The OlliOlli studio's Simon Bennett shares the team's journey to cloud-based collaboration
There is a definite charm to Deptford, its market, the Afro-Caribbean grocers, pound shops, a plethora of Vietnamese cafes and more recently a handful of hipster coffee joints.
Fellow director Tom Hegarty and I spent our youth playing gigs locally at the Amersham Arms, Paradise Bar and other dingy South East London clubs. Setting up in cheap office space here was a bit of a no-brainer in 2005 when we finally moved our fledgling multimedia education business out of my bedroom. Back then, getting an office meant you were a ‘real’ company! (For us, anyway).
Roll7, our third – and arguably most successful venture – ran its first project in 2008 and saw out its transition from brain computer interface software developer to digital agency then console video games developer over a seven-year tenure at Astra House, an eight-minute walk from Deptford station. It was on the street you see above – we were in the dingy bit on the far right, unfortunately.
Our studio was much as you might expect from three messy directors, with bootstrapped furniture from Deptford market, old PCs that we used to teach kids on, and random trinkets that we had picked up along the way. Frankly, it was a tip – just ask anyone that worked with us over the years.
Our move from bricks and mortar to the cloud was a slow and organic one. John Ribbins, our creative director built all of the levels for OlliOlli at home – it saved him the three-hour commute from North London and gave him the focus to just get on with a task, without the office banter and pressure (OlliOlli was late and stress levels at the studio were high).
Roll7 Office was often a dangerous place during development
When it came to starting on Not A Hero, our incredibly British 2.25D cover shooter, we had already signed OlliOlli2 with PlayStation, and as John was originally penned to be making the project solo, it was decided that he would make the game at home in focus and maximise his time.
OlliOlli2 production was based again at Deptford HQ, with a team of nine people slaving away to very tight deadlines in the dingy office. Another five very experienced people joined us in a freelance/remote capacity – coming in for briefings, and getting on with the work in their own space and time.
Another bike shed production argument during OlliOlli2’s development
Towards the end of the OlliOlli2 project, the office had a distinct negative association for all involved. It was where we had crunched for both OlliOlli games without a break from January 2013 to May 2015.
Deptford was up to a two-hour journey – one way! – for some of the team, and for most it wasn’t the most glamorous of places to work. Its fair to say that the offices themselves had a unique '70s ‘beige’ feel about them, which permeated morale and clearly wasn’t the greatest draw for new talent.
Another late night in at the Studio (on one of its more tidy days)
The Not A Hero project ended up swelling beyond John’s one man band to about seven team members, all of whom worked remote on the project. This had its own unique challenges, but productivity and morale were never an issue – in fact, over-production was often the challenge.
You can see where I am going with all of this… In May 2015, Roll7 officially shut down its Deptford HQ after seven years.
We sold pretty much everything: server, PCs, monitors, TVs, sofas, desks, boxes of miscellaneous leads and adapters – mainly to the guys at Deptford market. Selling everything was actually quite cathartic and led to the realisation that we may never work full-time in the same space again. It really feels that we are now embracing everything that technology has to offer teams in the new digital age.
The messy server and spaghetti junction of Ethernet leads that were never properly set up for remote file sharing were replaced for a cloud server solution that is fully managed and up-to-date. Internal email communication has been replaced by Slack, daily chats have been cut down to short phone or Skype calls and important face-to-face meetings happen at the very smart and centrally-located UKIE offices.
Everything must go
While the offices were not expensive by London standards – around £700 a month – we do stand to save about £10,000 a year versus having a physical space.
Between the Directors, we look to save a total of 1,080 hours of travel time to and from the office per year on top of the associated costs – around £1,296 each for an annual travel card. I also reckon that we are set to save an estimated £960 each a year on artisan coffee!
We are also now able to recruit from a much wider employee base across the UK, especially those that also want to enjoy the benefits of remote work.
Downtime and team morale is dealt with in part by playing online games like Helldivers and Rocket League at lunch, and a longer session on a Friday with beers. When we do meet and go for lunch or drinks in Central London, it is more of an occasion and doesn’t just seem like ‘organised fun’.
‘Organised fun’ on OlliOlli2 launch day
In a very real way, getting rid of our office has made Roll7 more efficient, cost effective, professional and operationally sleeker.
Aside from the benefits to Roll7 as a commercial entity, its our individual lives that have benefitted most from the change. All of us can say hand on heart that removing the commute has been a massive plus, allowing us to crack on with personal pursuits right up until 9am when we login and immediately on finishing for the day.
The headspace is a godsend. All of us feel far more focused on our workload – with way less office noise and banter getting in the way of crucial tasks. The change also means that we can all work from pretty much anywhere – I am writing this very article sat in my new home in North Devon overlooking the sea!
After a well deserved break from May to August in 2015, the core team of eight has since started on new projects in a fully remote capacity. We have delivered eight ports of OlliOlli2 and Not A Hero – with new DLC for both games. We've been successful with the UK Games Fund, signed an Xbox One deal with Team17 and started pre-production work on an unannounced project.
Remote Control – Roll7 Team, March 2016
It’s been an interesting cycle for us all, from a bedroom to an office and back to a bedroom again, all in a decade. You could say our definition of a ‘real’ company has matured.