Hello and welcome to the Kwalee Podcast, where myself, Matthew Barter, the Ambassador and Content Manager at Kwalee, will sit down with industry leaders to unravel the stories behind successful games. In this episode, I am joined by Simon Platt, our Head of Development. With over 12 years in the games arena and a track record of steering dev teams through the creation of 150 titles, including chart-toppers on the Apple App Store and Google Play, Simon brings a wealth of experience.
Creative Work - How We’re Inspired By Creative Wednesdays and Open Game Pitching At Kwalee
Creative work is at the heart of what we do as a games developer and publisher. Every fortnight, we have Creative Wednesdays, an event across all our locations worldwide where we play games and share updates with our teams. We’d go as far as saying Creative Wednesdays is one of the highlights of working at Kwalee. It’s helped our creative work culture blossom and directly led to the launch of many of our hit games. In the same spirit as Creative Wednesdays, every member of the team at Kwalee is invited to pitch mobile game ideas that are reviewed by game design leaders, because we believe anyone can have the next chart-topping concept. More on that later, but first let’s talk about our fortnightly all-staff gatherings.
Creative Work Through Collaboration
So what are Creative Wednesdays at Kwalee? If you peeked through the windows of our studios (please don’t) at a certain time on alternate Wednesdays, you’d catch us together in the middle of a round of applause or with serious thinking faces on. It’s more than just a meeting. It’s the answer to two main questions:
How do we harness our creativity?
- How do we include more people in the process of making games?
Everyone at Kwalee joins, gathering together in our studios or dialling in remotely. We start by welcoming our new starters. Everyone gets the chance to introduce themselves, tell us about their background, their quirky hobbies, the games they love to play, and light the spark of the collaboration and friendships that endure during their time working here.
Intros are followed by a range of rolling topics, from analysis of the latest trends in the industry, the announcement and celebration of new games, rewards and recognition of staff achievement and much more. Anything can happen at Creative Wednesdays! Sometimes there’s a new trailer, a chance to visit our Playtesting Studio to demo a new PC game, or a preview of a new mobile game build. Once a year we have a bumper session with a Kwalee Wrapped look back at the year.
Finally, each week we have our Let’s Play sessions. Secretly, this is everyone’s favourite bit. We decamp into smaller groups, on beanbags or Zoom calls, to play a carefully chosen mobile game. Active discussions help us learn more about the game, and what makes it work and together we deconstruct the design. All so we can make better, more fun and successful games ourselves. You read that right - we pay people to play games. It’s also in everyone’s job description. Living the dream.
What is Open Game Pitching At Kwalee?
Beyond Creative Wednesdays, one of the centrepieces of our creative work is our game pitches. As our studio has grown, we don’t have in-person game pitches on Wednesdays anymore. But they’re still a fundamental part of our ideation process - even as we’ve embraced more complex Hybrid Casual and Casual games.
Everyone at Kwalee is invited to pitch mobile gameplay core ideas and given a template to fill out at a time that suits them. Concepts go to our design leadership team - either they go into production, ideation, or get returned with feedback.
Coming back for more is encouraged - we’re a determined bunch! Hit games with hundreds of millions of downloads, like Draw it, Shootout 3D, Looper! and Go Fish, have all come through our pitch process over the years.
How Has Game Pitching Impacted Our Creative Work?
Let’s take two examples of how opening up the creative process to all helped us achieve success. A good example is Draw it - this was pitched by Kwalee team members. It’s an imaginative rapid-fire drawing game that you can pick up and play because it’s so intuitive. AI and machine learning technologies are used to detect what players are drawing - back in 2019 this was well ahead of its time, before AI took over the world! It came from open pitching and has over 120 million downloads - our most successful Kwalee mobile game. A second example is Airport Security, a game spawned by creative brainstorms - and we’ve written an in-depth guide to the design process. This one’s now our third most successful game, with over 86 million downloads.
How Have Creative Wednesdays Evolved Over Time?
Even though no creative work week is complete without our Wednesday sessions, they haven’t always been around in their current form. Their origins stretch back to the 1990s, when our CEO, David Darling, was a co-founder of Codemasters. He once brainstormed with department heads, landing an idea for a cartridge modification. Game fans that have been around for a few decades may know that this later became the Game Genie for NES systems, which went on to sell five million units worldwide.
And when first starting Kwalee in 2011, David looked for ways to encourage teamwork. So he gathered us into a room, let our creativity run wild and discussed crazy ideas to bring to life. Soon enough, we hosted this routine once a week. Wednesday seemed a good day to host the event - sitting nicely in the middle of the week. So the Wednesday events soon became a cool perk for everyone at Kwalee.
Everything changed in 2018 when we discovered Hyper Casual games. Diving straight into that market with both feet, we soon understood how Creative Wednesdays could amplify our output. With a few tweaks to the process, we brought innovation and creativity to our studio from top to bottom.
Recently, Creative Wednesdays has adapted at the same fast rate as our whole game studio. It’s been continuously re-engineered as we’ve opened studios in new countries, taken on remote teams, introduced PC Console games, Casual games and Hybrid Casual games. One of the biggest challenges was COVID-19. We kept Creative Wednesdays going and launched Bake it, which was pitched in the office, but later became the first game we shipped while everyone was working from home during the pandemic. It has now entered a new format to work harder for our wider range of goals - becoming a town hall that opens up lines of communication and helps us celebrate success, milestones and achievement.
What Can Other Creative Workplaces Learn From Our Wednesdays?
Creative Wednesdays have become a symbol of innovation for us. We want to share this with any other companies with ambitions to produce truly great creative work. Here are five pieces of advice:
Choose to be creative - don’t assume it’ll flow naturally - you up the odds of imaginative thinking by creating a structured space for it to flourish.
Take a step back - modern life is busy, and creative work is no different - it’s important to give yourself permission to drop the to-do list for an hour or two, and think about the big picture.
Mix up teams - we’ve learned that in the games industry, as in life, there’s a mix of introverts and extroverts. It’s important to channel different perspectives, so by encouraging people to play games together, we match people up with colleagues they might not normally speak to (as we also do through regular team-building excursions).
Value input from everyone - anyone can have brilliant ideas - put aside rank, roles and egos and listen to everyone.
Spread a happy culture - we don’t take it too seriously, we have laughs and we come away energised.
Finally, a message to everyone thinking of a new job in the games industry. Remember everything that makes work a blast - including the environment, culture, development, challenges and camaraderie. We have job roles in all our teams for smart, ambitious people. At Kwalee, we embrace creative work and learn from our failures and successes to make immensely fun games. Creative Wednesdays embody that vision, one that readily welcomes anyone — no matter your experience in games — with open arms.