80 Level Podcast

What's It Like Running a Studio in London? Sharkmob Has the Answers - 80 Level Round Table

July 13, 2022 Kirill Tokarev / James Dobrowski / Benjamin Penrose Season 2 Episode 6
What's It Like Running a Studio in London? Sharkmob Has the Answers - 80 Level Round Table
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80 Level Podcast
What's It Like Running a Studio in London? Sharkmob Has the Answers - 80 Level Round Table
Jul 13, 2022 Season 2 Episode 6
Kirill Tokarev / James Dobrowski / Benjamin Penrose

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Sharkmob London Managing Director James Dobrowski and Art Director Benjamin Penrose talked about games made in Great Britain and shared their thoughts on helping people grow in their new studio.

Sharkmob Website: https://www.sharkmob.com/
Sharkmob Job Openings: https://career.sharkmob.com/

James Dobrowski is the Managing Director of Sharkmob London
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-dobrowski-57b03311/
Benjamin Penrose is the Art Director at Sharkmob London
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benjaminpenrose/

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The Gaming Blender
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This video is sponsored by Xsolla, a global video game commerce company with a robust and powerful set of tools and services designed specifically for the video game industry: http://xsolla.pro/8023

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Sharkmob London Managing Director James Dobrowski and Art Director Benjamin Penrose talked about games made in Great Britain and shared their thoughts on helping people grow in their new studio.

Sharkmob Website: https://www.sharkmob.com/
Sharkmob Job Openings: https://career.sharkmob.com/

James Dobrowski is the Managing Director of Sharkmob London
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-dobrowski-57b03311/
Benjamin Penrose is the Art Director at Sharkmob London
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benjaminpenrose/

Follow 80 LEVEL on social media:

We are looking for more artists!
Join 80 LEVEL Talent for free: https://80lv.pro/rfp-rt  
Get your work noticed by some of the biggest and best developers, publishers, and studios in video games today.

The Gaming Blender
Could you design a video game?

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

This video is sponsored by Xsolla, a global video game commerce company with a robust and powerful set of tools and services designed specifically for the video game industry: http://xsolla.pro/8023


james dabrovsky and benjamin pembrose from sharpmount london were


very happy to join us today on our podcast we talked about building games in london


a very expensive city for game dev we discussed how do they


hire and retain employees and what can you do to make sure that


your team produces incredible results greetings and welcome to the 80 level


roundtable podcast in each episode host karel tokorev invites video game industry leaders to


talk about the world of game development no topic is off limits as long as it


relates to video game development new episodes are in the works so remember to follow us or subscribe and


share with someone you know will also enjoy the podcast can you introduce yourself


to our audience uh we did a little bit of an interview with james already i don't think we covered uh benjamin on


the website so if you can do like a little intro that would be great sure yeah so my name is uh benjamin


penrose and i'm the art director at sharp mod london and have been working in the industry


now for [Music] just over 10 years so it started off my career working at playground games


and joined the team at sharp mob uh back in 2020


or 29 2020 it's 2020. like ever since the pandemic all the


years blurred together right it was yeah opening opening day for the studio was the end of september 2020. so we're what


about 18 months old now so still still quite young me and ben actually started


our games careers together when ben was a concept artist and i was a producer


more years ago than i dare to think now uh just as playground games is opening up to work on forza horizon uh the first


the first fourth horizon game so we've been worked together for a very very long time we actually i think we partnered with


uh playground games a couple of years ago we were looking for people for


horizon as well as the new fable that they're working on but uh tell me about


uh shark mob so the first question i have when i learned that there is this new


studio coming up um is that you actually have offices in london


so why london i mean it seems like the most expensive place to have a studio right


now it's it's it's it's a good it's a good question and it probably is one of the


most expensive places in the uk although it's interesting i think the um


the salary differences or the salary bands you see in london versus the rest of the uk are getting they're getting smaller and smaller over time but yeah


there's a bunch of other costs that make london more expensive than other places um however on both a local scale within


london and i think on a national scale being on the uk there's a lot of benefits um


on the uk side of things we obviously obviously have the video games tax relief system


which really actually helps in bringing down dev costs and making us a little bit more competitive with the rest of


europe um than you than you would think even in london um but the choice to be in london for charm of london for charm


