My company, Convict Games, just released Stone, a stoner noir. It was built by a team located all around the world, in just a year and half, which is incredibly fast for game development. I directed our team from Helsinki along with 3D work by Mixu and Audio by Mikko in Finland; our animation came from Joe in Melbourne; 2D from Ivan in Moscow; and business operations by Sarah and Matt, in College Station and Canberra, respectively. A lot of people think remote work can slow people down and be too much work. I’d disagree and say it speeds things up if done right.
My background is originally in film VFX, where I worked on blockbusters like Gravity and Prometheus and in which global teams is the norm. Every major film’s VFX today is made from places like Mumbai, to Vancouver, to Wellington, to Sydney, to Bejing, and more. On Prometheus I worked on the VFX in London, we had roto and more in Bangalore with work also coming from Wellington with others. In VFX it’s understood that using the time zones provides for faster productions, and VFX supervisors play to the strengths of global companies. After my experience, I had no fear in using great talent located in opposite time zones. If anything, I embraced it and made the most of the 24-hour work cycle around the globe.
So how do you how do it?
1. Find your time zone sync points
When do you start working you’ll need to find out where your time zones meet for each remote working person. For animation, it was my morning and Joe’s afternoon. What that meant was when I started the day, Joe would have animation dailies to be reviewed. When he started work, I could have any files he needed ready, too.
Rather than working in parallel, working separately meant I could implement his animations, give feedback, and see the return the next day. For Sarah in Texas, it was late afternoon. So for every person on your team find the sync points and go from there make the most of the 24-hour work cycle.
2. Trust each other
For each person involved on Stone, we had no mutual connection, and for some it was their first video game project. I researched their work online, went through lots of candidates and selected them based on their online portfolios. In order to ensure we could work together remotely and we could all trust one another, I gave each candidate a small test. This let us see if we could work will with each other, and within the necessary pipelines. For Ivan in Moscow, his art portfolio was amazing, and has such a cool style, that I asked for a small test. He over-delivered. Same with Joe and Mixu for animation and 3D. I let them work, and gave them deadlines we agreed upon and let them deliver.
Sometimes, the silence of not knowing if things are being worked on as a manager or no seeing people on site is difficult, but the entire team delivered, and it came together well. So if you have a solid remote team, you need to trust them and their work. Otherwise once again you’ll slow them down and compromise their work.
3. Unblock your team
In the case of Stone, if someone on the team needed something to continue their work, and it wasn’t done, the work stopped. For sound designer Mikko, I was often slowing him down, so I always made sure we had other things to do, like sound effects, ambience, or even music-mixing whenever my speed impacted him. With remote work, it’s about letting people do their work unhindered. So if you ever block some work, be sure to have a alternative plan and to enable the others to push forward. It’s not easy, but once you’ve cleared their paths, they’ll power through when you’re not working or off.
So if you find some great talent in a far-flung location, don’t be afraid jump at the opportunity. Find your time zone sync points, test them out, trust them, don’t block them, and you’ll make games or any project work better and faster. Plus your projects will get an worldwide influence you might not otherwise get.
Gregory Louden is an Australian writer / director, game designer and Academy Award winning VFX and feature animation technical director based in Helsinki, Finland.