This week I’m chatting to Dylan Miklashek from Gameloft’s offices in Brisbane. He’s the Studio Manager and has been with the company since it founded its Australian operation. This is a longer chat than usual, but Dylan was super insightful and really candid about both the studio and the wider industry so it was a chat that I was happy to just dig deeper and deeper into.
Dylan has a really interesting background that led him to arrive where he is today and he has strong opinions about the need for government schemes like tax incentives as part of building a thriving and globally competitive ecosystem. While he’s not from Australia originally, and perhaps because he’s not, he’s got some great thoughts on why this is such a great country to be a game developer in, but also looks at the difficulties of finding the right staff when running a development studio in Brisbane and we explore what’s needed to help train developers, to get more of them to the right tier of experience, and to spread the industry around the country and not just always talk about how great things are down in Melbourne.
It’s an honest mix of the difficulties and the opportunities in the scene today.
Dylan Miklashek: Yes, sure. I’ve been making games since 1996, so quite a while now. I got into at EA, Canada, in Vancouver, that’s where I grew up. I’m originally born in States, but when I was about 12, my family moved up to Canada, so I consider myself Canadian just in case people ask when they hear my accent. I got this great opportunity and jumped on board, it was a bit scary back then. When you say, “It’s a real opportunity, a real career,” it certainly is in North America and in Europe, but back in those days, in ’96, my mother wasn’t really pleased with my decision when I told her, “Oh yes, I’m going to go work for this video game company.”
She was like, “That doesn’t sound like a real career,” but it was amazing. It was the most amazing decision I ever made up to that point. I was a programmer and I did jobs in the industrial computer industry which was pretty cool but once I got to EA and we’re making video games, I don’t know. It’s just like, “Wow, I love what I do. This is the job. This is amazing.”
The work was pretty brutal, [chuckles] so a bit of that wore off quickly when you find out how difficult they are to make, and the amount of pressure that people were under, and ours were pretty crazy back then, but I got the opportunity to work on FIFA for six and a half years and then I worked on a baseball game for another year. That was great, then I move to THQ if you remember, they used to have a studio here in Brisbane and one of their biggest games, that was the WWE franchise.
I had the opportunity to manage that and that was an amazing experience, spent a lot of time in Japan because their main developers for those games were in Japan, very cool experience. Then going back when I was still at EA, I met my wife up at the Whistler, who’s lo and behold, Australian. We decided to move down to California to take the WWE opportunity. Then from then, there I met people at Pandemic if you remember them and they said, “Hey, look, we want to expand our studio in Brisbane, Australia.” I said, “That works great because my wife wants to move back there.” She was eight months pregnant and wanted to be in your family.
I figured while I was meeting up with an Australian that eventually I would end up in Australia, which was fine with me because I had visited here before, and it was awesome. Then we started up Team Bravo as it became known as and thought we were going to be working on a new game and then the Dark Knight opportunity came along. Because Pandemic and EA working so closely together, that licence was– they were looking for a team to make the next Dark Knight or Batman based in the Chris Nolan universe and away we went. It just blew up, before we knew it, we’re 120 people in making this incredible open-world action game.
That was an amazing experience, probably one of the highlights of my career, but then it became the low light as EA and Warner Brothers got into a bit of a scuffle and the Dark Knight game was an innocent bystander victim. Then that quickly, at the same time– while that happened and then right after that almost, we had the global financial crisis and all the big studios, big publishers go, “Whoa, okay, we’re going to retract to the low risk, which would be existing– all their existing IPS and franchises.”
The exchange rate wasn’t doing as well as it had and then other countries just became more competitive. That’s about the time– I think, it was actually before that when the whole tax incentives thing started in Montreal, and it was Ubisoft that kicked that off. Then they became 30% cheaper where their operating costs were nearly 30% to 40% cheaper. That’s hard to compete with, and then you also had the growing Eastern Europe and Asia and they were operating at 1/3 if not 1/4 of the cost.
Didn’t quite have the same level of experience maybe, but it all came ahead in mid-2000s, sorry, late 2000s, 2008, 2009. I actually got out of video games for a bit, renovated a house, and then when that proved to be quite difficult– it was good, I enjoyed it, but it’s hard just to jump into a different industry like that. I ended up getting whatever job I could which was into the gaming industry, which is online gambling, a company called Icon. It’s done quite well here in Australia, but it’s not the same, it’s nowhere near the same.
I used to tell myself, I was like, “Well, instead of–” Because with the video games, the impact it has on children, it can sometimes be not great. I said, “Well, now I’m affecting adults.” It’s not the same. A lot of people play those kind of games for just enjoyment, pass the time, that sort of thing, but there is the addiction side of it. It’s not great. They’re not fun. It’s not fun like a video game. Let’s not kid ourselves.
Seamus: … the debate over video games versus the gambling things. It’s almost like, “Is it too fun?” Whereas the other side of it is almost like, “Well, where’s the balance in the money equation?” [chuckles]
Dylan: Yes. I think with some of the free to play games, they’ve actually captured a lot of that. That whole psychology part of that, they’ve tapped into it and it appears to be a video game, but at the end of the day, it’s a lot like a slot game, how they use the same maths and the same approach and the loot boxes. That’s essentially exactly what those are. It’s understandable that people– I think it’s great, that people have stood up and say, “Wow, that’s too close.” Now it’s not the same, it’s got to be– If you want to do that, then it’s got to be treated like a slot game, like a pure gambling game which is totally fair.
Seamus: I recently told my son actually to– He was chasing some weapon in a free to play game. He was telling me how he just had to get this many levels to get there and I’m like, “Are the levels slowing down each time you go up a level or are they linear levels? Then, roughly think about the next five levels. How long does it take you to get through those, then multiply that out then try to do your own little maths thereon? Will you ever actually get that weapon that you’re eyeing off or is it just trying to get you to throw $50 into a machine?” [laughs]
Dylan: Absolutely. I had a similar experience with my son in Fortnite in the early days. He spent his own money that he had to earn and he just got consumed in it, his friends were in it and there’s just this frenzy. You buy your battle pass and you get all this stuff from and that’s okay. “You do realize that you’ve spent $70 in the past two months chasing things that have nothing to do with actually playing the actual game?” He was just like, “Oh,” and he’s a smart kid, but just the way it grabs you. He just went, “Oh, I never added it up.”