of london specifically uh was for a few reasons um the biggest being


access to talent um on a on a local scale looking at the uk um


you've really got um i'd say three or four major games hubs in the uk london has one of the biggest games development


uh sense in the world when you look at the number of game developers here across both kind of pc console aaa mobile um the


platform holders are here we've got microsoft and sony google all sat in the city with us but also guildford has a huge games hub


and is only 30 minutes away on train uh lemmington spa where me and ben used to work together it's about an hour and a


half on the train and then you've got guilford uh sorry cambridge as well with a good few developers about an hour on


the train with london nestled between those three hubs so in many ways within a probably hour and a half


commute circle around london you have access to pretty much the majority of


game dev talent in the uk um and i think one other thing we thought we we were always going to be open to


hiring international talent and we're hiring people from across the globe right now um and london i'd say more so


than anywhere else in the uk is quietly attractive for people coming from overseas it's such a well-known city


for people who want to come and live in one of the world's bigger kind of more exciting metropolitan cities it's a


great place to be and so we have kind of a lot of success hiring both in the within the uk but also hiring people


overseas as well and and for us that was the number one reason for being here in the city um


a secondary uh piece is um we're increasingly conscious that the


triple a side of the game's business and aaa something that we make aaa games for pc console here at sharp mob and with


the triple h side of the business and the games as a service side of the business this idea that you're not making a game


to release it and drop it you make you release a game and you sustain it for a long period of time


those two worlds are coming together more and more uh and the future i think it's certain that's going to


continue london does have access to aaa game developers but more so it has a lot of


access to i think the uk's games as a service experience uh so we've got the platform holders here we


have quite a lot of mobile developers like king space 8 natural motion um and so we


wanted to build our studio from from day one with the mindset of having both triple a thinkers


and games as service thinkers in the building from a very early conceptual stage and i can't think of a better place in the world to do that than than


london um yeah a bunch of reasons but talent talent being the primary one


so to kind of build on that uh conversation um


what do video game developers want right now like you've been probably


hiring a lot of guys like i said in your area and internationally


and um how do you see kind of like the this internal want of the video game


developer change since like when you first started and what's going on now


that's an interesting question um do you want me to go first do you want to jump in no no you go for it because


that is that's that is an interesting question from a yeah there's a few different angles by which


you could approach that right there's the sort of the type of lifestyle that people want to lead um yeah yeah yeah so


my children are walking into the office right now so probably best for james to answer that question first


you know so my view is the the industry has always been driven by passion from from day one and and and right now it's


driven by passion so i think you have a huge number of people who are in this industry just because they they love games and they want to make games um and


i think uh from way back when the industry started to now a lot of people choose where they


work based on the kind of games those studios are putting out whether they're passionate about those kind of projects


uh where they have a belief in that particular studio to deliver on the ambitions that they're setting themselves so when we have


people come to us we primarily have people apply who want to make um large ambitious


aaa projects that care about storytelling and world building that care about working on games that


are fairly technically innovative and advanced as we try and push the boundaries of what's possible on on pc


and console um i think where things have changed is whereby where i'd say 20 years ago that


was almost the exclusive driver for pulling people to companies it is becoming a bit more balanced now yes you


want to work at a company where you're super passionate about the projects but you also want to work a company that's going to look after you as a person


that's going to surround you with a nice environment with a team a group of people that you uh really really want to


work with that thinks carefully about your your mental health and your work-life balance and your life outside of the


office as well as in the office and and the understanding that um


sure our people are passionate about making video games but they have been just proved children are home to look


after and uh just the desire to do lots of other things around around what you do day to day so


these days i think when you're starting a game studio and you're looking to hire the best talent


you you 100 do need to think about how you make a game that's going to inspire people both for your new talent and the


people you're eventually going to sell to but i think these days you really need to think long and hard about um


your uh employee value proposition what's gonna what's gonna make people want to be at


your studio and surrounded by your people more so than potentially other places that they they might work


yeah i think the only thing i'd add to that really is um that i think as well as


the thing i've noticed more and more as we've spoken to people and sort of brought them on board at sharp mob is is


how people resonate with a passion behind the project for the the people sort of setting the studio up


