Mobile Mavens

Indie Mavens: Is there an overall benefit to going completely remote work or does a company still need an office?

Indie Mavens: Is there an overall benefit to going completely remote work or does a company still need an office?

The games industry is a constantly shifting, ever-growing place that is filled with talented creatives at all parts of the company hierarchy.

Today, however, the triple-A market often struggles with taking risks and often relies too much on already established IP and done to death ideas. That's why many argue that the best creativity stems from the indie market.

The notion of indie development was once a pipedream (and still is for lots), yet the rise of the indies is one of the biggest markets of growth over the previous decade. A good game released at the right time can now skyrocket a studio to untold heights like never before. 

Of course, there are dozens of daily trials and tribulations that come with this territory, all leading to a ginormous wealth of knowledge and expertise to pull from - hence why after a brief hiatus and refresh, PocketGamer.biz is back with its Indie Mavens series.

Whether it's discussing the hottest topic of the month, the ongoing difficulties of game development, or the conundrum surrounding visibility, our Indie Mavens will be revealing all.

This time, the topic of discussion focused on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Our mavens discuss the benefits and differences of going fully remote, staying fully office-based or taking the hybrid approach. Can the games industry can ever truly return to how things once were? To sum up:

Is there an overall benefit to going fully remote, or do companies still need an office or HQ?

Can remote operations work for everyone in the long term, even after Covid?

If you are interested in joining our Indie Mavens list, please contact matthew.forde@steelemedianetwork.com for further details.


Click here to view the list »
  • Ben Murch, co-founder at Perchang

    Ben Murch, co-founder at Perchang logo

    The Covid-19 pandemic has fast-tracked a question that's been slowly burning away for more and more people: "Do we really need an office?". In a world where time is becoming the most precious commodity, people have been questioning their commuting habits, their downtime, their routines.

    Life is short, and the distractions are piling up. At what point do you need to majorly change your lifestyle to fit with an internet-enabled world?

    We started Perchang four years ago, with the idea that it would be a remote working studio. This gave us the benefit of a larger pool of employees from all over. More free time, due to lack of commuting - plus no additional costs. More flexible working hours, because nipping into the study after the kids have gone to bed is easier than catching a train to London. More family time, because tea breaks can be spent with little ones. However, it also came with some challenges.

    Loneliness can affect even the strongest minded hermit. Keeping everyone up to speed is a constant task that requires a good plan. A lot more effort has to be made to mesh the team together, due to not physically seeing each other every day.

    We mitigate these negatives by having Zoom drinks every so often, as well as keeping a Slack window open all day with channels devoted to art, check-ins, and general nonsense.

    Finally, we send a weekly newsletter to our company and any project stakeholders with everything new from the last seven days. It takes 30 mins to put together on a Friday afternoon and has become almost essential in keeping everyone up to date.

    I think it's easier to create a remote working company from scratch than trying to retrofit a traditional studio structure, and it really won't be for everyone. However, for where I am in life right now… it's perfect.


  • Desmond Wong, CEO at The Gentlebros

    Desmond Wong, CEO at The Gentlebros logo

    At The Gentlebros, we began as a half-office, half-remote team, starting out with a small place which we went to twice a week. We've always felt that we're most productive working from home as our workstation is always just a few steps away, and we can work in our own quiet time with no distractions.

    However, meeting up in the office was important too because it allowed us to forge stronger bonds and a sense of camaraderie. It also made certain discussions easier and we could find more creative solutions if we met up in person.

    We only really felt this now having made the decision to go full remote late last year in 2019. Although operations could still progress well and smoothly, that physical connection felt missing and we think it affected us creatively without having someone else to casually bounce an idea off.

    Since we had already adopted a remote working pipeline, certain infrastructure like chat groups, discord and a shared drive was already in place. We still found it important to meet up regularly (at least once every two weeks) for a meal or just to discuss company matters.

    So, to the question, yes, we think a remote operation could very well work, but that human interaction is still very important as it builds lasting bonds and is a boon to creativity. Additional measures have to be taken to supplement the lack of human interaction, whether it be meeting up for a meal, or having a casual discord chat.

