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Building a New Studio: Square Enix Montreal
by Lee Singleton on 05/26/12 09:40:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Building a New Studio: Square Enix Montréal

When I was offered the role as general manager of a yet to be opened studio (what is now Square Enix Montréal), it gave me a double shot of both excitement and adrenaline-pumping fear. On one hand, it was the chance of a lifetime as I would be part of establishing a brand new studio, which is both liberating and inspiring— defining what type of studio it will be in both vision and development projects; on the other hand, while I already have general manager experience at Square Enix London Studios, the pressure would be all on me (at least initially) to lay the right foundation for a successful studio. With all of this running through my mind, I took on this challenge wholeheartedly and defined the cornerstones needed to make an industry-leading  studio.

Making great games is hard, very hard. So, in designing and building out a new studio, we need to do everything possible to make our jobs as easy as possible. For the last 20+ years I've specialized in working with independent studios, so I've had a lot of exposure to different teams, learning what works well and what doesn't work so well. 

The most valuable asset in any studio is the people. It doesn't matter how good your technology is or how great your space is, if you have the wrong people, you will fail. So many people talk about making AAA games, but very few have done it or really understand what it takes. 

This is why we are pulling together a team with a disproportionate balance of experienced domain experts who know what it takes to build great games – and we will complement this team with younger, fresher talent who are fearless, helping us to discover new things and push our boundaries.

For me, it’s essential to gauge how passionate and motivated people are to do their part in establishing the studio. I always ask in interviews (I guess the cat’s out of the bag!),”What would you do differently or change if you got to start over again?” This is quite a powerful concept and it sometimes catches people off-guard. Often, when you join an established studio, you have to fall in line with the way they do things.

Some studios do things a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always done them and changes can be hard when a culture has been set for a long time.  Here it’s different, we’re creating a new culture, new processes and new ways of doing things and there’s a rare opportunity to legitimately make a difference. It’s essential to find people who embrace change and have passion – these are important, inherent things that we can’t teach!

On top of this, there is no substitute for the experience of shipping games. When I shipped my first game as a developer, I thought I knew everything, but in reality I only had exposure to one way of doing things and I quickly learned there were different solutions out there.

Shipping one game gives you a key to one lock, while shipping twenty games gives you a great big bunch of keys that fit many different locks.  Often you find a small core in a studio that makes the difference; some call this the 80-20 rule or the Pareto Principle, where 20% of the studio does the bulk of the work – I want to change this by growing our pool of talent who can make the right decisions and get stuff done.

Next we need to make sure we can work together. Multidisciplinary teams collaborate on big problems and it only takes one person to smash the team dynamic and send that part of the project spiralling toward failure.  This is a real priority for us. We see some super smart people with all the right “hard” skills, but patchy “soft” skills and in my book soft skills are just as important.

So our people are number one priority, another important factor is where we work, it needs to provide the necessary components for the teams to deliver great things. We have a theory here, where we think people’s equipment and desk set-up at work should be better than what they have at home.

Today, we’re in a temporary space while we are designing our final studio location, but we’re trying to build this around our people and we have some strong goals around what we want to achieve here. I want people to smile and feel good about the studio space when they enter it every day.  Some smart thinking on our part will help us build a space where people will want to spend time, and a competitive environment that makes our jobs easier, while promoting what we do and what we believe in.

Today, the team is still small as we need to ensure we hire the perfect team members, but we’re growing at a steady pace and making strides in reaching our key studio milestones. We’re in the always exciting conception phase of our very first game—a brand new Hitman title—but I very much look forward to the days when we move into our permanent space, reach our 150 capacity, and start full production on the game.

Be sure to look out for monthly blogs on Gamasutra from me and other Square Enix Montréal team members about our progress!


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Comments


mike madden
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Exciting times. Good luck to you all in your adventure.

Tony Celentano
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"The most valuable asset in any studio is the people." I wholeheartedly agree and I think there needs to be a better coder-to-gamer ratio in studios, I've noticed coders have a general disdain, or perhaps even inability, to truly think like a player before they could peek behind the curtain. I think if coders have too much input in a game's direction the game will begin to focus on great mechanics, but there won't be a substantial gameplay experience.

"itís essential to gauge how passionate and motivated people are to do their part in establishing the studio" YES. I can easily tell when people just want to get on-board a marketing project for the money, and when they're actually motivated and passionate about getting the games out there.Thanks for this fantastic article :)

Marcin Pospiech
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Good luck, Lee! :-)

Pascal Langdale
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"All the best endeavours succeed when three things are satisfied: The right time, the right place, and the right people. " Don't know who said that but it's stuck with me, and popped into my head when I read this. I'll be interested in reading more about your team's progress. Good luck.

Simon Ludgate
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Since you're in the unique position of setting up a new studio, and point out the critical importance of being willing to embrace change, I was wondering how you planned to address the need for knowledge and information exchange between very different specialists and very different teams. Do you see this largely as a technology problem, that if the right tools are available knowledge will manage itself, or do you see this as a broader people-oriented problem, that requires studio-wide buy-in and infrastructure?


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