so in that case myself and and james and a few others um you know there's


there is definitely a potential sort of direction to go where you're chasing the next big fad or you know you're sort of


emulating something else that you've seen as success in and i think uh people like developers i


think are kind of a little bit um


you know they're super sensitive to that sometimes and a bit wary of it and i think sometimes a developer coming along who's actively pushing for something


that they're super passionate about themselves i think is almost as much of an attraction for those people as as being passionate in the game


from their side like quite often there's there's not always a clear uh correlation between the games that


people play and are really passionate about from a consumer level and necessarily what they want to work on


and sometimes i think that is that's almost like the bigger attractor is the idea that you're going and working on


something at a place where there's there's a high level of ambition and everybody's really excited about what it is they're producing


because it's infectious right you know it ends up sort of you get sort of brought along on that journey as well i think


um i have a question on on top of this so


when you're having those interviews with these passionate guys do you feel


like you have to sell your project to them just as they have to sell themselves to


you do you feel like there's this need to you know explain that this is a great game and


the people are gonna love it and so on yeah i think um it's i mean it's definitely a it's a


two-way street i think you know it's as much about the studio or your potential employer


doing all the things that james is talking about in terms of looking after you and doing all of that great stuff and also having something that's


um exciting to work on and the the developers are really passionate about and and you know we're in a world now where i


think the the industry is growing so quickly at the moment with so much energy behind it that people have


choices you know if they've got a good track record and they've you know worked on some good stuff they're they're a


highly um valued person in the industry so and they've got they've got plenty of


choices and decisions yeah they could go to different countries they could go um work on different types of games like


so yeah i think there's there's always going to be an element of um you know them interviewing us as much as the


other way around yeah so it's very true it's it's been said for most senior talent right now they're not they're not


if they're if they're looking for a job they're not just talking to you they're talking to a bunch of people because we're definitely in a place in the


industry right now where a lot of companies are expanding there's a lot of demand for games content and


there's relatively few of the right people around particularly for specialist roles um


and a lot of companies um will have fairly similar similar benefits propositions and things like


that because we all benchmark against each other and we might try and outdo each other a bit but um


there's kind of there's kind of some standards there and so as part of our interview process um


we quite early on in the process we'll put somebody under nda just so we can make sure that uh the sensitive surround


our projects are secure and we'll then pitch to them um and as i mentioned that's a bit of a two-way street we want to make sure


that well for one if the person is super excited in what we're doing they're more likely to come and join us but also we


love the idea that people coming to work on our projects are super passionate about what they're coming to work on because i think you always get the best


creative work out of somebody who is is passionate about what their what they're doing i think it leads to a


good a good vibe and a good atmosphere in the office when you can feel that sense of


of passion and i do think here at um drama london while we can't share much


about what we're working on right now because it's such an early stage of development um i think one of the biggest attractors for people who've


been taken through the interview process that's allowed us to grow relatively quickly given that we're only 18 months


old is that the project that we're working on and that we're talking to people about as they go through the


process is super inspiring to people um and it is i mean it's been feedback


we've had from a lot of the people who've come and joined us is one of the primary reasons they joined us if not the primary reason


is the project that we're we're looking to build here at the studio


so i have a question it's a bit of a sensitive topic so if you don't want to


answer um then don't answer so the ques the question is uh this


so how does compensation work in video game companies


like um [Music] i where i work and live in los angeles right


and i know a lot of people from different studios and uh


i know that at the beginning of their careers if they're in santa monica somewhere


they usually live with a roommate and


sorry they bike to work you know it's not that they're living a very


lavish uh lifestyle right i also know people who work at like


companies like apple or like naughty dog when they are higher kind of like in this career ladder and


they're they're doing fine i guess you can you could say that um so how does it work in


in london because i know as you said london is kind of expensive


and you know rent is kind of expensive how does this comp work and is it even important for


developers so so my experience is different games companies have


different ways of working out what they want to uh pay people at shark mob we


we wanted to we wanted to make sure that


our benefits system and how much we pay people was was


was well thought about was based on data and was fair across the studio so if


somebody said why do i get paid xyz or why does this other person get paid this we could have a transparent conversation


with them because it was based on something uh meaningful um so in the very early days when we're only


