People like to throw around phrases like ‘the new normal’ when it comes to things like remote working.
And it’s true that something new is happening – the pandemic forced game devs around the world to switch to remote working almost overnight.
But is ‘new’ really going to evolve into ‘normal’ in the long run? Over two years on from the lockdowns, is remote work going to become the norm for studios?
Let’s take a look at the arguments for keeping remote and flexible working around for game development services – and the arguments for getting back to full-time office work.
The cons of remote work (and the case for turning back the clock)
Although more and more studios are adopting remote work policies, there are plenty of people arguing that remote work is only a blip on the radar. These arguments usually boil down to three issues:
- Remote working could cause delays – According to a survey from April 2021, 44% of developers said their game suffered a delay due to the pandemic, mostly due to complications that resulted from remote working. In an earlier survey, devs talked about the difficulty of getting set up to work remotely, getting used to new ways of working, and struggling to do the kind of on-the-spot problem solving they were used to. (Of course, these delays might not be as inevitable as many studios think – but we’ll get to that later.)
- Remote working isn’t for everyone – The digital side of game development is much easier to do remotely nowadays, thanks to some leaps forward in cloud-based development and a raft of advanced game development tools. But those who work with physical hardware like test consoles and dev kits will need to either have the hardware shipped to them or head into the office to do the lion’s share of their work.
- Culture can suffer – So much of the culture of game studios is based around having everyone in the room – getting to know each other, working late nights together, heading out for drinks to celebrate the end of a busy period. When some or all of the team are working from home, studios have to think much more carefully about how they can create these moments of connection.
The pros of remote work (and the case for keeping it going)
These arguments sound persuasive, but there are also very real benefits to remote work.
- The industry becomes more accessible – Parents can use the time they would have been commuting to drop their kids off at school or help them with their homework. Neurodivergent people can adjust their work environment to make it easier to focus. People with health conditions don’t have to force themselves to make it to the office every day. All of this means studios suddenly have access to a much wider, more diverse pool of talent.
- People are free to work the way they prefer (and productivity goes up) – If they prefer to work in their pajamas, or need to get up and pace around the room every five minutes to maintain their focus, devs can do this without worrying about disturbing anyone or looking ‘unprofessional’. The result is, in many cases, happier employees and a big boost in productivity. It’s hardly surprising that one study found that WFH could lift productivity by 5% in the U.S.
- It could be the antidote to game dev burnout – Cutting out the commute gives game devs a bit of extra time in the day to devote to hobbies, exercise, and self-care – all the things that make life richer and help to combat burnout. When you consider that most game studios are currently battling burnout on a staggering scale, remote work starts to look very attractive.
How do you get remote working right for game devs?
To reap the advantages of remote work, studios will need to think cleverly about how they can overcome some of the pitfalls we covered in the first part of this blog.
So, what does it take to get remote work right in the video game industry? How can you make sure you still deliver outstanding games on time, without causing burnout in your team?
Shift to a hybrid cloud dev model
This one’s a no-brainer; if you want your people to work together while working from home, you’ll need a pretty strong strategy for cloud game development (and the infrastructure to back it up). You don’t need to commit to cloud completely – many studios use hybrid cloud optimization models that allow them to run some processes in the cloud while working remotely and use some on-prem compute resources for other tasks. Hunt around for cloud optimization services that work for you and can help you scale fast and collaborate smoothly without driving up costs.
Get the right tools in your toolkit
First, you’ll need a tool that’s built to accelerate game development in the cloud, without driving up costs. Unsurprisingly, we’d recommend Incredibuild for this: it’s designed specifically to acceleratecloud-based compilation by spinning cloud resources up and down on the fly to meet your demand. That means faster C++ dev cycles and more iterations – so you can develop faster, deliver quality games, and lower costs, even while working remotely.
Once you have that foundation in place, you can look for other game development tools – from top game engines to animation tools like Houdini FX – that are built to make specific areas of game development faster, smoother and more efficient. The latest updates to Unreal Engine 5 (UE5), for example, are going to be huge for remote teams, giving devs the power to deliver truly breathtaking games faster than ever.
Get DevOps best practices in place
If you’re not already using DevOps practices, this is your sign to take the leap. By helping your team focus on the stuff that matters, monitor performance closely, and cut down on errors and downtime, DevOps practices help you work faster and more efficiently. And, it’s also lauded as an excellent way to combat burnout in game dev teams.
Think carefully about your culture
Culture building and mentorship are still possible while working remotely – you just have to be more intentional about how your people build relationships with one another.
Think about how you can create opportunities for your people to spend time together outside of work. Talk to your team to figure out how often you want people to be working together in person vs. remotely, and how you can find a balance that protects your people from burnout without making people feel isolated.
Remote work is here to stay
As far as we can see, remote work is here to stay for the game industry. It offers way too many benefits – for both studios and employees – to throw in the towel and go back to old ways of working.
So, all those headlines were right: remote work probably will become the ‘new normal’. Now it’s up to studios to make the most of it.