Art Director at Roboto Games Yezi Xue discussed the studio's approach to education, spoke about their hiring practices and ways of avoiding burnout, and talked about the company's working culture.
Hi, I’m Yezi and I am one of the Art Directors at Roboto Games. I went to school at Ringling College of Art and Design and majored in Computer Animation. I worked with the co-founders of Roboto Games at their previous studio, Popcap San Francisco, and was invited to join the Roboto Team.
Work Organization at Roboto Games
Our group is composed of gamers and industry stalwarts. We’re organized by the usual teams you’d find at a video game developer: Design, Engineering, Art, and Production as well as a Platform team working on some top-secret tech! And even though we focus on our specific disciplines, everyone contributes design ideas to the game. Since we are mostly a remote company, we communicate with each other on a daily basis via Slack and Zoom. Some of our team members are local and meet up every so often to work together at our office, based in San Mateo, California.
We also hop on a video call together every Friday for a couple of hours to play multiplayer games. We even have a “game of the month” club that allows us to really go deeper with games as a group. We also have biannual onsite meetings where we fly everyone out to the office for a week to go over specific projects and spend time as a team over good food, and fun activities!
Hiring New Specialists
In addition to skills and toolsets specific to an artistic role, we always value Art fundamentals such as the understanding of composition, use of value, shape language, and visual hierarchy. Mastery of these Art principles translates into every aspect of Game Art, be it concept development, creating 3D assets, or UI/UX design.
Maintaining a positive, inclusive company culture is one of the most important things for us at Roboto. Therefore, the soft skills that we look for are empathy towards your teammates, the ability to communicate with them clearly, and have strong opinions that are weakly held. What that last one means is we want our teammates to have strong, educated opinions about the game we’re making, but allow facts, and new information to change those opinions. It takes practice to get better at these soft skills but we’ve found putting them to use every day with a team that is receptive to them is the best way to become a pro in no time!
Every day we have a virtual standup with the whole company where we share the usual “what did you do yesterday, what are you up to today” but also we each share a fun personal thing. It could be anything from “the dogs had a good walk this morning” to “I’m getting married!” It sounds like a small thing at first, but it leads to so many conversations and surprising shared interests which is especially great for beginners here. We also play games together as much as possible!
Of course, we’re always playtesting the game we’re making but we also have Mobile Mondays and Happy Time Fridays. Mobile Monday is where we all pick the same mobile game to play over a week or more. Think of it as a book club where we play a game individually and report back to the group. This allows us to really get into a game as a group and talk about what did and didn’t resonate with each of us. Happy Time Friday takes place every Friday afternoon where we play a multiplayer game in real-time as a company. We play games that have a hook or interesting mechanic that we want to share with each other. This not only helps inform us about the game we’re working on but lets us come together as gamers and friends, let our guard down a little, and have some fun!
Our health and well-being are prioritized straight by our co-founders. They’re the first to remind each of us that we’re running a marathon, not a sprint. One tactic we use to remind us of that fact is our daily standups, where everyone at the company participates. This isn’t just to let folks know what we’re working on but also to let others know how we’re feeling and how our mental and physical health is going. And because we’re a small, tightly knit studio, the Art Directors and even the co-founders are just a quick IM away in case any one of us needs to talk, vent, or share a concern.
Also, we focus on scoping our work appropriately to promote realistic goals. Lots of folks here have experienced first-hand the burnout that comes with unrealistic expectations at previous companies. And now we have a chance to use those lessons learned to help ensure we don’t experience it again!
Artistic Freedom and Approach to Education
At Roboto Games, we promote a very collaborative work culture. We try to make the best product together as a team in a no-ego environment. Everyone is welcome to voice suggestions and concerns or promote new processes while stakeholders in each discipline make the final decisions. Through this process, we ensure we are making a game that everyone on the team is excited about while not being bogged down by analysis paralysis.
Roboto sees education and career growth of all its employees as critical! This year we’re rolling out a $500 annual education stipend for each employee. This can be put towards anything from online courses to books that will level up an employee’s skills.
We’re also lucky to be headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area where a ton of development conferences are held each year. Though we typically can’t afford a ticket for ALL our employees, we have a pretty good system for sharing tickets for folks passionate about certain topics. All we ask is that the person attending a session comes back and presents their findings to the team so we can all learn! When one of us benefits, we all do!
On top of that, all our discipline leads have regular check-ins with their team members where they discuss nothing but that team member’s goals, well-being, and career path. We’ve found that we have to carve out time for this explicitly because it’s so easy for team members to forget their long-term (and even short-term!) goals.
We are building a leadership team in-house so we are looking for senior-level artists with lots of game experience. We want experts that can take charge of their specific disciplines but are also comfortable collaborating with other departments.
At the end of the day what really matters is how well you treat other people. We are a team and your coworkers need to feel comfortable brainstorming together or sharing feedback with you. Team culture is very important at Roboto Games; we just want to work with badasses that are nice!