Meagan Marie: Hey everyone, Meagan Marie here, community manager at Crystal Dynamics. I have to first and foremost apologize, because I'm a little bit under the weather this episode, so I may not sound quite as chipper as usual. But thank you for listening in, and hopefully you're taking advantage of our new status up on iTunes. For the first segment of the show, we're going to look at what it takes to run a video game studio. This is something that's quite often overshadowed by the production of a game itself, and something that a lot of fans have inquired about, in terms of what it's like to work at a game studio, and the culture behind it. I really think you'll enjoy it. After that, we'll have our monthly Q&A update with Karl, and an HR update about some of the exciting new job positions we have open at the studio. We'll end with our trivia challenge in a new format, and another one-of-a-kind prize, which I actually just picked up today, and I'm really excited for you guys to check it out. I hope you enjoy the show!
Segment 1: Maintaining a Game Studio
MEAGAN MARIE: A question I often receive is, "What is it like working at a game studio?" The inner workings of game studio are often enigmatic, especially to people that are in the press, like I was previously. During my time at Game Informer, this fact made a studio visit or tour the highlight of my month, or even year, because they were very few and far between. So this segment is actually aimed at sharing a bit of the magic of working at a game studio with you guys. We're going to talk to some of the key people who help ensure the studio is properly maintained, and that Crystal employees are happy. So, with me today I actually have three guests. I'm excited, as they're new voices and fresh faces for the podcast. I have Brian Venturi, who's the IT Director, say hello, Brian.
BRIAN VENTURI: Hello.
MEAGAN MARIE: And then I have Benny Ventura, the Facilities Manager.
BENNY VENTURA: Hel-lo.
MEAGAN MARIE: And then we have another lady on the podcast, Michelle Miceli. Did I do it right?
MICHELLE MICELI: Yes, you did it right.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great, and she's our HR generalist. These are the people that help keep everybody in the studio happy, and kind of make sure everything is in working order and everyone's comfortable, and often fed...
BRIAN VENTURI: That is the overall goal.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yes, exactly. So I'm going to start by touching on the general areas... We'll start with Benny in facilities. And then people, just jump in, if you have funny stories to share. I know some of you have been here for a long time... Yeah! It's exciting. So, Benny, what did you do prior to joining Crystal, and how long have you been at the studio?
BENNY VENTURA: Prior to joining Crystal, I was shipping and receiving manager at Crate and Barrel, at the Stanford Mall. This is my 13th year at Crystal.
MEAGAN MARIE: I knew you had been here a long time.
BENNY VENTURA: I'm OG.
MEAGAN MARIE: You're OG. So to set the stage, can you actually... Because we can't, unfortunately, post a video fly-through of the studio, because we've got intellectual property and secretive stuff all over... Can you describe and set the stage of what Crystal is like, some of the amenities and the general layout of the studio?
BENNY VENTURA: Well, let's see. We have four... Four or five conference rooms, all fully equipped with AV. We have a larger area for team and company meetings, that houses a nice foosball table, a ping-pong table, couple of arcade units. What else we got... We have a kegerator which is kinda cool.
BRIAN VENT: Yes... Very cool.
MEAGAN MARIE: Everybody appreciates that come Friday.
BRIAN VENTURI: And it's on wheels.
BENNY VENTURA: Yeah, it's on wheels. Mobile. What else we got?
MEAGAN MARIE: We have two kitchens.
BENNY VENTURA: Two kitchens.
BRIAN VENTURI: Can't forget the hub, just in general, has a LAN gaming area...
MEAGAN MARIE: Lots of board games, puzzles, fun stuff to put together, for people to break.
BRIAN VENTURI: Pretty common to see that place packed during lunch.
BENNY VENTURA: Yeah, lunchtime activities, big time. Lot of board gamers over there.
BRIAN VENTURI: Playing board games, we should say.
MEAGAN MARIE: Lots of "bored" gamers... [laughter] That's something we never want to have in the studio, is bored gamers.
BENNY VENTURA: You know what I mean.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yep. So I am going to brag about you a little bit, and I hope that I got this title right. You recently received the Unsung Hero award, is that what it is? Unsung Hero?
BENNY VENTURA: Yes.
MEAGAN MARIE: I know it's a general sentiment. We had our giant year-end party, and Benny was given the Unsung Hero award, because... I think a lot of people don't realize how much work you do for the studio, and really what it takes to be the head of facilities. I feel like I should ask, "What don't you do?" But what do you do around here that helps keep everyone happy?
BENNY VENTURA: I provide snacks and beer.
MEAGAN MARIE: That's underselling yourself a little bit, I think.
BENNY VENTURA: Nah, I mean... We take the approach of, "Hey, what can we do to make the place better." So, I mean, whether we provide, like I said, a little snack here, we'll do random barbecues or something like that, just to keep morale up. We'll bring in bagels or whatever. In a general sense, the typical day, it's hard to say, because we don't know what can pop up at any given time. It's just a matter of always being ready for anything, for us.
MEAGAN MARIE: Some of the things that you do touch on, that I'll bring up specifically, then, is... People work hard, they may work late, they come in the morning and there's going to be some sort of breakfast for them. We always stock cereal, right? And on Fridays we bring in bagels, which is one of my favorite things. It's a little thing, but it's a gesture that I appreciate, that I'm looking forward to. But I need to talk about the coffee machine, because the coffee-bot...
BENNY VENTURA: The coffee-bot, yes.
MEAGAN MARIE: ...is impressive.
