The Skyhook Games team have told us about their work organization and approach to hiring new specialists and explained their strategies for avoiding burnouts and creating a safe working environment.
Skyhook Games' Work Organization
At Skyhook we have three main areas of operation. We are a service provider catering to clients wanting art and co-dev assistance, we create DLC for existing game franchises, plus we create our own IP. We have the core disciplines of art, code and design ring-fenced within each of these areas, with support services like QA, production, finance, HR and marketing sitting around them.
We use the usual tools to organise our projects that a lot of other games studios use, such as Jira, Confluence, Miro, and Trello boards, and we are always researching new software.
As a company, we ensure all teams and team members are able to communicate with each other across the company, no matter what project area they are in. Skype works well for us (yes, we know we are dinosaurs!) and we have multiple group chats set up to share information, both work related and informal. As a hybrid employer, we also have online meetings and communicate by email, of course. In addition to this, we have a monthly internal newsletter that goes out to make sure everyone is kept in the loop and updated about various projects and company information. This has been really effective in making sure our remote and hybrid workers still feel as much as part of the Skyhook team as those who regularly work from the studio.
Hiring New Specialists
Alongside the pre-requisite skills required for the role we are recruiting for, our core values are to be “supportive, reliable, thoughtful and passionate.” We therefore look for these qualities when hiring new staff members as part of the recruitment process. Soft skills such as teamwork and communication are particularly important to use as we pride ourselves on having an inclusive culture, we want our staff to bring their whole selves to work. Whenever we ask people what the best thing about working for Skyhook is, the answer is invariably, “the people”, so we look for candidates who will be a good culture fit, as well as just technically competent, to ensure that our welcoming and open culture is upheld.
Creating a Welcoming and Safe Atmosphere
All new starters receive a personalised induction to ensure they have a positive introduction to the company, including being assigned a ‘buddy’ to help guide them. We try to arrange the induction to be on site where possible, even for remote roles, to get that initial personal interaction with the team. From the first day they are set up on the internal systems, shown an overview of the current projects and pipeline of work they’ll be working on and welcomed on Skype. This allows all staff to send welcome messages and beginners to feel included from the start.
The first few weeks are pretty light, just allowing the new starter to settle in and find their feet. We do regular checks to ensure new starters are feeling settled and part of the team.
Strategies for Avoiding Burnout
Skyhook Games has always offered flexible working practices and passionately believe in a no crunch culture. We use the many years of project planning experience in the production team to make sure we map out attainable goals for both the client and our internal teams. There are, of course, the inevitable blips here and there, but we strive to minimise them to the best of our ability.
We offer flexi-time, regular social events and an open door policy to encourage staff to be open and relaxed about discussing how they are feeling. As an organisation, we confidentially check in with staff who seem to be struggling and see what solutions we can provide. It might be that we need to break down tasks into smaller, manageable sections so they don’t seem as overwhelming, or offer training in either soft or technical skills to help them overcome any challenges. Staff are always encouraged to leave their desks and go for a walk during the day to clear their heads and keep movement going. Our Head of Studio is a mental health first aider and we also provide an Employee Assistance Programme which offers a range of wellbeing support and a 24/7 confidential service to all our staff.
Approaches to Freedom and Education
We are always open to new workflows, strategies and ideas. It is essential for our growth as a company and as individuals. Learning new techniques is one of the most exciting aspects of being a 3D art company, and we encourage all the artists from the newest graduate up to the grizzled art director to share their opinion.
”We are always open to new workflows and software that is best for the Job in hand, even as a veteran artist, I will ask the younger staff for advice on new techniques they have learned. If an artist can justify why they are proposing working a certain way, they are free to use their own process.” Jon Greenwell, Art Director.
We have numerous informal Skype channels dedicated to research and development where artists can share new ideas and techniques. We review regularly and fold the best into our pipelines. Regular formal performance reviews are carried out with the staff, part of which allows them to share their ideas for shaping their own career progression and the company.
All permanent Skyhook staff have a training budget assigned, which allows them to access and choose bespoke training that will benefit them in their role. We also have an external L&D Consultant who is in the process of setting up bespoke training for us at the moment, including Leadership and Development training.
As a company, we have a clear matrix for each department so everyone knows how they can progress and grow within their own roles, with regular performance reviews allowing staff to agree their own objectives. Mentoring and guidance is provided to everyone, with staff promotions and achievements being celebrated to encourage people to continue their own professional development.
Skyhook Games offer annual salary reviews and pay performance bonuses, which we feel works to reward and motivate staff.
Joining the Team
As one of our specialised areas is creating content for Sim games, which require a high level of accuracy when modelling from reference, observation is an important skill to have. We often see artists who can make a very well-crafted model, but it doesn’t accurately follow the reference. We think it is linked to the fact that over the past few years, more artists are coming through with very little in the way of traditional drawing skills. Having the technical aspects of modelling is great, but drawing is a great way of teaching yourself the observational skills that technology can’t give you.
It’s important to think of the story of an asset, how it has been manufactured, how it has been used, where the wear marks on it would be. Considering all of this will help with the believability of the asset in its environment.
When looking at portfolios, seeing the development process of a piece is always interesting, from reference gathering to sculpting, it can show the artist’s thought process. I always like to see the wireframe. Just because we have thousands of polys now, doesn’t mean they should be wasted where not needed. Every polygon used should count towards the form of the piece.
I encourage our artists to challenge themselves to build low poly assets (under 500 polys) as this forces them to consider the forms of an object and what is important in making it believable.