Then he was just so mad at himself after that, but he got sucked in. It’s just like “Whoa,” for days and he didn’t play much longer after that because I think he was just turned off by the fact that he’d been manipulated and wasn’t happy about it, but I think he also got bored of it. Take nothing from Fortnite, it is a cultural phenomena and good for them. Then after that, I was done with this gaming thing and at the same time, I was starting to look out outside of that.
Gameloft was looking for a studio manager for a new studio here in Brisbane. I was like, “Wow, okay, I’ll jump all over that,” and luckily, I won the job and away we went. That was October 2014, which was a really interesting beginning to that experience was through their studio over in Auckland, because they had some people from Brisbane there, and they sent out the feelers and started hiring people. Basically, I walked in day one and we had 15 people, including myself, and I knew some of them just from previous work and experience. It was like, “Okay, we’ve got some tables here, some desks we’ve set up. We’ve got some computers here, 15 of them to be exact, and there’s 15 of you. Go, start making a game.”
It was like, “Okay.” We started with a few donuts and some coffee, but by noon we were all in there. Trying to get hooked up, “What’s the engine, what are we using here and what tools have you got that [unintelligible 00:10:29]. Can we compile the existing engine?” It was just, go. It was amazing, it was the weirdest because usually you come onto a team that’s already in full production and you’re being added to it or if you’re an indie game you’re one or two people and you start working together trying that, trying that, it’s a bit of a slow build or whatever. This was like nothing I’d ever experienced, 15 people go, start to learn it, and start thinking about what we’re going to design.
Seamus: That’s amazing.
Dylan: Yes, it was really unique.
Seamus: Who takes the lead in that conversation, because– You’re right, if everybody’s sitting there looking at each other, is it just someone throws something on the table or does someone [unintelligible 00:11:14]? Did you start as the studio manager when you arrived there, has that been your role through that time?
Dylan: I started as the production director. I was the most senior person there, they just at the time hadn’t handed out studio manager yet. At Gameloft, they have these studios all over the world and often those studio managers come from headquarters. They sort of grow up through Gameloft and then get sent out. They didn’t have somebody to do that with the studio, so they brought me in there and then I eventually earned their trust, and then they gave me that position, but I was still the senior guy. I’m a very collaborative kind of guy. I’m not the guy that comes in here and goes, “Okay, here you go, this is what you’re going to do.”
I go, “Okay, well, this is interesting, isn’t it? We need to start learning, what the tools are.” One of the guys was, “Yes, I’ve already compiled this such and thing, so we’re looking into that.” I go, “Okay.” It’s some of the people that were there, they were experienced and just dove right in. Which was really cool, the beginning of that. It’s a culture that we’ve always had in the studio, pretty fearless and just jumping in and start doing something.
Start doing it and then we’ll start answering some questions and then maybe when we get far enough, we’ll say, “Okay, should we continue doing what we’re doing now or should we change it based on all the new information and the questions that have been answered so far?” Often you do correct your path or change it a bit, but sometimes you just got to roll your sleeves up, jump in and that’s what we did. It was an exciting time. Plus, we didn’t have our office space yet, they had to renovate it.
That was the thing, that it was dumped on to me. It was, “Okay, you need to hire more people. You need to get this renovation, this fit-out sorted,” because all it was, was like an empty warehouse in Teneriffe. Go, start to get to know your people, start building a game. I didn’t even have a producer or anybody at that time, I was juggling all these things. It was a very exciting time, a great bunch of people and it was fun, it was a lot of fun.
Seamus: Awesome. What projects are driven out of Australia that people would know from looking at the Gameloft games?
Dylan: Gameloft does a lot of different types of games. What we’ve focused on are action, adventure games. The first one we did was an action-tycoon game. The idea from headquarters at the time was about, the Walking Dead popularity. They’re like, “Let’s make a game like that.” It was exactly that, it was zombies and tycoon, action-adventure with the survival element of it. Build your own camp and continue to build it up to make it stronger, invade other camps for resources and try to survive the zombies.
In some cases you were just going into camps that were overrun by zombies or an area that was overrun by zombies, other ones were the human PvP camps and things like that. It was pretty cool. It was a tycoon game, which with things like Clash of Clans and Boom Beach and things like that that had already been very successful. We had a bit of a different spin because we were three people trying to survive and they would work together and had different skills and abilities and stuff.
For that being our first game out of that studio and everybody there was– well, I shouldn’t say everybody, but just about everyone was from console or PC backgrounds, they weren’t mobile. It is a very different beast. It was our first free-to-play game for the most part, which is an even more different beast. It was really interesting. We did a great job given all those variables and we were still struggling to try and fill the whole team.
The biggest trouble, like I mentioned before, is finding people. In Australia, it’s really difficult to do and it’s even more difficult in Queensland. It’s one of those things we’ve struggled with and as soon as we started to get near, “Okay, we’ve almost got everybody in place,” then you have a bit of turnover. Australians love to travel, you always get, “Hey, this has been great, but I’ve got to go see the world.” [unintelligible 00:16:40], fair enough. I know that’s what Aussies do and what makes them so interesting and it makes them know a lot more about the world than say a typical American because they go out there and see it, they’re interested in the world.
We got a lot of people from outside as well, immigrating people in. Some were permanent, some were temporary, which is another side topic, but that’s changed a lot in the last three years. They revamped the whole immigration program, it’s more than three times as expensive as it used to be. Fortunately, we’re on like a fast track kind of program. We’ve proved to them that we’re the type of people that we’re immigrating, are what they’re looking for it’s good for their objectives and all this kind of thing, but that doesn’t change the cost. It’s crazy, it’s well over $10,000 now. Then it’s an annual thing too, you have to keep paying and this is above and beyond.
