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"It’s a passion job, in that every angle and approach is appreciated but inspiration can come at any time," says N3twork Tetris director Mari Burns

"For those who don’t play video games, I think it’s misunderstood as a filler of time"

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, 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 N3twork development director of Tetris Mari Burns. Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Mari Burns: I am a development director at N3twork for Tetris and Tetris Clash. My job is to facilitate the production of the project through every phase of development: design, art, engineering, media and QA.

“For those who don’t play video games, I think it’s misunderstood as a filler of time, rather than a creative or intellectual space.”
Mari Burns

I'm also the liaison to our marketing and UA partners, as well as being in charge of keeping stakeholders and licensors abreast of our current status and following discussions. I like to compare it to being an air traffic controller of sorts, being aware of all incoming and outgoing activity while being the hub of communication and managing schedules and safety.

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

I came into games a bit sideways. I got my first taste of production in live-action film but spent the majority of my career in CG-animated film. In 2014 I wanted to widen my horizons, and also tap into the gamer side of me - I’ve always played games - and started working on narrative projects, first in console, then in mobile.

I could go on and on comparing/contrasting film vs. games, but my job really is not that different, just the focus and pace is much faster and data-driven in my current role.

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

I am the walking poster child of not having studied towards my career. I have a B.S. from UC Berkeley and my intent was to go into a track for protecting the environment with a focus on international development. I still think that would be a great cause.

The problem is I was so obviously not engaged in what I studied, and it played out. I spent years working in restaurants while trying out various things until I found production. My advice for aspiring professionals is to go with your gut and get as much experience and exposure to the type of work you might want to pursue as possible.

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

I think the games industry is becoming more and more legitimised by the general public. There is the recognition that it is a "real job" and it has also become an enviable one among certain demographics. But like many industries, the audience is still somewhat limited. For those who don’t play video games, I think it’s misunderstood as a filler of time, rather than a creative or intellectual space.


These misconceptions are rapidly shifting, especially with the success of many games companies. The other big misconception is what it means to be a producer (which I am also called, though my title is development director) - that title itself is somewhat generic and open to interpretation, so people often have a hard time understanding what I do unless they are in the same industry.

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

I would stress this is not a typical job - it’s a passion job, in that every angle and approach is appreciated but inspiration can come at any time. It’s the same for any entertainment industry - except we do get to treat it like a day job, unlike some other creative pursuits. But it is very detailed, hard work with lots of moving pieces.

The profession suits the nimble, the resourceful, and the collaborative. It will not be enjoyable to anyone who really wants things defined or to go perfectly. And the art of the job is not just doing the job, but having fun and making it fun for others. Sounds strange but I think it’s true!

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

The only change to remote working, in my particular circumstance, is the lack of required
commute and more convenience. I use the same equipment and attend the same meetings.
N3twork already had a strong online culture because we have multiple studios in different time zones.

“We all agree remotely working together is not the same as developing relationships through live interactions in the same space... ”
Mari Burns

It almost leveled the field by dismantling the office culture, which varied by location, to instead promote company culture. We all agree remotely working together is not the same as developing relationships through live interactions in the same space, but we can and have built relationships over remote work.

I actually feel like I'm better able to focus and feel connected, which is important to my role, because I can manage more obligations at home by being present. My workday gives me flexibility in when and how to get things done.

What does your typical day look like when working remotely?

By choice, I currently live in a time zone three hours behind the San Francisco office, where I was originally based. I wake up at approx 5:30 am and stay in meetings for the first three to four hours starting at six. If you knew me in a previous life, you would say there was a body switch. I am not a morning person! But I stay on Californian time and take my lunch when it’s still morning where I am.

The time between meetings is being vigilant on Slack, N3twork choice of communication platform. It’s helped create the sense of the team being able to work in sync, as opposed to things we do asynchronously due to our local time. It’s also more efficient to resolve things or answer any questions as they come up, to leave less loose ends to have to come back to, or in the worst cases, get lost.

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

In 2020, because of remote working, I am closer to the work/life balance I think I have been looking for. My story is a bit unique, in that coincidentally, we invested in a rental property in Hawaii in January 2020. I did not foresee that by April, I would have moved with my family to protect the investment so that we could not only keep an eye on it but also do a lot of known needed repairs.

Five months later, we are still here and because I end work when it’s still daylight out, we get a lot more outdoor time and I am already at home when my son is out of (virtual) school. I’ve never felt closer to my husband. I'm able to see and empathise with what he does all day at work and communicate much more frequently throughout the day.

Burns' remote working setup in Hawaii.
Burns' remote working setup in Hawaii.

Since we are basically living in nature, that has really, really helped us through this global crisis. We feel incredibly lucky, and didn’t actually plan it but stumbled into an ideal situation.

The disadvantage, of course, is the isolation. Sometimes I miss the hallway chats, or the chance to go grab lunch with a coworker. I’m on a bit of an island, on an island. It’s not as easy to joke around, as the spontaneous in-between moments just can’t come up during focused meetings. But the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, and these also feel less weighty since it’s the same struggle for everyone.

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

Remote working best practices I've picked up during the year:

  • Invest in quality setup: extra monitor, headset (because audio is hard for meetings without a headset), and a solid internet connection
  • Have a comfortable workspace and furniture. I bought mine which was okay for now because I did not think it would become a more permanent setup. And I still wish I had splurged a bit more on the chair, and an ergo-friendly desk
  • Create a regular recurring meeting to just chat with the folks you need to work with. It can be for a concentrated duration until you develop an understanding and rapport, or just to maintain camaraderie. It can feel like "one more meeting" but if you keep it casual, and short if there’s nothing to talk about, the regularity does create a rhythm and helps build rapport.

“I truly think that the environment and our physicality is what is tough on people.”
Mari Burns

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

I truly think that the environment and our physicality is what is tough for people. I spend far too much time at one spot in my house, eat at my desk because I’m at home, and don’t go outside. I think the co-workers I really want to emulate are the ones who have a lot of self-care discipline: a workout routine, to really leave the house for a walk or have blocks of time where they do not check messages on their mobile devices.

We are working remotely which is a new pattern, both mentally and physically. It can be taxing, and we must allow ourselves to treat going to work and being at work with the same breaks. Conversely - try to stick to a routine.

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?

If given the binary choice, I would most definitely stay remote, and lucky for me N3twork has switched to a permanently-distributed model. I appreciate the flexibility of travel (when we can travel again) and the lessened stress of the hustle-and-bustle of commuting.

My days are not the same every day: some are much longer than others, so working remotely also has allowed me a bit more freedom to be able to do more with the rare slow days, which I could not in an office. But what I really would love is a flexible remote working schedule, where perhaps part of my day would be in an office, or better yet a local cafe, for the irreplaceable currency of live human interaction.