SEMC's Ian Fielding and Eduardo Gonzalez have told us about the company's history and working organization, shared their strategies for avoiding burnout, and explained what skills are the most important for aspiring developers.
Ian Fielding: Hi, I am Ian Fielding (LA, US), the Studio Head of Super Evil Megacorp. My main focus at SEMC is to work towards our aspirational company vision of being an amazing home for top talent in the industry, which I believe will lead to us making amazing games for players. In the past, I've worked at several studios, including spending many years working on League of Legends and fairly early on in Valorant's development – helping to ship that game and grow it into a thriving live service.
When I left Riot, I was actually planning to co-found a studio with a close former colleague of mine. However, when pitching to our CEO Kris (Cambridge, UK), he offered me a leadership role at SEMC and an opportunity to evolve the company into a true multi-product studio. I was also hungry to learn about areas that I hadn't had as much opportunity to explore previously. Large studios often have significant teams and processes already in place for areas around company building, biz dev, finance, and general company operations. For me joining SEMC has been a great adventure with a lot of valuable learnings, very rewarding projects to work on, and many new great professional relationships.
Eduardo Gonzalez: Hello, my name is Eduardo Gonzalez (LA, US), the Studio Art Director here at Super Evil Megacorp. I am the creative craft lead responsible for delivering the visuals for all our games. I also find pride in assembling extremely collaborative, talented, and creative teams for the purpose of developing beautiful creative game experiences. I really am in awe of the talent I have the privilege to work with every day.
After graduating from Art Center College of Design, I worked at amazing studios like Sony and Riot Games. At Sony, I spent time in the early concept stages of game development for titles like God of War and Kill Zone. At Riot, I was a humble part of the effort to grow the studio from a small scrappy start-up to what it's become now. Besides conceptualizing some of the early iconic champions, my biggest accomplishment was establishing and executing the world-building/universe for the League of Legends IP.
After Riot Games, I took a hiatus and spent time consulting with multiple studios for the purpose of adding value, at the same time trying to find a home for myself. That journey led me to SEMC. Super Evil was already on my radar back in early 2015, as they had managed to put a MOBA on a mobile device. At that time, I played a ton of LoL but felt constrained to my desk. Vainglory allowed me to play anywhere. Fast forward four years, when SEMC reached out to me, I was excited to talk to them. After all my initial conversations, I realized that there was an immense level of talent and huge potential to become a top-tier studio. So far it's been an excellent choice!
Super Evil Megacorp
Established in 2014, Super Evil Megacorp is an award-winning, independent studio that specializes in multiplayer action games. Our name says it all – we are a crew of developers from primarily AAA backgrounds and want to focus on creating games where we have a huge amount of agency in the destiny of our studio and our games' direction.
All our games are powered by our EVIL engine, our proprietary engine that enables us to create beautiful, responsive, and deep experiences regardless of the native platform or control mechanism.
Our globally distributed team of game makers is on a quest to make cross-platform games that excite our players and push both creative and technical boundaries. Our games portfolio includes Vainglory and Catalyst Black, with three new and established IP projects in development.
Ian Fielding: At SEMC, we want our fellow adventurers to share a passion for players and around our mission – to make incredible shared gaming experiences for players. We build games that we love to play ourselves while also deeply focusing on and incorporating external player feedback throughout our development process, primarily action and co-op oriented in nature to help foster these moments. We have weekly all-hands and town halls to discuss our products, regular company-wide playtests where anyone (regardless of level) can give product feedback, and also make time to play new titles and reference games as well for inspiration.
