…so this is a phrase I’ve been throwing around in the office a lot over the last couple of weeks. Although I do like to point out I want it to be a Spiderman: Homecoming reboot and not a “the contract is going to expire unless we make a new” Fantastic Four reboot.

With every corner turned it feels like Dlala is changing in one way or another. With our latest change the company lost a director, the team lost a senior team member and I lost a long term work partner. The same way in which winning the BAFTA at Bossa was a time to move on, this is a time for us to move Dlala on. No that doesn’t mean I’m shutting up shop, going back to the garage and starting again it almost means the opposite.

Here’s a dose of reality. We were a garage band, some of us in a literal sense. We grew from 2 guys in a garage to 12 guys and gals in offices in the UK and in the States. We were not prepared for that, those of you that saw Gem’s talk at Develop last week will notice there was a nice section in the middle which I like to call the “See how inept Aj is” section. It goes through all the things that were not being done properly, or even at all, before she started. This is all symptoms of something small, turning into something big with no preparation. Everyone has seen the Dlala story a million times, I even said I wasn’t going to talk about it…then spoke about it in my message about Craig leaving, but I want to put it in context.

January 2014 – We left Microsoft, we had 0 money and went back to the garages as a 6 man team
January 2014 – Our only artist left
February 2014 – We started prototyping Overruled!
March 2014 – We took a very small amount of Friends and Family investment
March 2014 – We signed with Team 17
September 2014 – We realise that we’re on track to go bankrupt and that the directors are going to have to stop taking the small amount we already are
October 2014 – We get a $200k contract to rescue a project that is due to miss it’s deadline
October 2014 – We sign with CAA
January 2015 – We hire Grant to make it 6 of us
March 2015 – We move into our offices in Essex
June 2015 – We sign a multi-million dollar deal with Disney (NOTE: There is still only 6 of us at this point)
December 2015 – We’ve grown to 12 people

Ignoring all the other aspects of our story this all happened over the course of less than 2 years. At no point during this time did we prepare for any of the projects or prepare the studio to grow. We always knew we could achieve what we set out to achieve but that doesn’t mean we were ever prepared for it. Whilst our work has never suffered for this lack of preparation the studio itself definitely has at times. I’ll be the first to put my hands up and say that this is all on me. I should have got a grip on things sooner. Much sooner than now. But there is no time like the present.

I know what you’re thinking “for someone that hates fluff, and always goes on about efficiency and getting straight to the point you sure are waffling”. Yes you are right. I am. So what does this mean for Dlala, there are a lot of changes happening that won’t effect anything public facing but there are lots of things that I want to change us that is outwardly facing:

  • Community Engagement – We have been awful with this, to be honest Overruled! suffered because of how bad we were at this. So one thing I want to vow now is that we’re looking at ways we can get better with the community. This doesn’t just mean chatting more on twitter but we also want to be more transparent. With our current project we’re going to start showing gifs, images and gameplay footage. We’re going to work to do some early twitch streams to show you guys work in progress builds. Some of the stuff we did on Overruled! but do it better and more frequently. You guys will need to be patient as we don’t know what we’re doing and we don’t have a dedicated community person but we’re going to do our best.
  • Team Visibility– When we first went public with Overruled! we did a lot of focus on the team, who they are, why they are at Dlala. Since then we’ve had people coming and going and you guys haven’t seen much about them. This is partially due to us not being able to do dev blogs on certain projects and partially because we didn’t give it the priority we should of. I’m going to be looking to get team members posting on the site regularly, doing meet the team style blog posts and vlog posts.
  • We Can Do Serious – So I don’t really mean that we can be serious people, I more mean that we can do “Serious Games”. We haven’t really spoken about it much, and a lot of the stuff we do we can’t legally speak about but we’ve done some fantastic projects with the Institute of Creative Technologies in the States, we’ve been working closely with them for nearly 3 years working on games for serious purposes. We need to be more open about the fact that we do this and reach out to see if there are others we can work with and/or help.
  • We Do Contract Work – So we back and forthed on this for a long time since we started. Originally we wanted to be 50/50, then we only wanted to do original IP, then we only wanted contract work. The reality is this. We do both. We’ve had some fantastic “Work For Hire” and “Work For Hire Plus” opportunities. Whether it’s Microsoft and Disney. Porting over the Escapists and creating DLC for Team 17. We’ve worked on some fantastic projects and we need to embrace this. Even now we’re going to be announcing some new projects we’re helping out on. This is why the website has a different feel to it, why there are quotes from the awesome people we’ve worked with.
  • Use The Blog – As well as everything else I want to start dedicating more time to using the blog. I want to use it casually with a purpose to point you guys towards books, articles, videos etc… that have all been useful to me and the team. You may find it interesting or not but at some of the talks I’ve done people have asked for these recommendations so it makes sense that I give them.

Then there is one final big one that is for everything we do:

BE BETTER – This is my most used phrase internally right now. My team are awesome, they are, I know I have to say it but it’s true. Do you know many studios that could survive 5 years at this size with numerous projects cut without ever having to make a budgetary based redundancy? This is because my team are good at what we do. However we need to strive to be better in every way. We need to be better for everything I’ve put above, we need to be better at creating games, be better at being employees and be better at being people. It is very easy to get complacent. We’ve got 3 team members (Chris, Ben and Loudon) all hitting their 5 years this year. Our “newest” team members all hit their 2 years in the next 6 months. Complacency can kick in, and whilst it might not have yet it is always lurking around the corner. I always feel it’s hot breath on my neck. So this is what I want the guys and gals to remember. However good we are as individuals and as a team. We can be better. I am encouraging suggestions for all levels of the company. This isn’t just about the team, this is about me. With Craig leaving and me becoming sole Company Director and majority shareholder I didn’t have anyone to call me out on my bullshit or being wrong. This is why you may have noticed certain team members moved into new roles. Gem, Ben and Rag all moving into studio based Director roles. I’ve put together a strategy team who I not only have a regular meeting booked in with but I’m running the majority of studio wide decisions by. I need people to call me out on my shit and tell me I’m wrong. YOU need people to call you out on your shit and tell you you’re wrong. If your most trusted people agree with everything you say, then you need to open your trust circle up. But hey that sounds like a conversation for another blog?

I hope this gives you guys a little insight and if nothing else makes me accountable for doing what I say I’m going to do. Because the internet is always the first place to pick you up on your broken promises.

Catch You On The Flipside

Aj