My name is Christopher Natsuume. I’ve been a Game Developer for over 25 years. The last 15, I’ve been the Creative Director of Boomzap, a virtual studio where the entire staff works from home from around the world, mostly Southeast Asia. We’ve made a bunch of cool casual games, such as Awakening, Dana Knightstone, and Rescue Quest. We’ve also made mobile puzzle games like Super Awesome Quest and cross platform strategy games like Legends of Callasia. Overall, we’ve shipped about 50 titles across multiple platforms from PC to console.

Right now we have a new strategy game in Steam Early Access: Last Regiment. It’s a sort of hybrid of card games and turn-based strategy, set in a Enlightenment-period inspired fantasy setting. Think frigates, musketeers, goblin dirigibles, elves with chainsaws, and cool stuff like that. It’s pretty cool.

With everyone is trying to work from home these days, I have been getting a LOT of questions about how we run our studio. To help out, I took a weekend and learned how to make videos, and made a 5 video series about working from home. It’s called 15 Years Without Pants, and it may be useful to people looking to start their own virtual studio in the aftermath of this global pandemic. It’s on YouTube, and free. I’m here to answer questions about the videos, and help people make the transition to working from home better. Ask Me Anything!

Proof:

EDIT I have had a few people ask me about breaking into the game industry. I get that question a LOT. So I made a video a couple months ago with a really, really complete answer. Feel free to check that out, too:

Breaking Into the Game Industry

ANOTHER EDIT OK - I am gonna crash - it's midnight-30 here. This was amazing fun, and lots of great questions. I'll log in in the morning and answer any questions that show up after I sleep.

If you ever want more info/ideas, I am always on our Discord

And for people who asked about our latest multiplayer strategy game, it's in Early Access on Steam - it's called Last Regiment

Comments: 412 • Responses: 84  • Date: 

teejeigh184 karma

Any tips on How you manage people and their departments remotely?

boomzap490 karma

Bunches! There's like a full hour of that in Video 3 of the series I did (free on YouTube) but the biggest thing I would stress is these 3 points:

Don't Track. Hours.

People get really bent out of shape about "How do I know what they are doing? How do I know if they are at work? You don't, you, won't, and it doesn't matter. All you care about is the number of tasks that people get done every day, and the quality of those tasks. You know how much they should be getting done in a day... so check and make sure they did that, and you're fine.

Have Core Hours of Communication

At Boomzap, this is 10-5 daily, Singapore time. You don't have to WORK these hours, but you have to be logged in to slack, and answering questions and available for conversations/calls. THis is critical to making sure that part of your studio isn't waiting on information from other parts of your studio.

Daily Tasks, Daily Reports, Weekly goals

Everyone in the studio has a clear weekly goal - thi s what I will have done by Friday. They are checked on that weekly. If done, then great, your're done. if not, we need to figure out why. Then, every day everyone starts with a quick post "This is what I will do today" and at the end of every day, they post "this is what I did today" with links of the work they have done, screenshots, etc - so the rest of the team is up to date on what they are doing.

manolobilalo77 karma

What if your employees fulfill the job requirements, work hours and work reports and still take time to work on side projects? Would they be penalized?

boomzap288 karma

We have 2 contract models. One is "full time contractor" and the other is "pay-by-task" contractor.

The first - full-time-contractors - are people we intend to work a solid 40 hour week (well, to produce enough stuff to fill a 40 hour week, anyway) on our games, every week, and we want their creative energies for games focused on what we do. For them, we ask that they do not take on any other games-related work. But we are fine w/them doing other non-game stuff. Some make comics, teach at schools, etc. We not only allow, but encourage that. It makes them healthier, better rounded people. But we want their "game energy" on our games, so they are exclusive to us for game development.

Our "Pay-by-task" contractors are given work as we have it - such as "make these characters" or "Make this Hidden Object scene" - and since I am not promising them to always have work for them on a consistent monthly basis, it would be unrealistic and unfair of me to expect them to ONLY work with us. For them, they are welcome to take any contracts they want, in or out of games. It's my responsibility to pay well enough, and make our projects interesting enough that we're their first priority. That's how the free market is supposed to work. :)

striker753 karma

In the US, as I understand it, if you're setting the hours and tasks and the work is consistent, workers should be classified as employees rather than contractors, correct?

Is it different where you're located?

boomzap73 karma

I specifically don't set hours for work - that's up to them. I set hours that I expect them to be in communication - which is normal for any contractor, worldwide.

To be honest, having our staff as actual full time employees... we'd need to set up legal entities in Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia... and that's not feasible for even a large studio - much less a small indie group like ours. Nor is it something anyone would expect us to do.

Iamonreddit30 karma

'Core Communication Hours' that only exclude 1 hour of a standard 9-5 take the piss a bit though, surely?

You can't really be 'off' if you need to free for meetings etc at any point between those hours. What happens if someone is at the shops with their hands full of groceries and you need a 15 min chat?

boomzap57 karma

It happens. They say "I'm out shopping now - will be back in an hour" and we talk then. But at least I know I get my answer in an hour.

Or more often, if someone is going somewhere, and know they'll be busy, they drop a note in the project chat - something like "Gonna be absent for a while doing family stuff - back at 3" (all times at Boomzap are Singapore time). We have a bot set up in Slack that notes the use of the word ABSENT - and copies that message to a channel called Who Is Here. So then if someone is like "Hey, I need Adrian to answer this question, and they do an @adrian, and he does not respond - they go look at #WhoIsHere and it says he'll be back in a bit.

And if you KNOW that you're gonna need to have a meeting, or a multiplayer test session, or something like that, then you usually say the day before or in the morning. Usually something like @bob @joe @tom - need to chat today - 3pm cool? and they reply with a thumbsup emote. Then you chat at 3.

We don't TRACK any of that - it's just there so people know whats what. As long as you know when you get your answer, and it's reasonably soon, you can work around it.

But at the end of the day, it is a job, and we do pay people to do collaborative, constructive work. Part of that is... you know... collaborating. So you have to have systems for that. This one works pretty well as a tradeoff.

It's a pretty solid system.

Krobelux9 karma

That's awesome and makes sense structurally. My girlfriend and I are in a long distance relationship right now and one of the best things we've done to help mitigate that burdensome feeling was to create our own personal discord server, and create channels and functions that help facilitate our needs as a couple in a ldr relationship relationship. It helps keep us grounded to each other and reminds us why we're doing this.

boomzap9 karma

Are you telling me you have like... a "sexy-time" discord channel w/your girlfriend, only for sexy time needs? Because if you don't... Just sayin'

gozunz19 karma

Do you find that in comparison to being all together in an office, either more small tasks or more larger tasks get complete? I can see it being hard to communicate doing lots of small tasks. Do you feel like that causes more "work" in your daily communications, or do you have some sort of cap to that, like don't spend more than x time telling people what you did... Cheers!

boomzap42 karma

What I find is that we need to give people a lot more Independence in their tasks. If you get bogged down with trying to micromanage every little detail of every single task it's going to be problematic. But you know what, it also sucks in a brick-and-mortar studio you just don't notice it as much. We tend to sort of assign a large group of tasks or an end goal to a single person and say look this is kind of the thing that we want to get done can you make sure that it happens and they will go out and sort out all of the little details that need to happen. And if that means having a bunch of quick chats with different people to get what they need then that's what happens. But we don't need to get everybody involved in all of that.

mjr19 karma

Thanks. What task management programs do you use? I skipped through and didnt see this asked. Apologies if I missed it.

boomzap13 karma

Trello. The video series on YouTube (linked in the original post) has a whole video on nothing but tools. I think it's video 4.

ikhas6 karma

So like Scrum or using a virtuell Kanban-Board?

boomzap21 karma

Yeah - we use Trello for a kanban style of issue assignment and completion.

sunnetchi83 karma

Do you need a remote web developer :) ? https://i.imgur.com/TZMuvrW.png

boomzap15 karma

Haha yeah - we've been meaning to do something about that for a while... but honestly the vast majority of our customers see us from our Steam homepage, or on a distributor like Big Fish... or on our App Store page... so we just haven't gotten around to it. When we look at the actual traffic there... I think most of the people going there are people looking for a job. :)

But, yeah - we should probably do something about that.

pewdiepiepaul36 karma

What game was the hardest to make and why?

boomzap148 karma

Whatever I did last. :)

Every game is a different challenge. A lot of it is mental. Every time you make a game there is this guy on your shoulder, constantly telling you "You are gonna f*ck this up! You're no good! Just quit!" and you have to just ignore him, no matter how loud he screams, and keep going. And he is LOUD.

