in real life, on social media, we know we will see it in our online games. Poor mental health and the stigma associated with it are real and tangible. So, armed with that knowledge, we seek to educate, support and, importantly, face up to reality.
For example, with our safeguarding approach, we know there are people who want to troll and do other sorts of harm on the internet, and we search for them using intelligent systems and the skills of our employees. Equally, we also see cries for help, so we’ve worked with charities, law enforcement, the National Crime Agency, the Internet Watch Foundation and others to understand what to look for, and what to do when we find it.
I believe every employer and workplace should be providing enhanced mental health support for their employees, especially as through working with mental health charities for almost four years we know that state-run initiatives struggle to be effective, and employers are in a strong position to understand and help support their employees. I’m proud to say that Jagex does this incredibly well.
There are two sides to our approach to mental health support – what we do for our player communities and what we do for our employees.
Fundraising and awareness events
We have specific in-game content with items such as armour, pets and other things for players to purchase, with 100% of revenue passed on to our charity partners. Players can engage with computer-controlled characters in-game who represent our three charity partners, and get basic mental health information with links to their websites and resources. We also host Q&As with charity representatives to talk to our players, and use our massive social reach to highlight their work.
In addition, at our RuneFest annual fan event – a real-life convention for more than 1,500 players – we have a wellbeing room for attendees, with representatives from the charities there for the whole event, and we sell merchandise to raise additional funds. Employee-led fundraising is also matched pound for pound by the company, encouraging everyone to get involved.
Recognising the impact of isolation for our players, and our charities due to Covid-19, we recently created a number of additional initiatives:
- Published wellbeing advice with input from our local CPSL Mind branch, The Prince’s Trust, and government/NHS advice.
- Made an additional £100,000 corporate donation to our charity partners who were struggling with traditional fundraising, at a time when demand for their support services went through the roof.
- Created a support and engagement plan to give players moving online due to isolation additional engaging activities – in recognition of what the online world has seen in lockdown. This included large tournaments, in-game fun events linked to mental health awareness, Q&A sessions, publishing advice, and promoting on our social media channels.
- We were able to donate £204,000 quickly to our charity partners as a result of all of this, as well as provide access to support for any of our players struggling with isolation.
Culture of support
For our employees we have built a culture of support, openness and understanding with wellness action plans, dedicated internal wellbeing discussion forums and tangible wellbeing initiatives such as:
- An Employee Assistance Programme.
- Health insurance, including enhanced mental health provision.
- Employee Wellbeing Champions to gather as much information as possible to make informed choices about the support we can provide with clear input from those who matter – our employees.
- A dedicated relaxation area.
- Weekly company-provided counselling.
- Open conversation about mental health awareness.
- Ongoing reviews of staff mental health and wellbeing.
- Company-wide talks and workshops from experts to broaden our understanding of mental health, nutrition and wellbeing.
- Mental health awareness training for our employees and managers - provided by Mind - which utilises resources such as its guidance on wellness action plans.
Our philosophy is linked to one of our core studio values – Commitment to Change – and we rally ourselves and our players to make positive change in the world. After deciding on mental health as the key focus for the 18-24 gamer demographic, we searched for charities we knew we could make a difference to and would resonate with our players.
Following initial meetings with potential charity partners, we understood the levels of support they required, and where our own skills and expertise could help. Our transferable skills (aside from making games) include marketing, video making, social media, web design and graphical asset creation.
Understanding charities’ work
We also looked to understand the charities’ work, their annual income, and any specific projects we could fund. We wanted to support smaller charities who don’t have access to a wide range of skills and resources, and for whom £50,000-£100,000 yearly donations each would be transformational.
It wasn’t our place to decide where we wanted them to spend the funds – the charities are the experts in their area, and we trusted them to decide where best to use it. The other major point for the charities was to create a real partnership, which would last at least two years to give them longer term security of funds, as well as allow the partnership to flourish.
My personal aim is to reach a milestone of donating 1% of annual company revenue to charity – something I believe every company should aim for as a minimum. Since 2017, we and our player community have raised a fraction under £800,000 for our three charity partners, raising more each year towards that target aim.
It’s been hard work, as it’s all voluntary and on top of our main roles at Jagex. But it’s incredibly rewarding and satisfying to see the impact on the charities, our employees, and, most important of all, our player communities.