Mastermind behind new education initiative says other studios should take note
Earlier today, Blitz formally announced its Academy programme, an in-house staff training scheme. We sat down with the studi's John Nash, who manages Blitz Academy, and Natalie Griffith, marketing manager, to talk about the new offer...
Where did the idea for Blitz Academy come from?
John Nash: The motivation stems from a deep history in the games industry. Over the last 15 to 20 years there has been several large battlefield that have separated better developers. First it was technology, then it moved on to a battle over middleware - now the big battleground is outsourcing, which is something we've put a lot of effort into. But what we’re finding now is that the next big battleground will be on training, because it is, if you cut all the fat away, it's the ultimate productivity multiplier.
Companies work harder, faster and smarter with qualified staff - and given that developers are now having to deal with far more complex machines we need to figure out better ways to work - and getting people to work better. And the best way to achieve that is through training.
Speak to anybody in the industry and you'll know that training is a big issue for us.
The great thing we have at Blitz is that the company's directors are always looking at these issues and trends and are always very keen to pick up on them, and knowing that training was such an issue they were great proponents of us tackling the problem. As they were looking at this, we in the art department were discussing how worthwhile it would be to sharpen our skills with some external training, and off the back of that we started a working group to investigate training as a concern for our company.
You were talking about the big battles - have other studios missed this latest one over staff training in the rush for new titles?
John Nash: Exactly. In the clamour for next-gen we're trying to figure out how to get all the sparkle out of these machines and make your game shine above everyone else's, but traditionally that means there will be pockets of specialisation in any company around the newer titles when it comes to technology. But now with our in-house technology team which is about 15 people, they can go look at a new technology and work out how it works for us as a company, learn how to integrate it with our middleware, but then take that info and spread it through the rest of the company as soon as possible.
And the training programme is strictly an in-house thing?
John Nash: Yes, it's relatively new - but we are discovering how powerful it can be, so while it hasn't spread beyond Blitz, our training scheme has been built on an educational base and has been designed very much like a degree course. It's very well-honed tool, so the programme will be quite flexible for any plans we may or may not have in taking it to the rest of the industry or beyond the realm of the industry.
Whether that happens or not, do you think other studios should take note of what you're doing?
John Nash: For sure – other studios should take note because at the end of the day the industry is levelling out, technology and becoming quite uniform, so the real way to compete is via having a productive workforce that knows what it is doing. It’s already helped us, we truly feel that sharing knowledge so widely and publicly has helped us go from strength to strength. This has been running for us for the past year, and we’ve hosted something like 40 sessions across all the disciplines, art animation programming design audio covering everything from best practices.
Natalie Griffith: We’ve also started courses in media training, and negotiation skills and management – we’re trying to make sure that everyone’s skill base is as strong as it can be.
It’s curious to see an independent do this – usually they wouldn’t have the resource…
John Nash: Yes, that's true - training can be a very expensive thing to opt for, and takes a lot of effort to set up. Of course for independent studios when it comes down to cost and if someone can afford to not have their staff working hard on a game then generally as is always the way in this industry, they will strike training off the list. But that's a narrow-minded view because investing in training today is investing in the future, that’s what training is for. So people need to accept that training is a way of life.
And I assume you guys think that tightening up in house training is a good answer to the widely discussed recruitment crisis?
John Nash: Finding the right people is hard to do - one thing training can do is make those people. Through training you can create more copies of people you need. But at the same time we've used training to identify a lot of places where we are weak, and in creating all these various modules you might be able to say that we can build a developer from scratch and construct a whole career path for someone - which is something that doesn't usually happen at all in the games industry.
Plus, we work with a lot of universities teaching game studies, but in running our own training as well we're able to give a lot of good advice back to them in terms of what they need to be doing as well to teach upcoming developers. The long-term impact of that is we can manipulate the courses from the outside and try and get them to train the people we need in the first place. We’re really trying to help the industry as a whole.
Do you feel that this is an answer to a problem created by the industry itself?
John Nash: Yes. It really represents the maturing of the industry, which has gone through all those phases - and now we all realise that the biggest asset we have is staff. It's not computers, or middleware, or getting another company to make your assets, its' the people that turn up to work in the morning and leave at the end of the day. To make sure they come back the next day you need to be sure they are trained to their fullest to get the best out of them. But the industry is only just waking up to that.
Natalie Griffith: It's also having a profound effect on our most senior staff. There are people who have been here over 10 years now putting together modules for the training and they are learning and developing their own personal skills too. It gives them great confidence and teaching skills and even if they have been here for a while it is aiding their personal development, which is fantastic for morale and their career.