Hi, I'm Ian Fielding. Over the course of the past couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of being the Studio Head at Super Evil Megacorp and, working with an amazing group of leaders and talented developers, I’ve been accountable to drive us from a single product studio focused primarily on Catalyst Black to a multi product studio working on TMNT: Splintered Fate, our upcoming Rebel Moon co-op action game, an AAA cross platform game, with more brewing! In the past I’ve been through a similar process, helping work on League of Legends at Riot Games, and then working to help the transition to a multi-product studio acting as a Senior Manager on Valorant.
Evolving into a multi-product studio is an enormously challenging effort, and it’s one that many studios often struggle for years with, and sometimes never make it to the goal of multi-product. However, the benefits are significant if done well as it offers an opportunity to provide more player value, more opportunities for talent growth, de-risks being reliant fully on a single product's success, and more.
My hope is by sharing a few learnings from my experiences shepherding this evolution that I can help studios more readily support their companies' growth and avoid some common pitfalls in the process. While there may be some exceptional cases to these lessons, I’ve found them to be critical learnings for our evolution and success transforming into a multi product studio.
Lesson 1 - Snowball your learnings
This is one of those lessons that seems like common sense, however I’ve often seen ignored. When you build a game you spend an immense amount of time aiming to understand the target audience of players you are serving. You build up valuable product, design, and tech capabilities as you take on a specific genre too. Being able to leverage these learnings by building in a similar product category has massive benefits in being able to build better games over time for your players and also is often more cost effective.
While it is easy to let the new hot genre mash up or popular game genre trend influence your next title, really think through the cost of pivoting away from an area you’ve built expertise in. As an example, at Super Evil our mission is to create amazing shared gaming moments, all of our titles focus on the Action category, are live services, and have co-op play so players can have memorable experiences together for the long haul.
Lesson 2 - If you can’t get folks excited about the opportunity internally, don’t move forward
Before you start building a new title, and definitely before seeking additional capital (whether from Publishers, VCs, or existing games revenue) you should make sure you’ve been able to socialize and defend the opportunity you see in the market and get advocates in the company excited. If you have a couple of leaders very passionate about wanting to start incubating a new title, but you have many team members who play similar types of games and they are not excited about the pitch, that should be a major warning sign for you to pause ahead of building.
Similarly, if you can’t clearly articulate a strong hypothesis around why this title will stand out in the market, and what you want to de-risk in RnD to help validate that further, you should tread very carefully starting incubation. It is very easy to get excited with a snazzy looking pitch and a couple of passionate leaders who hype the idea and start rapidly prototyping. However, having these leaders take a humble approach and solicit feedback up and down the org around who their audience is, why they hypothesize players will want to play the game, and a plan to test that early on in RnD is extremely valuable. It also, when done well, helps build up relationships, partnerships, and excitement within the org.
At Super Evil, incubation teams exploring new titles speak with leadership, designers, team members well played in the product space, and as they solidify their thinking will even present their idea to the whole company in our regular all hands. They create forum(s) for anyone in the company to ask questions and give input around the pitch, ahead of us writing even a single line of code.
Lesson 3 - Cell divide versus creating fully brand new cells when kicking off incubation
One of the challenges when kicking off new products is protecting your organization's values and cultures. Something I am particularly proud of is the culture and values we have at SEMC (see our values and how we work here). We spend a significant amount of time aligning on these values, iterating on them as a team as we learn and grow, and our leadership team works hard to model these behaviors. We believe having a healthy culture and clear values is a key ingredient for our success. While you can screen for culture and values in interviews (and I recommend this, and we do this at SEMC), it is also extremely valuable to have existing talent who are ‘cultural champions,’ be a part of new teams. These team members help ensure that key values you feel are important parts of how you work as a company remain consistent throughout your teams. This also makes it a lot easier for talent to swap projects in the future if a particular project needs their skill set, or based on their interests, or for career opportunities, etc.
As an example at SEMC we have a very transparent culture, where you can playtest and give feedback on any product we make, we have artifacts (key documents) very visible and accessible regardless of folks’ titles, and put an emphasis on wanting everyone to feel like they are a game maker first and can influence changes to any game regardless of their specific craft or title. This can clash with certain leadership styles and ways of working, and so for us it is very important to both hire in culturally aligned talent AND have existing talent we feel embody these values to help be a part of kicking off new titles.
Lesson 4 - Be hyper mindful of leadership favoritism
As you evolve from a single product to a multi product studio one of the biggest challenges is that everyone in the company goes from being laser focused on serving a particular audience, all working together to make the best game possible for them, to having team members having more distinct focuses on different games. In order to help ensure that the company still feels like one greater team, even if folks have different games they're working on, leadership needs to set an example and model the behavior they want to see in the company.
A few examples of this, but not an exhaustive list by any means, is that leadership should stay informed and semi-regularly playtest all products being developed. Praise should be consistently given to all teams, without one product feeling like ‘it gets all the love,’ from leadership. Even if your products vary in team size and business impact (e.g. revenue) efforts should be taken to communicate why all projects are strategically important for the company. The same talent bar for hiring should be upheld consistently across the board to avoid an ‘A vs B,’ team scenario. Related to this, compensation for salary bands should remain consistent across teams to avoid it feeling more valued to be on one team vs another.
Lesson 5 - Recognize stumbles will happen, keep a problem solving oriented attitude
Lastly, making the leap from a single product studio to a multi product one is very challenging. There are tons of issues that will arise in the process, and the journey will not look the same for all studios. A few of the challenges we’ve faced, and are still working through in some areas, are things such as: How do we balance knowledge sharing across projects from subject matter experts versus their direct day to day work on their titles? How do we maximize the amount of tech that we build for our engine and backend that all teams can use? How can we better prioritize focused roles we hire for as multiple teams have strong talent demands? This is just a few issues that we encountered and are still working through.
One saying I’ve aimed to evangelize in this process is to turn stumbles (and sometimes frustration) into opportunities. As an example, when we’ve realized we really only have 1-2 people who have the skill set to solve a problem it's also presented an opportunity for us to recognize we need to train up more individuals (or hire in) more folks to be able to also become subject matter experts over time in that area. Or when we’ve had challenges prioritizing bespoke tech needs, we’ve taken a step back and looked at if there is a way we can extend existing tech or find a way to build systems that benefit all of our products saving us time in the long run.
Evolving from a single product to a multi product studio involves tons of elements. This piece focuses more on some of the cultural, leadership, and product considerations. However, there are many other areas around pitching new products, financing and publishing deal structures, how to approach RnD, etc that we’ll talk about more in the future. I also wanted to call out that at SEMC we have been fortunate enough to have incredible investors and publishing partners (both announced and unannounced) and it can not be overstated how much these partners have been a part of and key to our success. In the interim ahead of sharing more updates, you can always reach out to [email protected] also send me a DM via LinkedIn if you want to talk shop.
Good luck in your game making adventures, and if you're interested in joining SEMC for your next adventure don’t hesitate to look at our open roles here.
Studio Head / Super Evil Megacorp