We are distributed across 11 countries in 10 different time zones, so building diverse, global teams is core to our vision. Our teams have talent from many areas of the globe, especially across the Americas and Europe, all working in a fully remote environment with flexible schedules. Our culture is focused on helping folks do their best work, while still being able to live a great life. It's not uncommon to see folks taking off during the day to pick up their kids from school and run important errands, something we are proud to be able to support with our flexible schedule. We prioritize your impact on our company, products, and ultimately players, over the exact hours you work. We leverage a variety of tools for quick communication such as Slack, Zoom, and also Discord which we use for more 'water cooler,' or ad-hoc conversations. Folks often leverage Discord to play and discuss games in our product space as well. Dana (San Francisco, US) runs our game club to share and explore what games are grabbing our attention, and Tamir (Sao Paulo, Brazil) leads our virtual coffee sessions where we jam about life outside games. As a small company, we work really hard to create moments for everyone to be meaningfully involved in a fun way.
While we have a shared mission that unites us across SEMC, each team has its own leadership team and dedicated talent assigned to that project. We have a light company-level leadership layer in support of these teams, but we always aim to focus on how we can help and aim to let the teams make the calls around the games design, creative, and day-to-day execution. We're not 100% there yet, but we have made great progress in continuing to level up the company day over day and week over week, and we work hard to hear feedback and continue our evolution as we believe it is worth the effort and ultimately by focusing on the talent we believe in turn that will help us make great games for players.
Important Skills for Beginning Developers
Eduardo Gonzalez: Foundational skills are important. Artists with strong foundational skills are most likely to stretch and grow into multiple aesthetics and styles. At Super Evil, we want to make games with distinct visual treatments, and we would like our artists to navigate between all of them. We don't expect anyone to be a master of all crafts, but if you can showcase your talent and understanding and blend this with a passion and willingness to collaborate, the rest falls into place.
Visual communication skills. It is not enough to make beautiful imagery. It is vital that your art says something. In games, art must communicate purpose, gameplay, and narrative, all at the same time. Doing this will make for a more compelling visual experience.
This may be a bit obvious, but collaboration and communication skills are extremely important. We want art to support and enhance the game experience, not just make it pretty. This means communicating and aligning with multiple disciplines like design, narrative, and tech. And, of course, doing it in an empathetic and positive manner. Making games is all about collaboration and teamwork. Our strength is in our collective capacity and talent, so this mindset is critical.
Creating a Welcoming Atmosphere
Ian Fielding: We heavily invest in our talent, and onboarding is no exception. This starts out with our Operations team working with candidates to ensure they get the equipment, and peripherals they need – this can be challenging given we operate on a global scale, however, we've continued to incorporate learnings each time we onboard a new candidate and are starting to be able to rapidly help get new folks up to speed regardless of their location. On their first day we make sure all new hires get a full overview of our company's vision, mission, values, and generally, how we operate – we have a living document we continue to evolve to help with this.
SEMC Managers also set out a 30-60-90 day plan for new hires to help align expectations, goals, and support new hires' onboarding, especially early on in their adventure at SEMC. A big focus of this onboarding is to encourage new hires to feel comfortable making the time to attend our company all-hands events, socials, and suggest good initial 1:1s for new hires to have for key folks they will partner most closely with.
Our Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) team also connects with new hires to inform them of various channels they can use to provide feedback to company leadership – including being able to do so fully anonymously. We also regularly assess team health and team safety via tools like Officevibe where we send out regular surveys where talent can express what is going well along with opportunities for us to level up – also with an option to do so anonymously if they prefer. And if an individual has not asked the question, we have several team members who are renowned for asking a wide array of questions at our company all-hands sessions. We really value these voices to help us align and challenge our decisions.
Strategies for Avoiding Burnout
Ian Fielding: Burnout is far too common in the game industry. And as a distributed team it can be even easier for someone to get lost in their work. This is bad for the individual and for the company. We are working hard to get to a level we are truly satisfied with. We continue to pour a lot of energy and effort into developing practices, processes, tools, and systems to support healthy work/life harmony. Part of the reason we provide a remote-first work environment and flexible schedule is so that talent feels supported in being able to have a healthy work-life harmony. We have many team members who regularly will take a walk, have a short gaming session, and/or a quick gym break during the day, etc. By creating an environment where folks don't feel they have to be glued to their desks 8 hours straight a day, we find it helps make each day more harmonious, productive, and avoid the stress and subsequent potential burnout of intense periods of work without breaks.
