Interview

Racing ahead: Hutch COO Andy Watson on 2020 successes, future plans, and the importance of community management

PGbiz chats to Hutch COO Andy Watson

Racing ahead: Hutch COO Andy Watson on 2020 successes, future plans, and the importance of community management

2020 has been a challenging year for many of us. Despite huge growth in the mobile sector this year, countless companies have had to flip their businesses upside down to accommodate 'the new normal'.

One company that is ahead of the curve is Hutch. A development outfit forged from ex-PlayStation founders nine years ago with a pre-existing hybrid work-from-home policy, the company reacted swiftly and successfully to the pandemic in order to keep on with business as usual.

A renegade of racing titles, Hutch also crept onto our Top 50 Mobile Game Makers of 2020 for its continued efforts with licensed title F1 Manager, alongside its individual IPs.  

Despite a turbulent year, Hutch has kept up momentum, made new hires, and set in plans for their continued growth into 2021. We chatted to company COO Andy Watson about how COVID affected the company, how their audience has shifted this year, and their grand plans leading into 2021. 

PocketGamer.biz: Can you give us a little introduction to Hutch and what your vision is?

Andy Watson: Hutch is a development studio dedicated to shaping automotive entertainment on mobile, by building the most diverse and engaged community on the platform. Hutch is the result of five ex-playstation founders who worked across titles such as Eight Days and Until Dawn coming together to build a better game studio, without the frustrations present in the wider games industry.

We’ve published 11 games in 9 years and grown rapidly, with a team of 110 people across our London HQ, Dundee and Nova Scotia offices. We have worked to build an environment that takes great care of our team and lets them use their passion and talent to the ultimate degree. We’re proud to say that our efforts have paid off, with two different best places to work awards secured four times in the UK.

We’ve created popular titles such as F1 Manager, Top Drives and Rebel Racing, all fulfilling our players' hunger for high-quality automotive experiences on mobile. Over 300 million people have played our games, with an extra 1million new players each week. We’ve also raised $5.5m to date.

How have the last 12 months been for Hutch?

It's been an extremely busy, but highly rewarding period for us all. Despite the challenges of COVID we retained a rapid hiring plan and have seen solid continued growth.

At Hutch, we’ve had a hybrid work from home policy from the very beginning, just over nine years ago. We have made remote working work, it’s due to this that we had a smooth transition moving from two days WFH to full remote working. We have always focused on looking after our people, and it's due to this passion that we already had the policies, tools and resources to support the team through the transition.

We also introduced a number of new initiatives to promote wellbeing within the team, such as regular video meetings, a team all-hands every week, mental health check-ins and more. The last year has been a great test of our values, and we have doubled down on our commitments to ensure we come out of 2020 even stronger.

The pandemic has of course affected countless businesses across the globe. How has it affected Hutch?

We have been fortunate that our weekly WFH policy has helped us to be far better prepared, when compared to many other studios who have found the transition a great deal more complex.

One of the biggest challenges that the team were faced with was missing out on that team communication and interaction that our socials and celebrations which are common place at Hutch provide. Socials are a big part of Hutch, so we worked with the team to create digital briefings and events that could act as replacements while working from home.

Onboarding new team members has also been a major focus for us, as cultural interview rounds are key to Hutch’s process. To make sure our new starters felt comfortable and were able to get fully immersed in Hutch’s culture, we created detailed starter packs and set up a number of engaging sessions to help them find their footing.

We are exploring the possibility of a limited studio opening, but given the uncertainty, we are still reviewing this option before we make a full decision.

We know that this pandemic will impact how we all live and work, and at Hutch it's been important to us that we trust in our team, take the learnings from the experience to ensure that long term as an industry we can create progressive working models for our teams.

F1 Manager is Hutch's crowning, F1-partnered title

With real-life F1 on the backburner for a portion of this year, did you see an increase in interest in your games, particularly F1 Manager?

As seen in the wider industry, we observed heavier engagement across all live games during lockdown. F1 Manager has experienced strong growth due to this uplift. We’re also attributing a portion of this success down to significant game improvements and new content we’ve implemented this year around the transition to the 2020 season.