    All in all, we think it all boils down to the founders and what culture has already taken foot in the studio. For us, we're staying remote and having our more important discussions physically over meals or a nice tea! Then it's back to our homes where we can continue chugging away at the game!


  • Dan Anahory, co-founder at Real Media Now

    Dan Anahory, co-founder at Real Media Now logo

    We have gone fully remote since March of this year and have not had a problem with it so far. I do miss the coffee breaks with my team and others, and it can be difficult getting through to people when you are not based in an office.

    However, overall, I think this is a positive move for the industry and see it becoming the norm going forward.


  • Matthew Annal, founder at Nitrome

    Matthew Annal, founder at Nitrome logo

    After 15 years of running things from an office, I did think we would struggle. I am actually amazed that it has worked mostly as well as things did before. There are a few drawbacks but also a few things that are a little easier… certainly, people are less distracted which can lead to more work being produced.

    With Nitrome being based in London, people usually have a fairly decent commute and that tends to make people late to the office and keen to leave on time knowing what time they will make it home. Now I often find the team start early and work past the time they have to just because the pressure to get home is not there.

    On the flip side, things require more management now and that puts more strain on some team members to keep on top of where things are and if anything is being missed. We are generally less aware of things not directly impacting us, which is worse for team bonding and generally all social benefits of working together have been massively reduced. It is also much more time consuming to get together and discuss things than it was in the office.

    In answer to your question of can it work, I think the situation has proven that it can and there is no reason to believe that not to be the case once things go back to normal. I think once we are able to go back to the office, personally, I will be in favour of us doing so but I think it is likely that opinion will not be shared by all of the team, and how things have worked during this time will be used as a reason to argue we should have it as an option.

    I think possibly that idea of a hybrid approach, however, raises interesting issues. While we have all been apart it is realistic to all jump on a video call together. It's not as good as in-person but it works. Although, I’m not sure if it would work well with some people in the office and some away… do all the people in the office gather around one screen to be able to talk to the others?

    Figuring out when people will be in the same place would also be a new headache. Things may work better mainly one way or the other and that may impact if each company decides it works for them in the long term.


  • Rich Siegel, founder at Cleaversoft

    Rich Siegel, founder at Cleaversoft logo

    Cleaversoft was mostly remote for the first few years and then some of us moved into a small office, while others worked remotely. For a small indie team looking for world-class talent, it can be hard to limit all of your contributors to one demographic area, so it's important to at least consider the hybrid model regardless of Covid-19.

    Also, I think that time at home is very important. We always have at least one person working from home one day a week, so they can work uninterrupted. We now have a few of us working in Philadelphia in an office with a core team member in Paris and another in Slovakia. I believe that even with a hybrid model, having an office is very important and post Covid-19, we’ll be leaning back into office life as much as we can.

    I'd only suggest levelling up with an office when you can afford to as a studio. Once you can, I think getting an office is one of the best investments you can make. When we made the move from working distributed to a core team in an office, it elevated us as a company. On a day-to-day basis, sometimes productivity can take a hit compared to when we were all working from home, but the overall benefit far outweighs any negatives in my opinion.

    The camaraderie gained from working in the same room can be electrifying creatively. The best creative discussions happen randomly, inspired by the flow of development. If you are not together, spending that time a lot of those conversations would never happen.

    That feeling of being crew members on a ship gets fostered much more in an office setting, and I think it’s a key part of making a great game. An office is a creative outlet in and of itself. If you can make an inspirational place for people to come and work, the work will be elevated.

    We used to do "pow-wows" where we would all get together for a week or two to work at someone's house and it was always pretty haphazard. Or one remote team member would come to stay at my place for a few weeks and we’d try to work out of my house. Once you have a headquarters, the hybrid model works much better. When remote workers come into town, we all work at the office.

    Luckily as a game studio, we haven't been crippled because of Covid-19 - being forced to work from home like many other businesses. It has weighed heavier on some of us. I have a two-year-old and a baby at home. I’m loving the extra time with my daughters but my personal productivity is certainly down.

