Jade Raymond's Haven Studio is already inspiring other PlayStation studios - and not just with his game

Jade Raymond’s Haven Studio is already inspiring other PlayStation studios – and not just with his game

The ink is now dry. The team at Haven Studios – Canadian game developer led by veteran Jade Raymond – is officially PlayStation staffed.

The two companies announced the planned acquisition in March. And when we spoke at the time, it was clear why Sony was interested in buying a team that was only established in 2021.

For starters, it’s a company full of well-established talent, not just Raymond but a slew of experienced names who have been behind big hits like Assassin’s Creed and Rainbow Six: Siege. The developer is also making a direct service title, which fits perfectly with Sony’s stated ambition to push more towards games based on online services. It also sees PlayStation’s presence in Canada, one of the world’s most successful game development countries.

Today, as the deal was finally confirmed, we meet Haven once again. A lot has changed in just a short period of time. The developer now has 106 employees – an increase of more than 50 since October last year – so it’s definitely not a small independent team anymore.

Jade Raymond, Haven Studios

What’s more, it has hired some key engineers, and has significantly increased its investment in R&D and cloud.

“We’ve already mentioned that we built the studio in a cloud and that’s been our vision since we started during the pandemic,” Raymond tells us. “We didn’t have offices at first and thought why not innovate here and avoid people who own these big machines and VPNs?

“We had a cloud team in the beginning that was six people working on new ways of working. Now, we just welcomed 21 more engineers to focus on cloud innovation for the long term, because we really believe it will change the rules of the game in terms of making games.”

Prior to Haven, Raymond was working at Google making games for the new Stadia cloud streaming platform. But Google decided to move away from internal development, which led to the formation of Haven instead. So in many ways, it was inevitable that cloud technology would continue to play an important role in what this team was going to do.

“There have been people talking about these different forms of consumer-side cloud gaming, like: ‘You can now play these AAA games on mobile’ or ‘I can now play these different types of games,’ which was Stadia’s promise. But the cloud promise that We really focus on it is more than it means to game developers.

“When you think about our game engines, they were all built several years ago and things have changed a lot. Our games contain a lot of data. We make exclusively for PS5, which is a live game service, so we have additional challenges with how to make this type of game with That kind of delivery, but with the PlayStation-level graphics people have come to expect.

“We just welcomed 21 more engineers to focus on long-term cloud innovation.”

“Obviously to do that without thousands and thousands of people, you need to work in a different way. And even if you have thousands of people on the development team, the amount of data you have to pay and the way you think about these updates and keeping the game alive …there are much better ways to do this.

“The first part of ‘studio in the cloud’ was really focused on the build and build tools and the generic things to get people to work from home really quickly. Now we’re looking at the next step: how do we innovate in terms of the specific modules that the live and drive service needs, and how do we do those things in a more scalable way for development that will really enable us to have a rapidly evolving game and more productive people?

“When you get to teams of thousands of people and deal with a lot of these legacy processes where it takes a long time to get your data up and running and open your editor… you drain some of the creativity out of making the game, not just the interaction but the ability of these game developers Just trying things out. That’s our main goal: We want to make the development team more efficient and able to come up with new ideas faster.”

To push this cloud vision even further, Haven hired Jalal Al-Mansoori, who was the technical engineer on Ubisoft’s successful live-service game Rainbow Six: Siege before also joining Google in a similar role.

“Jalal joined us two weeks ago now to be the chief engineer for the studio, and also the head of research and development. He will really work with Leon [O’Reilly], our Director of Technology, we are shaping this vision. Both things will be important in the short term to run our first game in a more efficient manner, and then also some of the more thoughtful things for the future that we think will pay off, which are worth investing in now.”

Haven aims to be a studio designed for the modern world of game development. It was formed during a pandemic, with employees working remotely, and by people who know a thing or two about cloud technology.

“The downside to starting a new studio is that you have to start everything from scratch,” says Raymond, “The upside is that you will think, ‘Is there a better way to do this? We started a studio without a physical building, or local servers, so we had the opportunity to go: “Is there a different way we can do it more efficiently?” One of the things I’ve heard from a lot of developers in the industry during the pandemic is that they’ve really had to grow technology teams Their information to support all people with multiple devices working from home, trying to connect to a VPN and get access. We don’t have any IT in the studio because we automate everything in the cloud. There are things like that where we really see the payoff, that’s why we decided Invest more.”

It is this approach that has caught the attention of other PlayStation studios. Haven’s chief technology officer spoke with other Sony teams about what they’re doing from a tech and cloud perspective, which Raymond says has been “extremely satisfying” for the team.

The company’s research and development work has also caught the attention of Mark Cerny, the lead system architect behind the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, although this is not necessarily about the cloud.

“So [Mark Cerny] It’s one of the main reasons we invest so much in research and development, and in this very high-level engineering team, “Raymond teases.” It is not only related to the cloud, but also some future research and development. I can’t say much now, but that’s clearly one of the other things that was a huge and exciting attraction for our team with PlayStation. Of course Mark Cerny is a bit like a rock star too, so being able to collaborate with him is really exciting.

“Mark Cerny is like a rock star too, so being able to collaborate with him is really exciting”

“And the fact that Jalal joined… there are a lot of bold ideas that we look forward to exploring.”

Haven may be a “studio in the cloud,” but that doesn’t mean it’s planning to be a totally away team. And like much of the gaming industry, the company is trying to find the best way to manage this new hybrid way of working.

For example, Haven was built with the idea of ​​a flat structure. The company is filled with veterans of the AAA teams, and understandably they wanted to avoid the corporate structures they had to put up with in the past, where there were multiple layers of management to go through. However, this means Haven only has three directors, who now look after more than 100 employees. So there is a challenge in making sure that the team is supported and that the managers do not gravitate in 100 directions. It’s a problem that gets even more difficult when employees work remotely and with flexible work schedules, where arranging a meeting can be a daunting task.

Much of the work on this will involve experimenting with and adapting to things, a situation most game studios face. In fact, Haven is already learning things you weren’t expecting. First, the company now has its own office space, and Raymond says more people are using it than expected.

“[Our current office] It’s not our last long-term space,” she says. We really found the sublet to be great. A group of architects designed a studio for themselves and then they didn’t need all the space, so we acquired the studio that the architects built for themselves. It’s very cool.

“We embrace the hybrid aspect. Some people have found working from home to be more efficient. But even the people who told us they weren’t interested in the office… as if we had one person in an interview who was someone we really wanted to join the team said, and it was like:” You can’t make me go back to the office, I won’t go back to the office.” We told him we weren’t going to force him to come unless there was a major meeting, but he’s in the office a lot.

“Yeah, we’re used to being at home and seeing the advantages of not interrupting our work, but as soon as people get into the office, they kind of start to feel happy, and they leave feeling energized. I wouldn’t say we have a lot of extroverts on our team, but even when you’re an introvert, they They come into the office and realize: “I don’t feel competent in terms of the code I’ve done or the things I’ve selected off my to-do list, but I feel happier, had some exchanges, and had a conversation I wouldn’t have otherwise been in the place on that.”

By the time our interview was over, we had barely mentioned the game Haven was actually building. We’ve spent most of our time talking about R&D, the cloud, dealing with hybrid work, and how these things fit together.

But then the project itself is probably not the most interesting thing about Haven right now; It’s more about how it’s made, and what the team develops in tandem. After all, that’s what caught the attention of some of the more tech-minded people within the PlayStation organization.

There is clearly more to Heaven than meets the eye.

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