While we have managed to succesfully slow the spread of coronavirus and we’re cautiously preparing to pick up our daily routines again, staying inside is still saving lives. As working from home will stay the norm for the foreseeable future, we caught up with some of our bigger local studios to hear how they experienced this change of pace.
“Things went really smooth”, says Jeroen Janssen of Leuven based studio Happy Volcano. The team stopped coming into the office a couple of days before the government enforced it. “Since it’s all digital anyway, that wasn’t too big of a shock.” Kevin Haelterman of LuGus Studios in Hasselt has a similar story. “A week before the lockdown, we swiftly transitioned to working from home. I didn’t want to risk putting the team in danger of contamination while commuting to the office.”
Communication is key to make everything work. Both teams start their day with a morning call where everyone explains what they’ll be working on and where they could use a hand. “This is no different from the stand-up meeting at the office, only now it’s taking place online.”, explains Janssen. Throughout the day the team uses modern communication tools such as Slack and Discord to share work and help each other out. Happy Volcano organises a second call in the late afternoon to see how things went, team members at LuGus use written reports to keep track of their progress.
According to Janssen, the biggest downside of not being physically at the office is not being able to see what people are up to and as such not being able to give instant feedback. “Sometimes we notice during the second call someone is going into a different direction than we anticipated, or maybe has misunderstood certain things.” Not having on the spot team discussions about certain issues is echoed by Haelterman, who also mentions missing the team dynamic and banter between coworkers. With a lot of physical events cancelled, promoting the upcoming console versions of Liftoff has proven a lot more difficult as well.
Working together is more than writing code and creating art assets. It’s also having a good time together while doing that. Haelterman: “Working from a distance, I notice that the work part definitely takes the upper hand. I feel like my team is working harder and longer now than before. That’s a precious situation to be in, but at the same time I have to make sure everyone is keeping it together and not getting burnt out. I appreciate you really want to polish your work and you have the time to do it, but sometimes I really have to tell people to just stop working.”
When asked what the biggest takeaway from this whole situation was, Janssen answers that he’s happily surprised people are able to do quality work no matter where they are. Haelterman stresses that trust in your team members and good communication are vital to make things work. Both teams didn’t have a teleworking system before but aren’t opposed to allowing people to work from home more often when this particular crisis has blown over. Haelterman adds: “Since this has been a huge success for us, we’ll probably keep working like this far longer than is required, just to be on the safe side.”
While there are certainly grimmer stories out there, it’s clear that the nature of game development allows studios of a certain maturity to wither the storm of a global pandemic more easily than other creative sectors. Haelterman: “Now is the time for game developers to show the world they can stand their ground. Now is the time to convince decision makers to invest more in game development, so we can grow and more people will be able to keep going when the next pandemic rolls around.” Let’s drink to that! It’s past five and you’re probably home anyway.