Kinda Brave told us about social and ecological sustainability, shared its mission, and talked about the balance between money and values.
My name is Björn Rudolfsson, and my background is that of a lawyer with a life-long interest in gaming and a former board member of Bad Yolk Games. I am one of two co-founders, the other being Kristofer Westergren, an entrepreneur who previously headed the board of directors at Sharkmob. We have a top-class team with experience in AAA, platform, and, of course, indie games. Our management got its experience from such places as Mojang, EA, and Raw Fury.
The Beginning of Kinda Brave
We’ve all seen that it’s not always easy being the small guy. As a small indie team, we sometimes experienced a lot of pressure, sometimes even from ourselves, we needed to be a swiss army knife. Besides game development, there’s important legal stuff, HR, recruitment, financial stuff, and much more that you’re expected to manage just as well. We essentially thought, what if a publisher did more than short-term project funding and support on releases, where we help with that other stuff too and allow studios to focus fully on game development?
We started working on this model where studios band together permanently under a publisher, where all resources are shared together, with the added benefit of the studios being able to cooperate and inspire each other more freely. So the group owns the studios, and the developers own a part of the group. By pooling resources together, each studio can stay small and tight-knit, exchanging know-how and inspiration to eveyone's benefit.
We call this mix of small teams with big ideas, running indie development in an environment with more structure and support systems, Hybrid Indie. And with more resources at your disposal as a small team, you’re able to afford some new perspectives and ways of thinking – that’s where our leaning on sustainability comes in, where we provide teams with what they need, like a sustainability officer, to take things to the next level in terms of how we impact people, players, and the planet.
Current Projects and Partners
With our business model being centered around long-term commitments, the you trust us – we trust you sort of vibe, we don’t necessarily operate as a traditional publisher. Studios, publishers, support – we’re all the same team. It means that besides the stuff you’d expect us to look at, the games and ideas like any publisher would, we’re perhaps even more interested in the creators behind it all. Their values, passion, and long-term ambition. Yeah, this game sounds cool, but what about the next? What about 10 years from now? Who are you as a studio today, what do you want to become and what do we need to do to get you there? However, the way we get in touch with creators to kick off discussions doesn’t differ too much from our competition.
We’re launching with three studios. There’s Ember Trail, a studio made up of experienced developers that like to put player creativity at the forefront. There is also Tic Tek Toe, a small game development studio focusing on systematic gameplay and technical experimentation. Then there’s Dinomite, a mötley crew led by Bowie, a small dog with a big personality. The games for Ember Trail and Tic Tek Toe are yet to be announced (coming soon), while Dinomite is working on a vibrant 1-3 player hack and slash set in hand-drawn environments called Go Fight Fantastic! that just got an updated trailer. The releases will run from Q2 2023 onward.
The Company's Values and Mission
An extremely big topic, but our mission is to build stable, safe places of work for indie developers, where each decision made considers its impact on people, players, and the planet. There’s climate change: how are we contributing to it, and how can we reduce our carbon footprint here and now? Especially as a small team, good basic decisions add up to a lot over time: keeping air traveling to a minimum, picking sustainably-minded suppliers, looking into powering offices with renewable sources of energy, etc. But the big impact actually comes from players of our games. You look at their power consumption, for example. That’s on us, and we try to work on ways of reducing that, looking at how we can encourage good habits. Once you’ve tallied all emissions up, which our friendly sustainability officer runs calculations on from day 1, our group goes in and takes care of offsetting for everyone, making sure that every game release is climate neutral.
With so much focus on the climate, many forget that there’s a dimension to social sustainability too, how you treat other human beings. And when you look at small teams, you realize that from the beginning, they have a huge impact on human lives, their employees in particular. So we make sure there are enough resources for fair working terms, salaries, proper insurance and pensions, wellness grants, ergonomic work equipment, and much more – all long-term investments into the people making games.
