Kwalee's TA manager Michael Hoppitt told us what the company does to maintain and keep a collaborative and open work culture, shared how the company tackles employees' stress and manages burnout, and spoke about the COVID situation and how it affected the team.
Hey there, I’m Michael Hoppitt, and I’m the Talent Acquisition Manager at Kwalee, working with a talented crew of recruiters and HR professionals here at Kwalee. I worked as a recruiter in the health industry for 10 years before joining the games industry just over two years ago. I’ve worked my way up in recruitment roles, rather than going through a traditional university route, with a REC Certificate in Recruitment and a Level 3 Associate Certification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), UK. I joined the team when there were just three of us, and Kwalee overall had only 50 people. The Talent Acquisition team now has 10 people and is still growing, and our studios now have over 250 people worldwide.
Our structure and culture combine the best of an experienced games studio, with the can-do approach of a startup. Our teams have clear roles and responsibilities; associates work alongside their mid-senior managers, who directly report to the Head of Departments. We have eight different departments, some of which have sub-departments.
That said, there’s a lot of freedom to approach people from other departments. Let’s say that a member of the Publishing team wanted to pitch an ad to promote one of their games. They are empowered to talk to and work closely with someone from the Creative department. As for any potential speed bumps, we trust our team to handle them and come to their managers for support when they feel it’s necessary.
We primarily use Slack to communicate messages and alerts. But we also have an intranet system that’s also our own social media of sorts. It’s tailored to build relationships within the company. So our employees can write blog posts about their interests, catch the latest company news, and celebrate each other’s achievements.
There are many projects that I’m proud of, the biggest one being the team successfully hiring and scaling up our Bengaluru office, which we opened in late 2020. We developed all new candidate sources and pipelines, partnerships, and recruitment methods. We had to develop our marketing, and branding and adapt to make us an employer of choice for people and communicate how great it is to work at Kwalee. This all helped us to fill the office with lots of talented, enthusiastic people who are playing a massive part in Kwalee's success.
Hiring a New Specialist
We like to think that each person at Kwalee is the best at what they do. Each role has a specific skill set, and we look for people who can provide evidence and demonstrate that to a high degree for each particular role. We don’t always need you to be the finished article though; if you’ve got great potential we love to help develop people to be their best.
To maintain and keep the collaborative and open work culture here, we look for people who value working with others, being open and honest, and are always happy to listen to other people’s views. We like people who always have the bigger picture in mind and enjoy working for the greater good and making data-driven decisions rather than relying on their own assumptions. We love people who aim to do great things that challenge them to get out of their comfort zone.
This is how we know that they will work towards the same goal as one company – to make games that will bring joy to millions of people. That’s how our employees are able to have fun and feel relaxed every time they step into the office or hop on a remote call.
Working with Beginners
We’re deeply empathetic people; a quality that’s reflected in our managers and support teams, who make newcomers feel welcome in a process that starts before they arrive. The welcome tour, introductory meetings, and round of applause from everyone at Kwalee in your first Creative Wednesdays session – it’s all carefully designed to be welcoming and integrate new team members. After the first week or so, we sit down with the newcomer and have a chat about their experience at Kwalee. We ask them about how they feel about the work, about their new coworkers, and if there’s anything else that’s on their minds.
We encourage our managers, wherever possible, to ease newcomers into work for a month instead of pulling them into big projects immediately since they’re still adjusting to the workplace. We also do a lot of team-building events, both on and off-site to make sure you can get to know people from other teams and in a non-work setting, which really helps everyone to have a great understanding of each other.
Safety is a priority as well. Hence, harassment is something we take strict action to prevent. If our employees have any welfare concerns, they can approach our HR staff. The staff can offer aid to any employee who feels threatened, whether within the company or outside of it. We also work with POSH at Work (an anti-harassment body in India) to actively promote a positive culture in our Bengaluru office.
We have the advantage that we aren’t a triple-A developer – our mobile studio develops hypercasual and casual mobile games that don’t involve the development cycles that are likely to lead to burnout. So wherever possible we discourage tight deadlines, because being under pressure doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t reflect the nature of how we want to make things work here.
If there are tight deadlines, we learn how we can prevent that from happening the next time. We’ve been successful at this, with more projects and processes developing to make sure there’s enough prep time before we launch the project. People have been very happy about this change, so now it’s just a matter of staying vigilant and keeping things consistent this way.
To tackle stress, we try to build a positive culture, both in our physical environment and the way we work together. Employees can kick back and play some games on the consoles, socialize over lunch or a movie or just sit around and munch on a snack while they read a book.
