11 May The Evolution of a Company
A lot has happened since we started Krillbite 4 years ago. We were a bunch of friends, right out of university college, with no actual knowledge on how to run a business. Today we’re 9 full time game developers, in our very own company.
It’s been an amazing journey so far, and the future looks brighter still. We’ve been through a lot both professionally and personally in the time since we started, and it’s definitely been a steep learning curve.
When we established the company after graduating, we only had a small prototype of Among the Sleep, and a lot of determination. We wanted to own the company and our projects ourselves, with no creative boundaries, and we had a burning wish to make unique and interesting games.
Krillbite heading to our first awards show, with only a prototype. Oh so young…
This is what (the little we had made of) Among the Sleep looked like when we graduated. At the time we naively thought it would take us a maximum of a year to finish it. It took three times as long.
Our first office was a small meeting room within the university building, that we were lucky enough to be able to borrow space from Hedmark Kunnskapspark. It was small, with no windows or ventilation. But it gave us the opportunity to work together in the same space, which was the most important part.
Routines and tools
Because we started out as students, we had a very laid back attitude to work hours, responsibilities and rules in general. Since then we’ve been through a lot of phases, trying out different project management models, tools and routines.
Looking back, it seems we first tried to imitate the industry standard in AAA, using complex tools like Jira and Scrum Planning Cards. What we noticed, was that we spent way too much time planning things which we had no clue how to accurately plan and estimate. This resulted in replanning before we had anything tangible to show at all, which lead to even more frustration. So we kinda said to ourselves; “Do we really need all this?”. Let’s just screw it and try something simpler. What we really needed, was a place to write stuff we had to do. Something like a text file, but with a bit more control. So we looked around and found out that this is something other devs have experienced as well!
So from there on we’ve continued to simplify the process. We stopped using Scrum Planning Cards, we now use Asana for an intuitive task tracking. We use scrum in our own form, where we do daily standups, so the team gets an overview of what everyone else are doing. We plan weekly sprints on Monday, and follow them up on Friday. But everything is kept to the bare minimum. We also believe we haven’t found the optimal way of doing things yet, and always try to improve on how we manage our projects.
In general we’ve learnt to shape the tools and process to fit our own needs, instead of trying to force some standard onto ourselves. On the other hand, being through this tedious process, of finding out what works for us, has been a really good learning experience. We now know exactly why we use the tools we do, and why the other options are not for us.
The same pattern can also be seen for the more creative aspects of production, like design. In the beginning we slavishly followed the textbook process of writing detailed design documents, drawing maps with elaborate descriptions of all events etcetera. This is nice, but when things change (which they will), you’ve ended up wasting a lot of time. In general we’ve gradually learnt to distinguish the necessary from the redundant work.
We’re game developers, let’s actually focus on making games instead!
Test, iterate, ch-ch-ch-ch-chaaange
Another thing we’ve learned gradually, is the importance of testing. It can feel quite awkward at first, and many developers are reluctant to show anything until it’s “perfect”. The mindset “it’s no point in showing it until it is what I want it to be, because the feedback wouldn’t be applicable” is deeply flawed. There’s always something you can test, conversations to be had, things to learn. You really cannot be overprotective with your game and hope to develop something amazing. It is imperative to test early, and often.
When you start out making games, many think they have a clear idea about what they want to make (we did too). And many cling to this like it is their lifeline. One thing we’ve learnt to expect, is that a project changes, even drastically. And it’s usually healthy for a project to change. For example, during a few months of development on Among the Sleep we unconsciously shifted the focus of the game a lot towards adventure, where Teddy had active abilities etcetera, before realising this was not the game we should be making. A lot of time was wasted before we found our way back to the core.
Another huge change to the game was the story, which we decided to change drastically only two months before release. A lot of the reason due to testing and feedback. This turned out to be a very healthy decision. Learn to ‘kill your darlings’ I believe the phrase goes.
Lastly, you should not only be questioning the games, but keep questioning the whole process, for example by engaging with other people in the industry. You will slowly realize that every team, no matter how experienced, is fighting many of the same challenges. You will gain a better intuition of what is right, and many people have already gone through a lot of this stuff and they can and will help you!
Another large evolution of the company revolves around funding, something a lot of indie studios struggle with. Starting out it’s incredibly easy to underestimate the actual cost of running a business. At least in Norway, 25% of salaries goes to taxes and other expenses, you have software and hardware, offices and more.
During the first years we were privileged enough to receive funding from the Norwegian Film Institute amongst others, but we still had to work part time jobs on the side to support development. Then, after two years we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign, which turned out to be a huge success.
One year later we launched Among the Sleep, which naturally also helped a lot. It’s great looking back, and realizing that with every step of the way, we have stabilized our finances more and more. It seems the cliché “as long as you are patient and work hard” is rather accurate.
What constitutes Krillbite have always been the great mix of awesome people on the team, everyone contributing their different skills and personalities to the projects. Going from being students and friends, to being colleagues has been both great and weird.
We cannot express strong enough the importance of good communication in a team. It has to be clear and honest. We’ve kept a very flat structure, but naturally everyone can’t be involved in each of our many discussions. But everyone can still be on the same page regarding the unspoken social contract, speaking their mind freely about how things are done.
As with every team of enthusiastic creative people, there has also been personal conflicts. This is definitely a natural part of game development as well, as it means people care. Accepting this fact, and learning how to deal with it in a productive manner is also incredibly important.
Everyone is better off if everyone is doing what they want, and establishing Krillbite was always about creating our own ideal workplace. But some people don’t want to work with game development for the rest of their lives. So during the years a few people have left the company. Espen, Tina, Ivar and Svein will be sorely missed! <3 Also, Ole Andreas, who’s had the inhumanely huge responsibility of both running the company, being a project lead, and programming on top (i.e. three full time positions), also recently decided he needs a break from full time game development :’(
It’s always sad saying goodbye, but luckily friendship is forever : )
At the same time we’re psyched to have Kristina, our new marketing and community manager, with us! Trond has joined doing some great programming magic, and we can’t wait to have two more people with us in the very near future! We just published two more positions on this link. Check’em out! Maybe you’re the next person to join the team? : )
To us when we hire new people it’s important that they share the values we see as important for Krillbite. The incredibly friendly and down to earth company culture is something we want to maintain. We’re focused on individuals and how they affect the work and development, but naturally people will join, and people will leave. As long as the studio’s core and the people’s values gets to be the way we feel is important, there won’t be any negative changes.
We’re still a young company, with little experience. But it’s great learning first hand that the more experience you gain, you get a better understanding and realistic view of the process and your project. And gradually, more intuitively the right decision will come to you.
In some sense, the everyday life in Krillbite today is completely different from when we started. We work from different offices, with a new financial situation, more experience, new projects and some new people. But at the same time, it’s just the same as it always was. A bunch of amazing people with the same core values, and a wish to create unique and great games.
As with the projects, we have to embrace change.