On the occasion that an individual feels the pressure of an unreasonable workload, we really push to find a way to rethink how we are working to help that individual (or team) get to a place they feel they can sustain how they are working indefinitely. These conversations have led to certain individuals being granted multi-week breaks to recharge, team-wide days off, changes in how we approach planning, etc. – and they have also shaped our hiring plans so we create extra redundancy in talent around areas where we had too few heads with too little redundancy.
We do our best to create frequent and meaningful breaks through the year alongside our daily work structure – we provide our talent unlimited PTO, with a full company week off at the end of the year for the Winter Holidays, and we also offer project teams a day off after important project milestones are hit. This helps ensure that folks have time to regularly recharge and stay connected with their family, friends, and personal interests outside of work.
Thoughts on Creative Freedoms
Eduardo Gonzalez: In our opinion, freedom, trust, empowerment, and inclusion are all ingredients that make amazing work environments. If given the chance, people will give you more than you expect. They will push the project to new creative heights. They will also be more engaged and willing to take ownership of large initiatives, which in turn increases individuals' happiness. Many of us have experience with large gaming companies, and it is a fundamental part of SEMC's DNA (our name is even an ironic ode by our founders for what we DO NOT want to be). At its core, happy game developers make amazing experiences for our players.
Of course, our artists can always suggest new strategies and workflows, but we take it a bit further. We build processes with them and for them. We see them as key stakeholders and essentially the customers. I would never dream of doing it without their intimate knowledge and input as they are the ones in the trenches that get affected the most.
It's effectively how we work! If an idea is better, more efficient, and improves the product, of course, we will go in that direction. It doesn't matter where the idea comes from, we are all open to better ways of doing things. We see examples of this regularly as it is so core to how we work. Our UI wizard, Sam (Colorado, US), recently built an entire test UI for an early 3C's demo. Completely over and above the milestone target and unprompted, Sam just had a feeling it would help us unearth some questions to solve, and it created so much early value and creative discussion that really took multiple workflows forward. These are the moments we really work for.
Approach to Education
Eduardo Gonzalez: We are very passionate about leveling up our staff. After all – as a company, we only level up if we individually level up in our crafts. We are always looking to improve our approach to how we do this in practice, but here are some of the things we have in place today.
We have opt-in Personal Development Plans that are designed to help identify the growth path of individuals. Once we understand their needs, we can then try to connect them with relevant mentors, speakers, and online courses. We also have access to a variety of amazing training sessions that are hosted by our publishing partners. We recently had over 30 of our team on a DEI workshop, and immediately sparked weeks of discussion on how we can take our learnings forward. On a case-by-case basis, we are also willing to support personal projects, conference trips, and educational funding. We're not there yet in offering the level and support that we aspire to give our talent, but we have plans to really grow this offering for the company over the next two years.
Our approach is simple and organic, every subject matter expert in each role is responsible for training and leveling up others in their craft. The goal is to force multiply themselves for the purpose of creating increased craft capabilities and opportunities for people to level up. In regards to motivation: artists seem to be self-motivated as they are constantly seeking or sharing knowledge of skills. Our environment is set up to encourage this behavior, and I simply haven't found myself in a position where motivation is an issue at SEMC.
Eduardo Gonzalez: Having foundational skills is a huge advantage. A strong sketchbook or showreel with art that communicates a story or purpose will stand out. Strong technical knowledge would be a huge plus as we are a studio that uses a proprietary engine. And finally, show your process. It's very impressive when you show the steps that got you to your final artwork. Our Concept Art Lead Eoin (California, US) has a great example portfolio that I often look back to as a best-in-class example for a work presentation.
Focus on what you love, and don't worry about the games we have done in the past, as we may be currently working on something completely different. Also, get involved in the Indie game communities. Travel to conferences and spend time with like-minded individuals. Seek out “Game Jams” where people are simulating a game development environment. That experience and exposure are priceless.