Work in a startup

I am still trying to find the time to get my post on the 12 principles of animation sorted out. But in the meantime, I thought I’d post some thoughts about working in a startup.

Namaste "office"

Recently I started working with a company called Namaste. We’re a small privately funded company working on AI-based socially oriented online games technology. It feels very different working in a startup to my experiences working for Team17 and my own indie stuff. The fact that there are other people around and working on the product makes it feel different than working by myself on my indie projects. The fact that we’re basically living in a house in London and working remotely sometimes makes it feel different than working at a more established studio.

I often encounter people (and we’ve interviewed a few for Namaste recently) that have this strange image of working for some huge corporate like Blizzard, EA or Disney/Pixar. Somehow for many people the ideal work environment is to work on sequels for a corporate machine, rather than to pursue a new, although admittedly riskier venture.

I once had a discussion with a well know AAA studio owner about how he came to be boss of the company and he told me something like (to paraphrase) “I just couldn’t imagine allowing my potential future to be dictated by the whims of someone else”. What he said has stuck with me ever since, because it really speaks to the heart of why I think smaller studios often produce better results. Ultimately, the type of person who is interested in working for a start-up (or building one) at least has a vision to follow. Not a profit and loss statement on a balance sheet to fill with profit to account for shareholder dividends.

Of course indies constantly push the boundaries with new designs, but there is a limit on the amount of effort and reward with truly indie development. My own indie games were always too grand for my own ability to deliver them in a reasonable time frame. So working in a start-up with a few more people opens up many avenues to finally pursue the ideas I’ve long harbored for my own games.

There are downsides to working at a startup though. Primarily the age old funding issue. Luckily we have someone who is willing to help with funding (and finding more) which definitely eases things a touch. The other major issue is simply that nobody actually wants to take the risk of working for an unknown developer on a reasonably ambitious project. Ultimately the bigger effort has been simply gathering people who are ready to take that risk and finding a good mix of experience and enthusiasm.

Strangely enough, it feels like finding quality artists with a solid level of technical ability and the required enthusiasm for pursuing something aesthetically off the beaten track is actually far harder then finding programmers and designers. Maybe there is something about the way artists are taught that drives them towards wanting to reproduce existing work rather than forge a new style? Perhaps it is also an issue of maximizing the potential to be picked up by a bigger developer and only wanting to work for a well known entity? Frankly, I think there’s some value in working for a larger company for most people in that you learn wether you enjoy the corporate world and structure (and whether you enjoy modelling only noses for footballers for years). But ultimately, I still don’t quite understand why more artists aren’t a bit more self-directed and willing to explore.

Anyway, there’s undoubtedly more blogging to be done in the future about the trials and tribulations of this particular start-up. Hopefully at least some of it wont be about crunching on products that are massively over ambitious.

Til next time!