Some days, this is just really, really hard. You go to Discord and people are like "I hate all of your new changes, why didn't you do bla bla bla" and suddenly that guy on your shoulder is like "BWHAHAHAHAH - SEE! I told you you were shit!" and you have to just ignore him, and look at the comments, and see them for what they actually are: Feedback from your users who want a better product. And you process it, and come up with solutions, and keep trying.

To be very honest, successful developers are rarely the most talented or the most creative. They are just the ones who can put their head down, stay honest with themselves, and keep working through the critics, self doubt, and failure. Persistence is everything. You WILL fail. You succeed when you push through that failure.

meh37329 karma

I needed to see this today. Thanks.

boomzap32 karma

Come join the Boomzap discord. I put uplifting shit there all the time. :)

iamdodgepodge23 karma

You do uplifting stuff now? :)

Great to see you here!

boomzap44 karma

I'M ALWAYS UPLIFTING, DAMMIT!

(disclaimer: iamdodgepodge used to work for Boomzap, and has since moved on to another virtual work-from-home environment - he may have some fun insights as well)

salocin0979 karma

Can you link it? I'm a gamdev student and this AMA has been great!

boomzap9 karma

Sure thing! Come join us! https://discord.gg/XcYkxe

manolobilalo6 karma

Do you have a favourite?

boomzap12 karma

Whatever I am working on NOW. :D

As much of a cop out as that sounds... That's the joy of running a studio. You pick your projects, so you can pick what you want to do (within reason) - so you're always working on whatever it was you most wanted to do... back when you started it. And every time, you have this hope that all the stuff you learned is gonna make you better/smarter and "It's gonna be better this time!" - of course... it doesn't always work out that way. But you can dream. :)

I'm doing a really amazing strategy game now called Last Regiment - and it's exactly that. It's me taking everything we learned from Legends of Callasia (our last strategy game) and trying to apply it. So far, I'm pleased... but you never know till you release whether or not the world agrees with your tastes.

Renegade_Pige30 karma

Are you the guy who developed the Monsters Inc game? How you feel about that?

boomzap78 karma

You came all the way to reddit JUST to give me hell about Monsters Inc., Pige? :)

For those not in on the long-running-joke from our Discord, I was the Lead Designer for Monsters Inc. PS2... and it was... not the best experience I ever had in game development...

well let me just quote a few of our critics:

IGN: "Don't be fooled into thinking this is a credible piece of software, cause it's not."

Gamespy: "It’s also not an overly difficult game, nor an overly long game, nor an overly attractive game, nor an overly fun game."

But hey - still averages 2.5 stars on Metacritic... So looks like you can slap Pixar's name on anything and people will give it SOME slack...

What's sad is some of it was really good work. The art and animation, in particular was pretty damn good for it's day. It's a good example of how a few bad parts of a game can trash the whole experience. But what can I say - 25 years making games... you can't win'em all.

Semproser17 karma

I distinctly remember enjoying this game as a kid so don't beat yourself up too much :)

boomzap14 karma

Awww... you just made my night.

sanae_sensei29 karma

What countries are your employees from? You mentioned Southeast Asia, so I'm guessing Singapore and Malaysia?

boomzap80 karma

Almost 1/2 of our studio is in and around Metro Manila. We love the Philippines - which I honestly feel, dollar-for-quality is one of the top game development destinations in the world. Just wonderful people, amazing talents, and they grew up watching the same TV and movies we did, so they come from a similar "cultural space" - which makes them far more adept at understanding how to make entertainment for a western audience. If I ask a Vietnamese artist to make a character "like in this episode of Scooby Doo" it's a real tossup as to whether or not she has ever heard of Scooby Doo. But an artist in Manila, I'm likely to hear "Oh, yeah - cool. Scooby snacks!"

We also have staff in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and quite a few in Indonesia - which has some of the best artists in the world. People just don't know how BIG Indonesia - and how many people are down there. It's just HUGE. And a bunch of those people are super talented. And they are also super nice.

Honestly, one of the best parts of my job is working with this huge diversity of people from all over. It's way fun.

only_4kids19 karma

Hey, thanks for doing this ama. I wanted to ask you why did you choose specifically that part of the globe to employ people from, and not, for example, western hemispheres or somewhere else.

boomzap53 karma

A few reasons, actually

1) I'm in this hemisphere, and so is Allan (my business partner). I'm in Japan, he's in Singapore, and so we know this hemisphere better - and have a lot more connections here. And when we work, everyone is on a similar timezone, which facilitates better communication.

2) Once you are somewhere, it's easier to grow there. European game devs have no idea who we are. In the Philippines.. we're "known" - we're at ESGS every year, we sponsor the Manila game jam every year, etc. So when people in Manila are looking for a job, they likely throw a resume at us. And when we need someone, we ask our staff, who is already in PH, MY, SG, etc - and it's just more likely they know someone in these places... so our referrals and organic growth is better here.

3) And honestly, we just think the people here are awesome. I love visiting Manila, KL, Singapore... partying with the staff, eating great food, and being part of the culture here. You gotta pick a place where you want to be, and you could do a hell of a lot worse than Pacific rim Asia.

only_4kids14 karma

Hey man, thanks for the answer. I had no intention to insinuate that it's bad there at all.

Actually, I asked as I am praying I will get some remote contract soon, so I can come and spend couple of months in Asian countries working and exploring culture at the same time.

boomzap19 karma

Thats an awesome plan. You should do it. I'm old and married, so I am kinda pinned down to Japan where my kids are in school... if I were younger and single, I'd be wandering around Southeast Asia, staying places a month or two, and then moving on. Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia... There is just so much over here to see. So much good food, and so many great people. It's wonderful over here.

MediocreTop20207 karma

I am from India and there are lot of IT companies providing services on software development. However, I am not sure about how much contribution is in Game Development Industry.

Would you care to share your experience with Indian developers in Gaming field?

boomzap4 karma

I think I hit this in another answer somewhere...

Mad_Kitten4 karma

Totally not related, but do you have plan to expand to other countries in SEA?

boomzap14 karma

We're pretty open to hiring from wherever people are. We do preferentially hire in similar time zones, so that people can work with us during our core hours... but anywhere in East and Southeast Asia is fair game, certainly.

The other real limiting factor is language. Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and (to a lesser extent) Indonesia are places where solid, fluent English is pretty common - at least from anyone who graduated from college. Thailand, Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan... these are places where even very qualified, very skilled computer professionals may have very limited English... and in a studio with a common English working language... That's problematic. Certainly there ARE great folks in those places with solid English... but its not nearly as ubiquitous.

manolobilalo14 karma

The whole VR office set up seems like a good deal all in. Not having to deal with un-showered colleagues, no risk of physical harassment, not having your lunch stolen off the company fridge, not needing to pitch-in to get birthday cakes... the list goes on

boomzap44 karma

The biggest thing is just getting your life back from the commute. Metro Manila, for instance... you're looking at 1-2 hours each way for a commute for a lot of people... and getting 10-20 hours of your life back and not spending them in a jeepney or waiting in a line somewhere... Or not having to stay at work until 9pm to wait out the traffic... this alone is worth the price of admission. I live in Yokohama (suburb of Tokyo) and every now and then I have to go to a meeting with a publisher in Tokyo.. and I'm crammed into a train for an hour... and thinking "Holy F - people do this shit EVERY DAY?!" - it would be hard to ever make myself do that again,

princessesdontwaver2 karma

Wow, really cool! I wanted to get into video game design so I could work in the industry in Japan. I didn't have any access to related majors anywhere near my home, so I settled for a marketing communications degree. Moving to Tokyo this year! Hope you're holding up in this mess.

boomzap10 karma

Moving to Tokyo this year? You picked a bad year for that! I am unsure how feasible that will be until all of this corona thing sorts itself out... which may be deep into the fall before international travel and such is common. They told all of us Americans here just a week or two ago "Get out if you are planning to get out - or you might not be able to go home for a while..."

conburo23 karma

How did you come up with the idea to run a virtual studio?

boomzap65 karma

To be honest we didn't actually plan it. When we started there were two of us myself and Allen. At the time I was living in Seattle and Allan was living in Singapore. I had the idea to start a studio and called up Allan and I thought he would move up to Seattle. But he was head over heels in love with a Singaporean girl he was dating (now his wife - hi Wendy!) and he wasn't about to leave Singapore... so he tried to convince me to come down to Singapore. But I was in graduate school in Seattle and wasn't going to leave either. So we decided to start with us working in those two cities.