The F1 management team has done an amazing job to get a season together, despite the intense environmental factors they have had to face. We are in awe of their diligence and hard work!

With the widespread impact of the pandemic, that has of course meant that there is a degree of disparity between the live race events and our in-game content, however this doesn’t bother our players. We’ve hit a record high DAU exceeding 350k and passed 10 million lifetime downloads through this period, so the demand is very strong indeed.

How has your target audience changed during the pandemic/are you seeing bigger or smaller numbers with certain demographics?

We’re seeing record levels of engagement from our communities across our three live ops games. With so many new players looking to escape tedium and boredom during lockdown, we’ve continued to strengthen our expert team of community managers so that support is easy to access for our audience.

By offering the right environment for players to engage with one another, community managers can help bring would-be strangers together around the game experiences they love.

Community is a major investment within Hutch. By offering the right environment for players to engage with one another, community managers can help bring would-be strangers together around the game experiences they love. One of the biggest challenges Hutch faces is, paradoxically, the sheer size of our communities. The bigger a community, the harder it can be for new members to ‘feel a part’ of something.

With the increases we’ve seen during lockdown, this becomes a significant consideration. We go to great lengths to identify micro communities we can cultivate, making sure small groups of like-minded people can come together around more specific topics. For example, we have an influencer program with an active group of like-minded creators. A player council of veteran players who help improve our games. We have volunteer moderators who help us keep our channels safe, and even a small community of Top Drives car fans who help us make sure the huge array of cars in the game have accurate stats.

How has Hutch worked to ensure a continuous, positive working environment and culture during the pandemic? Have you faced any particular issues?

We’ve dedicated a great deal of effort to increase the cadence of company-wide comms during the pandemic. As part of this, we have introduced weekly briefings where the team can anonymously write in questions, opening up the floor to any fears or concerns about the company, objectives or initiatives in the face of COVID. Previously these meetings were held monthly, but we knew that frequent engagement with our team was a vital step.

We’ve also refused to allow the pandemic to put a hamper on our team activities, so we have taken full advantage of digital replacements. Summer parties, halloween events and more are still happening at Hutch, with hampers of food and drinks sent to our 110 staff across the three main locations. We’ve even been running a weekly taskmaster session, with hilarious results (and a retweet from the main man Alex Horne himself!)

Of course, the main concern has been the mental wellbeing of our team which can be a risk due to the close blending of work and home life. It can be hard to balance the two without that direct separation of the office environment, and we have made it a priority to ensure our teams aren’t subjected to challenges as a result. We’ve introduced a number of actions to combat this, such as the aforementioned weekly briefing sessions with the open, anonymous Q&A, alongside yoga and sanctus mental health coaching sessions. These have all proven to be popular during this time, and we will continue to support our team in any way we can.

What are some things you’ve learned from having to manage a team remotely?

As it turns out, we’re actually pretty good at it! Given that we were already geared up for homeworking pre-COVID, it's actually been an easier transition for us than you might expect.

After experiencing it, could working from home become a permanent option at Hutch?

We'll certainly be talking to the team to see if and how we can improve our WFH setup. So many members of the Hutch team love our studio space and the social aspect of working alongside colleagues. We’ve all really missed having a place where the team can celebrate the wins we’ve had this year, so we’ll have to consider many factors to ensure a good balance as part of our return to normal.

You’ve made a fair few hires in 2020 so far - is there a new title in the works?

We’re always looking to grow the team at Hutch, strengthening our existing development talent and to build even greater support functions. We strongly believe there’s space in the racing category to introduce more definitive mobile-first car games. The team is always testing prototypes of new game ideas, so there’s every chance you’ll see more games from us!

What has Hutch got planned for the next 12 months?

We’re looking to grow our team, our studio space and our capabilities as our revenues scale. Our big wins will be matched by big growth, and we want to keep reaching for the next step.

We also have some exciting plans up our sleeves, so watch out for further news at Hutch.io!

Comments

No comments
View options
  • Order by latest to oldest
  • Order by oldest to latest
  • Show all replies