Mighty Bear: 2020 Review
Mighty Bear 2020 Review: What We Did, What We Need To Do Better, What’s Next
Every December we send a letter to our friends and investors reflecting on the previous year and sharing our thoughts and learnings. This year we decided to go a step further and share our thoughts with everyone.
Companies sometimes make a big deal of their “diverse” workforce as a way of whitewashing (sometimes literally) a lack of diversity at senior levels by presenting only aggregate (company-wide) data. Our opinion is that if a company’s decision-makers all look the same or come from similar backgrounds, then you have no real “diversity” worth speaking of.
As a company which was founded and built in Singapore, our commitment to diversity includes having Singaporean talent at all levels, as well as ensuring a healthy mix of different types of people across the organisation.
To evaluate our performance on this front, we sorted all full-time staff into three buckets — “Steering”, “Core”, and “Contract” — and took a look at the gender and nationality splits of each group.
The studio is almost at an even 50/50 split between male and female team members. There’s a good level of diversity at senior and junior levels, and both the Steering Group (leadership) and wider teams have a strong Singaporean core. We’re pushing to ensure the Steering Group becomes even more diverse (the gender split needs to improve), as it’s the one group where true diversity will have the widest-reaching impact.
For the sake of transparency we’ve included tables with with the raw data on diversity at Mighty Bear at the bottom of this post.*
*If your employer doesn’t share this data, you should ask. If they’re not tracking it, you should probably look for a new job.
Detailed Diversity Data
Total Studio Diversity
One of our goals for the year ahead is to increase the amount of female representation within our ranks, and double down on our commitment to creating an equitable workplace where everyone has access to the opportunities and support they need to succeed.
Everyone at Mighty Bear is here on merit (we don’t hire people simply to “tip the scales”), we look for people who are best in class and bring a unique perspective — this means having a diverse team.
We also have a duty of care to the local ecosystem and we’re working on bringing through even more local talent (more on this below).
We’re committed to improving the gender ratio at this level. It is skewed by the three company founders all being male, but that means we have to make an additional effort to ensure everyone is getting access to the mentoring, development, and leadership opportunities they deserve.
Our leadership team has a Singaporean core (64%) and a healthy mix of backgrounds, nationalities, and perspectives.
Only one person on this list is not in a development role — we don’t pad out the ratio of Singaporeans/PRs to foreigners by hiring lots of admin staff.
This is a gender split we’re comfortable with. It’s likely that it will skew closer to 50/50 in the coming months as we continue hiring and scaling the studio.
There’s a global shortage of gaming talent and to be able to staff the core team with close to 80% local staff would be considered strong even in countries with a more established games industry and larger pool of local talent available.
We have 6 nationalities in total (some staff qualify for more than one passport): Singaporean, Indian, Indonesian, Norwegian, Turkish, and Vietnamese.
This is a mix of interns, part-timers, and one team-member who is full-time remote (the number of remote workers will no doubt increase in the post-COVID world).
The sample size is fairly small, but this will no doubt end up looking more like the core team over time.
Culture and Employee Wellness
With the shift to remote work we had to develop new ways to make sure the team were coping during lockdown and that our company culture wasn’t being neglected.
- As CEO I took time out to check-in on a 1:1 basis with our employees at various points since lockdown began in February. I made a point of trying to meet personally with everyone on the team (in a responsible and socially-distanced manner), as people are often not as open about what’s on their mind over Slack.
- We arranged meals (no more than 5 in a group allowed in Singapore) with employees so they got to see each other from time-to-time. New members got to meet their colleagues at least once IRL.
- Aside from this, we’ve been fully remote since before lockdowns became mandatory to help do our bit against COVID-19.
- We moved our Friday meetings online. In the Friday meeting employees are updated on all the company’s KPIs, financial position, plans, and can ask the founders anything — even the founder salaries are open information within Mighty Bear.
- Without the benefit of face-to-face interactions, we had to be more intentional in making our online meetings more engaging and providing a real sense of fun. One of my pet projects this year was creating an anthem for our weekly Zeitgeist sessions. It was a surprise to the team, and the memes and impromptu karaoke sessions it generated made it well-worth it.
- Some employees are shocked by this level of openness when they first join, but we make a point of hiring professionals who we can trust. We think the best way to get the most out of people is to be open with them and give them thr full picture to properly inform their decision-making. This allows us to not have to micromanage staff: we give them context and let them run with it.
- We realised that a lot of what we’d been doing in-person on an ad-hoc basis did not translate to a remote format. Some of our processes ended up having to be formalised and documented to ensure they weren’t neglected. We were over-confident in our ability to continue 100% as-is with the switch from in-person to remote working.
