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Celebrating Games Careers Week part three: Rob Hewson

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In our final interview for Games Career Week, we spoke to Rob Hewson about navigating the gaming industry as an indie developer, the game he is most excited to work on, and why being a #RaiseTheGame pledge partner is important to him.

Tell us about your journey and how you got into the gaming industry...

I did a degree in computing science and started working in web development initially, but it was my dream to work in games. A friend told me about a job ad for a QA position at a small studio in Manchester. I got the job, and the plan was to move into a programming role, but when the opportunity came up to work on design documentation I jumped at it and ended up going down that route.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about the gaming industry? How did you navigate those things early on in your career?

Naturally you always hear about the big success stories of break-out indie hits rather than the thousands of cases of failure, so there can be unrealistic expectations about finding success as an indie. The majority of people, myself included, need to put in the time to gain experience at larger studios first.

Was there ever a point when you suddenly thought: “I’ve done it! I’ve achieved my dream!”?

Never. I'm always looking ahead and never satisfied with where I am. Real satisfaction comes from progressing towards your goals, and as soon as you start to feel you have achieved one, you better get another one quickly, otherwise your drive and determination could begin to fade away. At previous companies, whenever I felt like I'd progressed as far as I could, that's when my motivation started to wane.

For those of us who don’t know much about gaming, could you give a brief overview of the process that developing a game might take?

It varies from project to project, but typically you will have a pre-production stage where you are developing the concept, which might include an early prototype. You might then progress to what we call a vertical slice — a small section of the game which is representative of how the final game will look and feel. Traditionally you would then progress towards an alpha build, where all the core functionality is in place, then onto a beta [build] where all the content is complete, before debugging and polish, leading to a gold master.

There are many different types of games that are popular for many different reasons. What is your personal approach/philosophy around thinking up new ideas for a game?

Every project has different constraints which help you to define the experience. These might come from the license you are working with, or constraints of the genre, or specific constraints that you set yourself. At Huey Games we tend to focus on ‘the joy of movement’, exploring unique and interesting kinetic gameplay mechanics around which to build the game.

What are the pros and cons of being an indie developer versus working for a big developer?

It depends on your perspective. Being independent means you spend a great deal of time thinking about business planning, finance, sales and marketing, and so on, whereas at a larger studio you will generally have a specific area of focus and responsibility, within a tight remit. Personally I find that I am far more motivated when I am setting goals and objectives for myself, but it has taken me many years of well-made mistakes to be ready to run a business.

Sometimes you might be working on a new title for many years at a time. How do you keep the energy levels up and everyone in your teams motivated over these long development cycles?

Motivation comes from moving the project forward, building new features, solving problems, [and] implementing exciting ideas. Launching a game is satisfying, but it can be something of an anticlimax, so you need to celebrate in style and then get your head down onto the next project.

You hear a lot about the dreaded ‘crunch’ in the industry when a studio is trying to get a title out by a certain deadline. Could you describe what a ‘normal week’ looks like versus a ‘crunch week’, in terms of managing your time and energy?

I've done enough ‘crunch’ in my time to know that it is ultimately unproductive and harmful to people's health and motivation, so it is something we work extremely hard to avoid at Huey Games.

When you’re hiring people, aside from looking at a candidate’s specific skill set — e.g. being a skilled programmer — what other skills and personal attributes do you look for?

As a remote working studio, we look for people who are comfortable working from home, with the ability to self-motivate, take the initiative when needed, communicate well, and to be solution-oriented. As a #RaiseTheGame pledge partner we are also focused on continuing to improve our approach to recruitment with regards to encouraging more diversity in the industry.

Who are some other game developers you really admire? Why?

Anybody who makes a commercially viable video game has my admiration, because it is not an easy thing to do. Personally I admire games which are elegantly designed around a unique mechanic, shedding any baggage which is not in service of the core experience.

What are you excited about working on right now?

I am always most excited about whatever game we are currently making, which is Wreckout as I write. I'm also excited about growing the company, building our team, and continuing to build great partnerships.

What would you say to a student who is reading this and thinking about getting into games development?

Think about what you want to specialise in, what it is that you are best at, and build a portfolio of work which demonstrates that. Only include your best work in that portfolio — less is more and quality is paramount. You need to be just as passionate about the process of making games as you are about playing them, if not more so. If that sounds like you, it's a fantastic industry to be a part of.

Thanks Rob!