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Tiny Roar's Working Culture & Approach to Hiring

Co-Founder of Tiny Roar Maurice Hagelstein has told us about the studio's culture, detailed their approach to hiring new team members, and discussed Hamburg's game development culture.

Introduction

Moin. My name is Maurice, and I am the Co-Founder of Tiny Roar. Tiny Roar was founded by Robert, my best friend since teenage years, and me in 2015, after we worked for other game companies in the past. Our goal was to create an environment where we would have loved to work at, with people you are looking forward to work with each day.

I actually studied Asian studies, so I could work for Nintendo, but simply was not cut out for learning 100 new words a week and quit after my second semester. But since I was five, I've always wanted to become a game designer. When I switched schools, I met Robert, who wanted to become an art director. After many detours, we are here now, living our dreams. I can’t stress enough how thankful we are to be in this position.

Work Organization at Tiny Roar

Self organization is key for smaller teams, IMO. We currently have 2 teams working on 1 project each: Lou’s Lagoon and Wanderful. Rob and I are overseeing one project each, but generally everyone in our studio gets involved with every project in the long run – but we want people to focus on one thing at a time to not burn themselves out. So, we get everyone together once a week for show and tell, encouraging discussions between teams.

Apart from this, we work relatively old-school. We have daily standups and use Notion for planning and documentation and also Discord for quick communication, as not all members are in the office every day.

People have to estimate their own tasks, and we try to figure out how to become better at those estimates together. Miscalculation is not a problem at all as long as we try to get better, and we all know that game development NEVER works exactly like planned.So we encourage making mistakes, instead of mongering fear of failure.

Game Development in Hamburg

I would describe Hamburg's gamedev culture as collaborative, chill, and creative. I came from Cologne to Hamburg for my first gaming gig and stayed here because the city and the people are beautiful (not as charming as people from Cologne, though).

We have so many cool studios here and everyone is eager to help each other out. The Hamburg Indie Treff is always packed, and the Gamecity Hamburg is doing an incredible job pushing this city to be one of the best, if not the best, to make games.

Current Projects

If you look at our portfolio, we were never a studio that did THAT one specific thing. This is something really amazing and challenging at the same time.

We did plenty of casual mobile games to earn enough money to keep the studio afloat, then we did online multiplayer games like Bomb Bots Arena and Hellfire. After that, we did a single-player action-adventure, ported countless games, and are now working on two cozy games.

Each game has one thing in common: everyone wants to make it feel special. If we would do a dating sim (and I’d really love that) we would love to make it as approachable for all audiences as possible and show that we loved working on this. But we learned, in order to become better and more efficient, that we have to reuse tech and our adapted knowledge better. Plenty of lessons from XEL have been very influential in the development of Lou’s Lagoon, for example. We don’t want to be a studio that only does one genre, but of course we’d love to master a mechanic that translates to many things down the line.

Hiring Practices

I guess everyone says this, but everyone in the team is handpicked, and it is really important to us that everyone vibes together. We don’t like to promote an atmosphere where everyone has to be family or friends. You should have that outside of work. Nonetheless, we want everyone to be respectful and share the same values. To make sure everyone feels welcome.

In terms of skills, it is always helpful, if you want to join a smaller studio like ours, that you like to wear more than one hat. Specialists are awesome but especially when doing the last 10% of a game, everyone needs to do things that are outside their comfort zone. If you have an attitude about that, you should go into a bigger, more anonymous studio.

We are eagerly looking for more diverse talent right now. A big issue in the industry and we would love to break that cliché, but when we have a job opening, 99% of the applications are male.

Rob and I wrote a studio bible right after founding the company that everyone in the team is welcomed to challenge or improve. In that “bible”, you can find plenty of rather obvious rules or ways how to do games at our studio, but even an intern should call out bullshit in that. The world changes fast, and video games even faster. And as mentioned before, communicate your fears, worries and challenge the status quo – if you want. We have regular feedback talks, and you can always approach anyone at any given time.

Avoiding Burnouts

We track work times. Not to control people, but firstly, because we legally have to (EU FTW), and secondly, to see if someone is amassing too much overtime. We have a strict no-crunch philosophy and when games need more time, management is always at fault by default, never the employees. We are the ones approving the planning etc., so our team should only worry about their tasks, not their future.

We allow people to take paternity leave, extra vacations, etc. as long as it is communicated properly and early enough, so we can plan ahead. All of us work in games out of a passion, but that passion should never become like the Passion of Christ. We want people to grow old, healthy, and happy, and maybe still working with us.

Approach to Education

We can’t afford big education programs, but we are always willing to support everyone to push into new territories or hone certain skills. When those are applicable to the projects running, that is even better, and we will try to make it work.

Sadly, in Germany, we lose a lot of seniority to other industries since ours is not as established here yet (!), and therefore salaries cap at a certain level if you don’t land a big hit. So people leave and all that knowledge is somewhere else suddenly.

If you would like to join Tiny Roar, send out a portfolio that shows off what you can do. How versatile you are. We are not interested in that one single image that you spent three semesters rendering. We want to see what you can church out in masses and when you have more time. Again, we are not looking for specialists, but people who can adapt styles and collaborate.

Maurice Alain Hagelstein, Co-Founder and Game Director at Tiny Roar

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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