Mighty Bear 2022 Review: The Year Everything Changed
Welcome to the third annual public Mighty Bear review.
This year was our most challenging due to the sheer number of things that changed at the same time. In the last 12 months we have navigated changes in product focus, team composition, funding model, investors, volume of releases, and the broader macroeconomic landscape.
Despite everything, the team delivered important updates to Disney Melee Mania, wrapped up Butter Royale, fully pivoted to Web3, launched two sold out mints, and had a successful Early Access for Mighty Action Heroes after just six months of development. We’re in a fantastic position going into 2023 and as CEO I couldn’t be prouder of the team and their achievements.
Methodology: To evaluate our performance on this front, we sorted all full-time staff into two buckets — “Steering” and “Core Group” — and took a look at the composition of each group.
To give the most accurate possible representation of our full employment mix, we have included people who have signed an employment contract with Mighty Bear but are yet to start. We excluded people who are not full-time team members (no hiring a load of interns to fake the numbers!)
*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.
We’re still well above the industry average at 56% men and 44% women (the latest industry data points to 76% men and 24% women). The number of different nationalities and the split between men and women is unchanged year-on-year. While we always strive to improve, I am pleased that we managed to maintain a healthy ratio while increasing the team size.
The ratio of Singaporeans/PRs to other nationalities also remains unchanged which is remarkable. Going forward we will stop tracking and prioritisng this metric for the following reasons:
- Mighty Bear has always been a globally-focused company. We love Singapore and we’re proud to call Singapore our home, but the world is a big place and historically almost all of our users have been in the US and the EU.
- Though we’ve been successful to-date with the current team mix, as we scale our team will need to start looking more like our audience. It follows logically that people with a deep understanding of specific cultures (and specifically local pop-culture references and tastes) are uniquely positioned to craft experiences that resonate with those players.
- The Singapore ecosystem presents unique challenges for homegrown studios. Every day we are forced to compete on an uneven playing field against competitors who are often thousands of times better resourced than we are before they receive additional support for their Singapore operations.
I wrote about this last year and unfortunately things have not improved (if anything it’s gotten worse). Last year’s summary below:
“Singapore has seen an influx of major overseas studios which has impacted the landscape in a number of ways:
- The experienced talent pool is spread even more thinly than previous years (there has been a shortage for a number of years) and is likely to require a greater number of overseas hires in the years ahead.
- Some major studios have a policy of not hiring fresh graduates*. When there are players in the ecosystem that do not contribute to nurturing the next generation of talent, this creates an inequitable distribution of both experienced talent and the work of nurturing the next generation of talent. It jeopardises the future of the entire ecosystem.
- The impact on smaller studios is hard enough when larger incumbents enter the ecosystem; after all, some talents at smaller studios will inevitably leave for the larger studios.
- This natural churn of talent becomes brutal when it is exacerbated by what appears to be a deliberate policy by some multinationals of targeting smaller home-grown studios. Instead of competing with and sourcing talents from the other big players in the local and global ecosystem, they focus on raiding smaller studios.
- Such behaviour is counterproductive as it ends up creating an even more limited pipeline of intermediate and senior talent for themselves in the future (especially because they do not nurture junior talents themselves).
This unsustainable dynamic is a challenge that needs to be addressed for the health of the local ecosystem: experienced game developers don’t spring out the ground fully formed.
The onus shouldn’t be on studios with the fewest resources to do the heavy lifting for everybody else. It can’t be that the wealthiest freeload from the efforts of the less well-off and give nothing back.
Up to 30% of the workforce at Mighty Bear at any given time are in their first full-time role. Since founding the company we’ve developed good links with academic institutions and every year we hire people into full-time roles directly from our internship programme. Likewise, we promote from within our ranks as the default option — we don’t airdrop people in from outside the studio as a first resort.
We take our responsibility to the ecosystem very seriously and are fully committed to help to develop the next generation of talents.”