Neither one of us knows how to do art so we needed an artist, and the best artist that we knew that would work for what we were able to pay was in Kuala Lumpur. And he wasn't moving to Singapore or Seattle. So from the first three people we have people in three different countries. It was assumed at the time that when the studio got bigger we would pick somewhere and start a real Studio. We just never really got around to it.

We kept thinking that when we get to 12 people or 24 people or 30 people that is some point we would need to have a real brick-and-mortar Studio. It was exactly the opposite The bigger we got, the more spread out we were. By the time we were 12 or so people we had people in like 5 different countries. And none of them wanted to move. And by then we had pretty much figured out that we never wanted to stop working from home... so we just leaned into it.

AgentHusky18 karma

What would be a dream project for you? If you had full creative freedom and money wasn't a problem, what kind of game would you want to make?

boomzap23 karma

Honestly, the game I am working on right now is exactly that project... except for the "money isn't a problem" part. :)

I've really enjoyed branching out into Strategy games - it's an amazing genre, and it's what I play when I play games for fun, honestly. But it is a very hard genre to develop for. Its deep design, lots of moving parts, and testing just takes forever - so you are better off just admitting to yourself from the beginning "This is gonna take a couple years to make" - because... it is.

AgentHusky7 karma

So i'm guessing you can't tell us anything about that project then lmao

How then do you decide if a strategy game is too deep or not deep enough? Did you ever need to cut some features out because it was making the game too complicated?

boomzap18 karma

So i'm guessing you can't tell us anything about that project then lmao

Quite the opposite - it's called Last Regiment and it's in Early Access now - go play it!

https://store.steampowered.com/app/845050/Last_Regiment/

But I am trying not to pimp my game too hard here in a chat about how to work better in a distributed studio. :)

As to your questions:

How then do you decide if a strategy game is too deep or not deep enough?

Good question - and I wish I had an answer to that... The only answer I can give is... if you can't explain any specific dynamic in 1 short sentence... you're probably doing too much. I've learned (the hard way) that complexity is not really that great unless it's really adding meaningful choices. Sid Meir said it: Offer fewer, more meaningful choices to the player.

Did you ever need to cut some features out because it was making the game too complicated?

Hell. Yes. So many. Not just in strategy games. In ALL my games. Its hard to cut shit you worked on a long time... but if your players just arent getting it, or just aren't having fun with it... it's gotta go. It hurts like hell, but it is what has to happen.

Itanican17 karma

How do you playtest if there isn't an office? Like, devices and stuff?

boomzap40 karma

Good question, and the answr is... obvious but painful: We have to have boxes of devices at our testers houses. Essentially we have a big list of "who has what" and as we recognize the need for testing on different devices, we buy more and send them to sit at the houses of our testers. It's one of the places where a brick-mortar studio does have a lot more efficiency - in terms of sharing devices.

That being said - this is a part of the dev process that is pretty easy to outsource to places that do this fulltime.

Generally you have 2 kinds of testing:

1) Gameplay testing (is the game fun/working)

2) Device testing (Does my game play DeviceX

Category #1 is really where we concentrate our inhouse testing, and we do that on a number of key devices that we know our users have. Honestly, the VAST majority of mobile users use about 5-6 key devices, so we have those for our in house testers. #2 is the part we try to push off to our publishers, who usually push that off to an outsource testing provider who has the traditional "Wall of phones" you see in testing videos (and in shady click-farms. :) )

misatillo15 karma

Hi there! I am doing the same as you but in Europe and for only 2 years. I am about to launch our first game. This AMA has been very interesting to read as we do things similarly too.

How do you manage the projects? Do you use Jira or something like that? What other software do you use for the projects?

boomzap20 karma

Video 4 of the series goes into deep detail on the software we use and how we use it, specifically. The short answer is:

  • Slack = Communication

  • Basecamp = Record of development of assets

  • Trello = Tasking and task management

  • Google Slides/Sheets = documentation

  • Mantis = Bug tracking

misatillo3 karma

Thanks! I used Mantis in the past and I can highly recommend Jira over that. Of course whatever works for you ;)

boomzap5 karma

We've used both.. Either works, honestly. If I remember, we finally decided on Mantis coz it was either cheap or free. I don't know. Allan deals with that. :)

misatillo5 karma

Haha no worries I was just curious. Thanks for your answers.

Do you plan on keeping doing mobile or do you have any plans to jump to consoles/pc?

boomzap4 karma

We actually do both Mobile and PC now. We have 2 games shipping very soon on PC - Last Regiment (our strategy game) and Faircroft's Antiques (a pretty new Hidden Object game) - and both will go to mobile as a port later. It's increasingly reasonable to just... assume all of your games are crossplatform.

And yeah - we SHOULD be doing more for console... Switch especially. Thats a good market.

misatillo2 karma

I think Switch is a good market right now for smaller studios indeed!

I have seen that you have a marketing person in your team. How do you handle marketing for other regions? Do you partner with other companies for that?

Sorry if too many questions!

boomzap3 karma

I think Switch is a good market right now for smaller studios indeed!

I have a few friends at other studios who tell me that Switch is a great market, making them good money. The big difference is that the competetion is so much less. There's like 100+ new games a week on Steam... and 1000 on android/iOS... It's just so hard to get through the noise on those platforms.

I have seen that you have a marketing person in your team. How do you handle marketing for other regions? Do you partner with other companies for that?

I wish I had a better answer for you here. I honestly think if I were to tell you "Where does Boomzap fail?" the #1 answer is that we don't spend enough time/money on marketing. And this has been a problem for years, and if there is anything I hate myself for it's failing to fix this.

We've traditionally relied on the platfomr/distribution networks to do our marketing... and it's not enough. I'd love to hear what indies who are doing BETTER at this than us are doing. :)

ShoppyUK10 karma

What do you make of companies telling people who could work from home in their job that they can’t because they want them in the office?

Especially now that corona is abundant and is showing us that many people actually can work from home.

How do we help employers understand that working from home is not a bad thing?

boomzap48 karma

You know what's really funny a lot of companies have really refused to come around. It's only when the governments have forced them to do it that they have. Here in Japan every company was saying that it was impossible for their staff to stay home until the Prime Minister basically said they had to do it. And then suddenly magically it was all possible.

I actually think some of this comes from the fact that a lot of people are discovered to be pretty useless once everybody's working from home. I can't count the number of times I've been in a normal brick-and-mortar office and seen some level of mid manager and wondered, what does this guy actually do here? Suddenly when everybody's working from home and having to prove their value by actually turning in verifiable work, and that guy doesn't have anything... people are going to wonder what he's getting paid for. But as long as there's an office for him to show up to and wander around the cubicles and bug people then it feels like he's maybe doing something.Enhancing team synergy or some shit, I guess.

I honestly think there's a heck of a lot more of that than anyone understands.

hairspun110 karma

How much is the going rate for game develooment work in metro manila and indonesia?

boomzap31 karma

How deep is a hole? The truth is as companies like ours that are distributed become more and more common, the world rate for work that can be done remotely is flattening. This is great for people in low cost places (like Manila) and hard for people in high cost places (like San Francisco and London). I honestly don't know HOW California companies still make sense of what they are paying for labor when there is so much amazing talent in places like Manila, Jakarta - or for that matter, Hong Kong and Singapore - where a dollar goes a lot further.