maybe one or two months old we set out to build a kind of a grading structure for the company from a new graduate


joining us as a junior right through to a senior director um and we um there's i


know this is true in the uk i'm not sure how what global this is but there's a few salary benchmarking surveys um that


look at both the games industry the wider tech industry the wider creative industry um and we purchase data from


two of those companies to get a really good understanding of um what is the kind of minimum that people are paying


what's the maximum what's the average and that kind of thing um and at sharp mob as a new company we wanted to be


incredibly competitive uh in our in our offering particularly here in london and particularly because we wanted to grow


quite quickly um so we built salary bans built around the data that we're seeing


that felt like it was it had a competitive edge in the market and we did the same with our wider benefits


package um the way those bands look is they tend to have a midpoint that is data driven and then a a kind of bottom


end and a max end that's just kind of extrapolated out from that midpoint and when we hire somebody we first


assign them a band we then determine their kind of competency within that band and that relates to what they get


paid based on data what they get offered based on data and that's what we use internally


for both hires and pay reviews as we as we grow we love this idea that it's data


driven it's based on the market that everybody is fair for everybody


and it's explainable because we have a system behind it whether that's true for the rest of the games industry i don't


know i don't know a few of the companies that that do the same um but i i can't i can't speak for


the most it has worked very very well for us um it's just something that we know we need to keep on top of every


year we need to go and take another look at the data to make sure that we are remaining in the place we want to be


um what about linking kind of the comps and all the other benefits to


performance like do you have any systems in place that kind of link those together


we do yeah so we have um we have a profit share scheme here at


sharp mob so every member of staff shares in the success of the projects we make


i say it's profit-based so once we release a project initially we'd look to recoup our costs


or pay off any anything we have to pay off but at the point where the project starts generating profit


profit that is shared among every person that has put time into that project um


because we're so early on uh we haven't got to a stage yet where we can see quite how that works we've seen it work


very well at other companies that that do this is there's a it's not a i wouldn't say it's a common thing within


the industry as far as i've seen it but where it has happened it's proven to work quite successfully


in some places and those kind of benefit schemes can either not pay out if you're not


successful or can really heavily pay out if you if you happen to create the next


fortnight which i'm sure we hope we we all will um and that's something we did want to certainly have as part of our


benefits package we wanted to make sure that your salary um that you received month or month was competitive and allowed you to


live a good life here in london but there was that potential to push


to push beyond that if the projects that we work on are successful and that sense that everybody who works and something gets to share in that


in kind of the outcome i i was actually a big advocate of profit sharing myself


i was pushing this on all the gdc talks that i did good yeah yeah i i think it's an amazing way


to to set things up it just it means that everybody shares in the success right


that they've all collectively worked on yeah i've been in places where they've done it in the past and it it's always


been it's amazing when you do really well right because it's just great news for everybody yeah i mean it's great news for


everybody and i feel like it's a more transparent way of uh you know complementing your


staff rather than you know you need to get a certain score on metacritic like if it's like over 89 or


is like below 95 and which is kind of super subjective anyway


it doesn't say much so much right that's very true on the uh on the user


reviews or something just to make it extra tough so


let's talk a little bit about the people that you're hiring you said that the kind of london and the areas around it


they have a lot of very good talent how did this


happen like how did it develop how did england and kind of uk became this big


hub for game development that's a really good question um and i'd say i probably don't know the


history as well as i should for specifically the london area but i know i know the uk has been making games


since the beginning of the games industry and we've got a lot of um


we've got a lot of these kind of very old institutions that have been in the uh games industry since very early on in


the beginning i know and i know codemasters comes to mind as a studio that's been in the running in the uk now


since i don't know the 80s i'm guessing i'd have to go on wikipedia and look it


up but there was a there was a few there was a few of those studios and i think if you look at the major games hubs around the uk that tends to have been


one or two of those big studios and they tended to have been founded in people's bedrooms uh and they just grew into the


giants that they now are and then over the years we've just seen a lot of breakaways from those studios


so uh if you go to lemmington you had codemasters um you had um


uh the guys that started blitz that worked in the dizzy games way back when um i think off the back of that i know


well playground games was started by a bunch of xcode masters people uh i'm guessing you know freestyle i guess was


