The games industry in Finland has been on a growth spurt for a while now, and even though the amount of new companies founded every year is slowly declining, the growth still causes a common headache for all companies: recruiting. The successful companies compete to hire the rare and elusive seniors, and try make their company the most tempting option for them. For developers with less resources it basically means they can’t afford to compete for senior staff, and even bigger studios usually find their senior hires through word-of-mouth and personal contacts rather than through official hiring routes.

Seniors are not just hard to acquire, but also hard to keep: they know their worth and are ready to move elsewhere if the company doesn’t feel right. Other option out there is international hiring, but it’s time-consuming and costly, and once again not a viable option for most companies out there. As more and more game companies find success in this business, the problem called recruiting seems to be not going away.

What do game companies usually offer to attract senior hires? They compete with the obvious salary and perks, but that’s not enough anymore. You also need to show you have truly interesting and ambitious projects, both tech and design-wise. Company culture, vision and structure are also important, as more and more developers now appreciate modern, flat organisations with independent teams, lots of freedom and room for creativity. People in the games industry are not in it just for the money, but having a place where you actually enjoy spending 8 hours a day is paramount. Senior staff with families also appreciate things like good local schools, safe environment, healthcare benefits and possible company daycare, so the location of your studio also matters a great deal.

Our solution to the situation is this: instead of trying to find the most talented and experienced seniors, we grow our own. How do we do this? First, we drop the Senior and Junior definitions in our job postings. We look for people that match the job description, not the number of years or projects worked on. Instead we focus on identifying the type of personalities that fit our honest and learning oriented company culture – Those that show potential in becoming seniors with 3-4 years of work and tutelage. Portfolios and interviews are our main tools for figuring this out. The portfolios of potential hires need to show determined learning in quick intervals. In interviews we focus a lot on teamwork and communication skills, and on leadership potential.

To make our company a place where this type of systematic professional development is possible, we create a safe environment for learning, asking questions and being honest. We onboard new hires straight into ongoing projects, and give them responsibility from the get go, gradually increasing the responsibility level depending on each individual. Teams demand high quality and team effort, but offer the newcomers guidance and help. Seniors take the role of mentors and coaches, who make themselves available for the juniors. The responsibility the new hires are given is countered with relaxed, safe and flexible environment where mistakes are part of learning. It’s crucial to minimize the stress, fear and friction in the equation to enable people to reach their full potential.

As we get new hires to jump straight into projects, we also need to be able to communicate project goals and requirements quickly and comprehensively. Keeping and interpreting huge, hard-to-update design bibles is an outdated approach that complicates onboarding to new projects. Instead we communicate the project’s vision, focus and design with short, easy-to-digest presentations that help new people to jump into a project at any point. Our weekly update meetings, Monday Breakfast and Friday Open Mic are wonderful tools to get new people up-to-date on other things we are working on, and our team days, retrospectives, workshops and one-on-ones help them get immersed in our company culture straight away.

Our approach brings with it a unique set of challenges, and home-growing your own seniors is not the fast and easy fix to all your recruitment problems. It takes time and effort to build a company that enables people to grow from junior skills and mindset into leadership, great communication and true talent. We are encouraged by our experiences so far, and have already seen a handful of people grow in 3-4 years into central senior positions in different areas in the company. We are definitely excited to continue on this path, and build together an even better environment for growth and learning here at Traplight.

At Traplight we value learning and sharing of information. We also believe that we have the best chance of making amazing games when everyone can give their input in our learning process. We organise company wide workshops several times a year to enhance our internal learning, and to update our collective understanding of how we make games.

The topics of the workshops are tight to F2P design, understanding of the current mobile game market and the vision for Traplight’s games. The goal of the workshops is not to teach or share ready-made information, but to ask questions and find solutions together. The outcome of a single workshop can be for example game concepts, theories, presentations about findings or riveting discussions about the topic at hand. Game concepts are typically the most common outcome, as they enable us to understand complex issues from a very practical point of view.

