Boomzap Entertainment is a game developer that creates casual games for the PC, Mac, Wii, iOS, and Android platforms. It is behind some of the most successful hidden object puzzle adventure (HOPA) games such as the Awakening series, the Dana Knightstone series, Otherworld: Spring of Shadows, and Botanica: Into the Unknown. Registered in the USA and Singapore, Boomzap has 70 developers based in Singapore, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia. Boomzap producer Gabby Dizon lines up some of the most important practices that keep the Boomzap Entertainment’team happy and their virtual game studio running smoothly.
There are plenty of benefits to having a virtual office. For Boomzap Entertainment, it has enabled us to recruit the best game developers from pretty much anywhere in the world. We also have minimal overhead, which makes sure that the company is very financially lean and can weather tough times in the game industry.
However, not everyone can imagine how to make a virtual studio work. Boomzap has been virtual since day 1 in 2005; it seems hard enough with five people, let alone seventy (our head count at the end of 2012). In the past seven years, we’ve evolved and tweaked our practices as the company has grown. Here are our top five practices that help us run our virtual studio efficiently:
1. Company culture is priority #1
While this is true of all companies, it is even more important in a company where none of you see each other face to face and everybody interacts with everyone else from behind a computer interface. Having a shared company culture ensures that people are aware of the company’s goals, and are going in the same direction with their individual contributions.
2. Real-time team interaction is the key to successful projects
A key to Boomzap’s success with online teams is having a chat client with a team room function. For years this was done over MSN, the only popular instant messaging (IM) client with a persistent team function. Groups were organized by projects and disciplines so that people were interacting in real time with the teams they were involved in. Team members can also jump in and out of groups depending on project assignment or interest. The company has since moved its IM to HipChat, but the principles stay the same. The company also moved its documentation from Microsoft Office to Google Docs to allow real-time collaboration of documents by team members.
3. Have constant, immediate feedback on yesterday’s work
Boomzap has two iron laws: Daily reports (each team member posts a daily report on work done for that day, for everyone to see) and daily builds (all projects have a new build every single working day, no exceptions). Because of this setup, the team can immediately know if someone is contributing slower than expected or if there are problems in the games being developed. The game is also constantly being tested by the team members to make sure that the daily build is fun and bugs are immediately seen and reported. The daily builds are also sent out to our publishers, so they know at any point in time the progress of our projects.
4. Invest in the right tools
Are you managing your virtual team completely by email? If so, you are probably doomed to fail. Boomzap has a wide range of different tools (some free, some paid) to ensure that people are working together productively. These range from: IM (HipChat for team chat, Skype for voice calls), Basecamp (project management), Google Docs (real-time document collaboration and task tracking), SVN (code repository), Dropbox (asset repository), and our own file server to host our daily builds. Don’t be afraid of paying for online tools if the financial rewards of the team’s success far outweigh the tool’s cost.
5. Meet up once in a while
While we love working virtually from anywhere in the world and will never have a centralized office, Boomzap team members like to meet up once in a while for coffee, lunch, or the occasional big meeting where people fly in to talk about important projects in the company. The founders (one lives in Japan; the other, Singapore) regularly take the time to fly out to the different cities where the team members are based, to get to know everyone on a personal level. This social, personal interaction reaps dividends when the team goes back to working virtually on an everyday basis.