The Best Places To Work Awards isn't just about games developers. For our 2021 US show, our winners including developers, PR agencies and publishers. It also featured Pragma Platform, a technology company responsible for a backend game engine for multiplayer titles.
We caught up with founder and CEO Eden Chen to find out why the company received such rave reviews from its staff.
Tell us about Pragma, what do you do?
Pragma is a backend game engine that enables multiplayer and social games. Chris (Cobb) and I were inspired to create Pragma while we were considering building our own game. We realized that as more and more games were becoming living and breathing products, backends were increasingly becoming more complex while the tools to help studios create these games weren't advancing.
Pragma provides developers full extensibility, visibility and scalability. Our platform is made up of five interconnected applications: accounts and social, payments, player data, telemetry, and game loop.
What do you think makes you one of the best places to work in the US?
We take a very different approach than what is more traditional in the games industry. We fundamentally believe that if you hire great people and build a culture of long-term thinking, you can achieve an outsized impact with a smaller team and build excellent products without needing to crunch.
This means that we can pay people at the top end of the industry, set realistic deadlines and scope appropriately, and remain hyper-focused on long-lived teams that work hand in hand together and don't believe in solo all stars.
What do you think makes you unique as an employer, and how do you maintain that?
One particularly unique area is that we use 'extreme programming' -- full test coverage, pair programming and so on. This is because we believe it aligns with several of our core values like long-lived teams, and long-term thinking.
This means that every developer works with at least one other developer every single day, for most of the day. This allows us to maintain healthy work hours, create a culture of constant collaboration, self-select out folks that would not feel comfortable collaborating all the time, and invest carefully in the long term -- as opposed to the flip side of this which would be: we don't have time to write tests, or we can't afford to pair because folks are not writing enough code.
We're also pretty unique in the games industry because our team is primarily composed of backend engineers. Backend engineers are the heroes at Pragma as the product itself is a backend product, whereas typically at many studios they are a complement to what others are doing.
What are the biggest challenges you face in terms of keeping employees happy?
We're a fully remote company, which was largely driven by our employees desire to have flexibility. This creates unique challenges around creating a cohesive and relational culture. Most of the time, employees are happy because they like who they work with. We really have to go above and beyond in thinking about how to achieve this culture without the same benefits of all being in the same office. For example, now that COVID cases are coming down and the vaccine is out, we're doing optional quarterly hangouts, and an annual retreat at the end of the year.
"We don't see successful game founders investing in younger people and paying it forward, and we don't see companies using their platforms enough to influence people for good"
How have you found to adapting to COVID-19 and the pressures that's brought about?
The three biggest impacts for me around COVID were: the tremendous personal stresses that employees were going through -- without always having the outlet to talk through this, the fact that no one was doing anything -- and doing activities are usually what contributes to conversation, and the guilt in the video games industry - which includes us -- of doing great.
For example, we would hop in a Discord channel after a long weekend, and no one would have anything to talk about, because no one did anything except watch Netflix. And we'd be raising money and landing studios while the world was crumbling around us.
What do you feel needs improving about working in the games industry, and what are you doing to help?
Games, like many industries, are places where many people choose to work because they are passionate. This often creates an odd tension where employers feel like they can take advantage of someone's passion by treating them unfairly -- paying them less, or forcing them to work crazy hours. We try to combat this by doing things like posting all our salary levels in our handbook so that everyone knows where they're at.
For whatever reason, this passion also means that, often, the games industry isn't focused on mission enough in every sense. We don't see successful game founders investing in younger people and paying it forward, and we don't see companies using their platforms enough to influence people for good.
We have a tremendous opportunity from a direct product standpoint to raise awareness about social issues and non-profits through campaigns like allowing players to round up their micro-transactions. We can also reflect on what's happened in social media, where so much documented polarization has happened in society and where there's constant toxicity, and ask what we can do as an industry to shape the social landscape to create more vibrant and healthy online communities. Our passion space is really social, and we want to ultimately find ways for our tools to directly decrease toxicity, encourage fair play, and promote healthy social interactions in games.
What new initiatives are you looking to introduce to your company going forward?
We're well aware of the massive diversity deficiency in the games industry and we're part of the problem. Even as a small company, we want to prioritize diversity because it's the right thing to do but also because we know that diverse perspectives helps us create better products. One of the main ways we've been attacking this is by focusing on diverse pipelines of talent.
We're also excited about our quarterly and annual retreats as physically meeting together is just really exciting after more than a year of isolation.
Check out Pragma Platform during the 2021 US GamesIndustry.biz Best Places To Work Awards below:
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