BENNY VENTURA: Yes, yes, that is our workhorse there. Most often drank out of that as of late is the chai tea.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, I like that.
BENNY VENTURA: And the cappucino-milk combo. That's a recent addition, that's pretty popular.
MEAGAN MARIE: But it's actually a little machine that has all these pre-made packets and recipes for combining them for certain gourmet coffees. The times it's not working, which are very few and far between, I think the studio just falls apart on itself. Well, not really, but people... If people love it so much, it's like the lifeblood of the studio.
BENNY VENTURA: This is true.
MEAGAN MARIE: It is.
BRIAN VENTURI: Rage does set in, if it's not...
BENNY VENTURA: Normally we're pretty on top of it. When we get notification that there's a backup or whatever, we can usually fix it in about a week or so.
BRIAN VENTURI: A week...?
BENNY VENTURA: That's so wrong. About an hour or so...
MEAGAN MARIE: But that's when we get to drink the tar coffee. Whoever comes in, at like eight in the morning, and decides to make... Who is that? Is that Ron?
BRIAN VENTURI: That's Ron coffee.
MEAGAN MARIE: Ron makes the tar coffee.
BENNY VENTURA: I'm gonna plead the fifth on that one. [laughs]
MEAGAN MARIE: I actually like the tar coffee, because you only need half a cup.
BRIAN VENTURI: There's always a "Beware" sign next to it.
MEAGAN MARIE: And then it lasts all day.
BENNY VENTURA: Yeah, the brew cup coffee tends to be made a little sludgy, if you will. Most people will go for the individual teacup stuff.
MEAGAN MARIE: But in an emergency, the old-fashioned grounds, traditional coffee pot is there.
BENNY VENTURA: Or you can have the vending machine for Red Bull.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, that's always an option too. Along the same lines of food, this is something that I also thought was magical when I first started here, if people end up working late, we provide dinner for them, which I think is great. How does that process work?
BENNY VENTURA: If you're working past seven, normally we send the e-mail out to production, we get a headcount, and we have food catered in during the week.
MEAGAN MARIE: And what kind of stuff do we offer? It's always different.
BENNY VENTURA: It varies. I'd say, we can go traditional, hamburgers, hot dogs, to more interesting stuff like... I think the last week I saw this weird combination of Thai food brought in, it was kinda cool.
MEAGAN MARIE: Haven't I seen Greek pitas and...
BENNY VENTURA: Yeah, some Mediterranean stuff.
MEAGAN MARIE: Or, obviously we still have pizza every once in a while.
BENNY VENTURA: We try to phase that out, just because it's a little too common. These guys, give them some variety.
MEAGAN MARIE: And then every once in a while when you do have the pizza, then it's grub status...
BENNY VENTURA: Yeah, if there's pizza... Or occasionally we'll go for the six-foot burrito. That was pretty cool.
MEAGAN MARIE: And every once in a while, especially during times when we're trying to hit a milestone, people will come in on the weekends, and it's the same thing. It's food catered, we don't want anyone to have to worry about being hungry, help everybody be happy and efficient. I've seen anything from... One morning I think I came in on a Saturday and I'd swear I saw... It was like a shrimp egg bake or something like that. Really good, high-quality food.
BENNY VENTURA: Yeah, we'll bring in breakfast and sometimes brunch. And sometimes even the producers, they'll get down and they'll make waffles, which is kinda cool.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, I like that, and I like when we do the barbecues and we have people outside... The producers are cooking and handing everybody their hot dogs or their hamburgers and stuff like that. It's always nice. Speaking of the weekends, are you in charge of the air conditioning thing? This is actually something funny that people may not think of...
BENNY VENTURA: Yes, I am. After hours AC.
MEAGAN MARIE: Studios get warm, and if the AC doesn't work people get a little bit unhappy. Unless you're me and you're always cold and you have a heated blanket at your desk. So that's something that you take care of, ordering... Michelle totally knows I do, I'm bundled up to my armpits in a heated blanket.
BRIAN VENTURI: Looks like a Snuggie.
MEAGAN MARIE: It does, but I don't care, because that makes me work more efficiently. But you order AC on the weekends if people plan on coming in and make sure temperature controls...
BENNY VENTURA: Actually, that process is... I'll ping the producers every Thursday, just to see what the headcount is for the weekend, and we'll get services scheduled. Roughly from 9AM to 7PM. Just so the guys aren't in the sweatbox all day. Without it on, it tends to get really warm in here, really fast. Just because of the amount of equipment we have on the floor.
MEAGAN MARIE: What about... I know this is something you've actually helped me out with, incredibly. It's shipping stuff worldwide, you also take care of all shipments in regards to, like, international packages... Recently we've been sending a lot of stuff out for the various Tomb Raider trivia contests, forum winners, all of that daily shipping you take care of and make sure everything's out on time, or call people in and...
BENNY VENTURA: If it's small stuff we'll just use UPS, but the bigger stuff, we'll go for somebody like... International logistics, so an Adcom or someone.
MEAGAN MARIE: And what about these infamous Costco runs and Costco deliveries, where you've always got food and snacks coming in... What do we have, we have the trail mix...
BENNY VENTURA: Yes, a fan favorite.
MEAGAN MARIE: Always gone within five minutes of you refilling the jar. And I'm fairly certain you lock away the reserves, don't you?
BENNY VENTURA: Yes we do.
MEAGAN MARIE: Dammit! I'm always opening drawers looking for them.
BENNY VENTURA: It's all secured.
MICHELLE MICELI: Oatmeal...
