Interview

Remote Working: Jessica Sundell on her journey from Angry Birds to The Walking Dead to Hatch Kids

Remote Working: Jessica Sundell on her journey from Angry Birds to The Walking Dead to Hatch Kids

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 Hatch Entertainment lead product designer Jessica Sundell.

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

Jessica Sundell: I am the lead product designer at Hatch Entertainment in Helsinki. I oversee the design and creative side of Hatch Kids. Here, I have the unique opportunity to design and develop an app for children that will revolutionise the way kids play and learn.

I see great potential for Hatch Kids because as a parent I feel the need for a reliable, safe and smart app for children.
Jessica Sundell

With the ambition to create the best Kids 'Edutainment' platform on the market, I combine user research, knowledge and game development to design a fun, intuitive, and safe app for children aged three to eight.

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

I have been in mobile games development for over a decade now. Before then, I was the art director at Creative Agencies where I was playing casual games heavily. I always thought it would be exciting to develop these sorts of games and delight users globally. This is when I decided to apply for a game artist position at Rovio and got to work on Angry Birds titles for three fun years.

From there I moved to a post-apocalyptic world and worked on The Walking Dead official mobile games from AMC. During those years at Next Games, I learned a lot about live operations, monetisation and growth.

I joined Hatch Entertainment in September 2019 and was immediately impressed by the streaming technology the company had developed. I was very excited about using it to develop a Kids friendly app. Cloud gaming allows us to serve the best active content instantly. Simply by downloading one app, you can stream 90-plus top educational games in a heartbeat. I see great potential for Hatch Kids because as a parent I feel the need for a reliable, safe, and smart app for children.

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

I grew up in southern France and back then there were not many studies related to games, unfortunately. I studied fine arts and applied art before moving to the games industry later in my career. Although my studies are mostly about art, I learned along the way what makes a great UX, what is visually appealing to masses, how to identify pain points and, most importantly, I learned how to design solutions.

Hatch Kids launched in the UK and Ireland in April 2020

Anyone wanting to work in the art/design side of games can do it by studying it specifically, with so many great design and art schools available today. But in general, no matter which of the two you do study, there is an opportunity to join the ranks of game development as a concept artist, game artist, character designer, animator, UX designers, etcetera.

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

My mum doesn't understand how I can make a living by graduating in Arts and working in games. Apart from that, I don't think there are many misconceptions nowadays. Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, so people are taking it seriously.

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

No matter what your background is: stay curious, keep learning, and follow your dreams. The rest will fall in place in due time.

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

Hatch Entertainment has always supported remote working, with most of us already familiar with working from home occasionally. Of course, the lockdown took everyone by surprise and while adjusting to a longer duration of remote working, the team decided to change the 2020 release goals.

We launched Hatch Kids in the UK and Ireland earlier than anticipated as we wanted to support families. We partnered with Samsung and granted a 60-day free trial to all of the company's users. It was important for us to show solidarity to all parents working from home with children, so they could have access to educational games for free. Although this decision created pressure and extra workload on the team, we felt it was the right thing to do.

The lockdown and its limitations have challenged us to be extra creative in addressing issues
Jessica Sundell

The lockdown and its limitations have challenged us to be extra creative in addressing issues. Another example was that no photoshoots were possible for our marketing campaigns so I transformed my home into a photo studio for a day and took pictures of my own family during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Considering the challenges, I must say that it has been stressful at times, but the team has managed to keep up good spirits, good communication, and production velocity. Everyone in the team has been willing to go the extra mile and we somehow achieved more with less.

What does your typical day look like when working remotely?

I aim to do some physical activity before starting my workday. Usually, I'm online about 09:00 to 09:30am. At 10:00am we have a daily catch up with the team where we discuss what has been completed the previous day. This way we make sure everyone is focusing on the sprint goals and that there are no hindrances.

Then depending on the sprint tasks and priorities, I work on product design, feature development, UX, app optimisation, live ops or UA. Days are a bit longer than usual as I have to include my kids routine into my work schedule, but luckily my husband is working remotely too, so we take turns.

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

One of the advantages of remote working is less time spent commuting and being able to work outside whenever the weather is nice. It also allows for great flexibility throughout the day - especially when the kids are at home too.

Decreasing work-life balance and isolation/lack of social life are probably what most people have to deal with and have been the toughest. To address this issue, we have Hatchfast, our online Friday breakfast where once a week the whole company catches up with one another.

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

I have learned to focus and be more productive within a short period of time. Due to working at home, my kids interrupted my work a lot which took me a while to be able to cope with. Now though, I'm great at multi-tasking.

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

Make sure to set up a proper home office. Working from the couch sounds all well and good for months but realistically is not a good solution. Set up clear routines and take a break to do physical activities on a daily basis. Most importantly, do not forget to take care of yourself.

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 would probably want to continue working remotely while visiting the office once a week if given the opportunity. Remote working is quite efficient and, in my case, I save one hour's worth of commuting each day.

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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Gurpreet Kaur
I play the babble shooter game of angry birds