Tools to Span 10 Time Zones

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With Funtactix game studios stretching from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles, and a network of production partners across the globe, there is someone working on Funtactix game 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our distributed work environment has allowed us to recruit the best talent in the world but we’ve had to become remarkably organized to keep communication flowing. What productivity tools do we use to keep the studio running like a well-oiled machine?

In this blog post, we’ll explore what has worked and what hasn’t, and which team-based productivity tools we can’t live without.

Many of our team members are ex-Microsofties. In the early days of Funtactix, everything was Microsoft...MSDN subscriptions, SQL Server, Exchange, Sharepoint - we leaned heavily on Microsoft’s startup programs and our Microsoft Company Store Alumni accounts. That loyalty faded quickly with time and cost - and we have now transitioned almost entirely away from Microsoft products in favor of cloud-based SaaS solutions from various startups (and Google).

The Tools:

Basecamp (Art Management): Funtactix works with dozens of external art studios and freelancers to produce a wide range of content for our games. A wide pipeline of art at various stages of completion pass through Basecamp. Requirements, feedback, drafts, and final output pass fly back and forth between teams. Basecamp has a short feature list - but what it does it does well.

Google Docs Google Apps (Documents): We switched from Exchange Server to Gmail for Business many years ago. Gmail-for-business was our “gateway drug” to Google Docs. All company documents (specifications, financial spreadsheets, etc.) are all managed in Google Docs. The transition from Microsoft Office/Sharepoint was rapid and wonderful. The real-time collaboration tools are a huge win - multiple parties can edit and highlight a spreadsheet or document simultaneously, a tool we use every day. Most of us have Google Drive running our desktops, mirroring our work directories and providing real-time backup of critical documents.

Asana (Project Management/Bug Tracking): We have used a series of bug-tracking and project-management software over the years. Those of us who worked for years at Microsoft dearly missed Product Studio (a Microsoft-internal tool that was used internally by Microsoft for bug tracking but never publicly released). Fogbugz, Bugzilla, JIRA, MS-Project - none ever came close, and the transitions between them were painful and unrewarding. JIRA was by far the best, but interface was clunky, and the management overhead (and the overhead placed on every team member) was way too high. We even tried trello for a while, which is basically a just a web-based Scrum-Board. Asana, on the other hand, is awesome. It’s low-overhead (most operations can be done in one click), with a great drag-and-drop interface and a slew of shortcuts. It is easy to keep-up-to-date, and updates in real-time, so triage meetings can be managed “live” in Asana. It’s a pleasure to use and internal adoption has never been a problem. We still use JIRA for projects that need that extra level of metadata and query sophistication, but for most projects, Asana is a gem.

Skype (Communication/Online Meetings): We hold weekly team meetings and many small group meetings over Skype. We rarely ever use video: with Tel Aviv being 10 time zones ahead of LA, our 5:30pm call in Tel Aviv starts at 7:30am Pacific-time. Without video, our LA team members can safely take the call from bed. We also do quite a bit of screen-sharing.

We’ve generally found audio performance to be better than Google Hangout. We use Skype as a landline-replacement, taking advantage of:

  • Skype credit/unlimited local calling: For international and local calls.
  • Skype-to-go: Lets you set up a local number that dials an international one over Skype

When Skype fails, we switch to freeconferencecall.com for group discussions.

That’s all for now. We’ll explore other tools that we use in later posts!