MEAGAN MARIE: Lots of oatmeal.
BENNY VENTURA: Breakfast stuff, the cereals, we're really big on Hot Pockets here... Real big on Hot Pockets.
MEAGAN MARIE: I've been petitioning for some Lean Pockets.
BENNY VENTURA: I'm trying, I'm trying. But, you know, it's... Little perks we can give the employees. Not necessarily because we want to keep them in their seats all day, but just, hey, if you're hungry, we have stuff for you to eat.
MEAGAN MARIE: If you forget your lunch it's not the end of the world. Because we're out on the Peninsula, it's a little bit of a drive to find food. If you don't want to venture into Redwood City or something, it's nice to be able to grab some grub here and never have to worry about going hungry. And then also I put a note to make sure we remember to mention the beer cart, which we did. But we can actually... We have people vote on the beer. I've never actually participated in voting on the beer, but now that I know that, I'm going to.
BENNY VENTURA: Well, you can. We'll take requests. We have a set stock that we rotate in.
MEAGAN MARIE: What's the most popular?
BENNY VENTURA: Right now...? Probably Sierra Nevada, or Fat Tire.
MEAGAN MARIE: Blue Moon? I thought we had Blue Moon in there a while ago. That was the one that I opted to actually have a beer at five o'clock. We do these weekly recap meetings called "Awesome Town," where we look at new content and everybody gets excited and talks about what they did that week, and that's when we roll out the beer cart and kinda come together as a studio, which is one of the things I really enjoy each week. So is there anything... I feel like that wasn't comprehensive enough, actually. Was there anything I missed? Because it's not just all about superficial things like food and shipping. You make sure that everything runs and that nothing's broken...
BENNY VENTURA: Anything that pops up that we can take care of, we'll do. Of late, a lot of folks, they like an elevated desk, so we'll take the time, we'll work with IT, we'll elevate it so it's a standing desk and they're not hunched over all day animating stuff. Little things like that.
MEAGAN MARIE: Whenever employees have concerns, they know to come to you. Which is great.
BENNY VENTURA: Yes. I will generally have the answer, and if not, I'll help find it for you.
MEAGAN MARIE: One thing I did forget to mention, which is specific to the fact that we do work with new IP, is that we actually have a visitor policy. You have to make sure the visitor policies are enforced. What do you guys call the little area, the glass area?
BENNY VENTURA: Just the elevator lobby...
MICHELLE MICELI: The fishbowl.
MEAGAN MARIE: The fishbowl! There we go. So we have the little fishbowl area outside the elevators where people can sit on the couch and wait for someone, because they have to have a liaison show them around the studio. We can't just have people wandering around. So what are some of the processes involved with having guests in the studio?
BENNY VENTURA: Um... They have to be announced to our visitor request page, and basically it's a one-stop shop listing out who's going to be here on that day, what the nature of the visit is, if it's business or personal. And then from there, we'll follow up with the requests, like... "What are your requirements for this person?" If it is a personal visit we kind of have to enforce the policy, like no recording devices of any type on the floor, if you want to take pictures make sure it's in the lobby away from dev spaces. Stuff like that.
MEAGAN MARIE: That must have made, when we did the all-nighter... Brian and Benny, I think you guys remember that. That must have been a tricky thing to put together. If you don't know what the all-nighter was, we had a Dead Island all-nighter when Dead Island, which Square Enix published here... We had some journos in, and they did an all-night session playing it, live-streaming it, and so having not only individuals in, but individual press people in, playing a game all night... That was a bit of a...
BRIAN VENTURI: Absolutely. Heightened alert, yes.
MEAGAN MARIE: That was a little bit of an endeavor, to get everything together.
BENNY VENTURA: That one was interesting from the facilities side, because we wanted to make sure that, A, the guests themselves were comfortable enough, but we also wanted to protect our IP. So... [laughs] We ended up building a huge wall, where these journalists could not travel down into development areas, which was kind of interesting.
MEAGAN MARIE: But they had fun. I remember we had couches for them to crash on, we had food catered for them...
BENNY VENTURA: We had little survival packs...
MEAGAN MARIE: Survival packs, which were, like, deodorant and toothpaste and Mentos... So I think that was fairly successful.
BENNY VENTURA: Yeah, that was a fun time.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great. Well, let's move on to Michelle, since you've been a little quiet.
MICHELLE MICELI: I have been quiet, I'm sorry...
MEAGAN MARIE: That's okay, I basically let Karl talk half the time and then just giggle every once in a while, so people know I'm still there. That's how that works.
MICHELLE MICELI: Thanks. I'll remember that. [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: You can't get by with just giggling now.
MICHELLE MICELI: I'll try my best.
MEAGAN MARIE: How long have you been at Crystal, and what did you do prior to joining the team?
MICHELLE MICELI: I have been at Crystal for just over a year, and prior to working here I lived in Los Angeles, and I was at an internet company. I did human resources there, and I've done HR my entire career.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think I remember that. I started not too long after you did, right?
MICHELLE MICELI: Right.
MEAGAN MARIE: I just came to you and assumed you'd been here forever. You seemed like you were very well-integrated into the family already, so...
MICHELLE MICELI: Thanks.
MEAGAN MARIE: You were a pro already when I got to Crystal.
MICHELLE MICELI: Thanks for that. I got to jump right in, I think I had someone start the same day I did, and I got to do his paperwork for him also. I was like, "I don't know what I'm giving you, but here we go." We went through and it was exciting and I got to do just learn...
MEAGAN MARIE: Learn on the fly.