Our workshops involve all our employees regardless of job description. Putting our heads together to figure out how to best make games just makes sense: Collectively we can find ideas and solutions that would be hard for a single employee to find. The typical workshop starts with a creative brief that help us focus and get inspired about the topic at hand. After laying a common ground we divide into small teams. These teams decide independently how to tackle the topic, and what kind of tools and working methods to use. At the end of the day we will share what we have found.

After presenting and discussing about our findings we suggest how to continue. The next step might be for example:

  • To have another workshop about a new, important topic that stood out

  • To have a team look more closely at a game concept that was born during the workshop

  • To implement newly found information or good practice into our production processes

Another reason to organise these workshops beside learning together is to take a break from our routines. Little distance to our office environment and working together with people that are normally not in your team does wonders for your brain! We get to know each other better, tackle challenges head on with a tight schedule and jump into unknown without fear of being judged. And of course at the end we will have a very Finnish company party complete with sauna, hot tub and lake swimming.

Below you can find some pictures of our latest workshop which we held on 6th of June in a cabin complex near Tampere. This time we learned together about player empowerment, and the different progressions that enable that in F2P games. We’ll post more about the topic in our blog later, so stay tuned!

And finally, if you made it this far, enjoy this great .gif taken during the infamous hot tub malfunction incident at the workshop!

All games are born differently, and all game companies have different approaches to creating games. At Traplight the process of getting new, exciting games out there relies on the creativity of the whole Traplight community, constant evaluation of the current market trends and our key development guidelines.

 

Idea

At Traplight everyone designs games. This means that anyone can develop a game idea, present it to the Traplight team in our Friday Open Mic meeting and get feedback from their colleagues. We ask the presented idea several questions:

  • Does the idea innovate something? Does it innovate too many things?

  • Which aspects of the idea are already proven by current, successful F2P games?

  • How much time would it take to test the new, innovative part of the concept?

  • What is the size of the core and meta game at their simplest?

  • What kind of social validation, community, creation or enhanced player autonomy features does the game have?

Traplight people presenting their ideas at Friday Open Mic

 

Pre-production

If the idea feels coherent and tightly packed with both proven and innovative aspects, and it has a solid take on our product vision, it might be green-lit to the next step: pre-production. During the 1 or 2 week process the pre-production team turns the idea into a game concept. The team answers questions about the core game, player progression, fantasy, target audience and other things that will help them achieve coherent game design. The design document has to also provide a plan for first playable, Alpha and Soft Launch versions. After the preproduction process the newly born concept is presented again to everyone. There is another round of feedback and if the plan seems solid and there are resources to start production, the game concept has a chance to be green-lit into production.

 

Production

The production team, which has usually changed a bit from the original pre-production team, sets their own targets based on the amount of work ahead and the deliverables for each production checkpoint. The checkpoints are:

  • First Playable. This is the first version of the game that works and is meant for internal testing only. Big key features can still be missing, but the fun factor should already be there.

  • Alpha builds. The first Alpha version is the first time the game is tested with external people. First alpha tests D1 and interest, and the later alpha versions focus on D1-D7 retention.

  • Soft Launch. Where as Alpha versions focus on retention, the Soft Launch version already has monetisation in, and during Soft Launch the team focuses on optimising long-term retention and player LTV.

 

During production the project needs to meet certain goals and targets that we have set for our games. If it fails to do so, it might be killed at any point. We have noticed that killing projects as soon as warning signs arise is a much better option than keeping teams honing something that doesn’t meet our expectations.

During 2017 and the beginning of 2018 we’ve presented and evaluated 20-30 game ideas, and of those 7 moved to pre-production, and 3 have moved to production. The funnel is improving all the time as we learn more about what kind of ideas have a seed for greatness and how to make each step of the funnel more efficient.

We already have had a couple of first playables in internal testing, and one game currently in Alpha launch. As of now, Big Bang Racing is our only global live game, but we are looking forward to seeing our new projects reach Soft and Global Launch soon in the future.