Obviously, I’m paying a salary [unintelligible 00:17:53] and all that, so it makes it a lot more difficult. Plus, you invest all that money and then what if it doesn’t work out, because you’re doing a lot of the interviewing remotely? I had even back in Pandemic, people came over, they were awesome, brought their families and then their partner were like, “I can’t do it. I miss my family, I want to be near mom. Our kids are young. I didn’t expect this,” or things happen or change and then they go, “I got to go home, I got to go back.” “Okay.” That makes it even a higher risk when you got spend all that money.
Seamus: Yes. What’s the hard part then about really finding the right talent here, because certainly there’s lots of the game colleges and all this stuff? It’s like there’s too much untested people with a few skills, but not really anything to show for it yet. What is that real hard part about finding the right people that are going to be able to walk into a studio and give you what you need?
Dylan: Well, some of that is they need experience. I’d love to be able to hire a whole slew of young people that are excited, they’re pumped up, they’ve got that enthusiasm, they’re smart and they’re ready to take on the world. The trouble is that no matter how great they are, they still don’t have the experience of working with other teams. There’s a bunch of things they have to learn and we all went through it.
I remember coming out of university going, “I’m ready to go, hire me.” They’re like, “Okay, you don’t have any experience.” “How I’m I going to get experience if you don’t hire me?” “Yes, agreed but we can’t really afford you right now, I need somebody who can actually be fully productive right now.” That’s the conundrum. If I could, I would hire those people and lots of them. We still do, but not at the rate that I’d like to because you’ve got to have staff available to train them. You’ve got to have the budget available to look long-term and say, “Look, we’re building this for the future. It costs us a little bit now, but we’re investing in the future.” That’s the smart way to do it, but the trouble is everybody else is so short-sighted.
It’s like politics, they’re worried about being re-elected. They’re not going to do, “Well, we’re going to look after the environment, because where it’s going to be in 20 years from now.” They’re like, “Well, that’s not going to get me elected. Right now is getting jobs in coal mining, is what’s going to get me re-elected.” It’s a conundrum. Do you blame them? It’s just how the way we work as humans and as businesses work and until you can find those businesses that are like, “No, we’ve got investors,” or, “We’ve got deep pockets and we can commit to long-term.”
If you do that, I guarantee your success, but it’s finding those companies that can do that, finding those investors. Maybe you look at Magic Leap. I got to learn something from them because the way that they convinced a lot of people to invest a ridiculous amount of money. That’s what you need to do if you’re going to be changing the world the way they are. That’s the trick and that’s where you need governments to help. They’re one of those entities that say, “No, long-term. You’ve got to look long-term.”
Obviously, it’s based on people being elected, but they’re also supposed to see past that and go long-term. You look at things like Super, everybody would love to have that 10% back in their own pocket, but the government’s forcing me to look long-term. We need something like that here and that’s where those tax incentives make a big difference. They lose money upfront, but they get it back when you have all these people working in the studio not only paying taxes but spending money in the local economy. It’s huge.
To me, it’s just a no brainer. I don’t understand why there’s even hesitation, particularly since so many other countries and provinces and states have done it, and while they’re doing it, it just looks that much cheaper. We line up cost of living, Australia is expensive in general which is a good thing because we’re looking out for everybody and not the same type of capitalistic approach that say United States would have. It’s more like Canada, pay higher taxes. We’re all a little bit more on a level ground and look after people.
I just think that when we do that, it raises our costs of living and because we don’t have these incentives, we’re looking more expensive than ever. Then you match that with Asia and Eastern Europe, who are getting a lot more experience now than they were 5 years ago, they’re very capable and they’re again a third of the cost. It really makes it difficult for Australia. Those tax incentives they’ve been proven to work, they’ve been going in Montreal for, I’m thinking maybe 10 years, at least 10 years, maybe 15 and look what it’s done for Ubisoft. Now, you look at how many studios, everybody is in Montreal now.
I’ll tell you, the winters there are brutal. They are brutal. You always talk to people in the winter and they’re like, “I got to get out of here, I’m moving, I can’t take it anymore. I’m leaving, that’s it. I don’t care how good my job is, I can’t take these winters.” Then the spring comes and they’re like, “Yay.”
Seamus: I was there in January 2019 for the Rainbow Six Siege. Big event up there in Montreal, because of course, it’s a Ubisoft game. It was amazing just to see three-feet of snow piled up on the side of the road and just the trucks always just driving around and pushing it out of the way because that’s just the routine.
Dylan: Yes, that’s the routine. It’s windy and cold. You go outside you won’t last more than a few minutes. It’s a beautiful city but that does make it very difficult for people. They’ve got such great studios there, they’ve got such a great culture, such a great community. Once, they got to a tipping point when they had probably three or four different big developers there. They move around, the resources move around. They’re like, “It’s been great at Ubi, but I got to try something different. I want to work on different games. I want to work doing something differently.” For whatever reason, they’ve got other options but they don’t leave Montreal, they stay there and they go around.
Outside people at EA, I’ve got lots of friends that went, “I’m going to go try something else. EA has gotten really big, it’s a big machine. I’ve learned a lot here, I need to go check something else out.” They go do it and I swear like 30%, if not 50%, of those people come back. They come back because EA changed, because EA had some issues and they got through those or something changed or they changed or something, but they stay in Vancouver or they stay in Montreal. They always come back to it or they leave there and they come back. They’ve got this constant ebb and flow of resources.
Going back to this education thing, if we could get more of those experienced people in there, here in Australia; keep them here, they don’t take off and leave forever, they stay here and then they can help mentor and educate the younger ones. That’s a big piece that we’re missing. We’re missing it because we don’t have enough developers and publishers here that are investing in that. They look at it and they go, “Well, the government isn’t.” Investing in that everywhere else, it sees the value in it. This is the other scary thing is that the government doesn’t see the value in video games, in the video game industry. Even though everything I read says that it’s bigger than the film industry.