We have no reason to believe that things will change in the foreseeable future. Based on this belief, these localised inequities leave us with two choices: work with overseas staff on a remote basis, or open overseas locations.
We have been working with overseas team members for some time and now we’re exploring whether we should open a second location and if so, where that should be. Despite this we still believe Singapore is a fantastic location for our HQ and the bulk of the leadership team will remain in Singapore for the foreseeable future.
The mix of the leadership team improved with women and non-binary team members increasing in representation from 33% to 43% year-on-year. This is a mostly a consequence of some of the women from the Core Group being promoted in the Steering Group over the past 12 months. We’re particularly pleased about this.
As the ratio of women in the Steering Group improved markedly, the Core Group worsened slightly due to the movement between the two groups.
Culture and Wellness
Studio culture is not something that magically propagates after you write it out in a document. You have to keep working on it after defining what the company culture should look like. It’s like a garden that has to be maintained; you help some areas grow and make sure to pare back the bits you don’t like.
I have not been the most attentive gardener of company culture over the past 12 months.
Speaking as an individual, this year has been especially challenging. My workload was higher than in any previous year of my career to-date, and the complexity of what we’re doing is unlike anything else I have worked on. There is no established playbook for much of what we’re building, but it does have many moving parts and a lot that can go wrong.
Whereas in previous years we cleared all our Culture and Wellness targets, in 2022 we barely made progress on the targets I set for the org at the start of the year. I had to make a choice whether to deliver on our Business and Product targets (these required 100% of my time and very long hours) or focus on other parts of the org. Next year we’ll do better. We’re making two changes to ensure this happens:
- We’re adding our first dedicated HR hire to the team. I always dreaded the day we’d become real “grown-ups” with boring policies but I promise we’ll ensure things stay fun.
- Other senior members of the team are taking a more active leadership role in driving culture. As CEO I will always be the cultural champion but others also will step up and take a more proactive role in defining and driving initiatives.
Quarterly Pulse Surveys and Studio OKRs fell away this year but are starting back up.
We started Mighty Movie Nights to help give the team inspiration for the work being done on Mighty Action Heroes. It’s been a lot of fun eating pizza together and watching films like Predator, Terminator 2, and Die Hard. Look forward to continuing these in the 2023.
We recently went for our first full team event since the pandemic started. Was a lot of fun cooking traditional Singaporean food with the team!
Giving a little back
Later this month we’re going to be wrapping up the year by doing our bit and giving out care packages to those in need. I’m proud that as a company we can be a positive force in the community and give a little help to those less fortunate than ourselves.
Two weeks a year where the studio is closed
In 2021 we realised that people were not taking enough time off because they didn’t want to let their colleagues down, or if they did take time off, they were answering mails and still engaging with work.
To resolve this we instituted a system where for two weeks a year (one week around the middle of the year and one at the end of the year), the studio is closed and everyone is off at the same time.
We operate an unlimited leave policy and therefore, this does not come out of any leave allowance. It doesn’t seem fair to us that a studio should decide to close its doors and force people to deduct that from their leave. Staff should take leave when it makes sense for them. People are also encouraged to take as much leave they need to throughout the rest of the year.
This year we decided to close the studio for 2 weeks in December in addition to the 1 week mid-year break. Everyone worked super hard in the run up to the end of year and we wanted to ensure everyone spends quality time with their family and comes back rested into 2023.
Wellness and Development Allowance (Unchanged from 2021)
As a result of the first survey we conducted, it came to our attention that we needed to be doing more in terms of wellness benefits. The challenge was that every team member has unique needs: some people wanted gym membership, others health insurance with certain provisions, etc. In the end we decided that the best outcome would be to give each team member an annual budget they can spend as they see fit in pre-approved categories such as: health insurance, mindfulness apps, gym membership, yoga, dental, etc. We also allow people to spend this budget on books (both fiction and non-fiction) if they‘d rather spend it on reading.
Regular care packages, studio time off, wellness and development allowance, etc. are all part of a solid foundation but we will continue exploring new options to make sure that people are healthy, happy, and looked after.
