The Beamdog team, the developers of the 80s cartoons-inspired game MythForce, has told us about the studio's teams and hiring practices, shared some thoughts on managing burnout and avoiding crunches, and explained how they create a welcoming culture at the studio.
Trent Oster, the CEO of Beamdog: A programmer by training, Trent and a few friends started the game company that eventually spawned BioWare between the 3rd and 4th year of his computer science program. Before moving into production, he was doing 3D and Technical Art for several years. Trent was also the Art Director of the 3D department for Baldur's Gate.
Eric Booker, Art Director at Beamdog: Eric Booker began his career in the UK. His initial break into the industry was via a QA position with Gremlin Interactive. From there he went on to be a Junior Artist in the same studio. He spent time working at Infographics, Swordfish Studios, and Capcom, and then moved to Canada to work for Longtail Studios, which was later acquired by Ubisoft.
Eric spent 9 years at Ubisoft before joining Beamdog. Eric is entirely self-taught in 3D Art. When he started, there weren't a lot of game development training programs available, particularly in the UK. Eric joined Beamdog because of his interest in the unique art style of MythForce.
Eric Booker: We have concept, character, environment, animation, VFX, and UI art teams who work together to form the total Art Team at Beamdog. Our teams pair up with other departments to feed off of each other’s creative energy and promote cross-team communication.
Our Art Team runs an agile scrum model of work. Organized by production, individual teams weigh in on what is achievable, then milestones and deliverables are broken down. Morning stand-ups assist us in keeping connected virtually. Since COVID, Slack and Discord have been instrumental in assisting our team in communication.
Hiring a New Specialist
Kara Brown, HR Director at Beamdog: Beamdog has spent a lot of time and resources in the last few years to create what we believe to be a world-class recruitment experience. When a new hire is requisitioned, our recruitment team works alongside the hiring managers to ensure that we intimately understand the roles and responsibilities needed for the position so that we can find the right person for the team.
For us at Beamdog, we would rather hire someone who does not have all the technical knowledge needed for a role but is a great fit with Beamdog in terms of values alignment and fit within the organization. It is easier to train into skill sets and mentor staff into new positions rather than to teach values and culture alignment. In particular, our values of Agency through Accountability as well as Craft quality are at the core of our decision-making process when it comes to hiring artists.
Our hiring process consists of 4 distinct phases, which include a candidate pre-screen with our HR team, a technical art test to assess skills and creativity, a panel interview focused on technical and art skills then culminating with a values-based interview where we speak about the candidates' values, and get to know them as a person along with sharing Beamdog’s values to ensure we fully know any candidate selected to work with us.
Eric Booker: What I value as a Hiring Manager is raw talent, which is hard to find. I will prioritize someone new to the industry who can display a portfolio that is well-rounded and considered over in industry experience and a mediocre portfolio. Showcasing passion and creativity can prove a candidate has the "it factor" that makes them stand out from the crowd.
Creating a Welcoming Culture
Kara Brown: At Beamdog, we start to build relationships with our new hires well before their first day. Utilizing our HRIS software, we send candidates an onboarding package that includes information about the new hire we can share with our studio members to get to know them. We also work with our managers and team leads to develop an onboarding schedule document shared with new hires. This outlines the candidates' experience throughout their first three months so new hires clearly understand what is expected of them within their new role. We lay out week 1, month 1, and month 3 goals which they will work with the team to achieve.
New team members can expect to be set up with several onboarding meetings including meet-and-greets with team members and managers, HR information sessions, DEI and training information meetings, and more throughout their first month. We also utilize slack to check in with team members often throughout their first few weeks and to organize virtual coffee dates with employees across the organization.
Because we are so picky about culture and finding the right people for our team, we found that our workforce naturally takes the time to reach out to new hires to give them a warm welcome and get to know them. When people are engaged and involved in their team, they have the natural inclination to make others feel welcome.