Why don’t we have similar– because they’ve got tax incentives. They’re a little different but they’re something, they’re a lot more than what the video game industry has. I think in a lot of ways the film industry is a little more interesting to people because it’s filmed, they relate to it. Everybody watches movies and TV shows, not everyone plays video games. It speaks to a wider audience and guess what? It has movie stars in it. They’re cool. You want to meet them, don’t you? For video gamers, it’s really exciting to meet the lead designer of Call of Duty or GTA or something like that, but for most people, it’s not. If you want to meet Chris Hemsworth or something then it’s like, “Whoa, shit, that’s a big deal,” right?
Seamus: Yes. There’s such a small number of name brand game makers out there compared to film and TV industry type stuff where you like, “That’s the person who made that thing.” Is that well, yes, there’s such a small number of those in the game space. You’re right about some of that whole idea of needing. It could be used in some ways that, that arts industry model for film and TV support could be used at least as a very similar related concept to try to form the basis of better support for the games industry given that it’s so much.
It’s like it is an export industry, people are making things here and then they’re selling it all over the world. It’s really hard to fathom where that gap sits and why the decision can’t get made.
Dylan: When I talk to other people that are in government or in related industries and I say, “Why?” It’s so big other places. You look at Apple, you look at Amazon, these are the biggest companies in the world. Why aren’t we tapping into something? Why don’t we have something going on there? Apple’s made so much money off of games, not just their hardware and stuff. They say it’s old school. They’re old school, they look at the natural resources, there’s a lot of people in government that don’t understand it.
It seems like the Labor Party has people in it that are a little bit more open and they understand the potential of the video game industry a lot better but since they’re not in power then it doesn’t get a lot of attention. I’m not a politics guy. I’m more pragmatic I guess but it’s a real tricky situation. I don’t know how to get people on board. You look in Canada it was done on a provincial level, so it’s not even a federal level, it’s at provincial level so I’ve tried to talk to people here within the Queensland government but right now certainly isn’t a very high topic which is totally understandable there are a couple of other major things going on.
I thought we were picking up a little bit of attention but there’s a lot of focus on Hindi and little bits of some money like, “Okay, here give people.” The problem is the scale is so small. That’s why you need a balance. You need a couple of the big publishers, big developers, and then a bunch of the little ones. We can’t just have one or the other, and with the bigger ones obviously those tax incentives depending on how you look at it, yes, it’s a big chunk of money. If you’ve got a hundred people in a studio or more. Look at Ubisoft they’ve got like over 3,000 or 4,000 people in their Montreal studio and salaries are obviously the biggest cost.
If you look at that and you take 30% to 40% of that, it’s millions upon millions of dollars. I think when they look at it like that they’re like, “Oh God, we can’t do that that’s a big number.” Then you go, we just need somebody that can get in front of them and convince them, that look, “That you’re spending that to get this. All these people that– There’re a hundred people are paying taxes and they’re putting all the money that they earn back into the economy so it’s a No Brainer. [unintelligible 00:32:08] We’re not, we’re just not there yet.
Seamus: You mentioned again that whole Montreal ecosystem in a sense and lots of other cities. Here it’s always felt like the Victorian government has done enough at least that makes everybody think about Melbourne is that hub because there’s enough of a group of companies down there that means people feel that sense of community and they might move from one company to another company sometimes.
They don’t necessarily feel like, “If I want to leave this company I probably need to move overseas to stay in an industry I like.” I think it’s a great point there. Are there a few other companies up there in Brisbane that are nearby or, is there that feeling that it’s like well, you’re either working for Gameloft or there’s not many other places to be working without moving somewhere else?
Dylan: Yes, that’s the trouble and there’re other companies and there’s like Kixeye and there’s Halfbrick but they’re not in growth stages. They’re not in a growth place. Kixeye, I think they’ve got a live game and they’re continuing that game but they’re right down to– As I understand it, it’s scaled right down and Halfbrick scale breakdown as well. They’re not growing, they’re not taking a lot of risks, they’re not investing a lot of money into risk. It’s just keeping a purpose barely going, and you’re right if you look at Melbourne they thought EA and although it scaled back about a year ago, it’s still a lot of people and it’s a big machine there.
Then Sledgehammer, they chose to open up their studio there. That’s one of the most positive opportunities or examples of growth potential but we need like five of those, not just one of them. It just can’t go with Sledgehammer down in Melbourne. I think it has to be in multiple cities and even– But you have that in Melbourne, I can’t get people to leave Melbourne to come up to Gameloft for example. Because they’re like, “I’ve got other options here and I’ve made a life here in Melbourne so I want to stick around.” Okay, I can’t argue with that. There’s people in Brisbane that feels the same way but they’re running out of options.
Even for Gameloft, unfortunately, we’ve tried to grow to a second-team about two and a half, three years ago and in the end, it failed because I could not get enough people, so then I had two teams that didn’t have enough people on both of them and the projects took longer than they should have because of lack of experience and lack of bodies and a lack of specific key roles and their head office says, “Look these games don’t come out on an annual basis or close to it.” They’re just taking too long. If you can’t get enough people for two teams, we’re scaling it back to one.
That’s a really frustrating situation to be in. It’s sad because people lost their jobs which is always the worst experience of anybody in a leadership role because you just feel for them. There’s no nothing worse [laughs] than having to communicate that information and I’ve been through it myself with Pandemic, so it’s tough all around but I can’t really fault our headquarters for wanting to do that. Look, it’s just until you can get enough people to pull that off successfully, then we just we can’t do it. It’s like, we’d do the same thing if was in their position. Some people say the exchange rate, they’ll say, “Well right now the exchange rate is great.” It’s good but it’s unpredictable and it’s no guarantee.