MICHELLE MICELI: Yes. Exactly.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think that's how a lot of jobs end up working, just jump in the deep end and...
BENNY VENTURA: I think I remember that.
MEAGAN MARIE: ...hope everything works...
MICHELLE MICELI: Which is great, because it's the best way to learn, right? I mean, you kind of figure everything out really quickly, you're integrated really fast to the team, you learn everyone's names and faces as quick as possible that way.
MEAGAN MARIE: I still have to work on learning everybody's names, I'm so bad with names.
MICHELLE MICELI: It's tough.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah. We have a decent-sized studio, and so it's more or less... I'm starting to remember people by funny quirks or things on their desk, instead of specific names. I need to rectify that immediately. So what is your primary focus at Crystal, then? What is the bulk of your HR duties?
MICHELLE MICELI: Oh, goodness.
BRIAN VENTURI: Everything.
MICHELLE MICELI: I feel like I'm just like Benny in that people come to me for everything, with initial questions and requests. Our main focus and priority as an HR team is just to make sure that our employees are happy and get their questions answered as fast as possible and as thoroughly as possible. So we focus highly on customer service.
BENNY VENTURA: I think that's a general trait for operations, right? We all... I consider operations kind of like small factions of one large team, if you will. We all kinda cross all the time.
MICHELLE MICELI: Yeah, that's a good way to look at it. It's true, because I often defer to Brian or Benny if I have questions, and they help me out, definitely. They help the studio out, that's the number one priority all the time.
MEAGAN MARIE: I was very impressed, when I joined Crystal, at how... How willing everybody is, how approachable everyone is and how willing everybody is to help you out if you have questions. Everybody's like, "Sure, come talk to me," and that was something I really appreciated, especially since I moved across the country. "What am I doing here?"
BRIAN VENTURI: It's kind of hard when you sit two spaces next to me. I can't avoid you as much as I want.
MEAGAN MARIE: I know, I feel kind of bad for some of you guys, because I sit right next to IT. If I have a problem I don't necessarily file a ticket, I just start yelling at someone...
BRIAN VENTURI: "BRIAN!" [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: I'm gonna work on that, I promise. So can you touch on some of the more creative or interesting things that you try to initiate, or programs that we've done to make life here a little bit more comfortable?
MICHELLE MICELI: Sure. In addition to having an awesome benefits program, human resources likes to keep its employees engaged. We feed them a lot, so in addition to all the snacks and treats that facilities provides in the kitchen, we do like to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays each month, so we always have cakes or pies or brownies...
BRIAN VENTURI: There's a lot of cookies coming out of HR.
MICHELLE MICELI: Yeah, lots of cookies. We love Specialties cookies, we love to order those in bulk and pass those around, we're slightly addicted.
BENNY VENTURA: That's an understatement.
MEAGAN MARIE: We appreciate them, though, because it's often enough that it's an appreciated activity, but it's not often enough that we're starting to see it in our waistlines or something along that line.
BENNY VENTURA: Speak for yourself. [big laughs]
MEAGAN MARIE: You must be finding secret cookies here somewhere.
BENNY VENTURA: No, I just... I have to receive them when they come in, so...
MICHELLE MICELI: We taste-test them.
BENNY VENTURA: ...I know when they're here.
MICHELLE MICELI: We like treats. But yeah, so we keep the employees happy through acknowledging their birthdays, their tenure here. We also like to acknowledge random holidays, like we just recently celebrated Pi Day, which was 3/14. So we brought pies into the office, and then of course right after that was Saint Patrick's Day, and the office manager hosted a little party in the afternoon for that, and human resources sponsored scratchers for the staff, so it was kind of a lucky Saint Patrick's Day thingy.
MEAGAN MARIE: I was actually out of town for the Pi Day, so I saw the announcement, and I was sitting here all sad thinking about the fact that everybody was eating pie and I didn't get any.
MICHELLE MICELI: It was amazing. Just go buy a pie... I just... I like pie.
BENNY VENTURA: It was pretty good.
MICHELLE MICELI: So of course, with all that eating, we also have to sponsor wellness programs and keep everyone active and healthy, and their lifestyle happy. So we sponsored an IPS Wellness program last year for the first time, and we think that was really successful in the studio. We had some people team up and support each other in their own wellness goals, and that was all around wellness, in terms of mental, emotional, physical wellness.
MEAGAN MARIE: It was like a game-ified point tracking system, where you set goals for yourself on this online program and then you...honor system...have to say whether you maintained those goals. It could be everything from a set calorie amount to working out a certain amount to stop drinking so much coffee, or have more glasses of water a day... So that was something where you threw a couple of little prizes on the end, and it really incentivized people to take control and step up and consider their health a little bit more. I know a lot of people appreciated that one.
MICHELLE MICELI: Absolutely. It was good, and it was a really good team-building activity also, because people were on teams and trying to compete against each other in terms of their point system. And they could, like you said, choose their own challenges and what was best for them in their life at the time.
MEAGAN MARIE: Other things, like I remember the chair massages, I appreciated those... And I got to appreciate those more than the ten minutes. I got to appreciate it all day, because it was right next to me. I got to listen to the music all day and the lights were down low. It was a very relaxing day.
MICHELLE MICELI: That was nice. That was part of the wellness program also, we did bring in chair massages for a day and everyone got to sign up for a time slot and get a chair massage. I was lucky, I got a 20-minute one, because the person signed up after me didn't show up.
BRIAN VENTURI: Oooh, preferential treatment...
MICHELLE MICELI: I wasn't going to stop him.
