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Indie Mavens: How to work from home as a developer | Pocket Gamer.biz


We live in an unprecedented time. The coronavirus pandemic has affected the world unseen in modern times. As a result, the majority of workers around the world have been forced to adapt to working from home.

Though the team at PocketGamer.biz has been doing this for years, this is something completely new for many teams in the games industry.

Whether a developer, artist, engineer, project manager, product lead, QA tester or even CEO, the pandemic has forced everyone to adjust. As part of our Remote Working series, we wanted to hear how indie studios are coping under these new circumstances and what advice they could offer up.

So, with that in mind, we reached out to our ever-experienced and insightful group of Indie Mavens to discuss what the first few months of life under quarantine have been like. Simply put, we asked:

What tips and advice can you share for developers working from home?

What do you think will be the biggest lessons learnt from remote working once the pandemic has ended?

What tips and advice can you share for developers working from home?

Perchang was set up as a remote working studio from the start. My co-founder lives in London (I’m in Guildford), and we quickly found we didn’t need to be in the same physical space all the time in order to function. Slack is always open on my desktop, so we’re always connected and when typing an idea doesn’t come across quickly enough, then a Skype call does the job.

Ideas tend to be more fully formed, as you really need to understand what you’re saying when pitching to your co-workers on the phone. We use Google Docs for documents and Source Tree for asset management. Remote working has also meant that we can have a much wider employee net, and aren’t restricted to the local area or relocating people. Commuting time and cost is zero. We have no office costs either.

Remote working has also meant that we can have a much wider employee net, and aren’t restricted to the local area or relocating people.

Ben Murch

The biggest downside is the “seeing other people” part of the equation, which can make it a lonelier experience than a studio. To combat that, I make sure I leave the house once a day for exercise or food shopping and have a regular coffee meet up with a buddy once a week. This has obviously changed since the lockdown.

As a studio, we take a day out every few months and converge on a pub to catch up, talk about the project and play games. Join a club, or partake in other interests, so it’s not just you at home with the screen all the time. Oh, and make sure you clean your home office once a week!

What do you think will be the biggest lessons learnt from remote working once the pandemic has ended?

In the short term, I think lots of people are suddenly going to see how great working from home can be. It’s a more flexible and relaxing way to operate and really lends itself to certain disciplines. For example, with character artists, you will need to know which character you’re making, but then you can work from home for a few days and come back to the office once the Z Brush model is ready for review.

The workflow really lends itself to smaller companies. Bigger places would probably struggle to adapt and a highly complex project would take some serious managing. At the end of the day, it’s not for everyone.

A large part of me misses going into work every day. Ken Levine talks about “finding his tribe” when he first walked into Looking Glass. I very much understand that. Surrounding yourself with other like-minded people and making games is a brilliant way to live.

What tips and advice can you share for developers working from home?

First off, I would advise all project leaders and team leaders to show understanding of the extreme situation their team is currently in. Self-isolation is hard on people’s mental health and families dealing with homeschooling – you can’t expect people to deliver the same amount of work. It’s important to communicate that message to your team, so you don’t end up with stressed co-workers.

At Triple Topping, we have some ground rules: no Slack/emails/Discord after office hours (09:00 to 16:00). A number of people might work evenings at the minute but it’s important to still have time off without questions and things you need to reply to.

We still do our morning meetings at nine however we now do them over Discord. We also eat lunch between 12:00 and 13:00 like we have in the past, and wish each other a good lunch on Slack. I think keeping some kind of normality while working from home is important.

Slack was our main platform for communication, so because of this our team has transitioned fairly easy

Astrid Refstrup

We have always used project management tools – mostly Hack and Plan – and even while still at the office, Slack was our main platform for communication, so because of this our team has transitioned fairly easy. We do more to create social events when working remotely. For example, Nifflas organises Minecraft evenings and we all watched the BAFTA Game Awards together while eating burgers.

What do you think will be the biggest lessons learnt from remote working once the pandemic has ended?

I think we will all have learned how important clear communication and good tools for organising tasks are. For our team, I can confidently say we have all learned that working remotely is definitely possible, yet being all together in the office is simply more fun and more social for us.

Triple Topping has never been a remote company but after this whole ordeal, I understand it better though working in an office still is better for us in the long term. In Denmark, we have good daycare and it’s fairly cheap, so remote work is often less important in terms of accommodating families. At Triple Topping, we have a shorter workday than many places. With seven hours a day, we give people more free time for the gym, picking up kids, hanging with friends and so on.

Having to take a step back and work from home has given me more time to evaluate how we run things and that is always healthy.

What tips and advice can you share for developers working from home?

You need to learn to be more organised and make sure you communicate with the rest of the team to make sure there are no bottlenecks in production.

A simple thing we have adopted is that when everyone logs into Slack on a morning, they give a quick note of what they intend to be working on that day. It’s a small thing but it means that other members of the team have a good idea of how things are progressing with what might come to them, or can see if something is getting missed so they can flag it up.

Without good communication and organisation tools, we would really be struggling right now

Matthew Annal

The second tip would be to use all the technology available to you. Without good communication and organisation tools, we would really be struggling right now and it’s things that were less relevant when we were all in the same space together.

What do you think will be the biggest lessons learnt from remote working once the pandemic has ended?

Nitrome has been running for 16 years, and in all that time we have been firm believers that we needed to work together in an office. We did not believe that working from home could ever really work for us beyond the odd day here and there. We thought being together was part of the special sauce that made it work. The biggest lesson we have learned is that we were wrong and we can work actually pretty efficiently from home all remote from each other.

I think the other thing that we have learnt is that being remote does not mean that we cannot work together. Leaning on tools available and being better organised has meant that there are only a few things that we can’t do remotely. We have also learnt that there can even be benefits. Often a team full of like-minded developers can be distracting some times and working from home can be a great way to get your head down.

Finally, we have learnt that there are some benefits to office life that do still exist. Some things do take a little longer to communicate and a screen is not a great way for 10 plus people to chat together when compared to being in one space. I think the take away from this is that it has not been as bad as we feared and we may rethink the way we would be open to working on some things when lockdown ends.

Ever since we began 11 years ago, we’ve always worked together in the studio as a team; from teams as large as 10 down to just the two of us as founders, which we are now. However, prior to the coronavirus, I was planning to trial move to another city and work remotely so that my wife and kids could be closer to our relatives. The coronavirus has put a pause on moving cities but has enforced a trial of working remotely from home, and frankly, it’s shown us that it doesn’t work for my co-founder and me.

We’ve found it really hard to maintain motivation to keep focused

Simon Joslin

We’ve found it really hard to maintain motivation to keep focused. Normally, on an almost daily basis, we decide what we’re working on. This allows us to be extremely nimble – effectively a JIT production process. So, because of this, we can iterate on the game constantly, but I imagine teams with properly established production processes would find this less disruptive in that sense.

Working from home has meant our schedules are divergent and our chances of being ready and focused to work on the game at the same time have fallen away.

I have two young kids at home, so it’s especially hard to spend so much time away from them when they’re in the same space as me. In fact, though, I’ve actually been the one doing the most work. While I don’t think we’ve tried that hard to maintain velocity, this enforced trial just shows that working from home requires a lot more effort to maintain motivation, at least for us.

Prior to the coronavirus, we’ve always been in the studio Monday to Friday, pretty much without fail and never had an issue with motivation. We just turn up and the magic happens, yet from home, it requires a lot more effort to stay on track. So that’s put an end to any plans to move cities! At least that’s settled the decision for my wife and me.



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