Eric Booker: Within the Art Team, we try as much as possible to ramp up slowly, so new hires have time to acclimate to our process and develop connections within the team. We value inclusivity within the Art Team, ensuring new hires are welcomed to all meetings such as morning stand-ups and company-wide meetings.
Thoughts on Burnout and Crunches
Trent Oster: The core of managing burnout comes from good project management controls and healthy project planning. We plan work that we actually accomplish. Working with our team and involving them in planning and scheduling their tasks to ensure estimates are reasonable is the key to great project planning.
Kara Brown: We understand that crunch culture has been a hallmark of game development and that is not a culture we want to propagate at Beamdog. Work-life balance can be different for each individual, so we work with team members to find the balance that works best for them.
We utilize a flexible work environment, in which team members can work with their leads to figure out their own schedules that fit their needs, as long as work is completed. If overtime needs to be done, which is not often, we ensure that any OT is voluntary, and constrained by internal controls so that it is within reasonable limits.
The Freedom Factor
Eric Booker: Freedom is something we actively encourage on a daily basis. In the past, I’ve worked with Art Directors who have a "my way or the highway approach". Ultimately this doesn’t generate a fun environment to work in, you feel like a cog in the machine. I want my artists to have creative freedom as long as they can align with the project's core pillars and style.
We work hard to develop an environment where people are comfortable enough to share their opinion and feel like their contributions are valued.
Kara Brown: We absolutely consider freedom an important part of our environment. We can enable freedom at work via our reliance on our core values; Particularly our value of agency through accountability. By promoting trust within our teams, then holding each other accountable for our work quality and deliverables we can create an environment where individuals are encouraged to participate on a much larger scale than they might be able to within larger studios.
We want our people to feel empowered to suggest new processes or to try something new. While Beamdog has been around for 13 years, we are a studio that is still learning and growing. We are open to suggestions and are humble enough to realize that we have a lot of growth potential ahead of us and look to add people to our team that will challenge us to continually improve.
Approach to Education
Kara Brown: We feel it's important to involve our employees in their own career planning and training. We start with employee and manager 1-on-1s. During the monthly 1-on-1 meetings, employees and their leads can discuss career paths and utilize our internal career matrices to guide skill development. We have training request forms where employees can request training themselves ensuring equitable access to training resources, both internal and external.
Eric Booker: We are also looking forward to future projects and what skill sets will be needed as technologies change and new opportunities present themselves.
It’s important to identify where people succeed alongside where they can grow. I encourage managers to utilize 1-on-1s to listen to the artists and pay attention to what they need, even if the individuals don’t explicitly know what exact training they want. If you can get to the core of what they are interested in, where they need to grow, and what is important to the studio's growth you can find great training programs to fit your needs.
Trent Oster: COVID built our comfort level with remote work, although it challenged us to find new tools and ways to collaborate. It helps that we display a high level of trust in our employees. People join Beamdog because they want to make great games, not just put the time in on a clock. When people care about and are passionate about the games they are making, they are internally motivated to proactively communicate and find new ways to solve problems.
Kara Brown: One amazing thing about COVID was that it challenged us to look at our considerations around remote work. Even before the pandemic, we offered remote work and flexibility within our work environment. However, during COVID, we greatly expanded our recruitment efforts to be nationwide in Canada, which gave us access to an immense network of fantastic artists outside of our immediate location in Edmonton.
Tips for Aspiring Artists
Eric Booker: Treat your portfolio like a job. Continuously update your portfolio and show your work and your progression. Within your portfolio don’t just share high-res images, show your work within the engine(of choice), show your UV maps, initial sculpts, and such.
For environments, be upfront as to what pieces are yours vs. what textures, props, and pieces are from the marketplace. Do your research on the studio and the teams within them. Find out where you align with their goals and values because that is what will ultimately make you a good fit at the studio and define a long and happy career within that organization.
Trent Oster: Show that you can build a variety of content, at a high level of quality. Focus on content that is directly applicable to your skillset and to what you would like to do in the industry.