But it’s important to avoid the tricky distinction between stress from burnout. So we encourage people to take time off whenever they need it. We set up one-to-one conversations regularly to check in on how our people are doing.
The people at Kwalee are what has made it the success it is today, so it’s very important we make sure they feel that their voices are heard. We openly welcome and encourage artists to bring their ideas to the table, whether that’s about a new game idea or new ways of working – we’re all ears. If they can make a good case as to why we should change the way we do something, then yes – they can absolutely affect our strategic decision-making.
We provide them with the space to voice their opinions, their concerns, their ideas, and their proposals with no judgment.
All our staff has the freedom to make their dream games through Creative Wednesdays. This is where anyone in the company can pitch a game idea they think could be the next global hit, and everyone in the company has a vote and a say in whether that idea gets made or not.
We get so many inventive game ideas from our employees which fuels our creative process and success. Everyone is here because they want to be. It’s an industry that many have always dreamed of being a part of and have a passion for, and that really shines through. This can’t happen without the creative and personal freedom we give our talent.
Kwalee's Approach to Education
Our employees enjoy access to resources to educate and upskill themselves on the topics, tools, and technologies that will help them excel. We use a learning platform, which gives our employees a budget every year to buy courses that are either interesting or relevant to them, whether it's related to their job or not.
They’re also free to take up training during their work hours. Learning doesn’t stop; we believe it’s part of what makes a career feel rewarding.
Over time, we’ve seen many employees climb the success ladder because they upskilled themselves. For example, QA and production team members that embraced this attitude are now senior members of the department today. Their insights brought tremendous value to the projects they were involved in. This wasn’t possible without their determination to learn new skills and perspectives. Whether it’s through their mentors, managers, or a course they found interesting.
We celebrate our staff wherever we can.
Our folks are motivated by their peers, from looking at their successes, and the encouragement they receive from their managers. Our Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year awards (voted for by all staff) are nice-to-have programs on top of a solid foundation of development and recognition.
Team Dynamics During the COVID Situation
COVID affected us – our own employees and their families have had the virus, so we took many measures to ensure it didn’t spread around the office – regular tests, additional WFH days, mask mandates, and funding vaccinations for our own employees.
Those defining years changed our perspective on working from home – we now offer both hybrid and remote roles and we have four offices worldwide – but it didn’t stifle our creativity, which we’re really glad about. Releasing games made entirely in lockdown, like Bake It, was a proud achievement that came from pulling together as a company. We’ve talked about our COVID experience in more detail here and here.
It was a challenge to not see each other in the office every day – both professionally and socially. This doesn’t mean that productivity dropped though. For instance, our Head of Development told us that the desire to succeed despite COVID helped the productivity during prototyping shoot up significantly. So everyone in the company really stepped up to the challenge of communicating and taking charge of projects under difficult circumstances.
All that being said, this experience played a big role in our decisions to, one, go for a hybrid model, which all our studios enjoy, and, two, offer fully remote opportunities to people across the world. These were decisions we never imagined we’d take, but we’re quite happy to do so and provide our employees with more options to be a part of Kwalee.
Advice for Artists
There are three questions we ask artists trying to get their foot in the door. We hope it pushes them in the right direction and helps them realize if they’re a good fit for us or not.
The first question is, 'Have you put in the time to gain a good foundation on the fundamentals, such as color, style, shape, etc?' Those that have done this understand when their art doesn’t look right, and can make quicker and smarter decisions to correct it. It also tells us how committed they are to the work. We can tell whose portfolio consists of only coursework, and whose portfolio consists of both coursework and personal projects.
This brings us to the second question, 'Have you worked on non-coursework projects, such as game jams, modding communities, or freelance work?' This shows how passionate they are about game development. It tells us about how they treat deadlines and expectations, and how fast they deliver the work. Whether they’re a team player and are able to use constructive feedback to improve their work. It demonstrates that they can do the nitty-gritty work of optimizing assets, operating with game engines (Unity in our case), and solving technical problems. Breaking down your work and showing how it benefited your teams or clients is also crucial.
And finally, 'Does your art fit with the art we do here, stylistically?' Populate your portfolio with your best work, tailor it to the kind of art we create, and curate it to show your most innovative and ideas-driven work. We’re very particular about your creative flair and the personality of your work. For example, photorealistic props are great; it demonstrates your technical aptitude. However, it neither tells us that you can think outside the box nor if you can bring something new to the table. We’re in the business of fun, and showing that creative and fun flair through your work will raise our eyebrows.