After years of working for game development clients, we finally decided to break free and create games that we truly believed in. In 2017, armed with an awesome license and a concrete idea for our first game, we established Well Played Games. The journey that followed was a thrilling adventure filled with highs, some stumbling blocks, and, most importantly, numerous valuable lessons. I’m Adam Wells, and today I’ll take you on a little journey through the foundation and growth of our studio to show you what drives us.
The Spark that ignited the fire
We were a group of ten founders with extensive experience in game development for various clients, including Rovio and the BBC. Eventually, though, we reached a juncture where we made the choice to handle things ourselves. The idea of creating our own game studio, giving us the opportunity to pour our energy into projects we were genuinely passionate about, started to hold a greater and greater appeal. We successfully acquired the Warhammer Combat Cards license, and as a team of seasoned gaming veterans, we were confident and excited to embark on a fresh journey. And so, Well Played Games came into existence. Our goal was to develop Warhammer Combat Cards, a game that not only met the demands of card game enthusiasts in terms of gameplay but also did justice to the rich Warhammer universe. Working with an established IP, especially one as well-known as Warhammer, came with great responsibility. Personally, I love working with IPs because they allow us to expand existing worlds, create our own narratives, and unleash our creativity.
Start agile, move into lean
With our experience in game development processes, we devised an approach that still serves us well today: we start out agile and finish lean. We start out using an agile framework inspired by Scrum, which prompts a small team to zero in on the most captivating elements during their initial iterations. As the release date draws near, we shift gears into a lean process, focusing on efficiency and removing “waste”. This approach enables us to consistently roll out fresh content updates and features to players post-launch.
We even developed our own back-end system. Why? Because our early games heavily relied on server-side operations, ensuring a lightweight client (the app on the phone). This approach allowed us to release frequent updates and new content while maintaining maximum control over the game, minimizing cheating possibilities. At the time of our founding, there were few off-the-shelf solutions that could satisfy our needs, so we decided to build our own system, leveraging the programming expertise of our founding team.
Although we developed our own backend, we are never tied to one solution. We are always aware of the shifts in the video game landscape and ready to explore new solutions including Heroic Lab’s Nakama and others.
A Vision for Enduring Games
From the beginning we had a vision of creating games that could endure indefinitely. Our focus on live operations and live events played a significant role in both our development process and our identity as a game company. We aimed to offer games that could essentially last forever, continuously improving them and keeping the community engaged.
When we talk about our products, we don’t just refer to the finished games themselves, but any activity we undertake that offers value to our players – that includes the entire ecosystem surrounding our games such as live ops, updates, player services, events, and everything related. This philosophy requires a particular mindset, and it is reflected in our company culture and work processes.
Finding the Next Game: Bottom-up and Top-down
One of the most exciting questions for us is, “What’s the next game?” We approach this from two angles. Firstly, we brainstorm gameplay mechanics, build prototypes, and gradually determine what we believe will work best (the bottom-up approach). Secondly, we actively seek promising IPs that we think will have a significant impact on the market (the top-down approach). If you want to realize a project within a big IP, you have to be prepared for a long journey. The IP holders don’t come to you, you have to go to them. The chances of even getting to talk with the decision-makers are slim, unfortunately. Our partnership with Phoenix Games has proven to be a real game changer in that regard.
Collaborating with Phoenix Games: A New Horizon
In 2019, our partnership with Phoenix Games opened up new possibilities for us. Being part of the Phoenix family granted us access to resources and connections that were previously inaccessible. Having key figures like Klaas Kersting and Todd English, two of Phoenix’s founders, on our team made a significant difference. They had the connections and the influence to open doors and make things happen for us. The support of Phoenix, particularly in publishing and user acquisition, has been invaluable.
At first, we were focused on retaining full control of game development, live ops, and the product side. However, after the disruptions within the studio, we began to rely more heavily on Phoenix’s support, even in terms of development. Their assistance, especially during financially challenging times, has been critical to our growth.
