Q&A with thatgamecompany Community Developer, Robert Hornbek

Many thanks to thatgamecompany for letting us share this Q&A with Community Developer, Robert Hornbek!

Q: Which games inspired you to start making games?

Robert: The first video game we owned while growing up was “Sonic the Hedgehog” for SEGA Genesis. This game and its sequels — 2, 3, and “Sonic & Knuckles” — are arguably some of the most influential games on my life and career. Since then I have played countless games that remind me of the power that they have to tell stories, convey emotion, and challenge your mind in unique ways.

Around 2010 I was introduced to modern board games by a coworker, and while up until that point I had only known the likes of Monopoly and Battleship, this opened a whole other world of games for me. Today board games have become a huge part of my life, in how I connect with friends, and has become another avenue for inspiration.

Q: Is there a pathway from doing what I’m doing – *celebrating* the art – to, one day, joining a team (thatgamecompany – it’s my dream) and helping *create* said art?

Robert: There are two things I impart on everyone I meet who is interested in entering the video game industry; whether it is at thatgamecompany or otherwise.

The first thing is that there is no single path to anywhere, and often trying to follow in the footsteps of others can make matters more challenging for you. That said, while you continue to learn from others’ experiences, you should be forging your own path of success, and know it might not play out the same way for you as it has for others.

The second thing is to never stop doing what you love doing. If that is designing levels, programming systems, or creating art, keep doing it in your free time. This comes from the fact that you will start in your dream job, or anything near it. So as long as you are continuing to hone your skills, and build a portfolio of applicable work, you will have more proof of your abilities.

As for getting into thatgamecompany, or other art driven companies, I suggest you focus on learning how to develop and communicate the abstract ideas art suggests, into tangible and actionable goals. Considering this is a collaborative — team oriented — industry, communication is a pillar of success.

Lastly, always be on the lookout for available and new positions, including at thatgamecompany, because you never know when an opportunity might appear for you.

Q: I’m an inspiring community manager that’s looking to get into the industry. What are some best practices in searching for a possible foot into the indie game scene?

Robert: It is always a plus to present that you have been moderating an existing community, and show a deep understanding of what they value. Keep in mind, running a single quality community is often better than running multiple weaker ones, so focus on building something you are passionate about with a strong foundation. This does not need to be a new community, so try applying for a moderator position in an existing one.

You may also need to demonstrate your ability to manage crises in a community. Be it conflict between the users and the company, between users themselves, or perhaps even conflict with you directly. This will help show your ability to solve problems and stabilize the tone in the community. There are a lot of great articles and talks about this kind of thing, so I would suggest looking them up.

Community management initiatives are tied to revenue and growth for the company. So showing your ability to inspire and drive your community members to act upon these initiatives, shows a lot of value. Sometimes it might be as simple as creating a survey to collect information, while other times it might be the promotion of a new or existing product or service. This also includes your ability to grow a community, happily and healthily.

While you are part of building communities, you should be looking for community management and related position to begin getting more applied industry experience. This includes game master roles (GMs), customer support, and any other occupations that will help you strengthen your skills in that field.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to see post/discuss?

Robert: In the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, the Dungeon Master is tasked with creating a world, characters, and events for their players to experience — much like a video game developer. As someone who takes on this role often, I have learned that some of the best moments in a game is when I do not have to say or do anything at all. The players are so invested in the experience they are having that they begin discussing and sharing it among themselves. Sure, this does not last forever, but that is why I always have something else to get them excited about.

That said, most of my favorite things to see posted in our Sky communities are stories about members doing things together, and when posts grow into heartfelt and enriching conversations. Of course things like fan art and personal stories about experiences in Sky are always loved, but this is often because these posts tend to lead to more community interaction and engagement.

Q: The idea of “crunch” in game studios has recently been in news lately, with other companies seeming to take pride in what is a very damaging practice on employees. What special efforts does thatgamecompany make to avoid crunch, if it does so, and enrich employees’ lives?

Robert: With all the news about what has been happening, and the ongoing reputation that the industry has; many companies are reflecting on what they could be doing better, including us. Considering the ambition of Sky, we need to be thoughtful about how we manage our work/life balance.

We are building Sky to be an ever expanding online experience, and as a result we have been working on creating a sustainable development schedule that will allow us to finish and continue to maintain Sky for the foreseeable future. Launch will not be the end of this project, but just the beginning of an ever-evolving online product. That means our team need to be in the best possible shape when that time comes.

As we move towards deadline and the pressure builds to deliver a product worthy of the TGC name, we are all committing to work hard without ever putting expectations on each other that would compromise our health and well-being.

We have also been making improvements like offering employees a stipend for gym memberships and wellness programs, encouraging those who are ill to remain home, and holding core hours that allow for individuals to be a little more flexible with their time.

Ultimately our industry needs to stop glorifying overwork if it is to retain its best talent and continue to grow. That means respecting work-life balance, working with realistic timelines, and caring for your team like they are your family.

Thanks again to thatgamecompany for sharing this post.

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