GDCE 2012: ngmoco's Senta Jakobsen on building a team when developers don't come to the office

#gdc_europe How distributed 'Stockholm' studio works

GDCE 2012: ngmoco's Senta Jakobsen on building a team when developers don't come to the office
Digging deeply into how game developers can or should work, ngmoco's Senta Jakobsen gave a talk about setting up the company's Stockholm studio.

Presenting her findings in a GDC Europe talk entitled 'Building and working in a distributed team', she said, "We wanted to stay as small as possible for as long as possible so we wanted experienced game developers; people who cared about the game as a whole and the studio."

However, these people are hard to find, and even harder to relocated to another country.

Another way

So Jakobsen and Ben Cousins - who heads up the Swedish studio: now 14 people strong - started to research how they could build their team, reading motivational and organisational books such as The Starfish and the Spider and Why works sucks and how to fix it.

As they found, there's a lot of research backing a view that people work best when they have personal control over their working environment.

"Work isn't a place you go, it's something you do," Jakobsen argued.

The result was a 'manifesto' that stated people would be trusted to do their work, wherever they wanted to be in the world.

All together

This unconventional situation was mirrored in other employment-related decision making.

For example, hiring was informally with six or seven people involved with any one of them having the power to veto that person joining the company.

Similarly, the company spent a long time evaluating various communication tools, eventually settling on Yammer and Google Talk for asynchronous communication. Google Hangouts is used for synchronous communication, occasionally also Skype.

"We don't really have meetings, but we meet," Jakobsen said. "We don't book an hour via Outlook. We have short 'meetings' whenever something comes up."

Time for your close up

"You do have to think ahead a little more. You have to be more specific," she said. One interesting point was how long it took people to stop asking for permission before they made a video call.

The company still has a 10am meeting every morning, with people attending via video wherever they are in the world, whether Sweden, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Germany, the Czech Republic or Japan.

Proof meets pudding

Face-to-face meeting are important, however.

Every three months, the team comes to the Stockholm office for a week of working in the office, which also involves a 'team event'.

In conclusion, Jakobsen reckoned that people worked in much the same way as they would in an office, only they have far greater control over their own time, making them much happier, and hopefully resulting in a better game (as yet unannounced and unreleased).
Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.