Scaling teams quickly has its benefits and challenges. I’m going to tell you the tricks I used to change a small game team to a large game team in a short amount of time, as well as the pros and cons of the various methods for finding talent.
I joined The Crystal Core team at BitLoft as a project manager in November 2017, and at that time, the team consisted of six specialized members:
- One Biology Content Creator/Instructional Designer
- One Game Designer
- One 3D Artist
- One Illustrator
- One Engineer
- One Biology Subject Matter Expert
Shortly after my arrival, the small team was tasked with building a working prototype of an entire gamified biology course. Leadership gave us a strict deadline: We had to be ready for a public beta testing at Indy PopCon in early June of 2018. We had little more than half a year to accomplish what most game studios required at least two years to achieve. We decided it was in our best interest to scale the team.
Because we were only seven months away from our target delivery, we would have to move quickly and build the team as we developed the product. Our office space at the time had room for only five people, so I knew the individuals would have to function as a distributed team.
When scaling your team, you can use the following four methods for hiring. I went through each method to some degree when expanding the crew for The Crystal Core. Each technique has benefits and drawbacks.
1. Posting Jobs Online
You can post the jobs online on specialty and job sites where talents are actively looking for jobs.
At the time, BitLoft didn’t have a full HR department, but god love Travis Lynch, who was the Director of Operations at the time. He single-handedly managed the hiring until I came on board, including the other 500 things he had on his plate. After my arrival, I managed the growth and management of the team (with help, of course).
Pros: Sites like LinkedIn (linkedin.com) and Indeed (www.indeed.com) are good sites for professionals who are searching for jobs and the costs for putting out job posts isn’t terrible. Industry-specific sites such as ArtStation (www.artstation.com) and Gamasutra (www.gamasutra.com) cater to specific crafts, which makes reaching out to the correct professionals easier. The sites can do some simple filtering to assist in keeping submissions narrowed down to the more applicable prospects.
Cons: Costs for craft specific sites can be prohibitive. Although such sites host a ton of people to filter through (which is good), you have to spend a lot of time interviewing to ensure they’re a good fit both culturally and talent wise. No matter what you do, you’ll have to generate some kind of job posting, and while contacting a hiring manager (see method #3 below) can guide you through the process, in this scenario you’re on your own.
2. Acquiring Talent via References
You can contact people you or your teammates have worked with before and seeing whether they’re open to the job. If they aren’t seeking work, you can ask whether they might refer you to other people with the right skills.
This method led to 90% of the hires during the first few months. The company I had recently transferred from had a lot of individuals who were out of work and looking for game development roles, so I was fortunate to have first-hand experience working with them on educational products.
Pros: When hiring references or former colleagues, you already know their abilities and work ethic. You understand and can relate to one another, and there is already, at minimum, an established level of trust.
Cons: The referred person might not have all the skills you need for the project. Additionally, some people give references without knowing the complete work history of the person they’re referring, so unexpected personality issues or bad work habits may crop up down the road. Unique power centers or polarizing subcultures can form around people who previously worked together.
3. Contracting a Hiring Manager
You can contact a hiring manager or company to make and manage the placements as contracts.
Pros: It takes the burden off your shoulders in hiring and managing because everyone brought to you has been filtered exactly for your needs. You can usually fire the contractor easily — but that can lead to what I believe is a con. The moment you start to think of people as “throw away,” you start down a road of thought that is, in my opinion, toxic. When the project is moving fast, it can be an enticing trap to do what’s easy over doing what’s right. Firing people rather than finding and solving conflicts or issues with co-workers is a real problem.
Cons: The cost is a big con. The hiring managers require a significant percentage fee to handle the paperwork and continual management of the talent. The second con is the amount of management and the way it is provided. The person hired will fall under specific HR rules of THAT company, not yours. So, if you encounter issues with the person’s work ethic or personality, you now have to work with a middle person to get to the root cause of the issue.
4. Hiring Studios
If you have the resources, you can hire out entire teams/companies that specialize in creating specific parts of your game, or the entire game itself. This can become challenging. What if you know what you want, but don’t know whether the people working on it will get it to you in the time you need? How many revisions will be allowed before you are charged again?
Pros: If you do your homework, you can get some amazingly talented and experienced people. When you give great studio teams adequate or solid direction, those teams can make the life of any project manager simplified to the nth degree.
Con: The cost is significant. Every team will charge differently, but some studios will take your operating budget into consideration (if you’re okay with sharing it!) when they create an estimate for you. Another con can be nailing down the contracted statement of work, which should involve talented legal counsel that has your interests at heart (which BitLoft thankfully has). Another con can be timing. If the studio has contracted more than a single client, you may be sharing the studio’s time and not know it, which means your quality or timeline may suffer, and you can only speculate about the cause.
From January to June 2018, we scaled the team through a total of 42 people and an advisory board of 5. Our team’s size averaged in the mid 30s from March through June. Currently, the team has 48 amazing team members, and we have plans to spin up a new advisory board in January.
Furthermore, we presented our beta at Indy PopCon 2018 and received feedback that was both positive and useful from the many, many visitors who stopped by to try The Crystal Core.
BitLoft Game Studios Is Hiring
In the year since I began working here, BitLoft has developed an HR department, and our game development studio is working with HR to use a hybrid approach of reference and job postings.Depending on the challenges we face as we develop The Crystal Core, we don’t think we’ll need to hire out any more studios, but it isn’t out of the question.
To learn more about The Crystal Core or our team please, visit us at www.bitloft.com.
Thomas Marshall is the Game Development Project Manager for BitLoft Game Studios. He’ll be sharing a retrospective of The Crystal Core at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2020 to describe how he scaled the team and brought together talented creators from across the country, as well as the value of solving issues with co-workers over firing.