    I think the pandemic will pass. It may take years and be longer than most expect, but it will pass. When it does, I think we’ll all be dying to go back to the office on a regular basis. I don’t believe things are changed forever, and one day we will return to “normal” life.


  • Matt Purchase, solo developer at Anchorite

    Matt Purchase, solo developer at Anchorite logo

    From a personal perspective, I’ve worked remotely as a contractor and individually as a game developer for nearly 10 years now (often only a day or so a week, alongside my regular day job). So, the lockdowns really just extended my status quo.

    For the games industry in general, remote work is entirely doable and should be encouraged post-Covid-19 as it opens up the field to people who don’t live in major cities/can not commute to single office space for whatever reason.

    Doing this opens opportunities up to more voices, talents and people with diverse backgrounds, allowing for a richer breadth of games to be made. There’s also a significant benefit of reducing or even outright removing the overheads associated with centrally located office spaces.

    Despite all of the benefits, working remote is not without its downsides. I’ve maintained that the best creative experiences I’ve ever had are when you have a group of people with diverse skill sets all in one room working towards a single goal.

    Zoom isn’t the best replacement for this. Of course, as we’ve seen this year, this isn’t insurmountable. So yeah, generally speaking, I believe it’d be better on balance for the industry to more widely adopt remote work.


  • Theresa Duringer, CEO at Temple Gate Games

    Theresa Duringer, CEO at Temple Gate Games logo

    There are short term benefits to going remote, Covid-19 safety being the foremost. The overhead savings on rent, cleaning fees, even eliminating commutes are helping our bottom lines… for now. However, in the long term, the costs are what worry me.

    The degradation of community and the inevitable miscommunications from flattening collaboration through email and video chip at morale. Attracting talent in the San Francisco area has already been an uphill battle.

    Why would anyone come to work at your scrappy indie outfit when they could make megabucks at Google or Facebook? Well, maybe they like your Killer Queen arcade cabinet and grabbing burritos with you in the mission. Now, without a workspace, our ability to compete for talent is hindered.

    I think the main losers here will be those who are just starting to forge their career. An office gives us physical space to build relationships. The trust that comes when someone brings you a muffin or gives you an encouraging wink isn’t just going to magically come on its own; that trust translates over time into network alliances. That sense that we’re all in one boat together will be hard to maintain when, well, we’re kind of all in separate boats.

    Indie development can mean a lot of things. It can span from student projects to triple-A veteran enterprises, so having an office lends legitimacy to a studio that may need to communicate a degree of an establishment when entertaining clients or forging partnerships.

    Normally, Temple Gates Games works out of a shared collective, a smattering of different indie developers all with their own special talents. As a tiny team, we benefited from the advice and expertise of this revolving group we share a lunch table with.  Now on our own, when we’re doing projects in our wheelhouse, it’s no problem but when we’ll need to jump into the unknown, it will be a bit blinder than before.


  • Zoe Hobson, CEO at Runaway

    Zoe Hobson, CEO at Runaway logo

    Being in New Zealand, our Covid-19 response had us go into full-scale lockdown for two months early this year. We then reached zero community spread and have now returned mostly to life-as-usual (for now).

    For our team, we usually work 90 per cent in the office. Covid-19 for us meant two months of working completely remotely, with a staggered return (about 50/50 in-office vs. remote) and now we are back to most people being in the office most of the time.

    So, my answer is based on what I've seen for our team as we've gone through these stages, the impacts on production, and is all directly relevant to our team size and project development stages. What are the differences with being remote? I'll comment on two angles - staff wellbeing and production.

    Wellbeing: I think two key challenges from a well-being perspective are social connectivity and lack of work/life separation. We put a lot of strategies in place during lockdown to try and counter the lack of social connectivity and the inherent "work is home is work is home" feeling that can come from working full-time at home.

    We implemented strategies like encouraging our staff to walk to and from work, heavier than usual use of Slack, frequent Zoom calls and coffee breaks, well-being chats which I scheduled as an open space for anyone struggling, zoom drinks, etcetera. All of these strategies helped, and some of them we've actually continued now we're back in the office.