the same but you see a lot of these kind of studios over the over the decades have just spun out of the the first big


company that was down there i think in guildford uh i know he had bullfrog back in the day


um and a ton of companies have spun out of that over the years um


the london scene i'm i say i'm not i'm not quite familiar with the history um i know uh kind of sony has had a place


here for for a good long time there's been a a bunch of other studios have been around for a long time um but what


we've seen in london over recent years is a very large influx of international companies moving into london um


i say we've got quite large offices in london for natural emotional part of zinger of


space ape who are now part of the supercell family king


say sony and microsoft are here we've got a sega outfit just just on the outskirts of the


city and there's probably a bunch of others that aren't coming to mind right now so i think i think london


um has had companies been around for a while but we've also seen a huge amount of international growth in london over


the over the last 20 years so


when you think about games built in britain and the video game developers who work


there there's something peculiar about them like if you look at the


japanese games they have their own kind of vibe like the the pauses are probably too long in the cutscenes right


if you if you look at the american games they're like you can see people who are doing them


especially like if you look at big call of duty and that stuff so


when i look at the stuff like that you mentioned like at the games that


buff rock was making at the fable series at the horizon series like all those um


a lot of games came from uk right um what do you feel is like this peculiar


thing that kind of unites all of them that is that is a really good question


and one i've been debating with both myself and other people over the past few months because i actually think


um the uk games industry um doesn't brand itself as well as it used to anymore on


the international stage i've often thought now if you think of like where's the home of really serious aaa game


development you probably go to the west coast of the us uh with your naughty dogs and your


sony santa monicas and things like that maybe a bit in the nordics as well um sir sharp mob was originally a spin-off


of ubisoft massive as a bunch of ubisoft massive uh leadership team broke away to start sharp mob um


i think uh the uk used to be a triple a oh we were perceived as a triple a powerhouse


there's bit of a there's been a i think was was about 10 years ago there's quite a drain


of talent from the uk across the united states and canada as uh the industries um in


north america started to expand and there were a kind of bunch of jobs uh over there um


and i've heard a lot of people from outside of the uk talk about the uk being the racing game country now


because we had black rock bizarre playground games codemasters like more than anywhere in the world i think we make a lot of racing games um and that's


definitely true uh but as you say there's been a ton of these other games sprinkled throughout our


history um the bullfrog games the lionhead games i'm conscious that ninja theory are


rare as well right yeah such a like massive i mean just that that period sort of you know during


the n64 sort of heyday everything they made was a smash hit and it was all so varied as well but that's that


that's the thing that i like sticks out to me when it comes to the uk gaming scene it's just i mean you're right


there's definitely like a bit of a pull towards certain genres like racing but but actually just the


there's a real breadth and it and and also it never really sort of apart from


racing really never really manifested in particular sort of clear genres like you might get in other territories like


especially if i think about rare and bullfrog and the sorts of games they made they were sort of you know


they were kind of all by themselves in a lot of ways they were not like they were trying to emulate


anything in particular it's just they had this i mean that's one of the things that i loved about rare actually as a studio back then the fact that they they


used to produce so much great stuff but everything that came out of that place felt like it had its own sort of unique identity i mean there was a touch of


rare sort of magic or a certain way they approached visuals which used to permeate through


you know from title to title but generally speaking you know you look at something like jet force gemini and


compare it to golden eye and banjo-kazooie and they're just all over the place it was great


yeah there's a bit of there's a bit of um i don't know british culture and british humor in a lot of those those


i've spoken to quite a few people who feel like over the years the uk has lost i think


in the early days there was a lot of character narrative adventure style games fable being a great example and


i've heard a few people say that's kind of that perception around the world has dissipated a little bit and the west


coast of america has kind of started taking over that crown um and i i believed that myself a little bit until


i started to remember that we've got rockstar north in the uk making the grand theft auto series uh you say you


have ninja theory in cambridge who've been working on kind of hellblade and various other games the fable series is


is still being brought to life by playground games at the moment down in guildford you've got supermassive


working on uh their very cinematic character-based games um so i think


to ben's point i think we've ended up in a place in the uk where rather than be known for a specific genre of game


we just make a lot of different types of games and in some ways we just need to rework how we brand ourselves on the


