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July 18, 2022

Ryan Gitter, Jamie Ro, and Peter Konig with Studio Head, Dave Matthews.

Drawing on Strong Culture to Create Original IP

Three Artists Explain How Our Cauldron Team Is Building More Than a Game

Establishing a new team and a new game IP at the same time is a monumental task. Yet this is what the Cauldron team – and every development team at ProbablyMonsters – has chosen to accomplish. Cauldron is well prepared for the challenge, as its leadership team, headed by Dave Matthews, has worked together on blockbuster franchises like Ghosts of Tsushima, God of War, and Borderlands. They now aim to achieve similar success, fortified by an inclusive culture that’s been purpose built to give development teams a foundation and environment to support creativity and expressivity, both which are core to creating new IP from scratch.

In fact, the team feels their greatest strength is ProbablyMonsters’ culture that drives everything they do. To learn more about how this culture impacts exploring a new IP and the careers and lives of the team, we sat down with members of Cauldron’s art team who have been Monsters for three years: 

  • Ryan Gitter, Senior Concept Artist, says his job is to “ideate on and design different aspects of the game, and then help guide the game visuals towards the art director’s vision.”
  • Jamie Ro, Senior Concept Artist, defines her role as “one of the people responsible for developing the look and the style of the game.”
  • Peter Konig, Senior Artist, is a concept artist and modeler with a specialty in character and creature design.

ProbablyMonsters Blog: What’s it like developing an original game within the infrastructure of a people-centric culture – how is it different from projects you’ve experienced in the past?

Ryan: I’ve worked at companies in the past where they treated their employees well, but ProbablyMonsters feels like they take the philosophy more to heart. The statement “people-first” feels very genuine here and I think that comes from the people who founded the company, and all the internal studios, having worked in places where that wasn’t necessarily the case, and the realization that they wanted something different from the norm.

Jamie: Over the course of my career, I have worked in small and large teams, in both original games and pre-established franchises. I think the biggest difference I’ve observed is the happiness level of the people who work around me and how collaboration happens amongst them.

ProbablyMonsters’ approach to hiring is to find people who are not only high performers in terms of their hard skills but also have the soft skills to work effectively in a team. In my experience so far, the studio has always been supportive and nurturing. There has been a lot of emphasis on creating a healthy culture, providing the right environment for the artists, and deriving commitment through nurturing.

I have worked in an environment in the past where there was a complex organizational structure, and the multiple managers debated over how to delineate the requirements of success. They exercised influence by putting pressure on the artist. In those cultures, upper managers held high standards to encourage performance, and often flexed their authority with “tough love.” While this approach was effective in terms of numbers of sketches and designs produced as an outcome, as you can imagine it also meant high burnout rate and low retention rate for the team.

Here at Cauldron, there is a lot of emphasis on “consideration” instead of the “hierarchical superiority.” As an artist this is a great environment to be in, especially since we work in creative projects and this type of culture creates a healthier foundation for collaboration.

I am a huge fan of collaborative culture. I believe combining perspectives and creating something together is better, as it almost always yields better results and creates better culture.

Peter: Working on an original IP at a brand-new team like Cauldron is a lucky and rare situation. There is a real sense of team spirit for what we’re trying to accomplish here and that doesn’t happen all the time. My previous experience with game studios sometimes led me to feel that I was just a factory worker or a kind of cog in a machine. Cauldron walks the walk of the idea of a “people-first” studio culture. I notice it even while working remotely these recent years. The experience of working here feels much more personal, and I know that what I do matters and shows in the final product.

ProbablyMonsters Blog: What advice would you like to share around how to build a culture that focuses on the wellbeing of developers first – any key learnings or successes you want to share?

Ryan: That’s fairly straightforward to me. I think it comes down to when you’re hiring new team members really making sure you’re bringing people on that have the mentality that the team you work on and the atmosphere you work in are as important as the game you work on.

Jamie: I read somewhere that real influence is shared by soft skills, not by hierarchical authority. I am not a fan of authoritarian, top-down culture because I think it kills creativity. On the flip side, some people may associate the emphasis on a nurturing, supportive, developer-first culture with leniency, permissiveness, or indulgence.

I think being ‘deliberate’ is the key. It all starts with being deliberate with hiring the right people, who share the same values of dedication, participation, and collaboration, which are all crucial. There is a lot of emphasis on diversity and inclusion right now. I think this also is critical. Forming a diverse team does not always happen organically as people often hire other people who are already in their social circles. Being intentional to reach out to more diverse pool of candidates is important, not only because you benefit by pooling from a larger pool of talent, but this can also contribute to a healthier culture that’s rooted in inclusion and equality.

Peter: Having low stress, open communication is an important part of workplace wellbeing. Everyone here is very approachable and I’ve noticed there’s a level of mutual respect that I can’t say I always felt at previous jobs.

ProbablyMonsters Blog: What would you like to share about your experience at our Cauldron Team since you started back in 2019?

Ryan: At one point, Cauldron leadership made the decision to fundamentally shift the direction of the game we’d been working on. The reasoning for the shift was very sound, but changes like that can be a real source of anxiety, especially if you’ve had past experiences in the industry where that sort of thing could mean reduction in team size or drastic changes in the studio mood or atmosphere. ProbablyMonsters and Cauldron stood by their statements about people-first culture, and I really felt like they had our backs and wanted us to genuinely succeed. That made the transition much less stressful, and I think more successful.

Jamie: I love it so far. I love the people and love the project I am working on. This is a great place for anyone who wants to utilize their talent to create something awesome.

Peter: It goes without saying that leadership and vision is key, but I think “casting” is equally important; finding the right people to build a team with. Like in film, if a director has a great cast, a big part of the work is already done. Pick people for their experience and skills of course, but also personality, attitude, and enthusiasm. If you carefully select for those kinds of attributes, create a group of people who know their stuff and again, have that mutual respect, I believe you’re at least halfway there. 

ProbablyMonsters Blog: Finally, anything else you want to share with the world about making an original IP?

Ryan: At Cauldron there’s a level of talent, passion, and openness that I think is really very rare and we’re working on something really cool.

Peter: I always know when I’m at the wrong place because after a few months I can feel that awful dread creep in when driving to or thinking about work. After three years here I don’t have that problem. I get to make cool stuff every day, I’m excited about what we’re creating and can’t wait to reveal it to the world. We have an extremely talented and friendly team here and I feel lucky to have snuck in the back door.

* * * 

In closing, the team would like to share that they are growing. “If you’re of the similar mindset that who you work with and how you work is as important as what you work on, then you might want to consider working with us,” says Ryan. (And for those interested, here’s the link: probablymonsters.com/careers.)

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