Every decade or so (give or take a couple of years) a profound shift takes place in the games industry. I’m ancient enough to remember the switch from boxed products to online connected premium games (early 2000s), online connected premium games to F2P (late 2000s), and desktop F2P to mobile (2010s). Having worked through the previous cycles it’s clear to me that we’re at the start of another transition. This time the switch will be to games that support digital property rights and stakeholders (i.e. the player) having a degree of ownership over the ecosystem.
This is less radical than it sounds. Players have been buying virtual goods since the mid 2000s. The difference here is that rather than storing their assets on a centralised server, players are now able to move their digital collectibles freely and even self-custody their assets if they so choose.
These ecosystems also allow developers to receive secondary royalties. This is notable because they help align developers and players much more closely than ever before and removes the incentive for developers to lock down how players use the in-game assets they have paid for.
Let’s use a real-world analogy to illustrate the difference: you buy a pair of sneakers for you to use when you workout.
- Under the legacy form asset ownership, you’d buy the sneakers, they’d be stored at the gym for you (technically they’re only licensed to you by the gym), they can never leave the gym, and in most cases you’d be forbidden from selling them to another gym user. Your only option for selling the sneakers would typically be a grey market which could result in you losing access to the gym and your sneakers.
- In a decentralised scenario you decide where you keep the sneakers (at home, the gym, etc), you can take them to any gym that allows them, and if you decide to sell them or whatever it’s up to you. Then there’s the added bonus that the manufacturer of the sneakers receives a small royalty every time the sneakers are traded, thus incentivising the creator to keep finding ways to keep these sneakers relevant (the total opposite is true in the legacy model). Hell, if you don’t like your gym you could even build a new one with friends and use your sneakers there.
Though not without its challenges, a decentralised ownership mode is clearly for players and creators alike, which is why it will win out over time.
What We Did
In last year’s update I called out that we were exploring Web3. Our plan was to gradually scale up a Web3 team while still maintaining our existing products in parallel. A combination of negative external forces and the realisation that we would need total focus from our leadership team to succeed in Web3 made that plan untenable.
In Q1 of 2022 we decided to sunset our existing Web2 catalogue as quickly as possible and focus our resources on the future of the company*.
*I’m firm believer that if tough decisions are needed then you take them early and act decisively rather than maximising the pain by dragging the process out.
Development on these was wrapped up within four months of the decision being taken to sunset the our Web2 portfolio. We’re very proud of what we achieved with Butter Royale and Disney Melee Mania and we’re still thinking of ways that we can bring the Butterverse to new audiences, either via games or other mediums.
Best Friends Cafe closed its doors in early 2022. The game had great early metrics and an engaged community but the post-IDFA* User Acquisition landscape meant the path to scalability was going to be so brutal that it made sense to focus our efforts elsewhere.
*On a more general note it’s going to be interesting to see how casual and hyper-casual studios navigate UA and scaling in 2023.
MightyNet Genesis Pass and Mighty Action Heroes
At the end of 2021 we began fleshing out our Web3 strategy and over time that evolved into the vision we now have for the MightyNet. The MightyNet is a collection of games, all linked by shared assets such as digital collectibles, virtual currencies, etc.
A few weeks ago we launched the MightyNet Genesis Pass (total supply: 1,337 passes). These passes represent the elite-level of our ecosystem. Holders of the MightyNet Genesis Pass receive free mints, allowlist slots, early access to games, and special access to the development team for all upcoming titles in the MightyNet.
At the end of November we released Big Bear Syndicate our first set of digital collectibles ahead of the “playable slice” launch of Mighty Action Heroes, our first Web3 game. Building on Mighty Bear’s deep genre expertise in MOBA and Battle Royale games, Mighty Action Heroes is a chaotic Battle Royale game inspired by classic action movies.
Big Bear Syndicate launched at the end of November and all 5,000 bears sold out within 20 minutes.