    It was really interesting coming out of lockdown, everyone felt like they were working pretty well at home. Most people were reluctant to return to the office but once people started to come back, the overwhelming response was how much better everyone felt being back.

    Everyone's expectations of returning to the office were very different from reality, which I found really interesting. And the response, once people were back in the office, was that it was better from both a personal wellbeing perspective and a productivity perspective.

    Production: I think problem-solving in groups of anything more than two people is significantly harder when working remote. For us, this meant that our projects that were most impacted by working remotely were those in stages of development where we were doing a lot of problem-solving.

    So, our live games teams operated pretty smoothly, as did our publishing team, but our games that were in pre-production and advanced development were negatively impacted in terms of our ability to problem-solve efficiently.

    I'll also comment on the hybrid side of things: we have found that having the majority of staff in the office and working remotely works, though, for us the latter has not been as good. The option of having half and half doesn't work for us, though. It's much easier to have most people working the same way. When half of the people are doing one thing, and another half is doing another it doubles the communication workload and things get missed.

    What we've moved to now is the majority of the staff in the office, with work-from-home Thursdays and the option for people to work from home on other days as needed, but most people are in the office most of the time.


  • Dan Vader, game director at Capybara Games

    Dan Vader, game director at Capybara Games logo

    I miss my Capybara co-workers. It’s been eight months since we’ve seen each other, and I mean really seen one another. I miss the jocular atmosphere and the camaraderie in the air when you walk back from the coffee machine to your desk knowing we’re all trucking towards a goal.

    What I don’t miss? Literally everything else about game development happening in a physical office that I have to commute to, such as delayed trains, snowstorms, spending a fortune on lunch etcetera.

    But if the Covid-19 lockdown measures really only solved people’s individual inconveniences related to office-life, then I doubt the culture shift we’re all seeing would take hold and last past the pandemic (it’s gonna end, right?). It’s not surprising that people prefer to fall out of bed and log-on in their pyjamas and skip the whole road warrior routine that comes with just getting to work.

    What is surprising to me is that we actually got better at this whole game development thing while separated and in lockdown. I feel like we’ve never been more organised, communicative, or transparent than we are now.

    Previously, we really took it for granted that we’d all be in the office together, and so meetings were very informal, schedules were fluid, discussions would slip because "eh, we’ll see each other tomorrow". We could count on decisions being made in an impromptu huddle around someone’s desk. We can’t count on that anymore so we immediately speak up.

    We set a meeting, we hop on video and we talk. During this entire lockdown period, we’ve managed to develop a regular schedule of content updates for our Apple Arcade game Grindstone and ported it to Switch, while spinning up another project. It feels like the question we posed to ourselves in March of: “Can we make this work?” has definitively been answered.

    I have no doubt that some degree of remote work will continue after this whole 2020 debacle ends, and I think the reason is that many of us are quickly realising that game development - and particularly nimble indie studios - are very well-suited to it in ways that other industries just aren’t.

    I have no idea if we’ll ever get back to our funky downtown Toronto office but what I do know is that Capybara Games isn’t an office. It’s 24 people (and a bunch of friends); those people can be anywhere and we’d still be Capybara Games.


  • Marie-Eve Boisvert, VP of communications at Behaviour Interactive

    Marie-Eve Boisvert, VP of communications at Behaviour Interactive logo

    The pandemic has certainly opened our eyes to the possibilities and benefits of remote work, but there will always be a need for a headquarters. Working in an office may not be possible now, though most of our employees have expressed a desire to return to the office on at least a hybrid schedule (a mix of working from home and the office) when the pandemic is over.

    Only a minority said they would prefer to work remotely on a permanent basis. The fact is employees need a place where they can meet and see each other. Many say they miss the sense of camaraderie that comes from sharing and working alongside their colleagues.

    It’s also important for managers and team leads to be able to meet with their teams in person on a regular basis. There is a team dynamic that comes with meeting in person that you can’t replace remotely.