That being said, I think a lot of people have the wrong idea about how to capitalize on this. Yes, you CAN get a artist in Manila to do good work for peanuts - buut you won't keep her. She's gonna quickly figure out that she is worth a lot more than that on the world market, and you're gonna basically pay to train her for a studio that's willing to pay her more. That's a foolish way to run a business.

Instead, what we do is pay a very good wage for the places we hire in - and assume that our staff is gonna stick around for a while. And they do. We have people who have been with us in Malaysisa for almost 15 years. They've bought houses on what we've paid them. And you can't pay enough for skilled, senior staff like that with long term institutional knowledge of your company.

And when you treat your staff like that, they are willing to stick with you in the hard times. We have gone through periods where we were broke-as-f. And when that happened, we asked the staff to tighten their belts, take temporary pay cuts and stick with us while we worked it out. Because they had faith in us, they stuck with us through these periods. And that's kept us around long after a lot of studios would have closed.

hairspun111 karma

So what is the proper salary RANGE for say a game developer who does the code (not an artist) in Metro Manila.and Indonesia? Running a business remotely start and ends with labor costs. It's 80% of the business.

boomzap57 karma

Again - it depends. You CAN convince people to code for you in Manila for less than $500 USD a month. But... I don't suggest that as a reasonable salary range.

World rates for people doing serious code in low-cost destinations are something between $1500 and $3000 for skilled junior to mid level game coders. That's high for Manila - but we try to be in the top end of that, for all the reasons I talked about before. We like to set our salaries high enough that "I want to go to Singapore coz they pay more" isn't a valid arguement for our staff, because our rates are already approaching Singapore rates (though they are admittedly lower), but when you factor in the low cost of living in Manila, our staff tends to save about as much money every year - and live in larger houses and have more fun than the average junior coders in Singapore.

Rates for artists are lower, and rates for designers and testers is even lower. Coders are by far the most expensive part of a gaming team, and the hardest positions to fill with good qualified people. Designers are the opposite end of that spectrum - there are a LOT of people who want to be designers, and the surplus of talent drives the price they can command a lot lower.

The Singapore government does a "salary guide" for the industry every year. It's publicly available (I believe) and useful as a benchmark. You can assume on average, most Malaysians are earning 70-80% of Singapore, and Indonesia/Philippines about 50% of Singapore. On average.

Dalai-Parma56 karma

This question would have been dodged by quite a lot of AMAs, so props for not just an actual answer, but an in depth and well explained one.

boomzap43 karma

Well, we’re a Southeast Asian studio so our costs are obviously lower than a lot of places but I'm not ashamed of what we pay so I'm not too worried about telling people about it. Quite the opposite: a lot of people in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines reading through this will probably think that's a pretty reasonable number. Not amazing, but definitely reasonable - and that makes us look pretty good.

We also share these numbers, uninflated, with our potential publishing partners - so I am not worried about them seeing this either. Again, quite the opposite - I know how good our work is, and I know that I can beat most western devs on dev costs - and since I know I can match them on quality, I can use this as an argument to negotiate a larger back end royalty percentage, since I am passing along the lower dev-fee risk to my publishing partners.

In general, if you’re ashamed that someone might find out what you pay... then you probably ought to do some soul searching about how you’re paying people, or how honest you are with your publishing partners.

hairspun18 karma

Thanks for this. I also run something similar, but with India. Been looking for an alternative as I am not satisfied.

boomzap8 karma

I strongly suggest Malaysia and Philippines - both are great locations for development.

Evil-Kris8 karma

Got any tips for getting rev-share collaborators? I’ve had no luck finding programmers for my projects (unity-based horror game at present) I’m based in Japan myself, Fukuoka, and I wish in your skin bro because I’m dog-tired of teaching English. This whole corona deal has made me realize how much I’d enjoy teleworking from home and doing what I love. Btw somebody has probably asked, but do you hire? Just a link would be ok.

boomzap35 karma

In general I don't work with anybody who I don't pay. Not because I'm a nice guy but because when you're working on pure rev-share it's hard to get past the argument of “the projects not doing well why should I do work on it because I'm never going to get paid anyway!” This can keep you from getting over the hump of when your game is a piece of s*** to when it's actually a pretty good game. All games go through that, and if everybody is earning nothing through that. It's very difficult to keep them focused.

I actually get a lot of people who want to work for free for experience or something like that and I never accept it. Because it's very difficult for me to come down on somebody and say “I need you to do this thing right now, it's more important than whatever you're actually doing to pay the bills and get yourself fed” - if you're not paying you don't have a lot of moral authority to make demands on people.

That being said we do pick up people fresh out of college who are interested in breaking into the industry and we pay them pretty low salaries. But we do that with the idea that if they do well that will increase relatively rapidly into a reasonable amount of money. People in that situation are a lot more amenable to you telling them what to do when expecting to get it done.

And yes we are always hiring good people! You can find details about that at our website: www.boomzap.com

Woahdudeeeee7 karma

Need a marketer? Would love to get involved with such a project.

boomzap19 karma

Our marketing guy Carlo, who is running this AMA, now feels threatened. :)

boomzap19 karma

(For the record, I would actually love to get a second person on the marketing team, preferably someone with more experience than me - C)

spaceneil7 karma

How does a day in the life (inside and/or outside this pandemic) of a programmer in your company usually go?

boomzap19 karma

The pandemic hasn't changed much there.

Essentially:

  • Wake up, get on computer let the team know what you're gonna be working on today.

  • Write some code in 1-2 hour bursts. In between that, chat with team, maybe do a call or two to sort out problems.

  • Lunch. Hopefully some light exercise like a walk.

  • More code.

  • Somewhere around 6, make a build (we have a bunch of automated build tools) and post notes to team on whats in the build.

  • Go have a life.

That's pretty much it. Simple, efficient, healthy.

AMCreative7 karma

Agile product manager here.

Just want to say you sound like an awesome boss, so kudos to you for being so supportive of a virtual and remote lifestyle.

1) How did you get started?

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I’ve been a writer my whole life, DND DM of five years, just picked up the PdM skill set a few years back and now own my company’s flagship product, have UX and Marketing training, and a great friend with an immense technical background who is teaching himself to code in google’s engine during the pandemic “for the Luls”.

When did you make that leap? How did you know it was time?

Thanks!

boomzap4 karma

Answered this a bit elsewhere in the AMA - but the short answer is... we just DID it. People will tell you that you can't - but the virus is proving them wrong., The whole world, when faced with the threat of death if they DONT try virtual work, suddenly figured out that all of the "cannot be overcome" issues weren't so impossible in the end....

It's a shame it took such an extreme to bring them around. We can just hope that when everything goes back to normal, a LOT of people just say "Hell no, I'm not coming back to the office again!"

SK_K6 karma

What advice would you give to someone that would love to start coding games, but has no experience in it?

boomzap17 karma

Start coding games. :D

Theres a bunch of great tools, and a million videos on the internet on how to get started. Unity is learnable. So is Cocos. Or RPG maker - and Steam has games aplenty from brand new devs who just fought their way through.

But if you're doing that, the biggest advice I have is START SMALL. Like REALLY small. Make a tic-tac-toe game. FINISH IT. then make something bigger. where most people fail is trying to do too much too soon. It's like sitting down at a piano and trying to write a symphony w/o knowing your scales... you're just gonna get frustrated and walk away. Start Really small. Smaller than you think. Get comfortable with the tools. Then do harder stuff.

pizzelle6 karma

What minimum qualifications do you look for when hiring?

boomzap26 karma

1) Raw Creativity & Intelligence: You can teach people tools, skills, etc. - but it's hard to fix not being creative or intellectually curious. So that's your base. Luckily this is one of the easiest things to interview for. Honestly after you've had a serious couple our conversation with somebody you pretty much know whether or not they've got something interesting to bring to the conversation.

2) Dependability: This is hard to figure out in an interview So this is somebody who's going to be possibly on the other side of the ocean in a room by themselves so you kind of need to know that you can depend on them to be doing the stuff that they said that they're going to be doing. this is pretty difficult to interview for so you're really going to need to figure this out either from talking to references or doing a short contract test where you allow them to do some work in the way that you intend them to work in your studio and you can kind of see how that works out.

