The Best Studio

I have had an interesting career thus far. It has taken me to many different places and enabled me to meet many different people. I have worked on loads of very exciting projects and even managed to release some of them as fully-fledged games.

This morning, for no readily apparent reason, I decided to see if I could come up with a scoring system for all of the places I have worked to see which one was 'best'.

It should be noted that 'best' is obviously highly subjective. I have tried to be as objective as possible, which shows in that a couple of the studios aren't quite where I thought they would be.

Categories

I came up with a series of different categories that should hopefully cover my time at each studio pretty comprehensively.

Years, Games and Productivity

The first three categories are the most scientific. It's a simple job to count up how long I was at a studio and how many games I released whilst there. Then I get a productivity value based on Games per Year. Seems fair?

Quality


The remaining categories are all highly subjective and scored between 0 and 10. First up is Quality - that is how good I thought the games we were working on were. 10 points for awesome stuff, 0 for mindless, unplayable shovelware.

Culture


Next we have the studio Culture. How did people get on in the studio? Was it an office or simply a place for creative people to come together and be encouraged to make cool stuff?

Perks

What sort of stuff did the studio do to make development easier or more pleasant? Free food? Chillout areas? Discounts? Parties?

Social


How much time did I spend hanging out with workmates whilst not on the company dollar? After hours games or time down the pub - that sort of thing.

Development

How much do I think I learned from this experience? I include things like being sent on courses or to conferences.

Total

Finally, we have a simple formula to determine an overall score. It's simply a total of Quality, Culture, Perks, Social and Development multiplied by 1 + Productivity. It's important to note that, with Productivity as a multiplier, the whole score is heavily skewed in favour of whether or not I actually managed to work on a released title during my tenure. I may have had more fun and worked on cool projects but if they didn't actually get released then it was all kinda moo.



The List

So with all of that in mind and without further ado, I present, in reverse order, The List.







#9: Remode

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
0.500.002620111.00

Now defunct, I was only at Remode for a few months. It was a small studio largely doing work-for-hire web games. The people were cool but I wasn't really there long enough to participate in the social scene. It was also in Plymouth and I didn't get on particularly well with Plymouth. I did get to go to Helsinki and talk to the Habbo Hotel people, which was a great experience.
Shout out: Oli Carson. The beating heart of Remode. An indie coder with a heart of gold and an unassailable knowledge of 90's video game hardware.

#8: Kuju

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
2.510.402355325.20

It's no secret that I didn't enjoy my time at Kuju at all. The games were always being made on a shoestring budget with outdated technology and the projects were littered with terrible mis-management. The final straw came for me when, for two years in a row I found myself in the office at 2am on my birthday, crunching on a rubbish title that never came out.
At least there was a culture of gameplaying there - even if you had to fill out all manner of IT forms before you were allowed to install one.
Also worthy of note was the Summer Event - a company 'team building' day out, which generally consisted of flinging yourself around a muddy field in various forms of automotive hilarity. These were great fun*.
Shout out: Nader Alikhani. The man, the legend. Raised by women, for women.

#7: Weirdwood

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
1.600.007717830.00

Why the hell is Weirdwood so low? It's that damn Productivity scalar. We were working on an awesome game, but it just never came out. The people were ace and I learned an awful lot during my time there. Mostly about how you like the idea of running your own business but haven't really thought through all of the extraneous crap you'll have to go through to keep the damn thing going.
It's quite a zero-sum thing though - we didn't exactly start with a lot of capital and, at the end, we didn't owe anyone anything either. So it could have been much worse really.
Shout out: Ben Carter. The glue that held everything together and one of the best coders on the planet.

#6: Black Rock

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
2.300.0079102836.00

I've never worked at a place that tried so hard to make its employees feel wanted or engaged. They couldn't do enough for us. It had production values coming out of the wazoo, even if some of the games didn't play particularly well. They were also only too happy to send you off on courses - relevant or otherwise. I mean, going to GDC I understand. Being taught how to drift a Caterham? I'm grateful and there's no way I was going to say no, but I'm not sure I get the relevance.
Sadly, this all came at a huge cost as the burn rate was enormous and, eventually, Disney pulled the plug.
Also I should point out that there was plenty of social stuff happening after hours...
... it's just it was in Brighton and I lived in Guildford so I never got to do any of it.
Still, it was an amazing place to work even if I have nothing to show for it.
Shout out: Adrian Selby. My commuting buddy and producer extraordinaire. Also does a mean Roger Daltrey when push comes to shove.

#5: Lost Toys

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
4.320.478838648.35

A Bullfrog splinter, Lost Toys was great fun. Small in stature and probably not somewhere you've heard of - it could be argued that we were very much in the shadow of our more illustrious neighbours: Mucky Foot and Lionhead. But we made a couple of games there. The timing was a bit unfortunate as, just as we were scaling up to put two teams in parallel, the great games company cull occurred and the rug was pulled from beneath our feet. I'm very proud of at least one of the games we managed to release**.
The culture was pure banter. There were plenty of games to play and, if I'm honest, a shade too many trips to KFC.
Shout out: Mark Pitcher. Solely responsible for the aforementioned 'culture'. Made every day an experience.

