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The 'equal pay and equal say' structure of the game dev studio KO_OP

The 'equal pay and equal say' structure of the game dev studio KO_OP

March 12, 2019 | By Alissa McAloon

“This studio, this company, exists to support the people who are part of it, not the other way around.”

-KO_OP co-founder and studio director Saleem Dabbous discusses the goals and orgins of its unique structure. 

Waypoint has published a story on the indie developer KO_OP, exploring the studio’s unique co-op-like management structure that bestows equal pay and equal power to each and every dev it employs. 

It’s a studio structure that many have discussed in recent memory (including KO_OP itself in a 2018 GDC session), and one that naturally has its own benefits and detriments. The model itself is something more and more devs are speaking highly of too, like the recently founded workers co-op The Glory Society and Dead Cells dev Motion Twin.

In short, KO_OP operates its studio as a workers cooperative meaning that all members of its staff are paid the same, no matter their tenure, and all have an equal say in the big decisions that other studio structures might leave only to those higher up on the food chain. 

“One team's success is every team's success,” says studio co-founder Saleem Dabbous. “Fundamentally, if you choose to work here, you are agreeing to that kind of arrangement, where we are all working to find a way to make game sustainable for the whole company.”

The story points out that the system itself isn’t flawless. One dev interviewed points out that there’s an adjustment period borne from the sort of hierarchical business structures most people have been exposed to in some degree since birth and that, though the studio hopes to mitigate it, crunch is still an occasional part of the job. 

But, argues Dabbous, “by being owners, when we fuck up and do have to exploit ourselves, at least we are benefiting from the fruits of our labor. It’s not just going to another person who gets to fire us at the end of the day.”

The full story over on Waypoint dives into the origins of KO_OP’s co-op, and touches on how the 10-person team has navigated around their own preconceptions about the employer/employee relationship to adjust to the unique management style. 

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