3) Lifestyle Fit: The last thing that we really look for is that what we are offering is actually worth something to them. This isn't about the money but it's about the work-from-home situation. Somebody who already lives in a city that's got a lot of job opportunities for them isn't going to be as excited about our offer as somebody who lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere in Indonesia where this offers a huge opportunity for them to work in games and still be in a location that's not very game Rich. Also generally people who have some sort of special situation, like family members at home that they need to take care of or something like that. That kind of person is really getting a huge advantage out of our work from home situation. They're going to be a lot more excited about the job, they're going to work harder to protect it, and they're probably going to stick around a lot longer. That retention is really a key metric for us because retention means you can invest time and energy in training somebody in the way that you want to make your games. It's hard to overemphasize how important this is.

InputField5 karma

How is it living 15 years without pants? Do you sometimes miss them? Isn't it awkward when going shopping or is out something you get used to quickly?

boomzap8 karma

It's not ME that misses them when I go out shopping without them...

Mononym_Music5 karma

Everytime I hear "entrepreneur" I think unemployed. Why?

boomzap6 karma

Because success looks a lot like failure until it isn't.

PM_ME_LEWD_SELFIES5 karma

What's the closest the studio has been to failing and how did you manage out of it?

boomzap14 karma

There have been a couple... you don't get to ship too many games that don't profit before you run out of cash.

We usually have fixed by a combination of:

  • Shrinking the team

  • Taking pay cuts for the team that remains (Allan and I always stop paying ourselves completely when we ask the team to take a temporary pay cut)

  • Focus down on getting some kind of work for hire work or co development deal with a publisher that pays up front.

The REAL key to all of this has been that we are VERY open with our staff about how things are going. When things are going south, we let the team know, so nothing is surprising. When we reach a really hard point, the team has known it was going that way for months, and they've been told as soon as we have any plans or ideas how we're gonna be dealing with it.

The key is just being honest. When the staff trusts that you are working in their best interest, they will support you. But you can never break that trust. It's impossible to get back.

Itanican4 karma

Whats the "biggest" game you've worked on?

boomzap21 karma

Probably the most famous game I worked on was Far Cry - I was the producer for the first one back in... jeezus, was 2004 that long ago? That was an amazing, career-changing game for me - and it's what gave me the confidence to think "Yeah, I could run a game company" But, at the end of the day, Far Cry was Cevat's game, not mine. (Cevat Yerli was one of teh 3 brothers who owned/ran Crytek, who I worked for). I had a lot to do with that game, but it was his dream that started it, not mine.

The first game that I can really call my own, that was a raging success, was a beautiful little Hidden Object game called Awakening that was the first real blockbuster for Boomzap. It was good enough to spawn like... seven sequels? And our audience just loved it. But even that game... I have to admit, while it started with an idea I had, there were other really amazing people who probably drove them more. Luna Cruz Javier (Philippines) was really the creative spirit behind Awakening 1, and Ran Wong (Singapore), really drove the franchise for game 2 onwards. Not to mention all of the other amazing artists, designers, and coders who worked on them. But that's the thing with games - they are a group effort.

But Sophia (the lead character in Awakening) will always have a really special place in my heart. I feel a lot of ownership and love for her.

mattleo4 karma

As a new it manager, this is going to change the way I deal with work from home employees in this new era. 6 open positions and new employees start next week - anxious about handling it well. Probably the best ama in a long time. Very informative.

how do you on-board new employees and ensure that they get the proper support to succeed? Right now, I'm the only one doing my job and we are having MASSIVE growth, hiring 6 people but thinking it's going to consume every minute of my life and my existing work will fall behind. How did you handle tight deadlines when small but trying to bring on new people?

Thanks!

boomzap8 karma

A couple of things:

1) We have a wiki for new employees that walks them through all of this, how to set up their computers, what tools to use, how to use them, etc. We keep it updated (ytyhough not as regularly as we should) - but it gives the new folk SOMETHING to grab hold of on their first few days/weeks.

2) Everyone gets assigned a buddy - usually a senior staff member doing a similar job. This is very pointedly NOT a manager - but someone who they can message and be like "Dude, how the hell do I do this?" or "What am I supposed to do now" without fear that they are gonna look stupid in front of a manager. This has the side benefit of helping them make some friends in the studio, which is helpful.

3) There is nothing more important than training people. People doing stuff wrong will add a lot of negative energy to your projects. Whatever it is that you're worried about not doing while you are training... it's less important in the long run. Because when you train... thats a whole new person to go do things. That multiplies power very quickly. Assuming they know WTF they are doing. And if YOUR manager doesn't get that... they don't knwo what they are up to.

MrFergison4 karma

I just made my own solo "studio" in the past month. I have spent the last 5 months learning the unreal 4 engine and have a multiplayer game coming out on steam soon. It's not a fantastic game at the moment, but it's the first step in something I've always wanted to do it.

What would be the best next step, in your opinion, to take?

boomzap7 karma

Ship it. Do grass-roots marketing for it. Support it. Improve it. I'd suggest starting it in Early Access (where people are a lot more forgiving) and improve it for a while before "officially" releasing it. You'll get feedback, and a chance to improve. Learning how to deal with feedback is a skill you need to learn.

Don't stress on "did it make money" - just go through the WHOLE process. Marketing, shipping, and supporting a game is like 1/2 the battle in development anymore - and you need to develop those skills as much as you need to develop your dev skills. Too many people think "If you build it, they will come" - They. Will. Not. :)

The internet is absolutely AWASH in great articles on how to do all this... go read up on low cost or free marketing, and go through the process. And most of all DON'T FREAK OUT. You likely will make f-all money. That's OK. You're learning.

CopernicusQwark4 karma

I work in a similarly high-collaborative industry (lots of in-person sketching / critique / incidental discussions to drive the creative process), the nature of which makes remote work difficult.

What would you say are the best ways to substitute for the lack of these informal development times, when working remotely?

boomzap18 karma

A couple things:

Collaborative Software & Screensharing

We do a lot of our conversations while screensharing the game on Slack - so we're all looking at one thing, and drawing on it with char tools, etc. We NEVER use video chat - I don't care what people look like. Instead, I want them looking at the designs, at the ideas - and maybe even google searching references and sharing them etc - all that i realtime. Video of peoples faces makes people self concious about this - so we don't use it.

Short, Impromptu Calls

Sometimes you just need to sort something out, and chatting is a slow way to do it. I hae a lot of very short - like 5-10 minute calls where we're chatting on slack, rach a point where it's clear its a complex topic, and we just say "pick up a headset for a sec" and we hop in a very short call, resolve the issue, and then post the final plan for action after the call in the slack channel. This is a very effective tool if used often. To do this well, make sure everone follows the CORE HOURS I mentioned before, and that everyone has a good mic/headset that is next to their workstation and easily available.

WarrantyVoider4 karma

How do you feel about people reverse engineering your games?

boomzap9 karma

It's the industry... If you let that get to you, you're in for a world of anger. :)

When it's done well, I'm flattered - I feel like someone thought my idea was good enough to copy. Even better if they did something new, different, and original with the idea.

Pimpus4 karma

Do you think you've made a positive impact on the world with your work?

boomzap18 karma

Hell if I know. Maybe?

I am proud of the fact that we work predominantly in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines - where people could use more good jobs. But it's not like we're helping the poor or anything. Our staff are all (mostly) college educated, well off people from families that could afford to have kids that learned to be artists and programmers and stuff. We're hiring from the richest 10% of the countries we work in. But... these places need more good jobs like that. And our staff support their families, and the local economies... a dollar I pay to a designer in Laguna or an animator in Kuala Lumpur probably ends up in the pocket of someone pretty close to poverty within a couple transactions... and that lifts the whole economy up. So... yeah. I'm proud of that.

What I always tell people is that you're gonna spend most of your life working - especially if you work in games. So make sure that the person you are at work is the person you want to be. There is no "Well, this is business, so it's not like friends" - that's a cop out that lets you do shitty things and not feel bad about it. Instead, just remember that no matter what you do, you're gonna have to live with who you are for the rest of your life. If you're making asshole decisions... maybe you make more money or something... but you gotta live your life being an asshole. I'm not sure any amount of money is worth that.

