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"Don't Crunch" - Advice from the Best Places To Work

The winners of last week's awards reveal their tips for start-ups

Last week, GamesIndustry.biz crowned 12 winners from our inaugural Best Places To Work Awards.

Creative Assembly, Criterion, D3T, Double Eleven, Failbetter Games, Hutch, Playground Games, Space Ape, Studio Gobo, Twitch, Unity and Wish Studios all took home our special Best Places badge. You can read our full interviews with them here, and check out the pictures on our Facebook page. The awards were sponsored by Aardvark Swift.

With all these smart people in once place, we thought it would be worthwhile to get their advice. What would they say to new studios, or start-ups, looking to follow in their footsteps?

Here is what they said:

Tim Heaton
Studio Director, Creative Assembly

"Always stay focused on why you started making games in the first place. Focus on your people and what they are passionate about - great games come from having great people around you, and you'll also create a solid and long-lasting culture for the future.

"There will be good times and there will be tough times. Stay resilient, don't be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. At Creative Assembly, we are incredibly lucky to house so many talented and clever people that constantly challenge us and make sure we are always striving for the best."

Matt Webster
General Manager, Criterion

"Find out what makes you, you. Define a shared set of values and be sure to live those values. Treat your people as talent and aim to influence and inspire rather than command and control. Recognise and resist harmful dogma and wherever possible favour autonomy - these are development studio mindsets and values that we believe are attractive to the contemporary gaming talent that we're looking to build the future of our studio with."

"Treat your people as talent and aim to influence and inspire rather than command and control"

Matt Webster, Criterion

Helen Powell
Marketing Manager, D3T

"Know what you are looking to achieve and stick to it. If you want to make games, commit to it 100% and don't muddy the water taking on work-for-hire projects. You need your best people adding value, not just generating revenue."  

Mark South
COO, Double Eleven

"Set it up so that it can work on zero sales of your first game, treat anything above that as a hard earned bonus - regardless of you having a publisher. By 'it,' I mean your life and the lives of the other people working for/with you and anyone within that radius. You can re-evaluate at that point if what you did to make it here is something you are prepared to keep doing until something takes off, or if you want to seek greener pastures."

Kyra Chan
Operations Manager, Failbetter Games

"Don't crunch. It can seem like everyone does and that it must be the only way to succeed in making games, but there's an enormous amount of evidence collected over several decades that sustained crunch is not only bad for employees, but has a negative effect net on productivity as well."

Shaun Rutland
CEO, Hutch

"I think it's incredibly important to have a definable mission statement both internally for the team and externally for partners. So my advice would be, find your sense of purpose. You might be planning for your first release or building a new game, but where does that particular game lead your business to next? Always think about the next step in the process."

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Space Ape is one of 12 winners from the Best Places To Work Awards

Gina Peach
HR Manager, Studio Gobo

"Setting up your own games company will be an emotional roller coaster. One of the most important decisions you will make is who you choose to surround yourself with on this ride. Having a group of people that can not only create a great game but also support each other can make or break your company."

Simon Hade
COO and Co-founder, Space Ape

"First off, focus all your energy on front line development. If you are a business person, you don't need any more business types. As much as it hurts day-to-day, resist the temptation to hire that marketer, CFO or analyst you will need once you have a successful game. Anyone who is not designing or coding is taking up money and mind share that you cannot afford. This is always true but especially in your first 10 or so hires.

"Anyone who is not designing or coding is taking up money and mind share that you cannot afford

Simon Hade, Space Ape

"Also be honest with yourself, whether you are following an execution strategy to get profitable and fund more ambitious development or you're going for the moon shot. Either strategy is valid, but saying you're one when you are in fact the other really is the kiss of death. Employees, investors and partners will see through it eventually. There is a big temptation when you're starting out to be seen to be aiming big, and that implies taking on a lot of creative risk. That is great if you have years of runway and a team with experience working together but if you are missing one or both of those then you need to build up the capability first.

"But most of all make sure you are working on a game that you and the team are 100% passionate about. Life's too short."

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Unity with their Best Places Awards certificate

Jamie Trentham
Senior HR Business Partner, Unity

"The things that a lot of people underestimate is how much work and effort it can be to employ people and going from making games to managing a business. I'd say focus on working with, or hiring, people you really get along with and respect, and don't be afraid to stay small. Also don't stress too hard about doing things right every time, a lot of success stories look great because you know they're successful, but they probably had no idea what they were doing right and wrong at the beginning. Finally, quote big, sometimes you don't get taken seriously if you're selling yourselves too cheap.

Alex Bell
Recruitment Co-ordinator, Unity

"Unfortunately I can't lay any claim to starting a successful studio, or shipping a beloved title.. but the first thing that comes to mind - for anyone, embarking on something new and ambitious - is you need remember how to get back to your well of inspiration. No matter your background, experience or training - everyone hits walls. By drawing inspiration from wherever you feel it most efficaciously; you can start to unpack problems in a different way -  you retain your motivation to succeed, you retain the confidence to try -  even at 1/1,000 odds."

Caspar Field
CEO, Wish Studios

"The best piece of advice I had when we started Wish was that you cannot present yourself as able to do it all - you have to have a specialism, a clear mission. People will either buy into that or they won't, but unless you stand for something then you kind of stand for nothing.

"Our mission statement is to create fun, original and meaningful games that bring people together. We work towards this goal in everything that we do and it helps people both inside and outside of the studio understand what is important to us.

"Apart from that, I'd say that we did a lot of preparation in the first 12 months, planning for success. We sorted out contract templates, found a great law firm, got an accountant, and so when we started growing we were ready for it, not scrabbling around trying to sort it out as we went. And for partners/co-founders, I'd say that learning to trust one another and to be as honest as possible with one another is really important - things move too fast to beat around the bush."

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