Both the MightyNet Genesis Pass and Big Bear Syndicate launches went flawlessly and represent a huge achievement. This is doubly impressive given that prior to the middle of 2022 the dev team had no experience of Web3 development.
Holders of the Big Bear Syndicate also got to play Mighty Action Heroes’ first pre-Alpha build in December of 2022 and the game received a fantastic reception from players.
At the start of our Web3 journey, we decided to partner with investors to bring the MightyNet and Mighty Action Heroes to the world. The decision to work with investors was primarily driven by two reasons:
- With the exception of 1 team member, Mighty Bear had no previous experience shipping Web3 products. External investors could supplement our game-making expertise with their knowledge of the space.
- Raising external capital allowed us to be more ambitious and better navigate the complexities of Web3 game development. I wrote a thread earlier this year on why Web3 game studios need a minimum of $10M USD if they’re going to have a chance at being competitive in the space.
Simon 💪🏼🐻🕹 – WE'RE HIRING! on Twitter: "Watching the funding announcements in Web3 gaming over the past year or so, it's obvious that the bulk games in this space have raised not enough money to succeed but just enough money to fail (<$5M). We saw this in mobile in the 2010s, thread on why and what's next 🧵1/22 / Twitter"
Watching the funding announcements in Web3 gaming over the past year or so, it's obvious that the bulk games in this space have raised not enough money to succeed but just enough money to fail (<$5M).
Fundraising started in March and by the beginning of May we had the investment lined-up, all docs agreed and we were good to close. Then the Luna crash happened and things got complicated. Two months later we announced a $10M funding round.
Fundraising took up most of my focus the first 7 months of the year and during the remainder of the year my focus was on product strategy, the launches of the MightyNet Genesis Pass, Big Bear Syndicate, and the pre-Alpha launch of Mighty Action Heroes.
Every industry transition is hard on teams. The shift from premium games to F2P required a major change in mindset. Making a “good game” (whatever that is) wasn’t enough. The best teams ended up being savvy to the market and start to developing an understanding of metrics and how to balance a data-informed approach vs. focusing on core gameplay. Some people couldn’t (or chose not to) make the transition and left the industry altogether. The change from F2P to Web3 is even bigger.
Web3 requires teams to understand new technologies, tools, user behaviours, and expectations. Optimising a product which has player-owned assets being freely traded is fundamentally different to building a “walled garden” Web2 experience.
To ensure everyone got to a decent level of knowledge quickly we did the following:
- The process began with myself and Michael Arnold | akzent.eth educating the team on the fundamentals via a series of presentations and smaller Q&A sessions around different areas.
- Then we adapted the weekly Zeitgeist updates to ensure the latest developments in Web3 were covered.
- We gave everyone on the team a small (couple of hundred dollars) budget to buy NFTs, and made the line managers accountable for everyone in the company having an NFT in their wallet by the end of the month.
Within a few weeks everyone had a good baseline level of knowledge, concerns had been addressed in 1:1 sessions, team members had participated in mints, others were trading on OpenSea, and they even started forming groups to help each other farm allowlist slots for upcoming mints.
Taking this deliberate approach helped a great deal in the last few months. It’s absurd to think that 1–2 people have a monopoly on good ideas or the right way to do things, so ensuring the team had the tools to get involved and contribute ideas means we end up with better products and greater buy-in.
Some companies chose not to do this. They have 1–2 Web3 “specialists” on staff that dictate the Web3 roadmap, tokenomics, etc. and the rest of the team focuses on building the game. We saw this in F2P in the early days where some teams had a “monetisation guy” whose job it was to ensure the product made money. Inevitably that person that person ended up fighting a losing battle against teams who didn’t understand or care about monetisation, and resisted having it bolted-on to the game they’d crafted without ever really thinking about it.
As the standards in the space improve, teams that lack a thorough understanding of the space are not going to make it.
