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Desk Jobs: Games professionals share their work-from-home set-ups

We take a look at how developers, execs and more are adapting to quarantine around the world

The way we work has changed.

Social distancing and isolation measures designed to fight the spread of COVID-19 have shifted almost the entire industry to a remote working model, with people having to carve out a productive space in their own homes.

We've dedicated plenty of articles to how best to work remotely, but we've not really explored where. To address this, we invited developers and other games professionals to share their work-from-home set-ups:

John and Brenda Romero, co-founders, Romero Games

John and I both have offices which are separate from our family areas. I always wanted an office with the fireplace, so when we did the restoration of this house, I made one. I work on my grandmother's dining table -- too fragile for daily use by the family, but perfect for a desk.

I prefer a three-monitor set-up: One for the game, one for whatever docs I am working on, and one for Slack and every other form of communication that's necessary at the moment. I like to have a room flooded with natural light. There's a large window here as well as two skylights.

My office has a unique theme which all started with that nun chair you see there and the Ozzy Osbourne painting. I am actually not religious in the least. Music-wise, I listen to John O'Conor, an Irish pianist, while I'm triaging bugs and going through Slack. Once I start playing, it's all game sounds. In the morning, before work, I have coffee in silence before the kids get up.

The door to the left, out of shot, leads into John's office. He comes in here for stand up in the morning.

Brie Code, CEO and creative director, Tru Luv

I'm quarantining from someone else's empty short-term rental apartment. I don't mind being away from my usual comforts -- I love a liminal space.

Brie_Code

Because art becomes life, I work from bed. I wake up before sunrise and meditate for 30 mins in the bed I woke up in. I check my calendar, my email, and my messages and get an idea of what my day will be able to be. This helps me remember my purpose. I'm using several tools and techniques to cultivate a tend-and-befriend mindset, and we've pivoted our focus right now towards how we can best help people over the next months.

Around me, I have tarot cards, crystals, candles and the books I brought to quarantine with me. My days are spent reading, writing, and in meetings. I listen to music and chat with my loved ones periodically.

At times I move to the kitchen, where I listen to dance music and use the kitchen counter as a standing -- or rather dancing -- desk. It hasn't been warm enough yet to work on the terrace but when it is I will.

Sam Lake, creative director, Remedy

In the beginning, 25 years ago, Remedy was like a garage band. Well, here I am in a garage. It feels like coming full circle, back to basics. With the whole family at home in quarantine, this is the quietest place in the house. Yes, I have a study as well. But it turns out, with everyone at home, it's not that peaceful -- even with the door closed. Or rather, the door just doesn't stay closed. So here I am.

I had to move quite a bit of junk around to clean up a space for working. An old table. An old chair. We're in pre-production of a big new project. I don't need much, just my laptop with Final Draft and Word, a notebook, a pen, and an occasional video call to keep in sync with the rest of the team. The garage is within the range of my home wi-fi. And yes, they laugh at my backdrop, I don't hide it with a virtual backdrop.

More than anything, I need to spend time inside my head, focused time to write the story. This is great. An ascetic, ugly space with no distractions. And hey, it's not like this is a dungeon. There's a window. It's high up and small, but it's there. If I stand on my toes on the table, I can almost see outside. And I haven't been locked in or anything. I can leave anytime I like. I can, honest, I can. (Help me!)

Mikael Kasurinen, game director, Remedy

Reika Yoshino, 3D environment artist and art production manager, Thatgamecompany

I share an apartment with my colleague, Ashley, who is working from home too. When she moved in, we made sure to get the same desks so we could get this specific setup to work (see below). It's really nice since it's not distracting, but it is also encouraging to know that there's another person working hard across from you too.

As our living room is so big, we decided to move our dining area in there and set up our workspace in the dining room instead. We have a sweet little cat and she helps a lot with the quarantine. It's easy to have the boundary between work and personal life blurred at times when you're working from home, but my pet reminds me that I have to stop and eat dinner.

I personally require two monitors, and sometimes I wish I had three. I miss my standing desk at work, but I just need to be better about stretches and walking around the apartment more.

Ashley Coad, 2D Artist, Thatgamecompany

One thing I love about our setup is all the art surrounding our workstations. It's important to me to have sources of inspiration at hand and it's great to be able to look up and see that beside me too. I usually listen to music, some calm game Lets Plays or vlogs with headphones while I work. It helps keep my mind active and oftentimes will even help fuel whatever I may be working on.

It's been wonderful having a work partner across from me. In previous setups it's just been myself working alone, but having Reika working alongside is a great motivator. It's great to have that companionship who is also creative (and also tends to be a night owl like me).

Brendan Greene, executive producer, PlayerUnknown Productions

I have two laptops on top of a hastily-bought IKEA desk, and a nice chair, which thankfully arrived last week. I have music on via our Sonus system for most of the day, usually classical playlists via IDAGIO.

Most of my collectables are in the office. I do sit in front of some of my photo collection, which gives me something to gaze upon when thinking.

