Going it Alone

Going it Alone
Sidhe's the One

Colin Rowsell | 5 Aug 2008 13:04
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Grow good things and don't eat babies

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Everyone works a set 9 to 6 workday, five days a week, and since first hiring staff the company has never missed payroll. There are crunches, but they're kiwi crunches: small and flightless. Sidhe enforces rigorous project management strategies with a distinct lack of foosball tables, massages and other tech industry clich├ęs. It's a way of getting the job done without devouring your young in the process.

To counter the prohibitive cost of shipping 80-plus New Zealanders to U.S. events like GDC, Sidhe holds its own internal development conference with presentations ranging from Agile code development to pitching ideas to the role of the publisher. Many companies do this kind of thing as a matter of course, but it's a little more important when you're 8,000 miles out of Austin or Las Vegas.

The broader habitat for developers has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, with a local Media Design School and several New Zealand universities now offering variants on game development degrees. Sidhe is an active sponsor, partner and adviser to this process and serves as the cornerstone of the New Zealand Game Developers Association, a group of embryonic Kiwi companies keen to get in on the action. As with those other local ecosystem generators, Weta Workshop and Peter Jackson's film operations, this activity has fundamentally shifted the New Zealand dreamscape. A bored 14-year-old in math class can finally have that light-bulb moment of, "Hey, if I do the right things and I'm good enough, I could actually make videogames for a living." There's still a distinct lack of women, but the seismic changes are real.

Show 'em your scars, then head for the barbecue
The flipside of growing young talent is that you need grizzled hands to stack the compost heaps. For experience and a veteran's perspective, Sidhe handpicks senior staff from overseas, some of whom arrive like refugees from an industry with a growing hunger for its own flesh.

The perspectives and motivations are revealing. Steve Mariotti worked for nearly 15 years on the West Coast of the States, including serving as Lead Programmer on Civilization: Call to Power and its sequel, before moving to Stormfront Studios and, later, Nihilistic Software. The journey included some high-pressure, everyone-getting-screamed-at projects. By the end of it he was married, had kids, and that factory-cog feeling had worn very thin indeed. "I absolutely became disenchanted with the way the game industry was going in the San Francisco area," Mariotti says. "Having worked my way through the best developers I could find, I struck out for greener shores."

Andy Satterthwaite started out in early-'90s Britain at Psygnosis, producing Wipeout 2097, Colony Wars and Wipeout 64 before setting up his own company to make N-GEN Racing and Quantum Redshift. He puts it simply: "Down here, I get to be a big fish in a small pond, creating things and helping build a company." His son was born in New Zealand, and along the way he had the germ of an idea that became Gripshift.

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