'There is no best way to run a studio': Ella Romanos on her new remote-working firm Rocket Lolly Games

'There is no best way to run a studio': Ella Romanos on her new remote-working firm Rocket Lolly Games
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

December 16th 2015 at 1:16PM

Strike Gamelabs director teams up with Unity's Oscar Clark to form entirely remote team of games developers

Two UK games industry consultants have joined forces to form a new studio that will operate entirely on a remote-working basis.

Rocket Lolly Games is the brainchild of Ella Romanos and Oscar Clark, who are joined by a team of 10 developers and artists spread across the UK. The new studio is now working on its first title: a mobile and tablet game based on an iconic IP and due by 2017.

Romanos is perhaps best known as the former CEO of Remode as well as the co-founder and director of Strike Gamelabs – a position she still holds today. She also works as a consultant on finance and production.

Clark, meanwhile, is an author and consultant who has held roles at BT Wireplay, 3UK and PlayStation Home, and continues in his role as evangelist for Unity Ads and Everyplay for Unity Technologies.

The duo plan to continue all their other commitments on top of developing games at Rocket Lolly. We caught up with Ella to find out more.

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How does this studio differ from your others?
The industry has undergone so much change in the last five years. We felt that the old ways of working didn’t support the need to innovate rapidly or the kind of creative approach we have in mind for Rocket Lolly. The central idea is to create a way to bring the right people at the right time for the right project.

Remote working and using freelancers isn’t new. However, we plan to take this to a new level with no physical offices and project-specific agreements with talented people who we already know are at the top of their game. This way we hope to get a little closer to the models used when creating films or even a musical super groups and still be able to scale on demand.

What did you learn from those studios that has helped you form Rocket Lolly?
Between us, Oscar and I have worked or consulted with studios of almost every size and shape. There is great value with complex platform development to having big offices distributed across different territories with multi-track teams of in house development staff working across timezones. That’s not us.

There are amazing indie bands with a handful of laptops working out of a front room or shared co-working space can also produce amazing games as art. That’s not us either.

There is no ‘best’ way to run a studio.

The games market is becoming increasingly mature. This is hitting the ability for indie developers to be discovered and the adaptability of mid-size studios. Both sides are forever chasing deals to cover their run-rate.

We didn’t want that overhead. We want to focus on design and delivery. That means finding IP that resonates with passionate audiences who have been under-served, then delivering in abundance. It means being prepared to start projects with the lightest possible overhead and prove they have value before having to commit the full scale of resources and to find the financial backing to bring them to market.

Remote working and using freelancers isn’t new. However, we plan to take this to a new level with no physical offices and project-specific agreements with talented people who we already know are at the top of their game. 

Why opt for remote working? What are the advantages?
Firstly, it means you have a much bigger pool of people to recruit from. It can be difficult to relocate people, particularly for a startup when the company is not established, and for someone like me who doesn’t live in a major games cluster, that is particularly useful. But it also makes scaling simpler and faster. We can find the experts we need where they are and bring them on board rapidly.

Secondly, I have come to really value work/life balance and the benefits it brings to productivity and teams. I believe that allowing people to live where they want, and not have to deal with commuting, not only enhances their life, but also the quality of the work they produce.

Finally, it keeps costs down, by letting us be as efficient as possible with our budget, which results in us being able to deliver our for less money whilst able to produce a high quality game.

Aside from the significant reduction in overhead costs, all our team are contracted, so they all work on other projects too and we only pay for the time we need. The other benefit of this is that we can hire specific people for specific roles, bringing the best specialist talent to each role as needed – in my experience, sourcing the level of specialism that bigger teams benefit from can be difficult for small teams. Better yet we learn from each other and the whole industry benefits. 

What challenges will this create and how do you plan to overcome them?
Some we have identified already and some I’m sure we will discover as we go along.

Communication is the biggest challenge. Many of our team had not worked together before, and this is a creative project where we need everyone to input ideas and believe in what we are creating. Our approach to this is to simply have an open communication platform, with ongoing chat, daily updates from everyone, ability for us all to feedback to each other, regular builds of the game to play, and regular conference calls, as well as occasional in-person meetings. In practice this means using Slack, Trello, Skype and Cloud Build so far.

It helps to kick things off in person as well – getting people started with an opportunity to share the same vision before letting them loose.

It can be difficult to relocate people, particularly for a startup when the company is not established, and for someone like me who doesn’t live in a major games cluster, that is particularly useful. But it also makes scaling simpler and faster. We can find the experts we need where they are and bring them on board rapidly.

Why team up with Oscar Clark?
I’ve known Oscar for a long time, but we actually first spoke about this because I mentioned the IP to him and he got so excited I didn’t dare say no. He even sings some of the songs in board meetings.

However, more than that Oscar’s experience building games as services is critical to our way of building content. It’s about understanding the way you move from concept to initial offering and build the mechanism for ongoing delivery of experiences. His time working on projects like Wireplay and Playstation Home mean he understands what important when building experiences for passionate communities. 

Any hints as to the ‘iconic IP’ you have your hands on?
We will talk about the IP soon enough. For now, we just want to leave you with enough anticipation to keep your attention. 

How will you balance your work at Rocket Lolly with your other duties?
Well, luckily, I love being busy.

Actually it is working pretty well so far. All of my consultancy work is flexible, which is crucial and intentional, but actually the key factor is that every person on our team is experienced at their role and at working independently. We rely on being able to trust that each team member can deliver without too much management, so that Oscar and I can focus on setting the vision, overseeing the project as a whole and on the business side of things.

I am also very very organised – apparently I scare Oscar sometimes – which helps.