There's a chance you've never heard of d3t. It's one of those studios that works behind-the-scenes on projects from other developers. It has provided crucial support work for games such as The Witcher 3, Super Stardust, Lawbreakers, Micro Machines World Series and a host of other familiar names and brands.
It's this variety, says marketing manager Helen Powell, that keeps its staff excited.
“Our team enjoys the variety we offer, as their skills are continually developed,” Powell explains. “Boredom is not an issue due to the variety of projects employees get to work on, including the very latest technology. Clients know we are focused on their projects and not splitting resources between their product and our own IP development, which also helps our team motivation. They get to be proud of all the projects they have worked on, not solely dedicated to one development for two years or more.”
The studio says it's the atmosphere, team events and refreshments that are hugely important, but really it's the pension and medical insurance that goes down best with its employees. It's looking to do more, of course, and is now aiming to do surveys of its own following its experience with the Best Places To Work Awards.
“d3t continually look to make improvements to all areas, and team satisfaction is a big one,” adds general manager Richard Badger. “HR plays an important role within our employee satisfaction.
“We are currently introducing a Progression Training system, to help identify future development of employees. Women in Games is another key area we are involved with, hoping to increase the number of women in the industry. Further to the Best Places to Work survey, we are now looking at implementing a Colleague Engagement Survey once a year to assist our ongoing development. Along with these we are also planning on implementing 360 feedbacks during our appraisal and one-to-one processes.”
Double Eleven is a swiss-army knife of a games business; one of the few companies that provides publishing finance, co-development, development and work-for-hire.
“This means that we're not tied to any one way of working; we could fund a studio to create their game, develop it ourselves, publish it, or take on a work-for-hire project, with the optimal mix being determined by what we believe is best for the team and our business,” says COO Mark South.
“Combined with the fact that we have no external stakeholders or people with ulterior commercial interests to influence our decisions, means we're able to pursue projects that are the right fit.”
This flexibility means that Double Eleven can thrive in an industry obsessed with change.
“We do everything we can to put job security first,” South says. “Our business model affords us the opportunity to pick the right mix of projects and associated risk.
“We also only hire someone full-time when we can see years of road for that person. We try to stay as lean as possible, avoiding ‘carrying' people across projects and instead choosing to invest heavily in people and infrastructure. Having said that, regardless of how we manage opportunities, the overarching element is communication of what's happening to the team.”
That's not to say Double Eleven is unwilling to take risk. In fact, the firm is now creating its own IP.
“It's always been our intention to make our own games. It was just a matter of getting the business into a position where what we released didn't need to succeed to keep us going,” South explains. “There's a lot of creative energy in the team, and most often that's directed through an existing premise or set of mechanics. This is about seeing what we come up with on our own. Our view is long-term; it's not about the first title, it's about an enduring commitment to making our own games.”
Failbetter Games offers some appealing benefits.
It sets Thursday as a work-from-home day to ease stress of commuting, and so staff can sort deliveries and repairs without taking holiday.
It has a minimum salary of £32,000 to help with rent, and also pays the London living wage to its interns. It also allows employees to take on outside projects.
And it's continuing to adopt new practices, too.
“We're implementing a pay scale system to make salary decisions and progression as transparent as possible,” says operations manager Kyra Chan.
“Additionally, we're always looking for ways to make our hiring process as inclusive as possible. Over the last three years we've achieved an even gender split in hiring, but we haven't achieved the same level of success in other areas, like ethnic diversity.
“As of today, we're offering an unpaid annual leave allowance for staff volunteering and this month we're also taking employee pitches for our next game, which we hope allows every employee to express their creative ideas.”
Not bad for a small company of fewer than 20 staff.
“It's funny, we don't feel small anymore,” Chan says. “But being on the smaller side certainly has its benefits. The larger the teams the harder it can be to communicate and keep the business side of things running smoothly. If someone has feedback or a new idea, our small size allows this to happen almost instantaneously instead of having to schedule meetings.”
Failbetter says it has been inspired by and adopted politics from The Tate Modern, NSPCC, The University of Nottingham and The Guardian, and it admires how Double Fine empowers its staff and appreciates Valve's non-hierarchical structure.
And it has some advice of its own for start-ups.
“Don't crunch. It can seem like everyone does and that it must be the only way to succeed, but there's an enormous amount of evidence that sustained crunch is not only bad for employees, but has a negative net effect on productivity as well.”
“One of the frustrations that emerges in a lot of game studios is a sense of disconnection between the people running the studio and the people making the games,” says Wish CEO Caspar Field.
“All too often there are great ideas in the team that never make their way to the top. Way too often in the past, I've seen a roomful of managers trying to solve something that would be better addressed by others on the team. This doesn't just apply to game ideas or HR practices, but to bigger strategic decisions about the future direction of the studio. At Wish, we have a very open attitude and senior members of the team are seated throughout the office, so there isn't a sense of 'us' and 'them'.”
Wish Studios is fast making a name for itself following its recent partnership with PlayStation (on the company's PlayLink initiative), and is now 30-people strong. It values work/life balance and Field says that it's up to the studio to ensure “the work half of that equation is challenging and satisfying but does not impact on the life half”.
Wish could have expanded a lot faster, but the management was eager to be steady in its growth. Although it was tempted to hire a lot of people, it wanted to take time and find the right people.
It's currently changing its appraisal system to reflect the size of the studio today, and is eager to improve the diversity of its team.
As for other studios looking to follow in Wish's growing footsteps, Field offers this advice: “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.”