AxiumSA43 karma

What's your favourite video game?

boomzap6 karma

Mine. My games are my favorites. :)

But if you mean OTHER peoples games... I play a lot of Rimworld and Crusader Kings 2 lately. I actually was addicted to that little casual strategy game Islanders for a while... but my alltime favorite games are the classic world builder and 4X games: Civilization. Sim City. Alpha Centauri.

hueyl773 karma

Thanks for a great AMA! Question, who comes up with ideas for your games? How do you decide as a team which games to develop?

boomzap7 karma

I wish I could say that we have big fun creative meetings where we have great new ideas for games that have never been made before, and then go make them... but that's usually not the case...

MOST of the time, the genesis of the idea is the publisher. They will come to us with a license and a basic idea - like "We want a time management game using the Love Boat license" (this is a real thing we did, actually) or maybe a genre and a hole in their lineup like "We have been playing Game X and we want something that competes with that!" ("competes with" is how publishers say "clone, but not obviously a clone") . Now our challenge is making that cool.

Sometimes we have a game that is doing well, like Awakening, and we're like "What do these people want next? What can we bring this audience to?" - that's a LOT of our games.

And every now and then, it's recognizing a hole in the industry and trying to fill it. Last Regiment and Legends of Callasia are both that - our attempt ad "What about 40 year old strategy gamers who don't have all week to play Crusader Kings - what can we make for them?"

golfmade3 karma

Hello from Taiwan!

What is the funnest PC game you've played in the last 5 years?

Cheers for doing this AMA btw, very informative about the complexity of working remotely with people from all over the world.

boomzap3 karma

Assuming my games don't count, I'd say I open up Rimworld more than just about anything else. I think it's been around longer than 5 years... but I only really started playing it last year.

It's one of those games where I keep thinking "I wish I had thought of this..." - it's just really beautifully done. Simple. Clean. All the energy went into gameplay, the graphics are... just enough to make a point. And it's as moddable as it gets.

Also, Taiwan is awesome. Most underrated country in Asia.

Sparkman333 karma

What are the demographics of people that buy these games? I'm just curious because you have a very consistent art style across all of your offerings.

boomzap10 karma

Well, we bacically make 3 "Categories" of games:

  • Hidden Object & Casual Puzzle games (Awakening, etc.)

  • Mobile action games (Super Awesome Quest, etc)

  • Strategy Games (Callasia, Last Regiment)

Each of these has a different audience. Our casual audience is older (60s), and female. Our action game audience is mixed male/female in their 30-40s, and our strategy games skew heavily male and older - they are basically me (Male, 40s).

You'll notice that the visual styles for each category is pretty consistant.

Figerox3 karma

As a wannabe game designer, do you have any tips on graphics, and optical illusion when it comes to animation? I've taken animation in college (my post history says a few different college things throughout) and cant seem to get my colors and sizing right. Any general tips?

boomzap3 karma

Copy. Copy. Copy.

Start with simple effects, and try to duplicate them exactly as you see them. Deconstruct them - you'll find a lot of effects are more complicated and have more parts than you think. Really look close at effects you like, and deconstruct them piece by piece, and then try to replicate.

Over time. you'll develop a library of your own effects that are... duplicates of what you see out there. THEN - start adjusting them. By then, you'll have a great feel for what does and does not work, and you'll suddenly find a lot of it is easier than it is now.

umakemyheadhurt3 karma

Do mobile game devs have no shame? Do they take any pride in their work? Free games you download theses days are absolutely riddled with ads. Horrible intrusive in your face ads that trick or force the user to tap something or make noise even when the phone is on vibrate and the game is silent. You spend more time dealing with ads than playing the game. The game is diminished by it. I'm a backend developer myself, and although my coding is far different, I think I can imagine how much work goes into these games. I take enormous pride in my code and the end result, and just can't comprehend how someone could spend that time and effort only to have it shit all over by these ads.

boomzap3 karma

I couldn't agree more, and I am really looking forward to the day that this ad-driven, hypercasual thing solves itself. I honestly don't understand how anyone enjoys them... and have to believe they will self correct soon.

JudgeGroovyman3 karma

Any tips on how to know when your project is done and ready to ship?

boomzap10 karma

That's a really hard one, actually.

You can, if not careful, wallow around tweaking a project forever. and that's gonna lose you money - especially if you have a large team attached to it. On the other side... you get to launch ONCE - and it's hard to come back from a bad launch.

The big thing is make sure your launch is clean. Players will forgive you missing some features, but they won't forgive a buggy game. They will walk away from that and never come back.

If it looks like you're running out of runway - cut BIG features, and cut them hard. Then you can ensure what is left is tight, clean, and plays without crashing, bugs, etc. If thats a great experience, you can roll out more features later... We live in the Steam era, where improving your product over time is ... expected. So it's OK to save some for later.

JudgeGroovyman2 karma

Thank you that’s a great answer. Would you give a similar answer about art? How do you know when the art in your games world is interesting or detailed or ‘quality’ enough to proceed?

boomzap6 karma

Worry more about gameplay. People are a lot more forgiving about art than you think. Obviously, better is better, but people spend too much time worried with art, and not enough time worried with design, gameplay, and game stability.

I'd also be realistic about your team. If you KNOW you are going into this with a limited art budget, pick a style you can do well cheaply, and do it well. Simple art done well is way better than great art done badly.

My best example of this is Cards Against Humanity. Its white, black, and a free font from google. That's IT. Nobody complains. But you can find a LOT of games on Steam that are doing just fine with... questionable art. Slay the Spire is awesome... and half of that art is pretty damn placeholder.

qperA63 karma

How long did it take you to break even in cost/profits for the first time?

boomzap7 karma

Hmmm -

  • Game 1: Jellyboom. Complete failure.

  • Game 2: Magic Lanterns. Complete failure.

  • Game 3: Jewels of Cleopatra: Profitable

And we've been profitable on most projects since then. Not always on every project, but we have had enough good projects to balance out the bad. So... something like 2 years to get to where the company was legitimately viable.

qperA63 karma

Thanks for the answer! How did you manage to get through 2 years of negative cashflow?

boomzap21 karma

Pain and debt. Credit cards. Student loans - I was a grad student at UW Seattle at the time.

True story: At one point I went and checked myself into an experimental drug testing laboratory in Tacoma. They filled me with experimental cancer meds, and took my blood every day for a month. I wasn't allowed to leave the facility. I sat with an IV hooked up to my arm and made levels for Jewels of Cleopatra on my laptop... I got paid like $3000 for the month. I paid our artist with it.

He still works for us today.

Tomtanks883 karma

Hey, First. Thank you for the AMA.

I need an advice on how to get a job in the game development field.

I'm constantly applying to get a job in gaming companies. However I'm always faced with a wall of needing an experience in the field. And I can't get that unless I get a job within the field. The experience loop.

I work in Advertising as a copywriter. And I've also developed short film scripts. And I'm looking to a way into this world of game development. How can you help?

boomzap6 karma

You know I get this question A LOT - probably the #1 question I get. In fact, I get it so often... I made a video a couple months ago with my FULL, COMPLETE, HOUR LONG answer. In more detail than anyone could ever possibly want. :D

It's here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nxo8fZSX-U&list=PLaft76eiDidSVm-8lsSHfDSL0x9zYftcJ&index=6&t=0s&loop=0

As to your SPECIFIC problem - my suggestion is go work REALLY CHEAP on a couple indie projects, and get some writing credits. a couple games on your resume changes everything. And there's always an indie team out there looking for good writers, if the price is right. But I'm talking "Damn nerar free" cheap. Indies is broke as-f, yo.

monsterfurby3 karma

Hey there, thanks for being on here!

Your company is based in Singapore, so I was wondering - given that there are strongly different labour laws and regulations such as the European GDPR (data protection regulations) which could conceivably make such a setup difficult, how well do you think your approach would translate to other jurisdictions?

boomzap5 karma

Outside of Singapore, all of our staff are contractors, who file taxes, etc. as independent contractors, for exactly these reasons. There is no way I (or anyone) could sort out the maze of employment laws, etc in all of the different countries we contract to.

