One thing you were talking about with trying to figure out a hiring methodology for yourselves is that you find talent is more important than expertise. I agree with that to some extent. One question from me would be: how then do you manage those people and teach them the actual things they need to do?
JT: We value experience a lot; we just don't set it as a hard-and-fast criterion. We have a lot of people in key lead team positions that have been in the industry for 10, 12, or 15 years, and there's tons of value in that.
For us, it's important because a lot of these people have more experience than we do! I'm not going to tell our lead animator who's been doing this since the '90s how to animate something.
We don't tell people what to do that know what they're doing; instead, we learn from them. Experience is great; it's just, again, we don't look at it like "This person doesn't have the experience, so they don't fit into our company."
JS: Yeah, and you just trust them with different levels. For somebody that's newer but that shows a lot of promise, you'll give them a little less leash than you would somebody with a little more experience.
You just always see job postings, and it's like "Must have five years of being a game..." and it's like, who cares? I'm a high school drop-out. Whatever; who cares?
JT: In terms of seniority, we would never hire someone out of school and make them a lead. It doesn't work that way. Our seniority system is definitely based on your experience and what you've done, but it's not as strict as other companies where they're like, "Okay, if you haven't worked in the industry for seven years -- it doesn't matter how talented you are -- you're never going to be a senior." If somebody works for us for two or three years and they're doing what a senior's doing, they become a senior.
JS: Even if they're just out of high school or whatever.
JT: (Laughs) You just want to hire your clone.
JS: I do want to hire a clone; that would make life a lot easier.
If you were having trouble previously with hiring the right kinds of people, that sounds like, to some degree, it's an issue of management. If those issues persist, how do you work on improving these people or building them up or giving them guidance?
JS: The number one thing is attitude, and that's why we listed attitude as number one. You can be the best programmer in the world, but if you have a bad attitude it doesn't matter. So all of the people we hire, we make sure that attitude is the most important thing. The people that are new are teachable.
We have a mentorship style. We're a pretty laid-back company. We're not like hard style: "This is your mentor; you must listen to him. In six months, we'll evaluate how you're doing." It's all pretty organic. Again, it's just trust: "I believe in you because you show a lot of promise. Obviously, I'm not going to make you a lead, but you'll have this job. You'll start, and we'll see where you go. If you don't make it, we'll try to work with it." We give people tons of chances.
JT: We're not big. We're in a much better position financially as a company. We can offer people more than we could five or six years ago.
JS: You're a different company as a start-up.
JT: The attitude thing is really key. We've always looked at talent. We've always been able to recognize talent. We haven't always been able to pay for it; that's changed. But with attitude, we've always been able to recognize attitude; we just didn't care as much. But now there's no compromise.
JS: You just learn. Starting a business, you just learn things. As a manager and owner, you learn what to look for. It's funny because the Hybrid team -- most of them are new. We have the Scribblenauts team; they're doing other stuff. The Hybrid team is pretty new, and they all gel together really well because we look for the same passion and the same attitude along with the talent. It's very important.
With the vision-oriented design you're talking about, it almost sounds like you've got to have a sort of auteur-oriented thing going on -- because you're saying "Don't design by committee." How do you have that kind of auteurism when many of your games are very user-generated content-oriented? Really the end result of the game is pretty much built by the player in many of your games. But how do you feel about the duality of auteurism versus player impetus?
JS: I'm definitely a big proponent and believer in auteurism for certain people; if it makes sense, it makes sense. We just happen to have a really talented team where our technical director and, on the art side our creative -- we all gel really well. We all kind of know what we want to do. There's no egos -- that's probably the biggest thing, having no egos.
Then, on the player side... It's funny because people come out saying that "Oh, you make a lot of user-generated games." We don't set out to do that; it just happens. We never had this meeting where we said, "User generation's hot. We need to get into that." It's never happened! It's just like, "Let's make something cool. This is cool, and this is interesting; let's go do that." For some reason, user generation has been big in our games. I can't actually explain it; it just happens.
JT: Seeing how many games are successful in that vein lately is pretty interesting: Minecraft, obviously.
JS: LittleBigPlanet was pretty successful.
JT: Insane, yeah.
JS: I think it's all the technology. Back in the day, you just couldn't do certain things that enable people to have those kinds of experiences, and so you had to create much tighter experiences. Now, the code can handle that. I'm not a computer, so I'm speaking high-level.
JT: Yes, those guys are all crazy.