international stale stage because we do do triple a we do do mobile we do do games of service we kind of touch every


genre um i am starting to see i think a bit of an ink just talking around the various


years a bit of an increase or a bit of a return to character story-driven gaming here in the uk


and um there's a bit of hope that we can lure some of our uh ex-pat brits that


have gone over to the state back again to rebuild the uk games industry to its


former glory um and i hope well it's part of our mission at the moment to do just that


i i like that you mentioned all of that because when i was still kind of reading those magazines about


new york with video game reviews people were i had the i had a feeling they had some


kind of like a different attitude toward games made in the uk like the whenever like the bitmap


brothers uh published anything they were like oh that's different that's it then like and


you know ball frog and all the other guys it felt like it's i i remember there were like pages and pages and pages on


those games because they were just so out of the blue like you know whatever


peter molina was doing and you mentioned rockstar which is also


like huge uh incredibly big franchise yeah i have started to wonder a little


bit lately about whether um the way your development community in


a country is perceived is based on the characters of the games that you make so if i think of um the west coast of


america even if i just look at la you've got kratos coming out of seoul and santa monica you have nathan drake coming out


of the charred series and so it starts to paint a picture because you can you can put these these hero faces


in a location and actually if i look at the uk game scene for the last kind of five ten years some great aaa games have


come out of the country but i struggle to think of


to lara croft came out of the uk a long time ago but i struggle to think of like


who are the hero game faces of the uk games industry these days um i think that's part of the perception


challenge we have like i think i still think of mario and and sonic when i think of japan um


yeah and i think that maybe that comes down to the other thing that we were talking about right


it feels like you don't very often in the uk get that thing where there'll be a


a particular game that comes out that then sort of gets multiple iterations of it where you sort


of get a character sort of developed over time it just um it tends to be more like people put all


of their effort into telling this fresh cool story and that's almost where i think a lot of


that's where a lot of the values uh gained you know is this idea that you're creating something new and fresh and it's it's something for people to


get their teeth into and then experience something new in it and then yeah and then it sounds like


moving on to the the next thing the next cool fresh idea well um i have a couple of questions not


really connected with that but i think we can move to like the next chapter is um


what skills are currently relevant for for you when you're hiring


like as an example um a lot of people right now are big on


procedural generation they want to have people who know python and then they can generate whatever worlds buildings and


so on what are you guys looking for because this is an advice for people who are


trying to get a job in the industry and they want to know what to learn yeah yeah so that's a great question


like this is so this is something that i've spoken that's a bunch of different places about at universities and things


i think there's almost like two aspects in terms of the artwork anyway the way i i would think of answering your question


the first is you know what what are we looking for i think for us specifically because because we are a triple a studio and


we're really looking to push quality across across the board in a bunch of areas i think the art production


naturally sort of drifts towards this place where you're looking for specialists in particular areas the people who really understand the


particular part of game art production um to a level where they've obsessed


over it for a bunch of time or they're willing to become super obsessed around a particular thing and become great at


producing this particular type of uh content this particular type of work


um and then alongside that you know the because you're putting so much effort into making sure that everything is


great there's always this sort of issue of how you produce that stuff at scale at triple a which is where i think


naturally you start finding people sort of wanting to make the most of those procedural tool sets you know


using houdini to do some really great stuff so that you can you can keep your quality bar where you want it but you


can do it at a pace where you're not going to take 30 years to produce the thing that you want to put out


and i think um i think that's


you know that that ultimately becomes another area where we are super focused so i think you want you want those craft people you want those people who are you


know on an artistic level they're they're super passionate about sculpting the human form or replicating something


about environments at a certain level of fidelity but then you you need to find that other skill set which is this


ability to really get in in the weeds with some of these great new tools that allow you to do great things at scale


but quite often and not always but you know quite often those tend to be skill sets that exist in sort of separate


places you'll find people that are really great at those more craftsmanship artistic side of things and people who


naturally gravitate towards the more um technical side of things


and you know if you're super lucky you'll find people who can do a bit of both and bridge that gap you know that's


i think that tends to end up being that an elusive person we call a technical artist you know that there are


super hard people to find i i i


yeah goosebern we um i mean there's i'd say


across every single games company and over the last of the entire history of game development there's a lot of the