MEAGAN MARIE: I think if you're organizing it, you can get a little throwback every once in a while.
MICHELLE MICELI: Totally. But yeah, we brought an on-site yoga person as well, for the wellness program. We'd like to do that again, that got some pretty positive feedback. As well as the chair massages, that was definitely positively received.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, it was wonderful. Going outside in a... I'll have to post some photos eventually of our campus, but it's beautiful. The lawn is so well-manicured and maintained, and going outside and doing yoga midday was totally relaxing. I loved it.
MICHELLE MICELI: And it got some people who'd never done it before, who wanted to do it, to actually try it.
MEAGAN MARIE: There were a couple of guys who came out, and they were a little bit embarrassed and a little bit hesitant, and by the end they were just like, "That was amazing." It was great, I thought it was great. And then other things, like... We have free flu shots, make sure that people aren't getting sick, taken care of and all that. So it's a widely-encompassing... Not just making sure that the studio's running properly, like Benny does, but make sure that we're running properly too, because we make the studio go.
MICHELLE MICELI: Absolutely. Yeah. That's... Like I said before, HR's number one priority is to just get employees' concerns and questions handled, number one. If employees are happy, that means they're here at work producing and doing what needs to be done on the game.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yes. And that's what everybody wants, because everybody's excited for the game. Are there any unique HR considerations that relate to working at a gaming studio? This is one that I'm just throwing out there, I don't actually know if it's true... If there is something specific to gaming studios. Like I know a lot of people touch on... Benny touched on the standing desks, they're really popular, and looking into ergonomic chairs because game designers are sitting a lot, they're at their desks a lot...
MEAGAN MARIE2: You know, that's a good question, I'm trying to think... I just think that the people here are very unique, and very creative. It's just being dynamic with the people and matching their enthusiasm. I think that's the biggest thing that we focus on. As an HR function, you're always trying to get benefits questions answered, handle 401K stuff, the basic onboarding of employees, giving them the information that they need, that's kind of universal. But the people here are really dynamic and fun and full of energy and full of life...
MEAGAN MARIE: They are, definitely. I love the group here. Alright, are you ready for your time to shine, Brian?
BRIAN VENTURI: Let's do it.
MEAGAN MARIE: We're going to talk IT.
BRIAN VENTURI: Oooh, boring.
MICHELLE MICELI: Exciting stuff...
MEAGAN MARIE: Well, as IT director, I expect that this isn't too boring to you.
BRIAN VENTURI: Oh, I love this stuff. IT? Are you kidding me?
MEAGAN MARIE: So how long have you been at Crystal, and what did you do prior?
BRIAN VENTURI: Well, I'm not quite a Benny, but I've been here...12 years.
MEAGAN MARIE: You're not quite a Benny by one year.
BRIAN VENTURI: One year, he's got me beat.
MEAGAN MARIE: That's not too much of a discrepancy...
MICHELLE MICELI: No, that's a long time.
BRIAN VENTURI: No... April 2000, yeah.
MEAGAN MARIE: And what did you do prior?
BRIAN VENTURI: Before I was a network engineer, before that I actually managed a hardware store.
MEAGAN MARIE: So you know more than just the tech stuff, you also know some pretty cool hardware building stuff, which I've actually picked your brain about...
BRIAN VENTURI: Yeah. I've got weird hobbies, I do weird stuff. Yeah...
MEAGAN MARIE: I know a little bit about that... Alright, so as IT lead, your team's in charge of computers and networking and handheld devices and so on. Am I missing anything? What's the gamut of stuff that you have to keep track of?
BRIAN VENTURI: For the most part, it's really anything plugged in. Anything that comes in. Kind of to Benny and Michelle's point, we work in tandem on all kinds of different projects, and that goes through the whole range from setting up events to, let's say, our E3 presence. I've actually led a team from the technology aspect since, really, 2000 for our presence down there. Not so much in the last couple years, because Square's really taken the lead on that, and done a fantastic job, but it shows that what we do here, not only all aspects of the teams, but really outreaching beyond as well. And then both IT and these other groups, we help out on a larger scale globally as well with our company as well. A lot of fun stuff.
MEAGAN MARIE: What is the bulk of your day usually consumed by? I know we have a ticket system where people put in a request, unless they just yell at you from their desk...
BRIAN VENTURI: They do that too. Especially you. [laughter]
MEAGAN MARIE: "My Mac isn't working again!"
BRIAN VENTURI: In IT, just kinda thinking about that... Once again, anything when it comes to the operating system, but being in the games industry, we have to support consoles and all the specific softwares that have to do with making a game. But really, it's hard for me to say that anything is typical about our day here for IT, because each day it's something completely new. Every day feels like a Monday, it's hilarious. But it's great, it actually keeps the job very challenging. If it was monotonous I probably wouldn't have been here for 12 years. It's actually kind of fun in that way. I didn't really answer your question, but yeah, it's different, it's challenging. It's good.
MEAGAN MARIE: Are there any special considerations you do have to make because it's not just IT for... Just a standard communications company, it's IT for a gaming company...
BRIAN VENTURI: First and foremost, this is not a slacks and buttoned-up shirts kind of job.
MEAGAN MARIE: Which is nice.
BRIAN VENTURI: Yeah, which is good, but it does also mean you're going to be doing everything from really basic troubleshooting to really in-depth hard weird stuff. The typical IT person, this job would break them.
MEAGAN MARIE: Really?
BRIAN VENTURI: Yeah.
MEAGAN MARIE: You need someone with some grit to do this job.
