Work-for-hire studios, by and large, do not get the credit they deserve. Seen by some as hired guns who will get the job done, but maybe without the creativity of other developers, they have a hard time. But they're also some of the most hard-working and talented developers out there - and, it's good for business.
Red Kite Games CEO Simon Iwaniszak is here to tell us how work-for-hire has helped grow his development house.
How’s the last year been for Red Kite?
Wow, where to start, the last 12 months have been an absolute blast for Red Kite.
The team has more than doubled in size to just over 20 developers and we’re currently in the process of moving into a new, bigger office space.
We’ve also been busy helping to make some fantastic games with some very cool developers. Namely Dirt 4 with Codemasters, Super Cloudbuilt with Double Eleven and Unbox with Prospect Games.
Excitingly we’re also currently providing development support for Sumo Digital on several of their upcoming high profile titles.
The last year has been superb, we’ve made some amazing friends and we can’t wait for the next!
Why opt to do work-for-hire projects?
There are numerous reasons, but one of the strongest has to be that it allows us to work on some very cool games with some exceptionally talented people. Since its inception, Red Kite Games has grown into a highly experienced development team helping nine studios deliver 14 games over a five-year period.
Some of our partners to date include Activision, Sony, Microsoft, Codemasters and Sumo Digital, helping them to deliver commercially successful and critically acclaimed games such as Call of Duty: Strike Team, God of War 3: Remastered and DiRT 4.
Put simply if we didn’t opt to do work-for-hire projects what I just listed never would have happened.
Taking on work-for-hire projects can also provide much-needed studio stability and funding. It’s obvious to suggest it but without funding a studio cannot exist and if the studio doesn’t exist they’re not going to be making games. Making games is expensive and growing a successful development studio even more so. The funding that work-for-hire can provide is essential to this process.
Work-for-hire is also a fantastic way to build a flexible yet robust development team. With every game that your studio helps to make the entire team’s collective knowledge and experience will grow. Also, depending on the work-for-hire project it’s likely that you’ll be given the opportunity to cultivate relationships with platform holders and publishers, which is always going to prove useful further down the line.
In addition to funding, I also believe that growing a successful work-for-hire track record enhances your studio’s chances to either develop a successful game yourself or to sign one with a top-tier publisher. If you’ve continually proven to be instrumental in helping your partners to deliver their games, your ability to do so independently is less likely to be questioned.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not my opinion that taking on work-for-hire is the only way for a studio to pursue their own projects but I do believe that the money to attempt this successfully has to come from somewhere.
What advice would you offer a developer looking to get into work-for-hire?
Don’t underestimate the importance of having a killer portfolio. This is essentially your shop window and it will ultimately be what catches the eye of a potential partner. Based on Red Kite’s experience I feel that having a diverse portfolio has helped immensely in our ability to secure high-quality work-for-hire.
Build an experienced core team. A potential partner will want to see a solid track record both past and present. For example, the core team at Red Kite comprises members who’ve been instrumental in producing some of the biggest games of the past two decades.
Install good security and have a solid IT setup. If you’re not in a secure office with a decent Internet connection and appropriate hardware you’re severely going to limit the potential for high-quality work-for-hire opportunities. A prospective partner will want to see that you can either work completely independently or that you can integrate seamlessly into their day to day development processes. Having the above in place will allow this happen.
Become registered developers with all the major platform holders. Although not always the case a potential partner may need to move quickly in securing additional resource for a project. As such if you’re not already a registered developer for the platform(s) in question, this delay could prove to be a deal breaker. Being certified to have/source development kits is important and being a registered developer with the major platform holders also improves credibility.
Actively target who you want to partner with as deciding to work with anyone and everyone doesn’t usually end well. This will also help to build your studio’s identity whilst directing the type of games that you’re likely to work on. I feel that Red Kite’s work-for-hire identity is that we help big studios and big publishers make big games.
It’s not all about the money. At Red Kite Games we apply a variety of different lenses when evaluating a potential work-for-hire project. For example, is it with a high profile partner? Is it a cool game or IP? What will transferable knowledge be gained? You should accept work-for-hire projects that will push your studio forward and not focus purely on what’s going to pay the bills.
Diversify your partners. Not only will this improve the skillset of your team and help in the creation of your portfolio, it’ll also ensure that your eggs are in multiple baskets. Work-for-hire can quickly dry up and it’s important to have options should this happen.