No company is going to come in here and invest a tonne of money and then in six months from now, the cost go up 30% in an already expensive environment. It’s sort of a bonus, do you know what I mean? It can be a bonus sometimes that’s why Pandemic initially set up here was back then in the Olympics it was 50%. I was like, “Hey that’s a good deal.” That makes it well worthwhile. Like I say it’s unpredictable, it’s not that easy out alone. Also it means that we’re not in a good place as a country if our exchange rate is so low. Do you know what I mean?
Seamus: Yes, exactly.
Dylan: Why would you invest [unintelligible 00:37:11?
Seamus: I was going to say, what are some of the good parts I guess about being part of a global org? Is there a much kind of collaboration with overseas or are you quite an independent team and what are those ways in which I guess there’s back and forth with the higher-ups?
Dylan: It’s a combination of the two. We’re really fortunate to be associated we’re owned by a giant company. There’s pros and cons to everything but they’ve got the money and they’ve got the long-term. They sit there like Vivendi is the company that owns Gameloft and they’ve been around for, God like a hundred years or something, right? They used to be in charge of utilities and so the water system or something in Paris back in the day, so they were way back and they realized like a lot of European countries and companies, they realized that this stuff takes time.
It’ll be here in a hundred years from now so don’t panic, that kind if thing. That’s their approach, they’re like, “Look, these things take time, we need to invest in it, we want to see a plan, we want to see progress.” They’re not just going to– If you look at the stock exchange in Europe they just don’t have the kind of volatility, let’s say NASDAQ or Dow Jones does. Which is again pros and cons, you can’t make a killing by your skyrocketing stock but you also don’t have to worry about it going up and down like a roller coaster and closing your company down. EA probably lays people off every year around August, October– September, August, September, October in order to–
If their revenue aren’t where they wanted them to be then they’ve got to get their cost down. That’s the only other way to get the numbers to match otherwise the stock will take a hit and there’s all kinds of bad knock-on effects that occur from that. We don’t have that volatility and because Gameloft’s no longer public itself, we’re quite small and the grand scheme of things that we’re vending. It’s good they’re being patient, they’re listening, they’re not experts in the video game industry, so they’re listening to us, so that’s great. We are headquarter for Gameloft is in Paris, and we work very closely with them, so there’s obviously a
high degree of autonomy, but at the end of the day they are our customer and they’re sort of managing the company as a whole, so we can’t have every studio in the company making an uber casual [unintelligible 00:40:17] That wouldn’t be smart, so they are sort of diversifying and making sure that on a grand scale we are in a good balance. We try to work together as well, to share ideas and thoughts. I’m actually quite well connected with all the other creation studio managers and we talk on a regular basis and have a Mattermost channel where every other day someone is talking, “Hey did you hear this, do you know about that? Hey, what are you guys doing about this like COVID? What are you guys doing? When do you think you might let people back in the office? When do you think you might be encouraging people to come back to the office?”
This constant chatter, so that’s enormous. I know what’s going on in other cities in the world like Bucharest and Montreal and Toronto, through their eyes. Yes, it’s really good. I think sometimes collaboration can be a bit tricky because they’ve got so many projects. They are really time starved. They just have no time, so many things going on and there’s a big-time difference. The time difference is really difficult.
I have to take a lot of calls at 10, 11 o’clock at night. [chuckles] It makes it difficult, and the distance. That whole face to face thing is so important so Zoom and what not works great, but when you’re having contentious debates or talking with any kind of stress involved, then it would be much better to be face-to-face, especially when you’re building a rapport, but it’s 25 hours each way on a plane and right now nobody is flying at all, so that adds to it. It also can be a good thing because we don’t have somebody from headquarters planted in our studio. That was EA’s thing. Actually when I first started working at EA, that was my job. They’d send me, even though I was living in Vancouver and I worked for EA Canada in [unintelligible 00:42:35] They’d go, “Welcome to the team. You’re going to England in two days.”
I’m like, “Oh,” “Yes, we want you to go have a look at our team there. We got a contractor that’s working on one of the FIFAs.” “Oh, okay,” “Let us know how it’s going.” I didn’t even know anybody at EA yet and I was getting thrust into this studio in Liverpool. “Hey, hi new guy.”
Seamus: Come stick your nose in and see if you can learn everything that’s happening. [laughs]
Dylan: Yes exactly, so you’re like a spy, then you’ve come here to stand over us. “No, no, no man not like that, but what are you working on? What’s going on? When are you guys are going to be ready?” [laughs]
Seamus: “No, I’m not taking notes. Well I am.” [laughs]
Dylan: “Yes but they are mainly nice notes, don’t worry. I won’t get you in too much trouble.” Those are interesting times, but so we don’t have that, so that’s good. Like I said there’s pros and cons to everything. At this time, the fact that they are investing and investing for a long period of time is huge, you know what I mean? These games are especially mobile games, you just don’t know whether they’re going to be a commercial success or not.
You really have to throw them out there, see how they go and do post-mortem on it. But often they will- not often, but it’s not rare for them to fail and really have no explanation for it. It’s just what did people go for? You can do all the marketing tests beforehand, you can do all sorts of exercises and try to avoid that but at the end of the day, it just sometimes doesn’t work.
Film industry is similar, they’ll do tests beforehand and then change the film accordingly, put it out there and it just doesn’t work. It’s just not any good. People don’t jump on it, it doesn’t catch on. Look at how many movies, they came out- even Reservoir Dogs when it first came out for example. I don’t think it did very well, but then it became a cult classic, so there’s things like that. You need someone to believe in the long-term and Vivendi does that.
Seamus: That’s brilliant.
Dylan: Very lucky that way but it won’t last forever, so that’s where I’m pleading with governments to try and hear how important it is to invest now. To start working on this, to put it in place. I talk to my headquarters a lot about it, they know all about it. They even– Ann [unintelligible 00:45:30] was in Paris for some kind of trip, work-related, and did a luncheon and our CFO went to the luncheon to meet with her and to talk to her and try to convince her about tax incentives and whatnot.
