Working Nowhere and Everywhere The Zen of Running a Virtual Studio   Christopher Natsuume Creative Director, Boomzap Enter...
Who Are You, and Why Should I Care? <ul><li>Chris Natsuume: In game industry since 1991 </li></ul><ul><li>Over a dozen pro...
Quick Boomzap Snapshot
Where/Who is Boomzap? USA Outsource Sound USA Accounting Philippines Outsource Art Outsourcing Partners Philippines Develo...
Why Run a Virtual Office? <ul><li>Access to the Best Developers in the World </li></ul><ul><li>Lower Labor Costs + COLA = ...
Tip #1: We Never Track Hours <ul><li>I don’t care how many hours you worked. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>I care how much you got...
Tip #2: Daily Builds, Reports, and Testing <ul><li>We have a new, working daily build. Every day </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bre...
Tip #3: Full Time + Project Specialists <ul><li>Some work is best left inhouse </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Game programming </li...
Tip #4: Hire for Virtual Character <ul><li>Hire for demonstrated self-management </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Small studio experi...
Tip #5: A “confederation” of teams <ul><li>“ How do you get everyone on the team to do *exactly* what you want?” </li></ul...
Tip #6: Managers must actually do things <ul><li>Everyone contributes in an empowered, confederated development structure:...
Tip #7: PowerPoint, Prototypes & Photoshop <ul><li>Nobody reads design documents. </li></ul><ul><li>Most studios solve w/m...
Tip #8: Producer Programmers <ul><li>Designers make lousy producers.  </li></ul><ul><ul><li>I know, I am one. </li></ul></...
Questions? Christopher Natsuume Creative Director Boomzap Entertainment [email_address]
Bonus Tips – 10 Tools for Virtual Studios <ul><li>Basecamp </li></ul><ul><li>CVS (or another online source control solutio...
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Working Nowhere and Everywhere: The Zen of Running A Virtual Studio

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Christopher Natsuume's talk on running a virtual game development studio - given during the IGDA Leadership Summit, November 2009

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Working Nowhere and Everywhere: The Zen of Running A Virtual Studio

