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

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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0:00

james dabrovsky and benjamin pembrose from sharpmount london were


0:05

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


0:14

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


0:20

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


0:26

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


0:31

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


0:38

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


0:43

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


0:50

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


0:56

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


1:03

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


1:09

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


1:16

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


1:23

and joined the team at sharp mob uh back in 2020


1:29

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


1:34

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


1:41

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


1:47

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


1:52

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


1:59

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


2:06

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


2:12

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


2:18

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


2:24

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


2:29

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


2:35

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


2:41

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


2:47

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


2:54

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


3:01

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


3:07

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


3:13

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


3:18

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


3:25

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


3:30

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


3:35

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


3:42

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


3:50

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


3:57

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


4:03

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


4:08

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


4:16

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


4:22

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


4:28

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


4:33

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


4:39

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


4:46

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


4:52

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


4:58

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


5:04

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


5:10

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


5:16

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


5:23

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


5:29

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


5:34

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


5:41

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


5:47

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


5:52

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


5:58

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


6:04

so to kind of build on that uh conversation um


6:09

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


6:15

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


6:21

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


6:28

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


6:33

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


6:40

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


6:46

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


6:52

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


6:58

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


7:05

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


7:12

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


7:18

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


7:23

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


7:31

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


7:37

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


7:43

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


7:49

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


7:56

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


8:02

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


8:09

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


8:14

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


8:21

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


8:26

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


8:31

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


8:38

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


8:43

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


8:48

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


8:53

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


8:59

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


9:04

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


9:11

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


9:16

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


9:23

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


9:29

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


9:35

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


9:41

think are kind of a little bit um


9:47

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


9:54

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


10:01

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


10:08

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


10:14

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


10:20

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


10:26

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


10:32

um i have a question on on top of this so


10:37

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


10:44

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


10:50

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


10:57

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


11:03

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


11:09

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


11:16

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


11:22

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


11:27

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


11:33

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


11:39

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


11:44

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


11:51

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


11:57

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


12:04

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


12:10

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


12:15

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


12:21

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


12:27

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


12:33

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


12:39

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


12:46

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


12:53

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


12:59

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


13:04

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


13:10

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


13:15

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


13:22

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


13:28

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


13:33

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


13:39

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


13:45

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


13:50

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


13:55

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


14:02

so how does compensation work in video game companies


14:07

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


14:13

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


14:18

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


14:24

they usually live with a roommate and


14:30

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


14:36

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


14:41

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


14:48

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


14:55

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


15:00

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


15:07

developers so so my experience is different games companies have


15:12

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


15:19

we wanted to we wanted to make sure that


15:24

our benefits system and how much we pay people was was


15:29

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


15:34

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


15:41

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


15:46

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


15:52

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


15:59

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


16:06

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


16:12

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


16:18

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


16:24

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


16:30

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


16:36

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


16:41

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


16:47

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


16:53

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


17:00

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


17:05

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


17:11

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


17:17

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


17:22

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


17:27

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


17:33

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


17:38

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


17:44

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


17:50

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


17:56

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


18:01

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


18:08

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


18:15

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


18:21

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


18:26

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


18:32

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


18:37

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


18:43

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


18:49

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


18:54

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


19:01

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


19:07

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


19:13

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


19:20

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


19:27

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


19:32

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


19:39

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


19:45

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


19:52

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


20:00

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


20:05

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


20:10

reviews or something just to make it extra tough so


20:16

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


20:21

they have a lot of very good talent how did this


20:26

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


20:32

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


20:38

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


20:45

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


20:51

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


20:57

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


21:03

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


21:09

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


21:15

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


21:22

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


21:28

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


21:34

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


21:42

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


21:48

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


21:54

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


22:00

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


22:05

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


22:13

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


22:19

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


22:26

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


22:32

space ape who are now part of the supercell family king


22:37

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


22:43

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


22:49

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


22:55

the over the last 20 years so


23:00

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


23:06

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


23:12

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


23:20

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


23:27

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


23:33

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


23:39

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


23:48

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


23:53

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


23:59

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


24:05

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


24:10

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


24:16

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


24:21

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


24:28

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


24:35

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


24:42

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


24:47

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


24:53

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


24:59

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


25:06

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


25:13

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


25:18

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


25:24

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


25:31

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


25:38

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


25:43

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


25:49

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


25:54

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


26:01

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


26:07

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


26:13

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


26:19

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


26:26

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


26:32

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


26:37

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


26:44

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


26:50

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


26:55

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


27:02

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


27:07

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


27:13

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


27:19

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


27:25

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


27:31

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


27:36

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


27:42

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


27:48

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


27:54

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


28:00

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


28:08

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


28:14

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


28:20

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


28:26

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


28:33

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


28:39

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


28:46

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


28:51

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


28:58

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


29:04

peter molina was doing and you mentioned rockstar which is also


29:10

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


29:16

bit lately about whether um the way your development community in


29:21

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


29:28

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


29:34

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


29:40

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


29:47

come out of the country but i struggle to think of


29:52

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


29:57

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


30:03

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


30:09

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


30:15

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


30:21

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


30:27

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


30:33

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


30:38

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


30:45

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


30:50

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


30:57

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


31:04

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


31:10

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


31:16

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


31:24

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


31:30

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


31:37

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


31:43

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


31:49

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


31:56

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


32:01

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


32:07

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


32:14

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


32:19

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


32:24

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


32:31

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


32:38

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


32:45

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


32:51

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


32:57

and i think um i think that's


33:02

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


33:10

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


33:16

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


33:24

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


33:30

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


33:36

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


33:43

naturally gravitate towards the more um technical side of things


33:49

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


33:55

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


34:02

super hard people to find i i i


34:07

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


34:13

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


34:19

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


34:25

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


34:32

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


34:38

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


34:44

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


34:51

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


34:57

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


35:03

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


35:09

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


35:16

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


35:21

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


35:27

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


35:33

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


35:39

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


35:46

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


35:51

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


35:57

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


36:04

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


36:09

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


36:16

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


36:22

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


36:29

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


36:36

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


36:42

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


36:48

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


36:54

um being somebody who engages well with a big wide team


37:00

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


37:09

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


37:14

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


37:21

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


37:26

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


37:34

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


37:41

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


37:46

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


37:52

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


37:59

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


38:05

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


38:12

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


38:18

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


38:24

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


38:30

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


38:36

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


38:43

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


38:48

the differences um so my question is like in this environment


38:53

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


38:59

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


39:05

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


39:12

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


39:20

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


39:25

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


39:31

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


39:37

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


39:42

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


39:48

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


39:55

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


40:01

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


40:08

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


40:14

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


40:20

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


40:27

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


40:34

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


40:39

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


40:45

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


40:52

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


40:58

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


41:03

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


41:08

approach problems um hiring people who are open-minded


41:14

who are good communicators who are humble uh we


41:19

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


41:28

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


41:34

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


41:40

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


41:47

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


41:53

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


41:59

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


42:05

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


42:11

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


42:18

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


42:23

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


42:30

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


42:37

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


42:44

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


42:50

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


42:56

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


43:02

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


43:10

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


43:16

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


43:21

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


43:27

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


43:33

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


43:39

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


43:44

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


43:50

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


43:56

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


44:02

definitely get you know you sort of more um soft uh


44:09

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


44:15

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


44:21

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


44:27

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


44:34

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


44:41

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


44:47

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


44:53

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


44:59

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


45:04

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


45:11

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


45:18

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


45:24

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


45:31

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


45:37

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


45:44

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


45:51

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


45:58

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


46:05

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


46:10

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


46:16

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


46:25

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