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Overcoming the "ugly necessity" of scaling back inactive teams

Matchmaking platform SupplyDrop aims to connect studios that have too many developers with those that have too few

By its nature, game development starts small and ends small, with the team scaling up and down as required. This constant fluctuation can create major logistical and budgetary issues, however, with more staff brought on board as a game enters full development, only to be without work when the project winds down.

This can be difficult for smaller studios that may not have the capacity to shift staff onto other projects. Often studio heads are left with the painful decision of making redundancies, or shouldering the cost of keeping largely inactive staff on the payroll.

SupplyDrop is a new platform designed to help overcome this "ugly necessity" by facilitating co-development opportunities to fill the gaps. Developed by Purple Lamp Studios co-founder and CEO Andrew Hance, SupplyDrop was designed from a "needs perspective" based on Hance's own experience, and conversations with other developers.

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"Right now we're ramping down one project and starting another, and I have a couple of people who don't have a project from May until October," says Hance. "It's long enough that it hurts. Thankfully we're in a position where we could afford that, but that's not always true. So we're left with the option of having to eat the cost if you can afford it, or fire someone who you're gonna have to find a replacement for relatively soon, and these aren't good options."

SupplyDrop should allow studios to hire with confidence, knowing that they will be able to find work for their staff once things wind down towards the end of a project. Of course, that depends on the reliability of the platform, which is aiming for a 90% placement rate. According to rough calculations, this would require somewhere between 120 and 240 companies using the platform.

Hance says SupplyDrop was born to "solve a very specific problem." Previously, when Purple Lamp had to fill gaps created by long-term absences, Hance would turn to a phone tree of reliable freelancers, but this wasn't always a viable solution as good freelancers are in high demand.

After touring the international trade shows, Hance found that each of the 300 companies he spoke with had similar needs and were interested in the service. But there was no easy way to fill gaps without a dedicated service or platform.

"Philosophically, there should always be a way if you're looking for work for your team, you use it for free. I do not want to monetise that side of the equation"

"I need this thing badly, and for me it's such a simple idea I thought it must exist," says Hance. "When I couldn't find it, I got frustrated and I decided to make it."

SupplyDrop brings to mind the early innovation of apps like Uber, which redefined how the taxi industry works. However, Hance doesn't necessarily agree with this assessment, responding that Uber was a disruptive innovation on an already functional system, whereas this is a solution to a problem.

SupplyDrop connects studios that need people with studios that have people. While this could potentially be disruptive to recruitment agencies, outsourcing studios, and freelancers, Hance says these groups will still have their place, and that SupplyDrop is not disrupting a competitive space.

"All of these things exist for a reason. We're trying to add into an ecosystem something that is lacking, as opposed to shaking up what is already there."

For Hance, SupplyDrop is about helping the industry survive, rather than profiting from its struggles.

"I know when I'm using this, I am not looking to get our studio's normal man-month rate [in return]," says Hance. "If I can cover the cost, I would be more than happy. I'll take a loss, a 50% loss -- it's a lot better than zero."

SupplyDrop launched without a business model, which was a "conscious decision" Hance says. He has explored different models, such as a percentage platform fee, or individual placement fee. The former was "incredibly complicated" while the latter creates problems around regional pricing. A subscription model was also floated, but Hance bristled against the idea of studios paying for a service that they are not always using.

"We do need [a business model] to keep going, but the point is that whatever model we come up with... has to be so inexpensive that you don't think about it.

"Also, philosophically, there should always be a way if you're looking for work for your team, you use it for free. I do not want to monetise that side of the equation. If you need work for your team, and you're struggling, the last thing we want to do is make it harder for you at that stage.

"There will always be a way for that side to be a free service, and that's just a philosophical ideal, rather than a business necessity. It's made to solve a problem, that's the thing, and that gets solved better the more people are able to use it. Function is far more important... I would much rather collect a very small fee from a large number of people than it to be too expensive for a five-person studio in Brazil to use. And if that's the only model that makes sense, then it doesn't make sense."

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Ivy Taylor avatar
Ivy Taylor: Ivy joined in 2017 having previously worked as a regional journalist, and a political campaigns manager before that. They are also one of the UK's foremost Sonic the Hedgehog apologists.