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  • Writer's pictureKeelWorks


Updated: 6 days ago

This Dev Diary showcases the people making and supporting CYGNI at KeelWorks!

KeelWorks CEO & Founder, Meher Kalenderian, gives us his insight into how the team started and how they've grown since then.

Prior to the publishing deal & partnership with KONAMI, how big was the team?

It was my brother Nareg, Helen and I, working in our spare time on KeelWorks. Nareg and Helen were busy creating the entire playable prototype for CYGNI, and I was busy establishing the business, negotiating the deal, and handling other legal and financial matters (all amid a pandemic).

We also had Vatche, our music composer, who was working on the music & sound for our playable demo and the announcement trailer.

How did you expand the team?

Once the publishing deal with Konami was completed, we needed to expand the team to focus on production full time. Since we wanted to remain a relatively small team and keep the indie identity throughout this project, we were very meticulous in selecting members during the recruitment process. Every person mattered to us. We initially used all different platforms to advertise roles, and we did get a lot of applications (too many!) for all the roles we had advertised. Ultimately, most of our recruits didn’t come from these adverts, but more so from direct head-hunting.

What did you look for when recruiting?

We knew it was vital that the individual hired could deliver the task, so portfolio was the first component we looked at before any CV or cover letter. We didn’t care much about degrees. If the portfolio matched our criteria, we would then have an interview and assess personality. It is equally important to us that the person has a good personality and shares the values and principles of the company and the rest of the team. We are a close-knit team after all, and it’s important that the team works well together.

What about the office? Are you working remotely?

We have a central office in the heart of Edinburgh; it has a good vibe to it, and the team feel very comfortable working there. We chose not to switch to fully remote working; we believe it is vital for some of the roles, within the core team, to be present in the same room for a more practical work approach. So, around seven of us work at the office, and the rest work remotely. But overall, there is flexibility and a system in place for all of us to be able to work remotely.

Are the people listed below all the current team members of Keelworks?

No, we couldn’t list everyone here; there are a few more freelancers who are contracted to deliver certain tasks and are not listed below.

What about Diversity in your team?

Well, if you look at our small team of around 15 people or so, it includes nine different nationalities/cultures (which brings with it all other sorts of diversity – religious, ethnic, and so on). Besides, if you consider us three founders, we ourselves come from minority backgrounds. But to be honest, all of this doesn’t really matter. We didn’t do this on purpose so that the stats and image of our company look good. We did it because these were the people we happened to find who fit the criteria of the roles we needed, and they had great character and personality. Up until the interview stage, we didn’t even know what the gender, orientation, or skin colour of the person was. Honestly, we really didn’t care. If applicants could do the job well and had a personality we liked, then they were hired. So yeah, I guess we are a diverse team without making much of an intentional effort to be so.

What’s the hardest part of the recruitment process for the studio or the hardest thing to find with the candidates you get?

The hardest part is to find good, available talent within our budget. There certainly are a lot of good candidates out there, but most are already employed by larger companies. Also, living costs in different countries vary, which leads to varied salary requirements or expectations that may not always be in line with the company’s budget within a specific geographical location or region.

One other difficulty we encounter is that, sometimes, the recruiter won’t know the candidates’ full ability to deliver prior to testing their work. This is not only linked to whether they can deliver quality work, but also if they can do so within the agreed timeline. If a task takes longer than it should, it has an impact on production and generates backlog.

We often receive portfolios that include AAA titles the candidate has worked on, but no specification as to what exactly they’ve done on those projects, which usually involve the collaborative input of multiple people. This misguides the recruiter and creates false expectations.

It is best to always be honest with oneself and with the hiring company, because eventually, everything will surface, and it won’t take too long to do so – and that would hurt all parties involved (especially the team, if it was a smaller one).

What attracted your recent new team members and made them want to join the studio?

From various conversations I’ve had with the team, some of them have previously worked in larger companies, which meant that they were one of many other artists/devs in their department. In a smaller team, however, the spotlight is on them; they sense the challenge and take ownership of their roles. For instance, we only have one animator and one programmer, and they know that the team relies on them. So they take initiative, take on the challenge, and accelerate.

Another interesting outlook is how in such smaller teams, working directly and closely under the supervision of the Game Director (in our case, Nareg), enables team members to learn more, better and quicker. In larger companies, hierarchical structures (most of the time necessary) may act as barriers for non-lead artists or programmers to have direct contact or interaction with the key person leading the production. In smaller team settings, members gain insight into work done by team leaders and receive valuable first-hand mentorship from those in charge. We’ve found that this increases motivation, drive, and personal ambition, which leads to an even more successful team.

Do you play any games together in the office? If so, what game?

We rarely have time to play games, but we do have a PC Engine already set up! We played lots during our team Christmas gathering this year which was fun.

Do you have or want to have a studio mascot / pet?

Our music composer Vatche has a dog, his name is ‘Freud’, and we’ve all kind of (remotely) adopted him. But no, we don’t have a mascot and we don’t intend on having a pet in the office just yet – maybe one day we’ll get a hamster, who knows!

Meet the KeelWorks Team:

(Edit: Updated in May 2024 with current team members. Thanks to all those who have taken part in the development journey of CYGNI during the past 2 years.)

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