Unfortunately that was when the fires broke out in Queensland, so she had to come home early so he didn’t get to meet her. These little things like that which is like, darn it. But they are trying at a high level because that’s how important it is, that’s going to make the difference. They want to stay in Australia, they want to expand in Australia, but they’re a business. If they can do it cheaper in other cities that have lots of resources, then it would make sense for them to do that. It’s a difficult situation but somehow I need, we need, the industry needs the government to do something, either Federal or State.
Seamus: Are there clear best practice ways of doing that, that you’ve seen or the game [unintelligible 00:46:51] has seen? Are there things that– Part of me wonders sometimes, is it almost that idea of, like you say, it’s too hard to just hire completely fresh people? But are there ways that when they often say, “We’ll help support training budgets?” It’s almost like, as you’ve said as well, that sometimes you can’t just give all the time of your senior staff members to looking after junior staff members, but maybe there’s ways of going, “Ah.” Supporters having more key staff where their time is dedicated to training people. Are there any thoughts, or is it just that idea of going, just some good, clean, tax percentages and things like that are the easiest way to do it?
Dylan: It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know how it affects them and how they can put it in place. Sure, there’s massive complexities on their side, the amount of money they’re juggling and where they distribute it is mind-boggling. I know from our side, absolutely, the only way it’s going to work is tax incentives. Everybody else is doing it, that’s why they’re doing it, so why try and re-invent something that’s working elsewhere?
It’s also how companies are weighing it up. If we sit here and go, “Montreal, Toronto, every other studio, country, state, province, they do tax incentives and it’s based on this.” Very clear, very simple, and who else? Australia, they have a completely different system. How does that work? Huh? I don’t really have time to learn that. You got what? High ended- what? I don’t understand. Never mind, too hard. You know what I mean?
Dylan: We should just say, “Look, we got exactly what Montreal has.” Okay, that’s interesting. Montreal right now is kind of flooded, they are saturated. They’ve got so many studios there that they’ve gone to the other side where it’s a real fight for resources, so there’s opportunity. There’s opportunity, they’re looking for places, they’re looking for cities, but until we have those tax incentives that are very similar, identical to what other places are doing, we’re stuck.
The interesting thing with all the programs, like you said, there are programs that hire young people that are right out of school and will help financially. You have a hire young people program. The trouble is that helps hire that young person perhaps, but the cost is actually much higher than that because like you said, you got to steal time from seniors. That costs money and they are on other projects, that’s the biggest issue.
They are time-starved as well. They are super busy trying to get a game out the door and can’t really be pulled over there easily, so I actually need to have a very strong leadership configuration. I need to have a couple of senior people extra in order to be adding three or four
young people. Unfortunately it’s just how it works, so that’s a lot more expensive than what the three or four young people cost.
Seamus: Not everybody who’s good at being a senior team member is a good mentor inherently.
Dylan: You’re absolutely right about that. That’s no fault of theirs, that’s just not their thing. I know at EA, we used to say, “Well, you’re the best programmer so now you’re going to be a lead.” It would be a disaster, because they’re like, “Okay, maybe I’m a good programmer, but I’m not a good people person, and I don’t really want to do it. It’s not my thing. Now I’m a bad programmer. I’m a bad lead,” and we’d lose the person. You can’t force that on people. Some are very good at it. Some are not. They’re hard to find. It’s very hard to find someone who’s incredibly talented from a technical perspective and at their trade, and then amazing at mentoring people. Because they’re very different parts of the brain and to get really good at being a programmer, it’s because they have thrown themselves into it, into the abyss, and that’s a weird world. It’s like the matrix. It looks totally different than the real world, you know what I mean?
Dylan: It’s a conundrum and maybe it’s because I’m just focused on it, but I just roll it back. I go, “Do the tax incentives and it fixes all the problems.” It allows us to hire more people, whatever people we need to set up that kind of structure. What I’d love to get in place, something that we had at EA, was the co-op program. Engineering co-op program with a school called Waterloo, which is back east.
Really smart kids come out of there and they would go on this program where they would do some period of time school, like four to six months school, and then four to six months working. They would start it after their second year, so it would make their overall graduation from university longer, but they had been working for half of it and doing a real job. We were very careful about who we selected, so it had to be kids that showed a lot of initiative, who were already doing projects on their own and creating portfolios, which is a really important thing to people that are out there looking for jobs. To make yourself heard and seen and increase your value. Do your own work. Write your own rendering engine, do your own art, do your own animations. Create as big a portfolio as you possibly can.
First of all you’re learning, and secondly you’re demonstrating your keenness, and that you have a passion for what you’re doing. A lot of the best programmers, “Why are you such a good programmer?” Because I go home after work and I program. I don’t work. I don’t do this programming. I have my own projects, because that’s what they love to do and so they’re just incredibly good at it. It’s like an athlete. These guys at the top, the best football players in the world. They’re not good because someone stood behind them and said, “You got to do this.” They’re not doing it just because of the money. They’re doing it because they absolutely love the sport and ever since they were three years old, they’ve been kicking a ball in their backyard for eight hours a day.
If we can get– Where I was going with that. I split off when I was talking about the kids and their portfolios and work- yes, coming back to that. We would find kids that were doing that, in addition to going to school, to university. They would apply at EA for the co-op program. I think we hired about three a term or something like that, or every six months, and most of them would end up working for EA, so it was this fantastic win-win. The kids got experience, great experience, working on teams doing real stuff, and we would get these very enthusiastic kids. It was very inexpensive and we would get to see what they were like.
We knew these were top kids, got to see what they were like, and like, “That’s a perfect fit.” We even got to mold them a bit to fit our culture. I guess it was more a fitting the collaboration. Often when they’re younger like that, they haven’t really done a lot of collaborating so that’s a weird thing for them, but if you throw them in there and we work with and mentor that collaboration, it works out really well. We hire them on full time. You’re not allowed to steal them away from school though.