- A couple of hires we made in the past did not go well. This was through no fault of their own; it was simply not a good fit. As a result of this we overhauled our hiring process, standardised questions to eliminate biases, and added multiple layers of cultural interviews. This has made hiring harder and slower. (The new process uncovers a lot and is especially strong at detecting bullshit.) However, since implementing the new process we’ve seen an improvement in levels of cultural alignment and performance with the new hires. (You know who you are! 😌) Even if it makes hiring really hard, it’s 100% worth keeping a culture-oriented process to avoid hiring mistakes and maintain a standard of excellence.
- We operate a flexible/unlimited leave policy. During lockdown we realised people were not taking as much leave as they should. This is not surprising as taking leave in Singapore usually means taking a vacation overseas, and it’s not straightforward to leave and get back into Singapore at the moment. As CEO I started mandating that certain people *had* to take leave (they simply hadn’t taken enough). In the year ahead we’ll have to work on a way to formalise this process and ensure that everyone in the studio has at least 20 days off.
- Another aspect of this is studio opening times. As people had total flexibility in their leave policy we never saw the need to close the studio unless there was a public holiday. We realised that this is counter-productive as people don’t want to take leave if their colleagues are working. This month we’ll be closing during normal working days (not public holidays) for the first time, and we will likely do this for around specific holidays (Chinese New Year, Christmas and NYE) going forward.
- We provide unlimited paid mental health support to all our employees. Mighty Bear has an arrangement with a mental health practitioner who invoices us if our employees decide to visit them. We don’t monitor use of the service and we don’t ask questions of anyone using the service. We encourage anyone who’s dealing with whatever is going on in their lives to get the help they need and not worry about the cost.
- We sent people semi-regular reminders of how much we value and care about them. These were both verbal (acknowledgment and gratitude) and via care packages we surprised people with.
- These are a good foundation but there’s more we could be doing. In the year ahead we’ll explore new options to make sure that people are healthy, happy, and looked after.
This year has been very eventful. We shipped Butter Royale on Apple Arcade, and started on two big new projects, both of which are planned for release in 2021.
Butter Royale — What We Did
- The game went live on January 24th. It’s out on iOS, Mac, tvOS, and iPadOS.
- By the end of this year we will have released 8 additional updates. The game has grown hugely in terms of content and features.
- The roadmap has been dictated by our thoughts into what improvements were needed as well as by regular dialogue with the community.
Butter Royale — Learnings
Without going into specific KPIs for Butter Royale, here are some high-level insights:
- Making a game for a subscription service is fundamentally different to building a Free-to-Play (F2P) game. It’s not a case of “just build the best possible game”. Each subscription service (be it Xbox Games Pass, PlayStation Plus, Apple Arcade, etc.) has its own way of identifying successful titles in their catalogue.
- Being part of a subscription service means your game will be part of a curated collection. You will need to demonstrate technical excellence and balance the needs of the feature roadmap alongside changes necessitated by OS updates, new hardware, updates to the services and changes to the platform holder’s Technical Requirements (TRCs). When you make a mobile F2P game you don’t have to worry about TRCs — your development team will be 100% focused on releasing updates and improvements. You will probably ship fewer big features per year, but players will have a much better overall experience.
Apple Arcade is the first gaming platform to be 100% ad-free and have privacy at its core. This is great but it also presented us with a challenge we’d never encountered before: How could we acquire users without resorting to traditional User Acquisition (UA) practices?
- We’ve focused our efforts on community-led growth by engaging directly with our community and potential players on social media channels, rather than pouring money into ads.
- The masters of this approach are Proletariat (Spellbreakers), MediaTonic (Fall Guys), and BetaDwarf (Minion Masters), and there’s lots online about how they do things. We’re still iterating and optimising our approach with our community.
As one of the larger and more prominent studios in Singapore we feel a sense of duty to the wider ecosystem.
- We’re currently giving opportunities to a number of Singaporean students, and no doubt some will become full-time members of the dev team within the next few weeks.
- The Butter Royale team worked with three other companies in Singapore (BattleBrew, Razer, and The Gentlebros) for cross-overs. We wanted to work with them to showcase globally what Singapore has to offer and we’ll likely be doing more crossovers and collaborations with other companies in the year ahead.
- We recently joined SG Tech as part of its committee on gaming. Our team is largely made up of people with experience working at large multi-national game developers, and we’re a VC-backed studio. We wanted to be able to share our perspective (alongside our colleagues who are part of the same SG Tech committee) with those able to influence policy, so that we could help the ecosystem and provide advocacy. We are also part of the Singapore Computer Society.
- There are others who are better positioned to work at a grassroots level (we simply don’t have that experience or perspective), so we’ve invested our energy into areas and organisations where we can make the most meaningful contribution.
- In the past we’ve been good at raising awareness in private discussions, but we have not been active enough in getting involved in public initiatives and events for the Singapore games industry. This will change in the year ahead.