same roles that we've always needed we always need programmers specifically c plus programmers but


um depending on your studio uh kind of good programmers needs across multiple different languages good


environment artists good level designers good game designers um so those those people are always in in


very high demand there is currently i say a big skill shortage in the industry around certain specialist roles


rendering engineers ben mentioned technical artists ui artists those very kind of specialists art and engineering


and and also design roles um another example in the design side is um


we've been looking for a combat designer um for the studio and finding people who can can who have experienced in your


particular flavor of combat can be again quite a niche or a challenging role to fill and that said i i don't


know if you agree with this ben but i always believe it's more important to find somebody who has strong fundamental skills rather


than specific tool set knowledge because a talented developer in a certain field


will be able to teach themselves a good tool and so i would always rather take


a say incredibly skilled environment artist who has a passion to learn houdini over


a an artist who has maybe weaker fundamental skills but has a couple years working with houdini


yeah yeah i think i think i generally generally agree with that still i think yeah and it's something nice i i always


push when i go to the universities you know you see you see students getting really obsessive over


the you know the newest way to use a particular plugin in macs or photoshop and actually the thing that


would really push their work to the next level is if they attended a life study class every couple of days you know and


sort of learned of the craft on the underneath i think i think with some of the more


technically focused areas these days especially with the introduction of things like houdini i do think that almost becomes


it's almost becoming its own sort of subset of crazy things yeah like it's you know it's


that sort of way of being able to construct those those systems is almost as much of a


skill as being able to you know do an amazing job in that life study class that i was just mentioning


aside from the technical skills as well i'd say particularly for our field of development the kind of aaa space the


teams are getting larger and larger and larger um our internal team is probably going to end up somewhere around 250


people we'll be working with a bunch of external co-def partners around the world so being


um being somebody who engages well with a big wide team


and interacts with the team is absolutely critical these days particularly for for our kind of flavor of game development and we um


we strongly believe that the the very best creative output comes from teams


who feel comfortable and trust each other enough to enter into healthy creative debate so


if you and me have a disagreement about what the right creative outcome is we feel comfortable having that


conversation and trying to drive the best answer and and the best conclusion and um so i think people who are good at


uh taking feedback uh providing feedback themselves and having kind of that two-way feedback conversation is is


super important regardless of the discipline uh you you working right now um


james yeah it's about the soft skills but you kind of answer that you need to


um you need to communicate you need to figure out what other people think you need to find ways to give feedback that


uh people actually understand what you mean and not get offended and um kind of coming from there


um probably the last question for you guys so um james and benjamin you're both managers


and i don't i can't find a more challenging workplace to manage rather


than a video game development space because there's these two categories of people


like there are these artists let's say right and then there


is analytical people who are like programmers and they're they have completely different mindsets


um they live their lives very differently i know that it's kind of like an


oversimplification obviously it's not like 100 true but you can see


the differences um so my question is like in this environment


how do you actually get any work done and make sure that they are they are you know they don't


kill each other uh um so not not just with with kind of the


artists designs and engineers something that we actively pursue is trying to find a a team with a pretty diverse


mindset and kind of ways of thinking with the philosophy that if everybody does get on


you get the best again creative solution because you get all the ideas on the table you'll stress test them


uh through debate and then the best answer comes out of it so you'll always have the best creative solution if you have the what the broadest set of


creative thinkers uh in the room um but as you say that can be a big challenge because those people are prone to


fighting and i think there's a couple of there's a couple of things we certainly do


and philosophically that you can do to try and um help these various diverse thinkers


work collaboratively together i think a big one for me is that even if you think differently and you approach problems differently you're working towards a


singular goal that you um are aligned on part of that is i think having a team who are passionate


about the project and the passion about video games in general i've had a debate for years with people about whether you can be a good games developer


if you don't like games or you don't play games i'm of the camp that thinks you will the best game developers are people who play games and love games


it's like how do you be a movie director if you've never watched a film um i i actually struggle to understand the idea


of a a good game developer who doesn't care about the the product they're making so we as a team tend to focus on


hiring people who love the field they're working in and and love the projects that they're working on so um whether you're an engineer an