We look at our industry and see that, for example, only 21.4% of workers in Swedish games industry are women, but “we’ll hire more women and non-binary people” becomes naïve. You start looking at what you can do to encourage more underrepresented groups to join the industry in the first place, that they see it as a viable career path and that those already in it get their fair shots. As an example, we’re working with DONNA, an initiative at the University of Skövde dedicated in large part to increasing the number of women and non-binary people in our industry by encouraging them to join game development education more.
You look at gamers that number over 3 billion today and take into account that around 15% of the world’s population is estimated to be living with some sort of disability, with charities such as AbleGamers stating that the number of disabled gamers in the U.S. alone may number around 46 million. And you realize that there is a lot you can do to make your games more accessible for those groups. So we’ve set out with an ambition to become a trusted publisher for gamers living with disabilities, setting a constantly evolving minimum standard of accessibility features for our games and investing in Accessibility Champions – developers that are sent to training and certification in accessible game design. These are just a few perspectives.
The Balance between Money and Values
We’re always very clear about this part. We’re a business. If we don’t sell games, we won’t be able to pay salaries and work with these groups of people. We would not survive. That requires revenues. At the same time, we believe that creating safe, inclusive places of work generates more interesting perspectives and creativity, good decision making. It will hopefully allow us to attract and retain more talent, who might also vibe with what we’re about as a group and not just the project they’re currently working on. We think that our investments in these areas will yield better games and some extra attention, which in turn will lead to better sales. In other words, while we happen to hold these as personal values as well, we don’t have the luxury of always doing things just out of the goodness of our hearts. We’re living in a world, operating in an industry right now, where we believe efforts into sustainability are both welcomed and commercially viable.
The Hiring Process
We’d be happy to revisit this topic later this year. The reason is that we’ve just started a process to become the world’s first LGBTQI certified games company. Our whole publishing staff along with management at each of our studios will be undergoing a 6-month certification process with inclusivity training, in collaboration with RFSL, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Rights. As part of that process, we’ll learn about not just LGBTQI terminology, perspectives, and issues, but also about perspectives based on sex, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and age. One outcome will be an action plan for our recruitment processes, which will be applied by the Talent Acquisition Manager that we’re searching for right now. Even after we’ve finished that process, naturally, we’ll always keep an eye on soft values in recruitment so that you find our way of doing things interesting and compelling.
In any organization, running projects, especially complex ones surrounding game development and publishing, you will run into bumps. And at any job, there will be times when putting in an extra hour can make a big difference. But crunch culture, where it’s just in the walls and expected of you, that’s where you’re on a slippery slope. We think that there are generally very few places in the industry today, though we anecdotally know of some still existing, where crunch is openly accepted.
So in an industry where that’s the case, where everyone is saying the right things but you’re still getting the kind of accounts and stories that we’ve been seeing in recent years, you ask yourself, why would you be any different? If we just applied our own knowledge, why would that be better than the knowledge applied in the largest, most successful places in the industry?
So we took a different approach and turned to research. We found a researcher at the University of Borås, who had written a paper on crunch in the games industry and started collaborating with him on some internal policies. Some of his research findings verified that crunch is primarily caused by poor management and unreasonable deadlines, as well as that you should never start treating crunch as a normal occurrence. So naturally, we try to see what we can do in those areas, planning for delays, where it becomes obvious how important it is to have skilled planners and seasoned producers.
In 2022, we’re looking to expand our group with another 2-4 studios, so we’re interested in getting in touch with people not just in Sweden but everywhere, including talented developers who’ve always dreamt of starting a studio, who’ve felt that the barrier of entry is too high. If that's you, visit our website to pitch your studio.
This year, we hope to talk more about those joining us, announce more of the games we’re starting to roll out in 2023, and communicate more about our quests over at Sustainable Gaming, a website we’ve set up for our initiative to make sustainability issues in our industry more transparent and more easily communicated. We’re also excited to be able to announce a huge project relating to our physical office space real soon. It’ll be very cool.