  1. 1. Working Nowhere and Everywhere The Zen of Running a Virtual Studio Christopher Natsuume Creative Director, Boomzap Entertainment
  2. 2. Who Are You, and Why Should I Care? <ul><li>Chris Natsuume: In game industry since 1991 </li></ul><ul><li>Over a dozen products shipped </li></ul><ul><li>Millions of units sold </li></ul><ul><li>In over a dozen languages </li></ul><ul><li>From companies around the world </li></ul><ul><li>Boomzap: Casual game developer since 2005 </li></ul><ul><li>Scrappy, profitable little indie studio </li></ul><ul><li>8 games shipped so far </li></ul><ul><li>Currently developing for PC, Mac, and Wii </li></ul><ul><li>Virtual office, worldwide development </li></ul><ul><li>Key developer in Southeast Asia. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Quick Boomzap Snapshot
  4. 4. Where/Who is Boomzap? USA Outsource Sound USA Accounting Philippines Outsource Art Outsourcing Partners Philippines Developers Japan Developers Malaysia Developers Singapore Developers USA Legal Singapore Outsource Art
  5. 5. Why Run a Virtual Office? <ul><li>Access to the Best Developers in the World </li></ul><ul><li>Lower Labor Costs + COLA = Happy Developers </li></ul><ul><li>Lower Support/Overhead = Higher Salaries </li></ul><ul><li>Efficient Use of Time </li></ul><ul><li>Work/Life Balance + $ = Loyalty & Dedication </li></ul><ul><li>I am a very happy man </li></ul>
  6. 6. Tip #1: We Never Track Hours <ul><li>I don’t care how many hours you worked. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>I care how much you got done. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>I *hope* they are working less than 40 hours. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The “reward for crappy work” paradox </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Reinventing the Employee Agreement </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Quality & Quantity = Constants </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Time = Variable </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Tip #2: Daily Builds, Reports, and Testing <ul><li>We have a new, working daily build. Every day </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Breaking that build is capital crime </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Work not in build = Work not done </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Our publishers get this build. Every day. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Our staff submits a daily report. Every day. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Failure to submit a report is a capital crime </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Basecamp – Each week is a new message </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reports go to the whole team </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Samples are non-optional </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Daily testing of the build. Every Day. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>2-3 times a week, online team testing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>MSN, Skype, and ingame chat </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Publishers welcome </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Tip #3: Full Time + Project Specialists <ul><li>Some work is best left inhouse </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Game programming </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Prototyping art and effects </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Project management </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Some work is best done by specialists </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sound and Music </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bulk Art Assets </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Middleware-friendly code </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Concept Art </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Develop a network of outsource partners </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t outsource to find cheaper staff </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Outsource to have ‘easy-fire” staff </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Tip #4: Hire for Virtual Character <ul><li>Hire for demonstrated self-management </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Small studio experience </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>*completed* home projects – not just games! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Interview and test for virtual work character </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Online interviews – interview like you work </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Involve other staff in online interviews </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Testing and Probation periods </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Some great people just can’t work like this </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Get used to letting them go. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Tip #5: A “confederation” of teams <ul><li>“ How do you get everyone on the team to do *exactly* what you want?” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>I don’t. In fact, I prefer they don’t. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Freedom + Power = Responsibility </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Also = Happy staff and worried managers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Learn to accept good work you didn’t expect </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Now they can actually *exceed* my expectations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>And now they are truly empowered </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Delegation is not just delegation of work </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It is the delegation of responsibility and power </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It is also the delegation of the ability to fail </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Is this what I wanted” is not the question </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Is this something the customer would love” is. </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Tip #6: Managers must actually do things <ul><li>Everyone contributes in an empowered, confederated development structure: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Asset and code production </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Testing and real, actionable feedback </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Design people can actually use </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The daily reports and daily builds make it impossible to hide non-contributors. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>When you are judged by your output, you produce </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Those who don’t do lose influence/power quickly </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Managers in this structure are forced to work </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Managers who work understand their workers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They remain in tune with challenges and issues </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>This is really, really hard on managers </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Tip #7: PowerPoint, Prototypes & Photoshop <ul><li>Nobody reads design documents. </li></ul><ul><li>Most studios solve w/meetings. Lots of them </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We can’t do that. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Our design docs are PowerPoint walkthroughs </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lots of Google images and game references </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>All major screens mocked up </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gameplay described in notes </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We Prototype as soon as possible </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ugly grey boxes and cutouts from PowerPoint </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Online working and 10+ daily iterations </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Then we Photoshop what we want it to look like </li></ul><ul><ul><li>This is usually enough to get publishers hot and wet </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If not, it’s the quickest way to a better demo </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Tip #8: Producer Programmers <ul><li>Designers make lousy producers. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>I know, I am one. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Programmers make great Producers </li></ul><ul><ul><li>They actually know how to architect a project </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They can make much better estimations of work </li></ul></ul><ul><li>On a daily basis, they are responsible for the build </li></ul><ul><ul><li>So they are forced by definition to know who is doing what </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>When things are going to be early/late/broke… they’ll know first </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>When things are bad “bang for the buck”… they’ll know first </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Designers are humbled and strengthened in this model </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not being god is good for them – and for the design </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They produce more, and better assets </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They get technically proficient very fast </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Useless designers are “found out” very quickly </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Your artists will love you for this. Trust me. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Questions? Christopher Natsuume Creative Director Boomzap Entertainment [email_address]
  15. 15. Bonus Tips – 10 Tools for Virtual Studios <ul><li>Basecamp </li></ul><ul><li>CVS (or another online source control solution) </li></ul><ul><li>MSN Messenger </li></ul><ul><li>Skype In/Out </li></ul><ul><li>Earth Class Mail </li></ul><ul><li>MyFax </li></ul><ul><li>Paypal </li></ul><ul><li>HSBCnet </li></ul><ul><li>Your Mailing List Provider </li></ul><ul><li>Portable Equipment </li></ul>
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