What Went Well
Shipping in Web2 and Web3
Most teams ship one game every few years. By the end of this year we will have shipped meaningful closing updates for two games (Best Friends Cafe and Disney Melee Mania), launched and sold out two NFT collections (despite no prior experience in the space), and taken a game from concept to playable pre-Alpha in the space of 6 months. #RealArtistsShip
Closing a token raise in the middle of a major market crash and the start of crypto winter was an absolutely brutal experience. Despite this we plugged the gaps which appeared at the last-minute and closed the round. Better still, we ignored the original advice to raise a much smaller first round and go back to market in 6 months’ time to raise a much larger round, instead opting to raise one larger round and be done with it. Had we followed the initial advice we wouldn’t have raised enough to start fully executing against the vision we have for the MightyNet and we would be facing a much tougher funding landscape for the second round.
The team did a good job of starting the transition to a new business model and adapting to a new way of thinking. There’s room for improvement and differing degrees of proficiency and immersion in Web3 throughout the team but we are far ahead of other studios we’ve spoken to who are making the transition from Web2 to Web3.
Though a difficult period for the team, the sunsetting of the Web2 products was handled gracefully. The team delivered meaningful updates and events to keep players entertained for many more months. It’s never easy to shut a game down, but the team handled it about as well as could be expected.
What Needs To Change In 2023
Scoping and Balance
We ran into a difficulties this year delivering on the goals we set out for Mighty Action Heroes and the MightyNet. Both at leadership and core team level we failed to fully grasp the complexity and scale of the unknowns present in what we were embarking on. These planning failures were compounded by waves of COVID that came through Singapore in 2022, reducing the amount of manpower available at key times. We’ve always been proud of how we look out for people and have a policy of not crunching like AAA studios, but this year has seen the longest hours we’ve had to work at Mighty Bear. Though we didn’t reach AAA hours, we were not able to fully live up to our ideals.
To address this we have hires coming for key roles, changes to how planning takes place, changes at management level, and the team now has a better grasp of what we’re doing in Web3. I am confident this will improve in the new year, but it’s something we have to keep an eye on.
The team has been over-reliant on me to drive company culture and make sure things like the Employee Satisfaction survey were being carried out and the learnings acted upon. This year I was overwhelmed dealing with Fundraising, Product, Team, Partnerships, Investors, and Strategy. In 2023 I will still be involved but the day-to-day will be handled by dedicated HR and the wider Leadership team. We need to right the ship and get back to focusing on making sure things are being done the right way.
Messaging around MAH (Bear Market vibes)
Mighty Action Heroes could be one of the breakout games in Web3. In 2023 we will raise the profile of the game dramatically, and give the game the following it deserves.
Now that we can show the game off and start getting it in people’s hands, we’re in a position where we can be aggressive with scaling and bringing players into the ecosystem.
Mighty Action Heroes Launch
More content for Mighty Action Heroes is coming very soon, and the game will be in Open Alpha early next year. Excited to start getting the game in the hands of our fans and building with you all.
MightyNet Game 2
What comes after Mighty Action Heroes? We have some fun ideas we’re going to start riffing on next year. Who knows, maybe it could even be Disney Melee Mania style collab with another brand!?
Infrastructure And Tooling
Part of the reason this year has been so tough is that we were building the tools and expertise as we went along. We’ve built a pretty cool set of tools for upcoming digital collectible launches and we’re now starting to expand on it. We have an incredible roadmap of tools and new things we want to do with Digital Collectibles and we’re going to start showing this off in 2023. We might even be able to start sharing these tools and building together with other studios.
2022 was without a doubt our most challenging year, but it was arguably also the year we grew the most both as professionals and as people. It’s been a bruising year but I feel we’ve come out of this calmer, more confident, and better equipped to deal with the challenges 2023 will throw at us.
Thank you to everyone who was a part of this journey in 2022. Be you a team member, someone who lives with a team member, a mentor, investor, business partner, supporter, and of course the members of our wonderful community. I’m tremendously grateful to be building alongside all of you. Thank you for everything you do.
Mighty Bear 2022 Review: The Year Everything Changed was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.