Beyond the crisis: Interview with Head of IT at Build a Rocket Boy

Article written by Andy Turton, Director of X4 Technology, as part of the beyond the crisis series.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Kerr, Head of IT at Build a Rocket Boy, an independent games studio currently developing its debut title Everywhere, a sci-fi open-world multiplayer adventure.

Having worked on a number of different tech businesses, Steven has extensive experience and a proven track record of building and leading teams across enterprise and high-growth start-ups.

Given the covid-19 pandemic that we still find ourselves in, it was incredibly interesting to speak to Steven about some of the main challenges he faces right now at Build a Rocket Boy and the games industry as a whole, alongside what he thinks will be the next biggest gaming trend and the advice he has for anyone striving for leadership positions in the games industry.

What are the main challenges you face right now as a high-growth company?

Both what we’re hiring for as well as when to hire have been some of the challenges recently.

Coming from an enterprise background I have seen the highest scale; however, the market leading solution might not be the best. There has been an evolution of attitude which has helped address some of the challenges around finding the best solutions within a growing studio or business, and how to apply them.

A big challenge has also been in moving from a smaller business to the enterprise realm. Most enterprise tech is pitched at growing businesses but still at a bigger scale. Game studios tend to be smaller, so making sure we have the paradigms in the business to adopt these technologies has been a challenge to address to ensure the business in utilising the technology in the right way.

How has Covid-19 affected your business and the gaming industry as a whole?

The lockdown affair has opened up lots of studios. It has shown how it is possible to have a hybrid of working from home and on site. We adapted to challenges of workflow and management and went with it, allowing us to identify bottlenecks where they exist, and employ the use of technologies such as the cloud to address them.

You do lose a certain aspect of socialising, which we have tried to mitigate but there have again been ways in which we have been able to address this.

What’s one of the key leadership lessons you’ve learnt during your career?

I’ll focus on one. Tell the truth to staff, bosses and stakeholders. If you have something to say, make sure it is informed and researched, but don’t stay quiet. If you have something to contribute to, ultimately, don’t hold yourself back.

What do you think is going to be the next fastest-growing trend in gaming?

Big and small studios are grappling with the idea of live service at the moment. This isn’t new but the next biggest trend is more integrated services and more collaborations across the industry. We’ve seen this with Fortnite and their collaborations with Marvel. This is widening the industry massively. This however needs to be done carefully and it has to harmonize with the intellectual property. Live service seems to be the way a large group of games will be delivered.

There is a tension between monetising the experience while staying true to the creative essence. Both need to be tended to and thought about very carefully. It is a tug of war where no side can win, and this is a good example of that.

The global video gaming industry is expected to make $159.3 billion in revenue in 2020, a 9.3% increase from 2019. Still, the industry is facing challenges with criticisms of working conditions. What do you feel needs to change in the industry to improve its sometimes-negative perception to diversity?

I think it is being addressed but there is lots of ground to cover and learning to be had. Not just in a philosophical manner but in a practical manner too. If you want to improve this, we need to look at how you’re doing work, and consider questions like are were working as efficiently as we can? Are we using the right models? Are we still making games the same way as the 90’s?

I would crystallise my approach in that there are problems from the top as well as the bottom. Leaders need to look broadly and not get stuck in the ways things have always been done. Some industries have addressed problems not yet solved in the gaming space.

Bottom up games companies should be making efforts (to a large extent they already are) to get involved at a grassroots level with communities and bringing possible new talent into industry. Making it understandable to people, how they can get involved in the industry is vital in helping to continue the industry’s community.

What advice do you have for others striving for leadership positions, such as CTO in the gaming industry?

The main thing to do is not to be too quick to trade in your hard skills. You will need to adapt and leverage the subject matter experts in your team, but don’t be quick to adopt the mentality that you’re a soft skills manager when you have other strengths. This will keep a lot more options to you if you stay in touch with your own material.

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