I run a MacBook for most of my day-to-day sync and writing and have a Windows laptop to check our builds and run the development environment.

Sam Barlow, director of Telling Lies and Her Story

The team just moved into a new office at the start of the year and I was very pleased with my organization in moving all my research books and DVDs into the office, to create the best 'work/life' balance. Hindsight is 20/20.

By far the biggest challenge of isolation has been sharing our compact NYC apartment with my two kids and wife, all remote schooling/working. We ran out of usefully separated Zoom workstations, and I gave the choicest spots to the rest of the family. So I get this child's desk in the corner of our living room and squat over a beanbag, which is perhaps the worst standing-desk implementation going.

I moved one of my BAFTAs over to keep me company and remind me that it's all worthwhile. At some point I may sell it in return for toilet roll.

My laptop is currently missing an 'N' key and unlikely to be fixed until the Apple stores re-open later this year. We're currently in the writing and designing phase of our next big project, so days alternate between Zoom writing rooms and lying back on the beanbag to read or watch research. This might be fairly efficient if it weren't for the constant interruptions from hungry children. I am reminded that some of my favorite writers wrote from prison using their own blood for ink, so I perhaps don't have it THAT bad.

Jesse Houston, co-founder and CEO, Phoenix Labs

jesse

I'm upstairs in a small room. I have two young kids who are at home these days with me and my wife. Along with the noise that creates, and the fact I spend a lot of time in meetings, having a bit of separation is helpful. That said, there's a little nook up here where my kids can come up and do school work to keep me company.

I've largely converted my gaming PC setup to a work from home setup. I've moved a few lights around to help augment ambient lighting, and needed to replace my speakers as they broke at some point in the last year or so. When I'm not in meetings I'm listening to some chill tunes on Spotify. These days Nintendo & Chill is my go-to jam.

I find myself using my iPad from the couch a lot more in order to have one-to-one meetings in a different context. I also use it to review content and give creative feedback, as it let's me do it at my own pace when I'm in a good headspace for it.

Raul Rubio, Tequila Works

I have several workspaces differentiated by task, mood and time of the day. For "Pro Dev Work", I use a standing desk setup (above left) with three screens -- one in portrait mode for reading and writing, a beefy workstation for management, direction, design and testing, and a venerable laptop for databasing, documentation and communication. Since I'm alone I play music on the speakers for creative writing, but I tend to remain silent when drawing or "just" writing... and I talk to myself when designing. I probably shouldn't mention that.

My "real" home office is upstairs (above right). I call it "Night Shift" to honor the classic Lucasfilm Games title -- and also because I use it mainly at night. It's small on purpose: a simple chair, a narrow but long table with room for a laptop, a tablet, my notebook, pens, pencils and paper. Plus, a secondary monitor to showcase my remote desktop back in the studio. It's oriented towards a comfy couch I use when I need a different perspective -- sometimes literally.

The dining table is long so I took possession of half of it to build Lego with my kid. The "Lego Workshop" (below left) is dedicated to daily calls and external communications and conferences. The working area is tight but clean and minimalist. Even better, I can build Lego while on creative calls.

For formal conferences, I move to the home theatre area (below right) with a big "No More Eye Bleeding" 4K for multi-screen or shared screen. Really fancy for long and complex presentations, as there's a sofa and a coffee table for the devices or to rest your feet.

Rami Ismail, Vlambeer

My office is a separate space, with a locked door. I also have to be very strict with myself to not work too much outside of work hours, so I try to keep work to the office. The entire apartment has pretty consistent rules for the interior -- all rooms have lights that can be tinted or colored and dimmed, all walls have the same color with one wall having an accent color, the floor is wood for the main spaces, tiles for the bathroom, and soft carpet for the bedrooms. The office is intentionally different: all white walls, hard carpet floor, no colored light. I really tried to make it its own space, and make it feel separate from the apartment.

I tend to like a vertical screen for code, and a horizontal screen for everything else. There's a stream deck for Twitch streaming, and for live production, a camera and full light set-up for video streaming, and a headset and microphone for podcasts. Just to the right is a cabinet with dev kits and a PS4 for livestreaming, and beyond that a glass trophy cabinet with awards and souvenirs from my travels. There's an identical guest desk with a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse for whenever I have collaborators, friends, or colleagues staying over on their travels.

I don't know how people work listening to podcasts or with Twitch or Netflix in the background: if there is spoken conversation, my brain locks onto it. I listen to music almost always, so music is on pretty loud during work hours (the place is sound-isolated very well, though) - and at night I'll use the headphones. The lights are always set to be very bright - I find it keeps me focused.

Fun note, the scratches on the wall are mostly from my chair, which happen mostly when I fix a particularly nasty bug, and jump up from my chair in triumph.

Bergur Finnbogason, creative director for EVE Online, CCP

I spend most of the day in the kitchen. Though some meetings require more creativity if they are timed during times the kitchen is needed by other family members. My workspace is just the old kitchen table and chair. I try to keep art and plants in all spaces of my apartment, to create a healthy environment and keep inspiration high. Then it's iPad, laptop and phone, with two different sets of headphones.