artist designer or however you think we're looking to have that singular focus


we intentionally built our studio um with a the leadership team the director group


particularly the creative director group um in upfront because we wanted to make sure that we


always had a clear vision uh that we could articulate to the team and work with the team on so again people knew


what we were pointing towards and and gunning for and so there's that singular set of goals that that people were


working towards and then a really big thing for me is is um regardless of how people think and


approach problems um hiring people who are open-minded


who are good communicators who are humble uh we


we don't particularly want anybody in the studio who is um is uh arrogant or self-interested um and


focusing attention on really building high degrees of trust within a team so even if kind of we collectively disagree


about how to approach a problem we feel comfortable putting our thoughts on the table and debating it and we hope that


in most cases teams will be able to come to the right conclusion themselves um but one of the reasons that we have a


kind of very experienced leadership team at the studio is to also help mediate those conversations should they become


uh kind of not self-conclusive within the existing group so far we're saying in 18 months


we're now coming close to 60 people on the team we it's been working quite smoothly i think


we haven't had nobody's killed each other yeah nobody yeah nobody's nobody's been killed


yeah no depth on the studio um but we have a bunch of tools that we we use for that i mean um just


what two three months ago ben um we stress test some of these exercises on ourselves and we did things


we went through an exercise called the management drives profile um as a group of leads which is intended to show


um as an individual what drives me as a human being and what what what frustrates me or what


irritates me in other human beings and so we all went through this exercise compared them and you could suddenly see


where we had conflicting points or challenges the leadership team why in these profiles it allowed us to have an


honest conversation about some of these uh challenges we'd had in the past and bring them to the surface and by going


through those kind of exercises but learning to be more kind of open and transparent with each other as human beings we're learning to i


think be more vulnerable with each other we're getting good at saying for example i'm not very good at this i need some help or um i've done a terrible job on


this come come give me a hand with this or uh slightly better at understanding how


some of the stuff we do might wind somebody else up yeah that was that was almost like the


biggest insight it was like okay this is why this always uh upsets you because of yeah


i won't do that again we put a huge amount of thought right now into how do you develop teams


uh to to kind of trust each other and really enjoy working with each other despite


the fact they will come up problems in very very different ways um and i say we're stressed testing these


things ourselves and then we'll roll them out with the team but it's a philosophy that we want to grow the team around


yeah i i would just add to that as well by saying like to your question you know about all those different groups i think


um so it is a bit of a generalization which is probably a bit unfair but it is also kind of true like on average you


definitely get you know you sort of more um soft uh


like what's that what's the word i'm looking for like uh sent more sensitive sort of artists


and you're slightly more like um driven slightly ego maniac sort of


design teams and your more introverted engineering teams but actually i think it's one of the things that makes um


working in games so much fun like i from my point of view anyway you know you i think as as a you know a director or a leader


or manager you know so much of your time ends up being not necessarily stopping people from killing each other but but trying


to make those different worlds work with each other in a way that is productive and it's it's fun you know


what i mean like so much of my time in this industry has been sort of literally sort of running around talking to people


at different you know their desks and seeing how the work's coming on and and working out the right ways in which you can


key that person into something somebody else is doing and turn it into something great you know that's


it's the it's the best bit of the job in my opinion yeah we're actually also very very lucky that if we get to the stage


where we can't answer a question we come into a severe deadlock um sharpmob has its own in-house user research facility


and we're building the same in our new london studio that we move into in a few weeks time so we can always validate


questions with the with the the people we're making the games for and at the end of the day i think the right answer is whatever makes


our customers enjoy the games the most and want to want to play them and want to engage with them so


throughout our entire development process we're going to be making sure that we're validating the decisions we make with our target audience


and that would be a very good way i think of of answering any deadlock debates when it when it happens answer it with actual play testing and data


awesome james and benjamin thank you so much for joining us today we're out of time and fortunately i would love


to continue this conversation for another hour but probably you have other stuff to do as well so thank you so much


um we'll make sure to post whatever positions you have open


and link to the website so people can check out yeah thanks for enjoying another episode of


the 80 level roundtable podcast check out upcoming episodes on the 80 level website at 80.lv join our career


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(Cont.) What's It Like Running a Studio in London? Sharkmob Has the Answers - 80 Level Round Table