BRIAN VENTURI: Definitely grit. A lot of IT people take pride in what they know, and you come into an environment like this and that's shattered. Absolutely shattered, because you think you know something, but it all changes. You have to remember, as we were saying, the people that we're supporting here making these games, they are fantastic, creative, intelligent, frustrating, challenging... [laughs] They know a lot. More like, they know enough to be dangerous. So yeah, it's very interesting here.
MEAGAN MARIE: Touching back on the intellectual property, Benny has said that from a visitors standpoint we have to go through certain procedures to have people in the office, but there's also some tech rules. Recently we have, now, our console systems locked to our desks, which is something that... It's pretty much to protect the integrity of everyone's hard work. But are there any other examples of that sort of thing that we have to take into consideration, to make sure that our IP is protected?
BRIAN VENTURI: Yeah, there's a lot of different aspects we look at. We try with the simplest things, like no recording, no taking photos, no USB drives, that kind of stuff, just to make sure our code does not walk. We're trying to protect everybody's job, really, we want to make sure that when something launches, it's a surprise. That's what it's all about. But IT in general, we try to make sure a lot of requests come through us, even if it does not directly affect us, just so we can maybe get the right departments involved, or get the right levels of security to sign off on whatever that may be. Again, people like myself and Benny that have been here a long time can look at questions and think about it a little bit deeper as far as who it may affect. We're always thinking security, and we're always reminding people about it. Let's think about this, who can this touch, who can this affect.
MEAGAN MARIE: Exactly. Karl, actually, when I was talking to him about the segment, he'd mentioned that when he travels and he's taking a kit with him, he keeps the hard drive in a separate briefcase or a separate suitcase from where he keeps the actual console...
BRIAN VENTURI: We might as well have handcuffs and a suitcase for him, traveling. Never shall the two be together kind of stuff. There's a lot of behind the scenes process that we have going on.
MICHELLE MICELI: There's stuff I wouldn't have even thought of.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yeah, and that's the stuff that surprised me when I joined the studio, but it absolutely makes sense, because everybody's excited, everybody wants something... It needs to go out the right channels at the right time, to really protect what becomes of a studio of passionate, dedicated people's hard work. You can't be too careful.
BRIAN VENTURI: Yeah. It's definitely an industry where everybody wants to see stuff as early as they can.
MEAGAN MARIE: I understand that. Are there any special tech or IT considerations, considering that we're global? It's Crystal Dynamics in Redwood City, but Square Enix is a global company. We talk with people internationally all the time, so I know that we have some cool videoconferencing programs, lots of...
BRIAN VENTURI: Yeah. Different ways of file sharing, videoconference... Your vidcon and your conference calling systems, all your basics there. We have a lot of sites connected, and we make sure that the communications levels are high between IT departments, HR departments, facilities, all ops, really, in general. Just making sure that the people on the ground doing the job can communicate and talk in a timely fashion and a secure fashion.
MEAGAN MARIE: Yes. Absolutely. So it's not just... Like we've mentioned, it's not just about making sure computers and networks run. You guys also have to deal with those game builds, make sure the game builds are prepped and on the consoles and everything's updated. Can you explain a little bit of what that process is like?
BRIAN VENTURI: No.
MEAGAN MARIE: [laughs]
BRIAN VENTURI: But I will tell you, we definitely work with other teams within our company, whether that be mastering, QA, the production teams themselves, about reminding them, about which software is best to use or how to serialize or track... All that stuff happens behind the scenes.
MEAGAN MARIE: But it's a big part of your job. Testing, playing through, updating builds, looking at content, it's a huge part of the daily in and out of what's done at the studio.
BRIAN VENTURI: Yeah. IT has a part in that. We're not solely responsible for testing and stuff like that, but to make sure the protocols work, that the process is being followed, we help establish that and make sure it's followed. Benny here is keeping quiet, but he has been everywhere from QA to production to IT and now facilities, so he knows all about this stuff as well.
BENNY VENTURA: All-purpose ninja.
MEAGAN MARIE: All-purpose ninja Benny, I like that. So... I think all of that is extremely interesting. Like I said, when I came to the studio all of these little details... I don't know why, but the cereal drawer was like the most amazing thing to me. I even took pictures of it my first day, I was like, "Look at this! There's free Life cereal!" And it's not just Life, it's Cheerios, Honey Bunches of Oats, it's all this amazing stuff. It's really impressive how much you guys work to keep the studio running and to keep everybody happy. I think I can say thank you from everyone.
BENNY VENTURA: We do whatever we can do, right?
MEAGAN MARIE: It all feeds back into making an amazing game, which is what we are gonna do for everyone listening.
BRIAN VENTURI: Absolutely.
BENNY VENTURA: Yep.
MICHELLE MICELI: Definitely.
MEAGAN MARIE: Thank you all so much for participating.
All: Thank you!
Segment 2: Take Five
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, Karl. Take Five time. We're actually going to drop straight into it, because everybody is crazy busy right now, preparing some exciting new stuff. So are we ready for question number one? Is Toby Gard still involved with the Tomb Raider franchise?
KARL STEWART: At this time, no, Toby Gard is not associated with the Tomb Raider franchise. As we've mentioned in many, many conversations and interviews in the past, Toby is a friend of the studio, so he has been up and he's been a part of what we're doing for a little bit, but at this time, no, Toby is not. He's off doing his own venture. We talk a lot, Toby's a good friend, he's a good guy. But he's got a lot of creative juices that he wants to keep working on, so he's always going to... He's going to appear somewhere else, doing something else, and we're going to be jealous, I bet you.
