Aardvark Swift studio spotlight: Airship Images – “A business needs to have a culture or vision that they inhabit, and mine has always been enabling personal growth”

Joseph Harford, CEO Airship Images

As an external art vendor, Airship Images have been a crucial cog in the workings of a huge portion of AAA titles available in recent years, including Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, Spiderman: Miles Morales, and Cyberpunk 2077. In turn, they have become a vital part of the industry’s internal eco-system after being founded nearly twelve years ago. This article was created in collaboration with Aardvark Swift.

Aardvark Swift sat down with the company’s founder and CEO, Joseph Harford, to reflect on the culture and foundations of Airship Images that have provided them with such success, and how these elements of their studio model have required adaptation over a pandemic.

Airship place significant importance on nurturing a company culture of mutual support, growth and development; and Harford takes a personal investment to ensure this is the case. “As CEO, I’m responsible for driving the business growth, instilling the company culture and implementing the vision I have the future of the company,” says Harford.

“We’ve grown to 51 people this year and are continuing that growth with new studio locations & services. To make this possible, a business needs to have a culture or vision that they inhabit, and mine has always been enabling personal growth – and that covers a whole range of different things we do for our team, as we truly consider ourselves an employee-first business.

For Airship, personal development and working in-studio go hand in hand, as Harford highlights the necessity, particularly for junior artists, of an in-house working environment.

“I think one of the biggest things that you miss out on if you are fully remote is peripheral learning from peers, building networks and friendships. If you’re an established senior or principal artist, we may see more work moving off-site, but for juniors and grads wanting to get into the games industry and learn, having someone over your shoulder to give advice, inspire you and improve your work is crucial.”

Harford, and by extent Airship, recognises the value in the talent pool of graduate artists seeking a foothold in the industry, and has placed an importance on helping grads before they enter the industry, whether that’s at Airship or another studio.

“We help graduates understand what skills they need, educate them on financial planning, online health and wellbeing. We aim to set them up for life, setting them up to grow and to succeed.” The implementation of this scheme has come with its own challenges, but is starting to show its long-term benefits, Harford mentions. “some of those grads are going on to high positions, being promoted to seniors, and that’s really fulfilling.”

As well as their graduate program coming to fruition, other elements of Airship Images’ business model have seen a positive impact on the studio; some more unexpected than others.

The pandemic has seen the entirety of their workforce move to remote working for now, and while that does come with its aforementioned shortcomings, it has allowed for Airship to display their ability to maintain security and reliability as an external art vender, even while working remotely and scaling the team.

“We have had to put a huge amount of security in place. When you go remote, you have an infrastructure problem of trying to remain a secure company, whilst ensuring staff flexibility. As an external partner with many varied projects, we make sure every single one of our projects maintains the individual security requirements of each studio.

“That’s been the biggest challenge of going remote; maintaining that secure and reliable company reputation, whilst balancing staff flexibility. It’s been a worthy investment, as we’ve been able to grow significantly, as well as capitalise on that security where it’s more difficult for others to do so. It’s also led us to adapt to flexible work arrangements in the long-term and the formation of a new permanent distributed team.”

You can listen to Aardvark Swift’s full conversation with Airship Images’ Joseph Harford through the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, third-party apps, and the aswift.com website.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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