To give you a very recent example: Our newest game, Vampire: The Masquerade – Clans of London, that’s currently in the making is supposed to primarily appeal to card game fans. Although we are focused on card games as a studio, Warhammer: Combat Cards is not really popular with passionate card game fans – the gameplay is very focused on rules specific to the Warhammer world and quite unlike other digital CCGs. The upcoming title, however, is much more aimed at mainstream genre fans. So what does Todd from Phoenix do? He simply calls his friends in the US and sets up a workshop so our people get trained by top-class, high-profile and very successful card game designers. I’ve really highlighted to the team that this is not normal, you normally don’t get that. These people have their own jobs and are probably busy enough. They’re now playing our new game and will soon do a workshop for us. This kind of support is invaluable.
Fostering T-shaped People
In our hiring process, we are looking for what we call T-shaped people – individuals with a core expertise and the ability to explore other areas. We encourage our team members to think beyond their immediate responsibilities and explore other interests. For instance, when our Warhammer Combat Cards team expressed interest in doing their own Twitch stream, we fully supported their initiative.
Our team structure has undergone significant changes, particularly with the recent shift in focus. We moved away from complicated hierarchical structures and now prioritize a more holistic team approach. We hire new team members based on the team’s needs, not just because a particular department demands it. Our leadership approach involves a trio – comprising a producer, a product manager, and a game lead. The trio’s mission is to support and strengthen the holistic team of our studio with their individual responsibilities and skill sets.
Cultivating Company Culture: Embracing Diversity and Courage
We have seven core values that define our company culture:
1. Have fun creating fun
2. Make people awesome
3. Teacher and student
4. Courageously diverse
5. Confident but humble
6. Grafting smartly
7. Builds for the future
Additionally, we have professional working values that emphasize reliability, strong interpersonal skills, continuous learning, adherence to rules, and future-oriented thinking.
Let’s move on to the point of courageous diversity. When there’s talk about diversity, people tend to think of a diverse team with different backgrounds, genders, races, and yes, that’s important to us, but more than that, we value diversity of thought, people being brave enough to speak their mind, whether it’s about the company or a specific product. Sure, that sometimes causes trouble and gives me headaches too, but it’s part of our fundamental values and to a certain extent it makes us what we want to be as a game studio. Having said that, we have also become much more diverse in terms of culture and background. We started with 10 co-founders with a roughly comparable background, all of us previously worked in the same company. So there was room for improvement in terms of diversity. Now we have people from different parts of the world, for example from Russia, India, Romania, Hong Kong and Spain.
A Lesson from Ben Brode: Modern Communication and Gradual Build-up
When I think about inspirational people in the games industry, Ben Brode comes to mind. Following his remarkable achievements at Blizzard, he ventured out to embark on a new endeavor. Just around the time we were crafting Combat Cards, he established his fresh venture, Second Dinner, and boldly declared his intention to create a new card game!
At the same time, I was thrilled to see how they went about it. On Youtube they let everyone witness their recruiting efforts, their moving into new offices. They also used Youtube to make important announcements in a very low-key way, for example about their license deal with Marvel and securing funding. I kept thinking, this slow build-up is awesome, so much better than keeping quiet forever and finally announcing a new game with a press release. They went on to develop Marvel Snap, which turned out to be a great card game that was exactly what we wanted Combat Cards to be – a small five-minute game experience. Everything just fell into place so smoothly.
I am certain that our future games would strongly benefit from this kind of modern communication and slow build-up. And of course, there are things in the pipeline at Well Played Games! Without giving away too much at this point: We’re on the brink of a 90s resurgence—I’d even say we’re smack in the middle of it!—and this wave brings with it a revival of all the gems from 90s pop culture, including the most captivating creatures of the night.
The journey of founding and growing Well Played Games has been filled with passion, creativity, and the determination to create games that stand the test of time. Our focus on live ops and live events, our dedication to courageous diversity, and our commitment to fostering a positive, inclusive company culture define us as a game studio. With the support of Phoenix Games and our continuous efforts to learn and improve, we are excited for what the future holds for our studio and the games we create.