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The home office has proven to be nothing like working in a game development studio. Here are some stories of how developers are dealing with working from home.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

May 28, 2020

5 Min Read

So you're working from home now! You have your remote workstation set up, you and your partner have coordinated childcare, you hop into a video call for a morning standup --- and as soon as you start talking, your cat hops on your desk and vomits up a hairball. 

Or maybe your kid runs through the office naked. Or your coworker has somehow cloned themselves in their Zoom background. Regardless, working from home for many game developers has truly turned into an emphasis on "home" --- a space designed for rest, relaxation, and child-rearing, now has to share space with a professional work environment. And it shows! 

During our reporting on how developers are grappling with the onset of COVID-19, we took the time to ask what unexpected surprises have emerged on video calls. Here's a few of the notable stories we heard.

Evolving the video chat experience

The developers at Phoenix Labs have found a few creative ways to make video chats interesting. Per VP of operations Jeanne-Marie Owens, one VFX artist recorded his office background and turned it into a zoom background as a gif. This looked normal --- until a version of his own head popped up from underneath his desk, and he would push it back down in meetings. 

The team's also used Zoom to maintain the studio's Magic the Gathering meetups, and continue meetups for women at the company that previously took place in person. 

And at Netmarble, one employee has done his best to cheer up his teammates by swapping costumes every day. 

The kids are now coworkers

As we've mentioned in much of our reporting, game developers must now ship product while working alongside their kids. Some developers said their kids would be focused on schoolwork, or otherwise wouldn't bother them. Others have now seen their coworkers' children run through the room without any clothes on. 

"I really love it when people's kids streak naked in the background of a video all," Owens said with a laugh. "I think probably my favorite moment is when a parent is on a call, and you're having a conversation, and all of a sudden they go on mute. And you can see them talking off camera, and you can't hear what they're saying, but you know what they're saying."

"There's just that look on their face like 'I'm in a call!'"

Owens noted since she herself is a parent, it's an expression she know she puts on when her own two kids decide to see what Mom is doing at work. 

Tequila Works CEO Raul Rubio pointed out that the very microphones helping developers keep in touch with the studio are incredible at picking up the noises of life at home. "There’s no sound cancellation system capable of isolating dogs howls and calls for love, or kids screaming, complaining and begging for something super important and critical, like a cookie or just saying 'I love you,'" he explained. "They are adorable"

Blizzard's director of Global Internal Communications & Philanthropy Kamini Tiwari and Global Philanthropy Manager Brittany Tompkins that the COVID-19 pandemic happened to overlap with the first year the company would be implementing a proper Take Your Child To Work Day program.

Since quarantine measures re keeping employees (and kids) at home, the company recruited Blizzard alumni Chris Metzen, veteran art director Samwise Didier, and other developers to introduce kids to the Blizzard workplace with activities that suited a range of different ages. 

"'Learn and grow' is a core value at Blizzard," they explained. "We invest in learning opportunities for our employees, and this program is a great way to extend that to their children."

Metzen and Didier's respective experiences helped show how different kids have different needs in programs like this --- Metzen volunteered to read Snow Fight, a Blizzard-licensed children's book, while Didier prepared a number of basic tutorials for crafty kids to draw their own Warcraft character. 

Pernicious Pets

Game developer pets of course, have raided the workspace, unaware their owners are hard at work entertaining thousands or millions of players. What need have they for DAUs and KPIs? The bed next to the workspace is where they clean themselves, and they will do it, even if a team of developers is watching. 

This of course, is what Hyper Hippo Studio studio head Tristan Rattink's cat did during a very important meeting. "I noticed everybody started chuckling on the call, and of course, I'm just looking at everybody and not noticing and they start laughing."

"I look back and Chewie is bathing themselves full on, and not like, a little face bath. Like the worst portion of the bath. Leg straight out, full groom."

It was kind of a realization point for Rattink. "I guess this is life now," he remembered saying to himself. 

After Rattink relayed the story of this fastidious feline, Emma Bullen, also of Hyper Hippo, jumped in with her cat's behavior. "He barfed on my feet during a meeting," she deadpanned. 

One developer at Netmarble shared a photo of their cat camping on their nice warm laptop---moments after hanging up on an important video call. 

Since dogs are perfect and never do anything wrong, this other Netmarble employee allowed hers to join the team on important conference calls.

And meanwhile at Failbetter studios, editor Oliva Wood has been documenting her budding friendship with a local... squirrel. Its names is Chops, for an astounding set of muttonchops it appears to be sporting on its cheeks. 

Is your studio coping with quarantine in a unique way? Let us know via e-mail at [email protected].

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