Seamus: Yes, they got to finish.
Dylan: If they didn’t graduate, you’re in a heap of trouble. You’d get nasty letters from the university and the kids applying would dry up. That was a great program that I’d love to see here. Worked out really well.
Seamus: Sounds awesome.
Dylan: Again, I’ve got to have a few more people in leadership roles that can spare the time to help teach them.
Seamus: What do you feel like- clearly there’s problems. Are there strengths at the local industry or is it partly just that we’re an attractive place for talent to want to live, or even for people who are from here that ideally, they’d all get to stay here and work in the industry, if it’s what they want to do?
Dylan: Australia is an amazing place to start up a studio, to move development, because people are happy. You know what I mean? This is a wonderful place to live. It’s safe, it’s progressive, and I think they work to live. I know if you say that in the United States, they’d be like [gasps] “What? Now you’re just giving people an excuse to be lazy,” or something like that. It’s like no man, you got to have a balance. You got to work to live, you can’t live to work. That’s just a slippery slope.
People, they’re not doing it for the right reasons. The same thing I was talking about with the football player. You got to love it. If you don’t love it, eventually it wears off. Even a mortgage hanging over your head isn’t going to drive you to do a great job at work. You got to love what you’re doing, and part of that is a good balance of perspectives and work-life, personal life and your work life. That’s what we try to do at Gameloft Brisbane is really important balance.
We give a lot of flexibility to people in terms of, “You need a day off, you need time. For the next little while you need to come in late because of your kids this or that.” Maybe someone’s ill at home or there’s a situation, no problem. Fine. Go for it. It’s about that person being in a good head space. Right? That’s not to try to manipulate them to get the most out of them. No. That’s to say, look, if they are not in a good head space, then everyone loses. They’re losing, we’re losing as a company, as a team. It’s no good for anybody.
In Australia, I think that you have a much higher level of people in a good headspace than you do a lot of other places. They’re not living in fear. They don’t have to worry about medical, they don’t have to worry about guns, a crime. Obviously we can always do a better job but we look after each other. Just the state of- our taxes themselves look after each other. We don’t have the high high and the low low that especially a place like United States does.
I just think on average people are in a much better headspace consistently than a lot of other countries, so that’s what Australia has to offer.
That means that you’ve got happier people at work and you’re going to make better products. There’s a tremendous amount of creativity that comes out of our studio, and that’s because people are passionate but they’re relaxed. They’re keen but they also don’t have stresses outside of work that are bringing them down, typically. If they are, we address them, and we try to do whatever we can to help address, and I think Australia is pretty good about that across the board. Life’s too short. You got to enjoy. It’s a balance.
I’m glad you asked that question because sometimes I don’t think that that gets communicated enough. That’s what Australia has. This is a freaking awesome place to live. Some people, I think they worry a bit that we’re all out surfing all the time or something, but it’s not like that. People work hard here. They just probably don’t work as hard as maybe– I don’t know if I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but do they work as hard as people in China or the United States? I think they have a better balance. I think that better balance leads to more creativity, more innovation, higher level of productivity, and happiness. That’s the key to me is, we should all be as happy as possible and we’ll do great things.
Seamus: I almost feel sometimes that we have a clear a sense that if we’re working together in a creative industry, or from my perspective in editorial industries, that often we know, we all love the same stuff as well, and so we get along better, and really set up positive friendly environments in a way that when I’ve actually sometimes seen with international colleagues in similar industries, that you sometimes find people, they’re more tense about when do I climb the ladder next and step over that person. They’re a lot less collegiate in a sense compared to that idea of, “All right, we’re a small team, and we all love what we do, and therefore let’s go and have a beer after work, or let’s hang out and let’s become friends because we all love the same stuff.”
Dylan: Absolutely. That just comes out of the core of say United States’ culture and Canada gets a little bit of it, but nowhere near to the degree just because The States are so close, they kind of have to sometimes. United States it’s all about a rat race. It’s all about- life is about achieving a certain career status or financial status. That’s bigger than anything else in the United States and all about that capitalism, man. That’s why I don’t live there. Sometimes I think am I going to have to move back there at some point because of work? I guess maybe, but I sure don’t want to because it’s–
There’s lots of wonderful Americans. There’s great people there. I’ve got friends there, I’ve got family there. It’s just an overall culture that gets beaten into it and it starts with the companies. The companies are all about, you get bonuses on performance and delivering. They really lay it to you and they’ve done some great things because of that. You look at Steve Jobs, the stories you hear about that guy. He created some incredible things and now it’s one of the biggest companies and depending on the stock price on the day, it’s the biggest company in the world. Was he right or wrong?
I don’t know. I still think he could have done it with a little less of the heavy-hitting. That’s just my opinion, but I agree. I like to think of it this way. If you look at in sports how competitive they are, and often back in the day you would look at- so I’m big into BMX. I grew up racing BMX and stuff like that. You weren’t really friends with your buddies that you were racing against. They were your competitors. You talk to him and all that, but at the same time, someone would go, “What gearing are you running?” “None of your business.”
Seamus: [laughs] Yes.
Dylan: Like, “What? Come on man, are you kidding me?” No, that’s the way it was. People would- because your gearing is written on your sprockets, and they would file it off so you didn’t know what gear you were running because BMX is like a single gear. Like, “What are people doing here? This is crazy.” You look at today’s extreme sports and it’s such a different culture. They want everybody to win. whether it’s them or– It’s, “We just want to do great things. I want to see you do everything you want to do, and every triple backflip, and landed, and if that means you beat me, so be it.
I’m as happy for you for winning and pulling off your dream run that I would have been for me.” That real camaraderie and support. I think it works better because look at the things that they’re doing, it’s insane. Some of the quadruple backflips and triple backflips on a motorcycle. I mean, a lot of them are killing themselves, but they’re doing it because of an inner drive and the support.
