30/01/2014

BLOG: Building a Team from Scratch

Amazing products are built by great teams; but how do you build a great team? The A-Team were thrown together after a crime they didn’t commit, while the Fantastic Four were united by inconvenient mutations in space.

But those aren’t models we can easily replicate – or want to. They do, however, highlight a common, important trait in any team and that’s trust. The essence of any good team is a good spread of compatible skills and an ability to trust the work of the others. But how do you build trust?

The vision of founding Opposable Games started when I left a service agency with the ambition to create my own products. The problem was, producing a good video game takes a variety of highly specialised skills and so you basically have two options: join a great team or build one from scratch.

Having had the experience of doing both, I knew the more fulfilling journey was to build a team myself and so I began to research who was out there. At the time, Bristol was about to host its own Games Jam; an event where teams of artists, developers and coders are thrown together to create a computer game in 48 hours. It was a perfect opportunity to meet and work with new talent. So I invited a few select people to take part with me. After a frantic weekend, our team of once strangers had not only created a game but had witnessed how each other worked in a pressurised situation.

We walked away with the seeds of a whole new company. Received wisdom would suggest two people is a good number to start a business – as they can bounce ideas off each other. But as games development needs a number of very specialised skills, starting as a pair is impossible unless you employ straight away – and that takes money.

After the Games Jam we got together over a Chinese and agreed that all the skills required for a new games company were sat around the table. It made complete sense to me. I knew and respected these people’s talent and realised that if I started on my own I’d end up employing them anyway. Games Jam had allowed everyone to see what each other was capable of and they liked what they saw. We had already built trust in the team and we hadn’t even started a company.

The question wasn’t if we should work together, but how?

We had a chance to access primer funding, but we did not want to lose creative control or company direction by taking on investment. The answer was to found Opposable Games as a partnership of directors, where all employees had a share in the business, which would keep us all motivated and loyal to its success. But we needed to keep costs down.

To keep the company lean we decided that all of our directors would continue their freelance activities. It meant that everybody was still going out, networking and innovating outside of Opposable but that we could then jump on opportunities as Opposable when they arose.

The added bonus to that model is that when there aren’t any interesting projects on the horizon we, as Opposable, have no overheads, so we aren’t forced to take on dull or uncreative projects to cover a salary bill – we can simply split off and do our own thing. It also means that when we do all come together people are excited and ready to get their head down; it avoids burn out.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, and this model isn’t for the fainthearted. Managing the range of emotions across six new directors is a test. While other companies often hire staff on the strength of short interviews, offering shares to a group of relative of strangers could have been a major gamble.

However, the highly pressurised nature of the Games Jam allowed me to quickly see who could and who couldn’t handle it, in a way sifting through 50 CVs and interviewing for 20 minutes would never have done. The key lesson was to make sure you really do know who you’re getting involved with and what their talents really are.

Nonetheless, I do think that with the employment market moving the way it is, we will start to see more young creatives begin to found companies which are flexible, born out of collaboration and with a literal shared interest. In the games industry so many big companies are in real trouble because work is drying up yet they still have huge overheads to handle.

Thanks to technological advances, one person can now do the work of three or four and so perhaps more of these smaller groups – who can come together, create something and then disband – will fill the void.



OPPOSABLE GAMES

Born out the Bristol Games Jam, the Opposable team have gone on to produce some of the most creative mobile games
available today; not least the uniquely named ‘Monsieur Baguette presents RNA transcription of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae’.

Illustrated by Emil Păun

  • One Thing I Know