If I'm not in meetings, then noise cancelation is my best friend. Though every few hours we put on some electro music and have a ten-minute rave with our kids, who are three and eight years old.

James Dobrowski, vice president of product development, CCP

I'm fortunate enough to have a separate office in the house, with a good gaming PC, dual monitors, and a new super comfy gaming chair I picked up just before the lockdown -- an absolute life-saver, given my previous chair was about to collapse before we all moved to working from home.

This room is usually my own personal den, and I typically spend most of my time here gaming. I'm surrounded myself with some of my favourite things - pictures of my nephews, my dog, a Lego Slave-1, a series of autographed posters from Conan the Barbarian (unashamedly, my favourite movie of all time), and a rather hefty collection of old boxed PC games.

I spend most of my time speaking with people in other countries, so my day-to-day therefore hasn't changed all that much -- I'm just sitting in a different chair with a different view, and I no longer need to brave the London underground. This chair and my Britney Spears headset have become my best friends.

Elle Osili-Wood, video games presenter and journalist

Despite being a presenter, I actually work from home more than people might think, so luckily, I already had an entire home studio. It's a separate room in my house dedicated to filming, with a full DSLR set up, studio lighting, and a variety of backdrops. At the moment, though, I'm actually using my webcam -- television producers seem to like the lockdown vibe. For the BAFTA Games Awards, I spent two full days in there dressed in black tie to film the interviews -- It's not often you can say you hosted a BAFTA red carpet from your house.

I also work as a video game voice actor, as well as a voiceover artist, so have a VO booth built, too. It's completely soundproof, and set up ready to record. I'd always rather be in the studio, or on stage, so I have to make my home space as welcoming as possible to convince myself to work there. I also need a window, because my brain basically shuts down without sunlight.

The only thing I don't allow myself is game figurines. I'm an absolute sucker for game and geek merch, and without restraint, my desk will very quickly look like a toy store. I do, however, have a big stack of comic books in there -- and a sofa -- since they're perfect for breaks.

Dan Gray, Ustwo Games

I've got a small single bedroom converted to an office space, which is just enough to not feel too cramped and also have a nice bright window next to me so I can remember what the outside world used to feel like. As a strange coincidence I decided to upgrade my home work station a month or so back with a good ergonomic chair and height adjustable desk.

One thing that's been a lifesaver is that armchair next to the window. Sitting there on the ipad doing some design sketches and some pinterest research with the window open has been a really cool change of pace.

Two things I never realised I'd miss so much from the studio is just having Sharpies and Post-its to hand. Remembering tasks and having ideas just comes more naturally to me when I can whack them up on my wall in a bright colour. The wall behind the desk is full of stuff -- it looks like a crazy man's plotting room.

Jodie Azhar, Teazelcat

I work from home normally so have a separate office room in the house where I work from. I share it with my partner, who's a programmer for mobile platforms. Most of the time this is great, as I have the company of someone doing similar work to me, but we do have to switch rooms if one of us has a meeting.

We're often joined by our cat Teazel, who's Teazelcat's namesake. She likes to sit on laps or in front of monitors so we gave her a bed on the desk between us so she doesn't feel left out.

The office has a north facing window providing plenty of light, but we also have a daylight bulb in the light fitting for gloomier days.

I like to keep my desk space free and empty of things I don't need as this helps me concentrate. However, I have shelves above the monitors for plants, Monster Hunter figures, stationary and some more personal items such as a felt Teazelcat logo made by my sister and Day of the Tentacle figures made by a former colleague as a leaving gift when I departed my previous job.

Simon Bennett, Roll7

I share an office at home with my wife, and have been working remotely since 2015, when Roll7 closed down our studio in Deptford and began working from the cloud. The office is a large-ish room upstairs in the house in South-East London, overlooking the garden and woods beyond. It is only used as an office space.

We have a Bluetooth speaker in the office which tends to play 'background chill beats' when I am not on calls. The atmosphere is pretty quiet, unless one of my cats decides to come and play -- and once or twice a day, I will take a quick break to chill on the sofa with them. It's quite meditative and allows me time to think away from my desk.

I have a plant on my desk, and the BAFTA we won for OlliOlli back in 2015, it is a reminder of probably one of the best times in my life - and keeps me positive and driven when things are not going 100% to plan! I also currently have this year's Valentine's card from my wife on the desk - it's the only one she ever sent to me (after 11 years!) so it has pride of place.

It's super important to remember that the version of remote work that everyone is currently 'enduring' is not normal. The benefits of remote work are being able to maximise your life, which is really not possible currently... So if this was a change that you were considering, but are now struggling with, try not to conflate a usually very positive experience with the quarantined life that we are now working through.

If you would like to share your work-from-home set-up, send a photo and a couple of paragraphs to James.Batchelor@gamesindustry.biz.

Additional reporting by Marie Dealessandri and Brendan Sinclair.

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