Focus on what you’re good at and have a team setup that can provide complete development support. Red Kite Games is most definitely a technically focussed studio but we also have artists and designers as well. This facilitates our ability to either completely take work in-house or integrate seamlessly into a partner’s existing team setup. It also provides us with everything that we need skillset-wise to develop our own games internally.
Become invaluable. It goes without saying but if you do a bad job when it comes to work-for-hire you’re not going to last very long. Word travels fast within this industry and it doesn’t take much to develop a poor a reputation. Thankfully the opposite is equally true, do a good job and not only are you likely to receive repeat work from your existing partners, the wider industry will hear about it as well. Building long-term relationships with your partners is essential and by doing this you’ll naturally become an invaluable resource. Finding heavy-hitting developers that know how to make games isn’t easy and finding a team of them is like gold dust. If you concentrate on doing great work for your partners they’ll want to work with you time and time again.
Work-for-hire is also a fantastic way to build a flexible yet robust development team. With every game that your studio helps to make the entire team’s collective knowledge and experience will grow.
What have you learnt by doing work-for-hire? What challenges have you faced?
In short, we’ve learnt to make a lot of different games in a multitude of different ways.
Due to the completion of work-for-hire projects, it’s fair to suggest that over the past 5 years Red Kite Games has grown into a highly experienced and versatile development studio.
For example, Red Kite has helped to develop games across all major platforms from mobile to PC/console, using Unity, Unreal and various in-house engines. Consequently, this has allowed us to develop a portfolio that can demonstrate our value on pretty much any potential work-for-hire project that comes our way.
Stepping away from development for the moment, the two major lessons that we’ve also learnt by adopting work-for-hire are:
1. You can be creative when it comes to work-for-hire.
2. In our experience not being appropriately credited on a work-for-hire project doesn’t happen.
Work-for-hire is often undeservedly viewed through the lens of a ‘just do what you’ve been told’ mentality but in Red Kite’s experience this hasn’t been the case. Having previously had the privilege of supporting Activision on Call of Duty: Strike Team and more recently Sumo Digital on several of their projects, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them creatively.
It’s important to realise that you’ve been brought in to do a job but I also feel that the potential for creativity on a work-for-hire project is directly linked to the strength and experience of your team. At the end of the day if your team has the experience to help make a game better they’ll be given more opportunity to work in a creative capacity.
In regards to work-for-hire credits, to date, we’ve never been denied an appropriate credit on a project and our partners have always been happy to agree what’s acceptable up front. As a studio, you should never be nervous to ask about being credited on a project but you should also be realistic about your expectations. Red Kite has received either a frontend and/or a backend credit on all of the games that we’ve worked on, and I’m pleased to say that this fairly represented our overall contribution.
In answer to the second question I’d say that it’s fair to suggest that all games can be challenging to work on at times, it doesn’t really matter if you’re developing it independently or in partnership with someone else.
Some studios may find that juggling different codebases, engines or the various types of games tricky but at Red Kite these are the challenges that we love when completing work-for-hire projects.
How do you balance working on your own projects with work-for-hire?
If a studio focusses on work-for-hire they inevitably struggle to find the time and resources required to pursue their own projects. In addition to this they can also fall victim to their own success, especially if the studio grows. The bigger the studio the more reliant it becomes on the work-for-hire to survive. How’s that for a discouraging self-fulfilling prophecy!
As a concept it completely makes sense but it isn’t an idea that Red Kite Games subscribes to. We feel that our long-term strategy for the studio is solid and we’re extremely happy that we’ve managed to strike up a nice balance between work-for-hire and releasing our own games as well.
Achieving this balance has required a fair amount of experimentation but in my opinion, the key is to always ensure that your internal projects have at least one full-time artist, coder and designer driving the game forward under the guidance of the core team.
In addition to this actively encouraging and incentivising the team to participate in regular internal game jams whilst also providing support in the development of individual pet projects can help to tip the balance when conducive to do so.
Everything considered it looks to be a working strategy, we’ve managed to release two successful original games and in no way has it impacted our ability to deliver on our work-for-hire projects.
What’s your ambition for the coming year?
Red Kite’s ambition for the coming year is simple: deliver on our current work-for-hire projects, secure additional work-for-hire projects with new and existing partners and further cement Red Kite Games as a world-class development studio.