Malaysian game development studio Weyrdworks has been a mainstay of the Malaysian gaming industry, with cofounders Shawn Beck and JT Yean playing key roles in the growth of the indie game development scene.
Recently, Weyrdworks posted a four-part series of their internal mid-year reviews, which involved an internal survey among its employees. For transparency, the findings were published in full on the company’s website.
It is not commonplace for game developers to provide valuable insights into their businesses in a transparent and honest manner. Such an approach is a breath of fresh air amid negative perceptions plaguing the video game industry, including crunch culture and overwork.
To gain a better perspective on Weyrdworks’ thought process behind this exercise, IGN Southeast Asia reached out to company co-founder Shawn Beck for an interview.
Introduce yourself and your background as a game developer.
Hello there! I’m Shawn; Co-founder of an indie game studio called Weyrdworks, Field Engineer at Unity Technologies and IGDA Malaysia Chapter Coordinator. I’ve been making games professionally for over 10 years, 20+ if you count mucking around with Game Maker, RPG Maker, Flash and mangling HTML into silly choose-your-own-adventure games.
How did Weyrdworks begin and how has the journey been so far?
Weyrdworks began sometime after publishing Velocibox. My co-founder, JT Yean and I had worked on the game and realised that we had pretty good synergy doing it.
We took an old game jam prototype we made a long time ago and decided to try expanding on it which eventually became Super SteamPuff.
The studio has been growing slowly but steadily. For the longest time, it’s been just the two of us plus some freelance collaborators. It’s only recently that we’ve started expanding the team.
You’ve recently released a series of Weyrdworks Mid-Year Review results, what was the biggest thing you’ve learned from this exercise?
Running a company is still a relatively new experience for us. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s been just JT and me most of the time so having to manage talents in a studio is a challenge we don’t want to take too lightly, which is why we try to approach running the company in the only style we knew; Following an iterative game development cycle.
One way to do that is to have some quantifiable data to track progress. In our biannual team review, we wanted to get a sense of the team’s overall morale and get feedback on how the company could be improved. I’d say our biggest takeaway is knowing how everyone felt about the team as a whole.
The survey was presented internally in a company town hall to give everyone a sense of the pulse of the organisation. We also took time to celebrate our accomplishments and also a note on our financial standings to give everyone an idea of where we’re headed.
Why should more game studios, big and small, be more transparent in their processes and employee evaluations in your opinion?
I believe being transparent is really just being vulnerably honest to people around you, and the direct product of that is trust. Trust creates a collaborative environment. If you’re trying to create a culture where everyone has the autonomy to bring their best self to the table, you need to seed the right foundations for that to happen.
In a blog post in June, you mentioned that Weyrdworks can’t resist new tech like AR/VR or motion controls. Can we expect these sorts of games from you guys in the future?
Possibly. No promises there for our internal IPs. If the right concept comes along, we’d definitely pursue it. On the sides, we’ve worked with a lot of popular brands and creative agencies in making interactive experiences.
We tend to push for more interesting ways to engage people on that end. There were a couple of cool projects we worked on that involved AR, VR and even motion controls, but the pandemic put a halt to that since we could no longer do physical events. Unfortunately, we can’t share more on those games at this time.
Tell us more about how you and your co-founder cultivated the work culture of Weyrdworks in the past few years? Were there bumps along the way?
We’ve always been experimental about a lot of things. Well, it’s the game development iterative cycle all over again. We try to adapt what we’ve learned from sagely advice gathered from books, conferences, TED talks and conversations with other people. It’s all about trying out what feels aligned to the culture of Weyrdworks and see what sticks.
A lot of the time, culture doesn’t just happen on its own. Someone has to initiate it. But more importantly we need to remember to review the impact and side effects of any actions. We do daily stand-up meetings at Weyrdworks each morning to keep everyone up to date. This was especially important during the pandemic.
However, we noticed that some of our more prolific developers were pressured to work on weekends to have something to present on Mondays. We’ve since implemented a no work sync Monday and now dedicate a few minutes for each member to update everyone on their personal lives over the weekend instead.
With the feedback from your employees, what are the steps that Weyrdworks will be taking to improve in the near future?
Not to get into specifics, but we do have regular 1-on-1s to discuss issues deeper on an individual level. During these meetings we’re always looking to drive alignment in our mission, correct any misconducts or undesirable behaviours, come up with a plan for individual growth, and patch any issues in our processes.
We used to run these sessions on a monthly basis when it was just a team of 4. But now at our current size, we’ve had to slow it down to once every 2-3 months. These insightful sessions have helped mould Weyrdworks slowly into what it is today. We just have to keep actively listening to the team, provide feedback where it’s needed and in the words of a very angry Greek god – Be better.
What is your advice to those who are running their own video game studios right now? What is the biggest lesson that you would like to pass on to your contemporaries?
I don’t have any sagely advice. I suppose the one thing I know that works for me is just to be honest about the fact that I don’t always have the answers to everything, keep an open mind, learn from others and keep reiterating on our current processes to find the right fit.
Check out more of Weyrdworks’ development logs on their official website.