As such, we are largely only responsible for following Singaporean laws - which are honestly quite fair, simple, and business friendly. Now, when we SELL things, we have to deal with the laws about selling products in foreign environments - but that is usually something that distribution platforms like Steam help us with. It's honestly one of the places where they add a lot of value.

MongolianMango3 karma

What kind of things would recommend I as a comp sci student do to be able to find jobs and internships in the game design field? I've always been interested in creating+balancing game rulesets, but not sure how to begin.

boomzap6 karma

Quick answer - play more games. Make more games. people always wait until they graduate and THEN they are like "How do I make games?" Why did you wait? Unity is a thing. Cocos. A dozen other software packages that a bright comp sci student can use to make SOMETHING while they are in college. My 12 year old nephew just built a game on Unity... you can too. :)

Then, when you graduate, and you're looking for a job, you have the best possible application materials. "Look at this portfolio of little games I made while researching ideas in games! See how fun they are? Now can I come make games for you?" THAT guy gets jobs.

Oh - and the Global Game Jam - find someone who is doing that near you, and join in. A GREAT way to break into games.

GreaterEvilGames3 karma

What would you recommend to a recent grad like myself or my peers who are looking to try and get started with contract work before finding a full time position?

boomzap7 karma

I would suggest that a fresh grad would be better served by getting a fulltime role - any fulltime role - i a studio as soon as possible. You're gonna make a bunch of mistakes and mess stuff up for a few years while you're figuring stuff out. Do that on someone else's money. And in an environment where it's someone's job to teach you. That's hard in contract work, where the "learning experience" is gonna be "This isn't good enough, go redo it on your own dime"

GreaterEvilGames5 karma

Thanks a whole lot! Contract work has been a little scary, esp with student loans floating above my head. Striving for that consistent security does seem like an easier path. It just feels like there are more roles in contracts rather than full time or even part time roles.

Thanks for answering!

boomzap2 karma

Well, the best way I know to get a good full time role is to have a great portfolio... and you can do that through contract work. As a young person, I strongly suggest you should be working 40 hours a week, minimum. If you're not getting paid to do contract, do work for yourself. Make your own game. Draw a comic. Do art practice. Especially art, if you are an artist.

There are amazing artists on Deviant Art who are constantly working - doing experiment after experiment to get better. And they post these... and when it's time to apply for a job or contract... BOOM - look at all that art. Look at this proof of how dedicated to this craft I am. In the long run, these people will make it in the industry.

NoDigger3 karma

Hi, part of what I'm curious about is what the space of game development looks like for those who create music, and what your perspective from running a virtual studio might give on this. Do you have people in your studio that work specifically to make the soundtracks for whatever game you all are working on, or do you contract that part of the process out to someone who wouldn't necessarily be a long-term member of your team?

boomzap6 karma

Music and sound is by far the most commonly outsourced part of game development. In general, you don't need that person around through most of development, so unless you have multiple projects that you can shift the sound team to when you need them... it's pretty inefficient to have it in-house.

We work with a number of sound/music providers. On smaller projects I grab sounds and music from cheap sound libraries available online like artlist.io, etc. and just modify them to what I need myself in audacity. For larger projects, we use dedicated sound studios like Somatone in SFO or IMBA in Singapore.

NoDigger3 karma

Thanks so much for the response! It definitely makes sense that this would be something you would outsource as a studio, since there's so many sound and music assets available for free or through a larger studio with more resources.

This might not be your exact area of expertise, but as someone who's interested in working in music and audio production for games, I'm curious what routes there might be to making this a career choice. Would making packs of sounds or music to be distributed freely or at low cost that could tangentially fit a game be a good way to gain experience? Would a better option than working directly with a game studio be finding a way to get hired at somewhere like Somatone? All this being said, I'm wondering just how critical having a four-year degree versus having the necessary skills and portfolio to back it up is for this realm of music production?

boomzap3 karma

I would say that in general 4-year degrees are good things, in the long run. And for sound production especially - it will open doors for you to have people know that you have formal training where a lot of people don't. But that being said where you got that degree ain't that important, so I'd not throw down a lot of money for somewhere really expensive.

I would also, if you are early in this process, consider looking into a CS degree. It's WAY easier to get a job working in audio for games if you are actually an audio coder that knows how to make good music and sound. Those people are gold. and if you CANT get a job in games audio... you've still got a CS degree, giving you a lot of options a specialized audio-only degree wouldn't give you.

But regardlss of ANY of that - 75% of any hiring decision for any audio or art position is gonna be your portfolio. So yeah - prioritize that. And specifically prioritize diversity - show that you can do a lot of different things. Audio companies are SMALL - just a few people. If ALL you can do is one kind of music... there won't be rom for you there. You need to have the ability to do a diverse selection of music AND sound if you want to be hireable.

vagarybluer3 karma

Has Vietnam ever been your target market? I work in software L10N and it's sad that game developers still ignore this growing market :(

boomzap5 karma

Vietnam is a wonderful market - but the problem is... Vietnam ALSO has some amazing developers, who understand the market better than we do, who we have to compete against.

There are other markets like this - most notably China - the largest game market in the world... which also has some of the best developers in the world. Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Korea - all similar stories.

But as to Vietnam... I actually consider Vietnam, Poland, and Philippines as some of the most underrated game development regions out there. Really amazing talent, huge creativity... we will see all three take a much larger piece of the game-dev environment over the next 5 years. Poland especially - they are already huge in casual games.

pranjal30293 karma

Poland especially - they are already huge in casual games.

Did you forget CD Projekt? :)

Also, what are your thoughts on India as a market?

boomzap3 karma

Did you forget CD Projekt? :)

Haha - no. No I did not. But what a lot of people don't know is that the Polish casual games dev scene is HUGE. They have a bunch of games - especially hypercasual games doing $1M+ a month. Bunches. I've partied with some of them at conventions... I have learned that Polish people are awesome and totally underrated.

Also, what are your thoughts on India as a market?

India has been "the market that is gonna explode in a couple years!" for like a decade. Yet... it steadfastly refuses to explode. They have no shortage of people, but it is only very recently that they have a lot of internet and devices that have enough free bandwidth to play anything buy small casual games... But that's changing. But again - there are some great Indian devs as well - they have a better dev scene than audience base, I'd argue - and you're gonna have to compete with them... and they know that market way better than non-Indians.

In case you haven't caught on to the recurring theme... the world is FULL of great devs. The traditional dev centers in the west and Japan are gonna have to work hard to keep up!

_grey_wall3 karma

"Think and grow rich" or "psychocybernetics"?

What pushed you too start your company?

boomzap7 karma

The truth is, I was trying to get OUT of the game industry. I had just done 2 years of brutal, life shattering crunch to ship Far Cry... and I was done. I went to grad school to get an MBA and do... something else. I wasn't sure what. But not games.

And I went to a lecture one day that offered free pizza, and the speaker was talking about starting a small, bootstrapped casual game company. The speaker was the owner of Sprout, which was sold to Popcap for some reasonable amount of money. I was like "DUDE! I could do THAT!" and I went home, called Allan (an old game dev friend from Scotland, now living in Singapore) and was like "I have our business plan! We're gonna make casual games!"

And... we did.

Drorta3 karma

Hey there! Greetings from Argentina! How do you handle payroll? Is it problematic having to pay people in so many different countries, each with their own restrictions on how money gets in and out of their banking systems? Do you use some kind of service or software to make this smoother?

boomzap3 karma

This was a huge problem early in our lifecycle. At some point we got a rather large corporate account with a bank which is designed for exactly this kind of thing. They do wire transfers around the world, and charge very little for it. The problem is, you have to have a certain volume of business to get into that, I believe.