MEAGAN MARIE: Question number two, and this one might seem slightly trivial, but we actually get it quite a bit, and it gives a little bit of insight into how retailers work. EB Games listed Tomb Raider's release date as December 31, 2012. Is this correct?
KARL STEWART: Has nobody told you? December 31? Did you miss the memo? No, this is... From my days working on the publishing side, then moving over to the development side, this is just a standard thing that retailers do when they don't have a date to put in that little box that they need to tick. It's like one of those... If you imagine a content management system, and it says, "Put in the date here," and if you say "Not Applicable" it just picks a date and spews it out and puts it on the site. So... I can guarantee you that if you go to a dozen or so unannounced games on EB or GameStop or any retailer's website, they'll all probably say December 31. Or January 1. So no, we haven't announced a date. We will be doing that pretty soon, as you all know, but the December 31 is wrong. We have not said we're going to ship on the 31st, which would be kind of a screwy day to launch a game on, I think...
MEAGAN MARIE: Question number three, will Crystal Dynamics ever opt to have their own Tomb Raider online store, like BioWare? And the sentiment behind that is, "We want Lara goodies!"
KARL STEWART: And I want to sell Lara goodies! Yes, so... We have been working tirelessly over the last six months, although people may think that we've gone quiet and we've just been in our offices playing video games, which we partially have... In actual fact, one of my roles is to be out there making sure that we bring together all of the merchandise, all of the licensing and all of the extensions and partners, great partners, all together in one place so that when we do come back with our next round, inside of that will be everything from online stores to collectibles to you name it. We've been busy. You'll see, pretty soon. I can't give you a date right now because we're still in some of our final talks, but it is exciting. Every game has to have its own store. We've looked at nearly every single game out there who has it to take reference from what they've done, and what makes it exciting, the types of goodies. You've all seen Meagan's desk, so you cannot say that you don't expect to have a collection of collectibles appearing in the near future. Meagan has given a lot of her time to help pick and find and source and we're excited. We've picked a very strong collection of partners. Hopefully in the very near future I'll get out there and announce them all, bit by bit.
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, on to the next question, and again, this is a very popular one, especially in the forums right now. Was Tomb Raider in any way inspired by the Hunger Games, and if not, what do you think of the Hunger Games?
KS: Um... Okay. Take this as two parts. No, it wasn't inspired by the Hunger Games. We had begin doing the re-imagining, and Lara having a bow, before the book came out in...late 2008, I believe? So Katniss has got similarities, without a doubt. I'm sure some of you have read my tweets. I was going through a state of listening to that, I think it took me like 48 hours or something on audiobook from my drives back forth, some stupid time... I love it, I think it's awesome, I can't wait to watch the movie. I actually tried to get my midnight tickets for IMAX. I'm excited to see where they've taken it. I've been reading some of the reviews over the last couple of days and I think they've put it in a good position. Although Haymitch, I believe, is not the same character, in the same way. Haymitch was this, you know, abrasive kind of drunk in the book, and seemingly they've made Haymitch... Well, he's not as abrasive from what I hear in the reviews. But that's a spoiler alert...
MEAGAN MARIE: I've actually only seen a couple of the trailers, so I've been staying away from that kind of stuff. But I think, hey, it's a great thing if we can have more strong, respectable female protagonists.
KS: I think it's a huge support, and I have no doubt that over the coming months there will be a lot of comparisons drawn. We saw that way, way back when we had sat down with all of our visions, and kinda thought about the future of the franchise. And then not too long after, the Hunger Games book came out, which was relatively unknown for quite a while. People were talking about it, but it certainly didn't get anywhere close to where it is now with the movie being signed. I just think now, it's in the spotlight and people are making comparisons, but... No, I think it's great. Female characters, strong leads, bring 'em on. I think it's great.
MEAGAN MARIE: Final question, and again, this is one that we get a lot, but I guess all of these questions are ones we get quite often, because that's why I pick them. Why all the secrecy around the voice actress? I think some people think that it's a little strange, that we're keeping such an important factor and an important part of the game from the public for so long. Can you explain the thought process behind that?
KS: Okay, so... Let me see if I can answer this properly, so that a lot of people won't be P'd off at me. When you go through the process of... When you're hiring voice actresses, you go through a lot of changes. You get so far into a project where you think, "Okay, is this it? Is this the voice, or do we need to change it again?" So obviously we have to be very careful in one sense, that we don't go announcing somebody and then have to backtrack and say, "Oh, sorry, we decided that when the game got X percent of the way through, we felt her voice wasn't relevant anymore." Or, "This game is all about Lara's arc, and that going in as a young naive girl and then coming out as an action-adventure hero, we need to find the right actress for that." So we believe we have... The girl that we've signed, we're absolutely delighted with her. But with that comes making sure that it's announced at the right time. Announcing her right now, when there's no new content, doesn't make sense, because the goal of the next beat that we come out with, in the very near future, is all about how Lara has made that transition as a character. So our goal when we come back is to show the next stage of her progress. And with that we want to be able to present the voice, we want to be able to present her in a light in which you're immersed in this world of how our character has now become this next... She's come into that next stage. We want to make sure that you can put a face to that and put a voice to that, you can see what this girl has done in the past. Plus, she's been busy doing what she's been doing right now, so it's hard to sort of say, "Hey, by the way, can you come and do some press tours?" We have to be very structured in how we manage that and how we get her out there and allow her to talk to the press when the time is right.
