Creative Minds: David Amor

Article: Buzz! boss talks family values

Tired of me-too games and punishing working hours Relentless Software boss David Amor decided to start up his own company - with a twist. Relentless Software enforces a strict 9-5 regime, rations internet use and bans recreational games during working hours. But how does the philosophy fare in practice? Brilliantly if judged by staff morale and the multi-million selling Buzz! Franchise that's put the company into the big league.

In the latest in our Creative Minds series we get the skinny on David's unique approach to development culture and discover how creativity can be borne out of discipline.

What did you set out to achieve when you formed Relentless?

David Amor: We wanted to make high quality games for everyone. Not just the gamer who pre-orders Japanese RPGs and learns button combos, but for everyone in the family. We had seen developers target this market previously, but few were bringing out these kinds of games that were of a high quality.

You've got some interesting ideas about how a developer should be run. What prompted you to change the late nights/weekends culture when you established Relentless?

Amor: Both Andy [Eades] (the other director) and I had worked in more traditional videogame development companies where end project crunches, lost weekends and late night pizzas were the norm. Nothing more was achieved. Yes, there were probably more hours being clocked up, but the quality of work was patchy and negative morale would become a problem.

I think the year we started fifty developers had gone into liquidation, so clearly something wasn't working. When we set up Relentless we enforced a strict nine to five - give us a solid seven hours and everyone gets to go home and see their families on time. It's worked better than we'd hoped.

How difficult was this adjustment at the beginning? Did anyone take the piss?

Amor: When we started it was pretty easy because there were only 12 of us and we were pretty tight. A few of us had to find something to do with our evenings again, but I'd just had a son so that took care of itself.

As time went on and we hired more people we inevitably brought in people that were used to a more relaxed working style coupled with long hours. Two or three took some time to adjust, but I'm a big believer in company culture and by and large new recruits got in the habit of working in the same way as the people they sat next to.

I understand you also advocate low email usage, no recreational games and turning off the internet. How does this work in practice?

Amor: We run a whitelist system which blocks all but work related sites. In practice this means that it's rare that anyone ever fires up a browser on their desktop machine. Since there will always be instances where you need access to a wider internet, we have a set of machines for work use.

I think it's really important to compartmentalise your work time so that you focus on whatever it is you're doing.
As wonderful as the internet is, it's a very distracting entity and forcing people to get up from their desk forces people to think before they click. We ask people not to use their work email for social emails for the same reason.

We have recreational internet machines which people are free to do whatever they like with, including check their personal mail, but the point is that you're deciding to check personal email rather than just being interrupted by the little Outlook envelope when you're in the middle of deep thought.

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