The Brighton games studio Electric Square is expanding to Leamington Spa and is targeting 50 new recruits.
The new office will be led by former Exient studio director Nick Harper when it opens in the New Year, and it will specialise in free-to-play and live operations.
Electric Square began life as the Brighton office for Studio Gobo, but was rebranded in 2017 to establish itself as a separate unit. Since then Electric Square has grown to 130 employees, and has worked on leading IP with major clients, including Amazon with The Grand Tour, Microsoft with Forza Street and Mattel with Hot Wheels id.
When it rebranded, studio head Jon Gibson said the aim was to retain a "family atmosphere' and avoid feeling "like this big corporation". He tells us that's still the aim, and one of the reasons behind opening the new Leamington office.
"We are getting to the size where if we get much bigger, the culture and atmosphere is going to change," he explains. "It still feels a bit like a family at the moment, and everyone knows each other and we all get together on Fridays and we socialise at our weekly show and tell events. I don't really want Electric Square to become a huge corporate entity where people don't know the person working on the next floor, or lose track of the projects we're doing.
"The most important thing when opening a new studio is that the person you're working with is someone you trust and believe in."
Jon Gibson, Electric Square
"The idea with Leamington is to replicate that formula, rather than change what we've already built. We want it to stand on its own two feet. It's not like the managers here are going to be remotely managing Leamington. Nick is the studio head and he is going to build his own team and his own strategy. It will become another Electric Square studio that operates in the same way that we do, but it will have its own identity and culture."
Gibson and his team have long discussed the prospect of opening an office in Leamington Spa, but it was only when Nick Harper left Exient that the idea became a reality.
"Jon and I have a history," Nick tells us. "We worked together at Exient. I decided it was time to move on from Exient, and when that occurred Jon said that he had identified Leamington as a place to open a new Electric Square studio, and asked if I would be interested. We chatted a bit more on and off, and then Jon invited me down to their Brighton studio. That was the bit that clinched it. Just seeing the work environment and projects they had, the culture they had... it was really exhilarating. It is something I wanted to replicate in Leamington. That's where it all started."
Gibson adds: "The most important thing when opening a new studio is that the person you're working with is someone you trust and believe in. Making great games is all about talent. So knowing the talent Nick has and what he does, that presented huge opportunity for us to expand to a new area."
Electric Square's growth has been mostly organic, and driven by the clients and projects it has signed. It's also been aided by the fact it's now part of the Keywords family of companies. Keywords is well known for acquiring development services companies, and Gibson says that Electric Square has been allowed to maintain its unique identity within this structure.
This is good news for the staff that works there, as Electric Square has an award-winning culture and workplace - both it and its sister company Studio Gobo are winners of the GamesIndustry.biz Best Places To Work Awards.
"All the Best Places To Work Awards winners share the ethos that they put people before the business," says Head of Talent Guy DeRosa. "If you do that, you're going to create a working environment that people thrive in.
"Our identity is celebrating people's differences, so I do hope there will be a unique spin put onto the new studio"
Guy DeRosa, Electric Square
"There are no egos here -- staff here know that they're respected, cared for and have a voice. People get to work on world class projects that they can be proud of in a flexible and friendly environment. Throw in some free food and studio dogs and you've got yourself a working environment that ain't too heck."
The challenge now is to enable Electric Square in Leamington Spa to find its own identity, while maintain that award winning environment.
"Jon's influence in having selected the leadership team in Leamington Spa and our on-boarding process will be key," DeRosa says. "We will be spending a lot of time in the Leamington Spa office and being involved in that recruitment process, we will be looking to introduce our processes and some of that culture. We don't necessarily need to have a carbon copy of the Brighton studios wherever we go. Our identity is celebrating people's differences, so I do hope there will be a unique spin put onto the new studio. But I still think that when you walk in, it'll feel like an Electric Square studio."
Harper adds: "The key thing for me is to get a really strong leadership team in first, which believes in what I believe in... Which is that we want to be the best development studio in the region. That's the vision. That means the best people, the best environment, the best culture and feeling. We are there to make entertainment for others, and if that isn't fun, how can we expect what we make to be fun? It's really important to give the guys that atmosphere where everyone wants to come to work to make the best that we can do. I really got that feeling when I went and saw that Brighton studio."
Part of this is about being welcoming and inclusive, and trying to build a diverse workforce.
"At least 50%, if not more, of our existing workforce is from overseas," DeRosa adds. "We see that as a huge plus point. We're a really open minded and accommodating bunch.
"We are doing so much stuff with diversity that it's become my unofficial full-time role. There's been a few things that we've been doing that we will replicate in this new studio. For better understanding and for pro-active change, we've invested in diversity, neurodiversity and disability training for all of our hiring managers. There is a company down here in Brighton called DnA, and all the hiring managers, HR, the directors... We get together with them to cover subjects such as overcoming subconscious biases, culture barriers, respecting differences, appreciating other people's lenses... that is one of the steps that we're taking. Rather than acknowledging that diversity or inclusion needs to happen, we want to actually do something about that.
"These workshops really, really help. It's not something that we do to show face externally, but internally think differently. It's something we really believe in."
DeRosa says there are roles for people of all disciplines and all levels at Electric Square in Leamington Spa, and Harper adds that the firm will be working with the local universities - including Birmingham, Warwick and Coventry - to develop the next generation of talent.
"We have a huge talent pool that exists in the region, and it's really important for those guys to know that if you want to get a job in the games industry, you don't have to look that far from your doorstep to work at some great places," Harper says.
"I want to make the best game development studio in the region, which is obviously quite a lofty aim when you consider some of the great developers there"
DeRosa adds: "We do a lot of work with universities. Just this week, I am going to be visiting Cambridge, Northampton and Manchester to do talks within the universities. When we do these talks, it's not actually about Electric Square. We talk to the students about how to be employable in the games industry. Hopefully, it gives people a lasting impression of us and that we want to support them in getting started. Who knows, one day they may want to become a part of the Electric Square family."
DeRosa says that anyone interested in joining the firm should get in touch. In fact, on Thursday, November 28th, the company is throwing a party at House in Leamington Spa. The event will include food and drink, and attendees can sign up for free right here. "You're all welcome," says DeRosa.
The expansion is a big move for Electric Square, and there's no shortage of ambition in terms of where the team wants to go.
"I want to make the best game development studio in the region, which is obviously quite a lofty aim when you consider some of the great developers there," Harper says. "I want to be the best place to work. I want the projects that we have to be exciting and diverse. I want people to feel like they have a choice of what they're working on, and it fits with their own personal desires in terms of development. I want people to see that they can have a career here that would last, ideally, their entire games industry career. Obviously, we can say this sort-of stuff and it's harder to do in practice. So the key for me is to get the right people in place to start with."
Gibson concludes: "We want to work on top games and top IP and make things we're proud of. That's what drives me. Being the biggest and best studio in the UK means you're making the biggest and best games, and you can only do that if you believe in what you're doing and you're passionate about it.
"A lot of the time creative ambition and business decisions aren't necessary aligned. You can do something that earns you lots of money, but it might be some horrible thing that nobody wants to work on. We could make more money making banking apps, but I don't think that's a company you want to work in and that's not a project people want to work on. To be the biggest and to be the best, that can only happen if you're producing the best products and that can only happen when people are passionate about what they're doing."