  • Andrea Roberts, co-founder at Wonderbelly Games

    Andrea Roberts, co-founder at Wonderbelly Games logo

    I'm inspired by all of your solutions and enthusiasm and I'm excited to think about how studios operate going forward, but I also want to add that working from home during a pandemic is not the same as working from home.

    My husband/teammate and I have a young daughter and during most of the last eight months, we've had limited or no access to childcare. We've had to reduce our studio hours and trade-off time to take care of her. We also live in the US, where things are very much not back to normal. There's a mental toll that comes along with long term stress and anxiety.

    While it affects us all differently, many folks have expressed a loss of creativity, motivation, collaboration - and that's a completely normal response to this very abnormal level of stress, not necessarily a reflection of the working arrangement.

    Anyway, I love working from home and I plan on keeping our studio remote moving forward. To those out there who are struggling, I'd say you're not alone. This is a strange time and it's absolutely okay to just survive it.


  • Cabin Yim, chief marketing officer at Fairplay Studios

    Cabin Yim, chief marketing officer at Fairplay Studios logo

    Luckily for us, Thailand was in lockdown for only three months (March to June). This meant the entire studio had to work from home for only a short period of time relative to the other countries that were affected more severely by the pandemic. As a result, we honestly didn’t get a significant amount of time to adjust and fully assimilate the work from home policy before being called back into the office.

    Nonetheless, there were many things that hit us right off the bat and I’ll just split it easily into what we loved about working from home versus what we weren’t so fond of:

    Pros:

    • Flexibility to take care of personal appointments, errands, and emergencies

    • Removal of commute time

    • Reduction in travel expenses

    • Small productivity boost from fewer interruptions and unnecessary meetings

    Cons:

    • No strict separation between work and leisure time – it’s all up to self-discipline

    • An effort needed to be made to find a change of scenery since most of the time is spent in the same place (at home)

    • Easy to miscommunicate as most communication goes through chats and video conference calls

    • Unable to adjust to problem-solving easily and efficiently

    • Hindered the ability to make quick changes/decisions in any production phase work and ensure that everyone is in sync

    In summary, today we all prefer to work from the office 100 per cent. Since we are a small team of 14 people, we prefer the flexibility to be able to just turn around or walk over to someone’s desk and discuss any issues or ideas someone has.

    Nonetheless, for some tasks that have been already set out and planned, productivity in the team did improve however when brainstorming ideas or having to problem solve any bugs or tasks that need flexibility, it reduced the team’s productivity due to miscommunication from not being able to discuss face to face.

    As a closing remark, I do want to say that I think the idea of working from home definitely has potential. Society and culture are ever-evolving and I can foresee the day where physical offices may be rendered obsolete. Before that happens though, processes and operations must be so streamlined and digitised into an efficient and lean system so that physical interaction shifts from being a necessary commonplace to just a matter of choice.

    When that day comes, operations would be so lean and efficient that it will not matter anymore whether I turn around to talk to my colleague or communicate through a digital medium.


  • Chase Bethea, freelance composer

    Chase Bethea, freelance composer logo

    I am a freelance composer, so a lot of my work has been remote for the last nine years. The only thing that has changed is that I see the benefit of this as bigger game companies won't try to force people to move, uproot themselves and take a risk for an 18-month contract.

    This year I worked for a big game company in March (at the height of the pandemic). The studio contracted and on-boarded me so seamlessly. There were fewer cars on the road, fewer accidents, less smog, and less gas money spent - all of which were beneficial The studio also doesn't need to have any extra expenses for the likes of travel or relocation. 

    I know that some people are still against working from home for in the long-term, but my hope is that we find a middle ground and adopt this practice for those that do want to opt-in. Games are still being worked on and shipped this year meaning the system is working.

    I believe that a remote hybrid method can be implemented. The people that opt-in for remote should not be penalised and still receive the same amount of respect as people who decide to go into the office. One to three optional days would be great, with big meetings/launch parties being the only other time a person needs to come in. 


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.

Comments

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