Tear down the walls

Alex Ward discusses how to create the optimal environment for creative game development
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What’s the ideal place to make games? What’s the best way to foster community, increase collaboration and build your own culture, goals and ideals? This is something I’ve spent the last seven years thinking about.
Before I left Criterion, I was the idiot asking people to get rid of their office telephones, removing all of the walls and partitions and clearing their desks of useless clutter.

I always think it’s important to bring a clear head and a fresh perspective to each development project each and every day. Making games can be a long, tedious and often arduous march sometimes. It’s really easy to get lost along the way. So I am constantly trying to tweak and optimise my day-to-day working experience to be the most effective I can be. I’m still finding my way as to what really works, but I feel like I’ve had plenty of experience in what doesn’t work so well.

Earlier today I was watching a ‘making of’ video of a much-anticipated upcoming game. There were several shots that showed the team hard at work in their daily office space. It certainly looked familiar. Isn’t it a shame that so many studios all look the same? Cram in as many desks as possible, cover them with dev kits and monitors, hire coders and artists, get ‘em going. Simple right?

Wrong! This approach causes way more problems than people think it solves.

A collaborative environment

Putting up walls just encourages people to hide behind them. Restrict the amount of open space and you restrict the movement of the folks who have to work there.

A pretty silent office where all the coders are wearing headphones is another telltale sign that something is a little off to me. It bugs me to this day when I see people playing games with the volume muted. Are they walking on eggshells around folks who really don’t want to be disturbed by someone playing a game? If you slow down communication, you decrease collaboration.

Making games should never feel like just another job, or a grind or a chore. It’s one of the best jobs in the world. We need to celebrate that each and every day. I wish I could say that I lived that experience every day for the past 15 years. I haven’t – but I like to think that I really tried to.

With some truly talented and exceptional colleagues, and inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s pioneering film studio American Zoetrope, Three Fields Entertainment founded earlier this year. We work from a small office in the middle of some woodland. Our outdoor space (pictured) is incredibly important. We all sit together around a big table. We cook for each other, we eat together.

There are no walls, no barriers, no lawyers or HR staff. It’s just about the games. We’re about making great games, having fun making them and being empowered to make the right decisions for our games, collectively.

It’s a pretty unique and special environment to spend time in. It doesn’t try too hard – we’re not putting in fake grass, some deck chairs or table football. We’re about space, light, air, room to breathe and room to think.
It’s a place where we come to do our best work. And this felt like the right choice for us.

If your daily workspace looks no different to what the accountants or lawyers have, then something is wrong. Take my advice, and quit your job today. You’re only going to work on so many games during this lifetime. Make each and every one count.

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