MEAGAN MARIE: Because you don't want to just tweet, "Hey, this is the voice!"
KS: Every single thing that we want to do, we want to put prestige behind it. So if we get out there and we do a cover, you don't just do any cover, you want to do Game Informer. If you get out there and want to show the game for the first time ever, you don't just want to turn up and show it in a video, you want to get it on the Microsoft stage. So for us, we look at it and think, "How can we make this big?" This is a very important aspect of the game and the campaign going forward. We're very serious about making sure that when we present it, we present it in the right light, so that people can understand the gravity and the thought process and structure that went into making these decisions. They're not decisions that are made on a whim overnight. These take weeks and months to get to the point where you feel comfortable that this is it, because... When we announce her, she's going to be the voice for quite a long time. It's not like we're going to say, "That's great, next game, next voice." It's a very serious thing. And we have to respect her career too. This is a big deal for her, for her to be announced. If she was working on anything else, she'd be announced in the proper way. So we can't just expect that we're going to...
MEAGAN MARIE: It's a partnership.
KS: Yeah, it's a partnership, it surely is. And as you all know, again, from my tweets, I met with her before the holidays and we've been, planning this and talking about this. We're going to catch up again in the next few weeks, and it's actually been hard. She's got a schedule too, much like us, and trying to find that date to sit down and talk has been hard. We'll see. It's getting very close, we will say that. You won't have to wait too much longer. It's something that we're very excited... I don't think we can keep the lid on it for too much longer, before it'll explode itself.
MEAGAN MARIE: Something will happen and it will come out. Well, thank you very much, we appreciate it, Karl.
KS: No problem, you're more than welcome. Thanks.
Segment 3: HR Highlight
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, so we are back with a quick HR highlight section. I have Casey Manning, our recruiter extraordinaire...
CASEY MANNING: Hello.
MEAGAN MARIE: He's been on the podcast before, so it's exciting to have him back.
CASEY MANNING: Good to be back.
MEAGAN MARIE: So at first, we have just opened a new Twitter account, haven't we? For looking specifically to hire. You want to talk a little bit about that?
CASEY MANNING: Sure, absolutely. So the HR department here at Crystal Dynamics has opened a specific Twitter for all our job-related and HR needs. It's the Twitter stop to go to, if you will, for everything related to recruiting and HR at Crystal Dynamics. The handle is @CrystalJobs, you can find that on Twitter. Look at that particular site to get information on openings, maybe some events we're doing in the area, recruiting events, meetups, things of that nature. It's a great site to follow for that. It does not necessarily replace the current Tomb Raider Twitter or the Twitter that our brand department's setting up. This is specifically for jobs and candidates that are seeking to get information about how to submit portfolios, what they should be studying, maybe internship programs that we'll have down the road, and information related to that aspect of what we do here.
MEAGAN MARIE: It also shares mugshots, evidently, of some of our hiring talent... I remember seeing your photos up there.
CASEY MANNING: Yes, yes, during GDC we took some Instagrams, if you will, of our beautiful faces and our branded HR gear for GDC...
MEAGAN MARIE: Just to kind of show who you'd be working with...
CASEY MANNING: Exactly.
MEAGAN MARIE: I actually thought that was a nice touch.
CASEY MANNING: You could recognize us on the street and tackle us.
MEAGAN MARIE: Do we have any particular job openings that we're still looking to fill, and how would someone apply?
CASEY MANNING: Yes, we still do have several openings available. A lot of them are senior and lead positions, positions such as Lead Environment Artist, Lead Character Artist. We're still strongly looking at tech talent, I know there is a war for tech talent, especially in the Bay Area, so any of your tech guys out there, please apply and let us know what you're interested in. We're looking for lead engineers, rendering engineers, gameplay engineers, technical artists, as well as engineers focused on potentially emerging technologies. Research-based engineers. If you have a technical focus within games, we'd be happy to chat with you about what you could potentially bring to our organization.
MEAGAN MARIE: Awesome, and how does one apply? Where should they be sending in their resumes and super-impressive qualifications?
CASEY MANNING: Yes, I should mention one thing, we actually just recently rolled out JobVite. If you go straight to our site at crystald.com and click on the job section, that will pull up a list of available opportunities as discussed before, and it links directly to our JobVite, so you can either apply directly, or if you have a friend that you think might be interested in an opportunity in games or at Crystal, you can send them an invite directly from that page as well. That's definitely the best place to go. Or of course you can e-mail our recruiting team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
, and we'll be happy to take a look at your background and qualifications, see if you're a fit.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great, well thank you very much, I appreciate it. And I'm sure all those people that are itching to get into the games industry or looking for a way into Crystal appreciate it too.
CASEY MANNING: Yeah, absolutely. Happy to talk with them.
MEAGAN MARIE: Great, thank you.
CASEY MANNING: Thanks.
MEAGAN MARIE: Alright, that's it for this show. Thank you for listening. As I mentioned, we're actually changing up the format of the trivia challenge this month, in order to accommodate fans. I've received some feedback that it's a tad difficult for non-native English speakers to catch the questions posed at the end of the podcast each month. And I totally understand, because I speak very quickly and I apologize for that. As such, from now on, all three questions are going to be posted in text form on our various social media outlets from now forward. So that'll be the official Tomb Raider blog, the Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and more. The contest will still correspond with the podcast in regards to timing, but it should make it a bit easier for fans to participate this way. So you can look for all three trivia challenge questions on the blog later today. And that is the officialtombraiderblog.tumblr.com. Best of luck and tune in next month!