Interview

Remote Working: How Rovio's design director Timothy Coolidge is operating from his 10-year-old son's bedroom

Remote Working: How Rovio's design director Timothy Coolidge is operating from his 10-year-old son's bedroom

The games industry plays host to a colourful cast of diverse individuals, from artists and coders to narrative designers and studio heads.

The skills to pull off these roles, however, are complex and differing, with each position requiring mastery in its field – especially in these complex times we are all living through at the minute.

To highlight some of the brilliant work that goes on behind the scenes as well as how employees around the world are adapting to the life of remote work, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to the individuals who make up the games industry in our Jobs in Games: Remote Working series.

This week we spoke with Rovio design director Timothy Coolidge about his shift to working from home and why he wished he hadn't taken over his son's desk to work from.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Timothy Coolidge: I am the design director within the Puzzle Studio at Rovio HQ in Espoo, Finland. I work with all the designers in the studio, including the UX designers. I work closely with the design team to ensure they are doing their best work while growing in the areas they want and need to.

How did you first get into games and how did you progress into this role?

It all started with a visit to a friend in Los Angeles for my very first E3. At the time, he was working at DreamWorks on Medal of Honor, but during the visit, he surprised me with an interview for a QA gig. The interview went well, and I was subsequently offered a job.

In the space of a few weeks, I sold everything and took the leap to join the games industry. I spent my early years working in triple-A console games, beginning with first-person shooters, then moving to real-time strategy and free-to-play online games before finally to mobile.

There are a few notable schools that I think are leading the charge in game development, like Texas A&M, SCAD, and Digipen
Timothy Coolidge

Moving from the Seattle area, I joined Rovio for an opportunity to really focus on what I love doing most - working on the design craft to ensure we are always learning, always thinking of our players and how to improve the design process.

After being at Rovio for only a few months, I discovered a great surprise - the culture is one of a kind. Usually, I find passion and ego often go hand in hand, however at Rovio, I have only found the passion to make the best player experience we can without any ego.

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

I was very young when I was introduced to video games, it became something that I would do almost daily for the rest of my life. The event that really set my path into game design was the introduction to Dungeons and Dragons. I was completely mesmerised by this amazing fantasy world.

Dungeons and Dragons gave me the opportunity to become a Dungeon Master, this was my first time holding the players' experience in my hands. Being the "Storyteller" was something that captured my creativity. A good Dungeon Master needs to understand all the deep systems of the game and know how to tell a rich story with enough details and engaging characters. The unspoken part about this role is the ability to be agile enough to react to the open sandbox that players will test the limits of constantly.

These skills are very important for a great designer. This developed the early skills I needed to carry with me throughout my career -- always know your players, their motivations and the behaviours you hope to create and be prepared for the unexpected emergent gameplay they will discover and love to exploit.

There are a few notable schools that I think are leading the charge in game development, like Texas A&M, SCAD, and Digipen. Personally, I've just started the excellent online Masterclass series with Will Wright.

Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?

Professionally, one of the earliest things I had to learn about mobile was the need to build clear engagement behaviours for players. In the triple-A console space, we want players to be so immersed in the world and game that they sit on their couch and play for hours, whereas in mobile we are not building for the couch, we are building for the bus, the line at the grocery, etcetera.

Finding ways to build that perfect engagement that can be achieved in under five minutes which then brings players back multiple times a day, every day is critical for success. This is just one example of a challenge as a designer moving from console to mobile.

What advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

As a student or an aspiring professional, it's important to have an endless supply of passion. It should be seen, felt and contagious to those around them. Also, be forever persistent.

The only way to truly learn is to build something and give it to players and see how they react. Always keep your players in mind! Cool is not enough of a reason to do something, it's a great start but you should quickly make sure you can discuss and communicate the value it has for players.

Make sure you understand your intentions. Do research, lean on the experts around you and put a plan into place. If the plan is wrong, you will learn and grow.

How has the shift from office to remote working impacted your role, if at all?

Working from home has created many challenges in game development and will continue to expose new challenges as we go forward. The first challenge we faced as a studio was how we create a safe way for our team members to work efficiently from home.

Working from home has created many challenges in game development and will continue to expose new challenges as we go forward.
Timothy Coolidge

We all know how the details of our workflow at the office are critical to being efficient. Some like two monitors, some like three, some of us need standing desks, and some need footstools.

We needed to find a way to identify the needs and make sure we could support as many options as possible. Hardware was straightforward, helping team members get what they needed at home was a logistical challenge, but good planning can mitigate most of those issues.

Social was a different story, and most people haven't taken the time to consciously examine that part of their workflow. We had to be as proactive as possible with suggestions but some of the solutions had to wait until we knew what was needed from individuals.

What does your typical day look like when working remotely?

My day usually begins with trying to get an early start. I find that the silence before everyone arrives allows me to prepare for my day, as well as get some uninterrupted time with my work that requires complete focus. The rest of my day is split among a few key areas: studio and game teams.

What do you think are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of remote working?

Being in a creative industry, reading someone's emotions is very important when communicating with them. Words are very important, but someone's delivery and body language are just as important. Working from home can make this difficult.

You want to make sure a person truly believes what they are saying, as a team member could answer yes to a decision but not fully believe their answer. Ideally, I could see that in the delivery. Then I can follow up with questions to try to mitigate concerns or make a better decision. That process is very hard to do over text or even video chats.

This has required a more direct approach from me with team members. I need to summarise and reinstate decisions at the end of meetings, as well as making sure to ask participants directly on different approaches i.e. to strengthen their decision. The only benefit is the ability to silence email and Slack and totally focus on a task.

Is there anything you wish you had known before moving to remote working?

Moving to my 10-year-old son's desk and chair in his room is not ergonomically good for seven to eight hours a day.

Do you have any advice for others who are struggling to adjust to remote work?

I think the biggest thing is to take a step back and be self-aware. Examine your workflow, your emotions throughout the day and your output. Look for ways to adjust your normal processes. Also, ask others if they are facing similar challenges and look for answers within your team.

After the pandemic ends, and if you were given the choice, would you prefer to continue working remotely or go back to working in an office?

I look forward to returning to the office as I personally enjoy working directly with teammates. Additionally, even in this interesting time, we have a lot of design openings to fill. New hires will inevitably start during this work from home situation, and I can’t wait to meet them in person once we return to the office.

You can find more job roles relating to game design at Rovio here


Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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