I would give more details... but (cough) I'm leery of talking too much about our banking details on Reddit. :)

PrinceHumperTinkTink3 karma

What was one thing about working virtually that you thought for sure would've been a considerable challenge but was actually surprisingly easy?

boomzap25 karma

I think what surprises most people is how good our communication is. it's something I think a lot of people misunderstand because they overestimate how good communication is in the normal brick-and-mortar Studio. The example I always give is that in a normal brick-and-mortar Studio you may have conversations with other people in the company, but you usually do that in small groups where other people aren't available. Unless you were part of that conversation around the water cooler you don't know what they were talking about and so now there's actually a lot of communication missing that nobody knows is missing in a brick-and-mortar studio

In a virtual Studio we put all of our communication into slack channels. Pointedly we don't really allow people to have meaningful communication about game projects in private channels. We force them to do it all in public group channels. What this means is if three people are having a long involved conversation about some part of the project later on somebody else might come on and see this conversation. Now they can read through the whole conversation and realize that there's something these people were talking about that was wrong or that they need to know about in a way that doesn't usually happen in a brick-and-mortar studio.

helianto3 karma

Hi! I'm working from home for the first time, and I'd like to know how you develop the relationships among your team when working virtually? I find that some of our exchanges are super long, and not as collegial as they would be in person.

boomzap7 karma

One big thing is we don't allow anyone to disrespect other people in the studio. That's the fastest way out of my company. People give ideas, give criticisms - but they focus on the work, not the people. Once you have a culture like that in the studio, people just... assume that's whats expected, and they treat each other with respect.

But we also have some channels in slack for conversation outside of work. We have an industry channel where people share industry news, and discuss things game related. We have national channels for Philippines, Singapore, etc - where they can discuss life issues facing them (How do I get better internet? Look what I cooked for dinner! etc.). Over time, you just develop into a community.

But it didn't happen overnight. We built our culture over... 15 years. And we have removed anyone from the studio that didn't play nice with others. Very quickly. The people left... they've been through floods, volcanoes, hard times, good times , and now a fucking plague. They're kinda like a big extended family now.

pranjal30292 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA,

What are your thoughts on India as an untapped good and cheap talent pool

Talent pool as in, have you thought about hiring or working with people from India? Have you had people from India in the past?

Tell us

boomzap4 karma

Obviously India has good people. They have like 17% of the world population... SOME of them must be good, just by sheer weight of numbers. :)

But in all seriousness, the problem with hiring Indian workers is that the world knows they make good coders. And so the world has set up huge multinational centers that hire a LOT of them in places like Hyderabad, Bangalore, etc. If you are hiring in India, you're competing with Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. And as a small indie studio, I have a challenge competing with... Google.

You are also going to deal with infrastructure issues in a WFH situation. Power going out. Internet going out. etc. The big data centers who have people working in an office can afford big trunk lines, generators, etc. to make sure these problems are minimized. Some guy working in his mom's spare room in Chennai... less so. Of course, we deal with this in Indonesia and Philippines as well. And Malaysia to a lesser extent. It's a cost of doing business in the developing world.

That being said, we have has people in our studio from both India and Pakistan in the past, and they were great.

iaskquestionssorry2 karma

[deleted]

boomzap2 karma

Actually our turnover is... really low after they have been here 6 months. We shake out a lot of people in probation as they realize this way of working/living isn't for them. But that's fine - this isn't for everyone. And we all part ways happy when we agree they're better off in a different structure. We have started doing sort term contract work (Make this asset, etc) before probation to test working with people before probation, and that has lowered our losses in probation a great deal.

Once they get out of probation, our retention is super high. The first 2 people we ever hired, 15 years ago - are still here. Most of our current staff has been with us 5+ years, actually. This isn't based on some concept of loyalty - thats not really a thing for us. They don't owe me anything. It's the oposite. It's my job to ensure that working with us is the best option for them. Because of the freedom our system offers, the quality of the people they work with, and the reasonable pay... most people find it difficult to leave.

The few who have have usually gone on to start their own companies (and remain good friends of ours) or to freelance work at home or jobs with other virtual companies like ours. The number of people who have left us willingly to go work in a brick-and-mortar studio is incredibly low.

As for trusting them with assets/code... they could steal just as easily from us in a normal studio. Thumbdrives are a thing, yo. :) And in general, it's a small industry - doing shit like that would make it very, very hard to get work again - and they know it. And equipment... what are they gonna do? Pawn it? Meh. If you can't trust your staff to not sell off your iPads given the chance... you have bigger problems to worry about. We assume our staff are decent folks, and largely, they act that way.

Guritchi2 karma

How do you consistently find new clients to support the operations?

What are your core streams of income?

boomzap2 karma

Lots of game conventions. Lots of networking. I travel. A lot. This is actually the hardest part of the corona for me - I am having to adjust a lot of that into virtual meetings, etc. - and not everyone is as used to this as I am... so it's been a bit of a challenge.

Core income? We make games, and sell them - either directly on places like Steam, Big Fish Games, and Gamehouse, or we do co-development with publishers who handle distribution.

joshykc2 karma

Hello from Malaysia!

Am a game designer for 3 years+, sometimes lead projects and in project manager role as well. What was the longest project that you've worked on before. And how do you monitor or handle the motivation of your team during projects?

boomzap9 karma

Longest project... maybe 2.5 years? Some of the old AAA things I did were usually 2 years and change. Most of the stuff we do now is more like 8-12 months. I guess our strategy games are pretty long - I think Last Regiment is well over 2 years at this point. Strategy games... they just take time to make. More than I ever expected. Smaller teams, longer schedules - that's what I have learned about strategy games. Keep them super lean early on, and really get the mechanics down before throwing a bunch of art at them.

As for monitoring motivation... I kinda don't. I'm very fact-based in what I do, and just speak to the problems. This is where a lot of managers cock it up - they make things personal. "This person isn't doing a good job" or "this art is ugly" - etc. - it's never good to go that way - people get their hackles up. And once you're there, it's hard to walk it back.

Instead, focus on the problem "Our players don't respond well to this art" "The players can't understand this bit of gameplay, and it's upsetting them" - now it's not a personal thing. It's all of us, on one side of the table, looking at a clear objective problem. It's not MY opinion - it's a FACT. This thing isn't working. We need to fix it. Who can help? Looked at like that... people see the project as a constant improvement... and that keeps them, if not happy, at least feeling like things are progressing. Or at the very least, they know they are part of whatever is happening to fix it.

Norgeroff2 karma

What color is your toothbrush?

boomzap2 karma

Is this a reddit thing? Like the burrito thing they had before?

manolobilalo2 karma

What are your thoughts on the global pandemic and how it might affect games in general?

boomzap9 karma

Well, in the short run, this has been a great couple months for game sales. We have a captive, bored audience and games are a good way to pass time. Some publishers are recording 150% or more sales. But I hope they are socking all of that money away, because it won't stay like this. The longer this thing goes on, the more people are going to lose income... and as they start tightening their belts and thinking more seriously about how they will buy food and pay rent with 3-4 or months of no income... they are gonna buy a lot fewer Candy Crush lollipop hammers. And we'll feel that contraction hard. And small indies will likely take the brunt of that, as people gravitate to buying fewer, bigger games.

Over the VERY long run, I think this will be transformative in bringing more people into games. We're al;ready, by revenue, the largest entertainment industry in the world... and this is going to just make us that much more mainstream, as more and more people figure out that playing games is just a more fufilling way to spend time than watching another damn episode of Kim Kardashian's Erotic Island Adventure - or whatever the hell other trash they are vomiting out on the TV these days. You can only binge-watch Netflix so long before you need to take a shower and rethink your life choices... Games offer so much more in terms of socialization, interactivity, and new meaningful experiences. People will come out of this virus thing remembering that we're the thing that kept them from going bat-ass insane.

Aurashutters3 karma

How has the pandemic affected your studio itself? How did your business model already being work from home change the impact of the pandemic on you and your staff?

boomzap11 karma

Well, one thing is for sure - people aren't telling us how our model is impossible any more! As recently as February, I've had publishers tell us flat out "We're not comfortable working with a studio that doesn't have an office" - an email that has aged poorly. Now it's the opposite - I get questions every day about how we work. And suddenly, a lot of people want to work with us. But I can't say I'm happy about it. I really wish thousands of people didn't need to die to prove our point that you can work from home successfully. It's a shit way to make a case.

That being said - it has affected our staff - many of whom are struggling with the issues of a hard lockdown in Manila. While they can still work from home, they are fighting the same fight as a lot of people to get food, medicine, etc. - and we pray it doesn't continue to get worse.

One of the most fascinating parts of this is because we have staff across asia, we're comparing notes daily - how are things in Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia... I feel like our staff has a very global perspective on what is happening.