Seamus: Yes. You’re right it’s like, “I want to beat you at your best,” not “I want to beat you because I pulled one over you.” [laughs]
Dylan: Yes. I’m happy to win but I want every one of us to have the run that we want to. I want everyone to succeed up here, and then if I win after that, great, but I just– It’s similar to this. This is something that back in the day when I was working on FIFA, we’d had these big weekly meetings, they’re called steering meetings. You get in there. I have lots of friends on FIFA, but we’d get into those meetings, and we just immediately get tense because this is about accountability.
We go around the room. It would be like, “Okay, where’s your thing at? Where’s yours at? Why is that one?” It was just the way it came off that people would just get defensive, myself included. I’d just be like [verbalizes] I hated those meetings. The vibe in them, and unfortunately the leaders that we had at the time, they didn’t know how not to create that situation, but it was great for me because I learned from. I went, “I hate that, and everybody else in the room hates it.”
We don’t like this. I’ve always said in our meetings that I will never allow that kind of vibe because if we do this right, the alternative is to collaborate, to listen to each other. We’re not here to jump on anybody, we’re here to support each other, we’re here to find a way. It’s not going to be just one idea. It’s going to be someone starts, plants a seed, and then someone adds to it, and then before you know it, it becomes something that we all had a part of and it’s best because of that.
There is this thing that I read once and I didn’t really I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I read this story I went, “Wow, that’s what’s happening.” That when you collaborate with other people in a successful way, your brain releases endorphins, and you actually get a little high. You’re like, “Hey, yes.” You get this really euphoric positive feeling, and so that’s the kind of meetings that we usually have.
Sometimes it doesn’t always work out [laughs] because you’re dealing with something really stressful, and there’s no way to come out of that meeting without feeling pressure on ourselves, but most meetings we finish going, “Okay, good. All right. Well, we got a plan here, we did it together, we believe in each other, and we feel very positive about it, and it was a real collaboration.” Nobody jumped on anybody. It was a really positive experience, and we feel good walking out. That’s just critically important to that being the typical outcome.
Seamus: Yes. That’s great.
Dylan: We like working together. We love working together. If for whatever reason, we have had people that come into that and somehow we can’t quite get it there. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work out. You can’t put 10 people together and expect them to all get along. That’s not anybody’s right or wrong, it just sometimes doesn’t work.
Again, I like sports analogy, you see it on sports teams. You can put the best people together and they get beat by a team that’s quite a bit weaker on paper, because they got along better, because they gel, because they bonded for whatever reason. Once you get that, and we have that at Gameloft at Brisbane and I’m really proud of that. It really makes coming to work a lot of fun.
Seamus: That’s awesome. I’ll throw you one last little question then to wrap it up. What excites you about the road ahead? Clearly we’re in the thick of a very weird time right now. When we look on the slightly longer horizon, what gives you a positive feeling about where we’re heading?
Dylan: Well, I think with this whole COVID thing, it’s on one side COVID, it’s terrible. People have lost their lives, people have lost their jobs, people have lost a lot of money. It’s caused a lot of strife. To some degree, it’s really out of everyone’s control. It’s mother nature and we just have to deal with it. It’s great to see everybody getting together to help each other to deal with it.
I think it’s also very disruptive worldwide. I find that very interesting. It’s not something bad that happened in a particular country. No, this affected everybody in the world. It makes you stop and it makes you think and it makes you look at things from a different perspective, so it’s a real disruptor. I’m very interested and excited to see what comes out of that. Some of it might be quite subtle and some of it might take a few years. I think that that’s very interesting. I’m a pros and cons kind of guy and I’m always looking at, how can we make everything a pro as much as possible? You can’t avoid all cons, but let’s find out, what can we do to make it as positive as possible.
I look at that. I think that we’re going to be different in our studio because of this. We’ll probably try to accommodate a little bit more work from home than we were, but we’ll have to see how that goes. I won’t make any promises yet because there’s financial implications. The way that game developers are, their workstations are quite expensive and quite high performance, so we can’t have like two of those for each employee and I can’t have them carrying them in and out of work every other day.
We’ve got to solve that problem, but I’m excited for just the potential and the opportunity. I think the free to play thing is changing. I feel sort of a movement back to making games for the sake of fun. You look at things like Fortnite. What’s awesome about that is that people got to play an amazing game for free. You didn’t have to buy all that stuff. You don’t have to buy a battle pass. No one’s forcing you to buy a battle pass. Most people bought it and we’re like, “Yes, but I’m happy. I’m getting good value for my money here. I’m happy.” I see new models like that, it’s very exciting, and I see people are trying to find a way to make things work.
We’re working on a game right now that I’m really excited about. I think it will be really cool. We had a number of challenges over the last couple of years that have been addressed, so we’re running smoother than ever. I guess that sometimes in the past, we’ve had to use some engines that probably we wouldn’t have chosen and on this new project, we’ve got to choose the engine. That’s really exciting and just lets people– We’re using Unreal, and it’s really exciting for the team. Everything operates a little bit more like a well oiled machine.
There’s not as much friction day-to-day, when you get to do that. I do think, too, like a scaling back. It has been a really tough couple of years for Gameloft Brisbane because we are trying to force that growth and it just wasn’t happening and that caused a lot of friction. We still had to try and develop two games at the same time with only one and a half teams or even one team, and that was very stressful for everyone involved. Like I said, to go through the layoffs back in November, that was just so difficult.
Yes, this is so far and the way it looks for the rest of the year. I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy, but everything is lined up. Success should be with a little bit less challenges, a little less friction and frustration, I guess. I’m really pumped about that because it’s always more fun when you put all this effort into something and most of it gets realized or most of it becomes something. You go, “Okay, great.” It’s like riding your bike into the wind. It’s much more fun when the wind’s behind you and you’re going, “Yes, this is great,” than riding into it and going half the speed. Even for the greatest cyclists that’s still not quite as satisfying.
[01:14:22] [END OF AUDIO]