#4: Boss Alien

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
1.510.6751077150.00

Boss Alien stemmed from Black Rock and the numbers reflect this. In terms of studio culture, it cannot be faulted - I'd say Jay Green takes the lion's share of credit for both this and Black Rock. The quality bar for entry is simply stratospheric - if you can even get an interview there, you're doing much better than most. The attention to detail is astounding and the level of production values has to be seen to be believed.
But the numbers don't tell the whole story. For a start, that single Game was CSR Racing - a title that I didn't really work on at all despite being in the credits. Take that away and suddenly you're looking at a final score of 30.00 and suddenly you're behind Black Rock.
The games themselves, whilst they look incredibly pretty, aren't anything to write home about. That is, unless you fully drink the F2P coolaid and are only doing this to make as much money as possible.
At least this time I was living in Brighton and was able to partake in the after-hours stuff.
Shout out: Alex Parker. Super talented coder type, if annoyingly young. Has gone out of his way to help us whenever possible.

#3: EA Bright Light

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
0.611.675572050.67

What the hell? Why is this so high?
It's because of that scalar again - I did manage to release a game there. Also, I learned a lot about Harry Potter, even if that doesn't really count towards my Development score.
Because they're a big company, they do score quite well on the Perks front - free drinks, promotional events, that sort of thing. But I wasn't there on anything other than contract, so I should probably knock a few points off for that.
But I did get to get up on stage and rock Suffragette City whilst dressed in spangly tight pants and heels. And form Bake Off Club.
Shout out: Sam Hart. BOC co-founder and the person who took me in when I had to leave Plymouth in a hurry.

#2: Bullfrog

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
8.7580.911088101088.06

Boom! There it is! Look at that! Lots of games. Lots of amazing games. A brilliant Culture***, plenty of Perks and an unrivalled Social scene****.
As my first gig, it's fair to say that I learned a hell of a lot during my tenure there. Coupled with the fact that, despite public appearance, we did actually release a lot of games. Sure, not always when we said we were going to, but it's not as if everyone else did either.
I got to go to E3 and CTS. I got to play games with my friends until the wee small hours every day. I got to waste my share money and bonuses on Lotus Esprits instead of doing sensible things like buying a house or something. I pushed Peter into a canal. I watched Gary Whitta throw up on a bouncy castle. I got my first picture in a magazine. We won awards. We built things with Lego. We went karting and paintballing. We played football and basketball. We built RC cars. I learned to ride a unicycle.
Bullfrog is easily the studio that gets the most recognition and I'm so proud to be associated with that.
Shout out: Mike Man. My partner in crime for all things gaming. Actually, this could be a list in its own right - see earlier post for the highlights.

#1: Indie

YearsGamesProductivityQualityCulturePerksSocialDevelopmentTotal
1.621.257101031090.00

On the top of the list we have where we are now - operating as an independent developer. I fear, however, that some of these numbers may require a bit of justification.
The games we've made have been fun. Rough around the edges, granted, but fun. Bear in mind that I normally only rate games based on how much fun they are rather than production values and you'll see where I'm coming from.
As it's just Leanne and myself, I'm very happy with our Culture. We're both pretty similar people who want to make games. And talk about games. And play games. We have huge discussions about games and what we like about them.
Our immensely high Perk score is based solely on the fact that I've been able to carry on making games whilst also not missing one moment of Willow growing up. I put it to any of you new parents who have had to go back to working in an office how much value you would attribute to that and defy you to not say 'priceless'.
The Social side suffers - again, it's just the two of us. We try to do as best we can with the external gatherings, but parenthood occasionally gets in the way.
As for the stuff I've learned... well. So much of it is what not to do next time, but that all counts.
Shout out: Willow. I mean... Leanne! Leanne! Stop hitting me!

Final Scores

Indie90.00
Bullfrog88.06
EA50.67
Boss Alien50.00
Lost Toys48.35
Black Rock36.00
Weirdwood30.00
Kuju25.20
Remode11.00

The scoring mechanic was just the first one that came to my head. It was funny seeing the final numbers work themselves out of the system.
Is it a good system?
Yes and no.
It's probably weighted too far towards productivity, but that was the point of the exercise. Also, it favours the small, quick-to-produce game. Perhaps some extra layer of indirection which compares the length of time to produce a game versus the average time you'd be expected to take to produce a game of that type. For example, an old 'A' game should take a year, so the formula is probably quite accurate for things like Bullfrog. But later 'AA' and 'AAA' games should take a lot longer, so those places probably get penalised a bit. Mobile games can probably take a bit less - certainly the way we make them*****.
I've tried to be as honest as possible with the arbitrary scores in the other categories though but at the end of the day, it's all down to my personal experience. For the most part, the studios all had pretty decent social scenes but, for one reason or another, I wasn't a part of them. If I were to rank the studios in order of how much I enjoyed my time there, it may well look very different. Remode, for example, definitely doesn't deserve to be last and EA almost certainly should not be third. But I set out to do this as a scoring exercise, so the results stand.

It should also be noted that there's almost certainly a combination of rose-tinted specs in places and the fact that Leanne is adamant that the scoring should be skewed in favour of what we're doing now...

I don't tend to argue with her about things like that.

*And not just because my team won both years I went.
**Even if the cutscenes make my skin crawl.
***At least at the start
****Provided your social scene revolves around playing a shit-ton of games
*****Little or no time devoted to QA or polish.

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