Why Blizzard veteran Paul Sams took the COO job at Sure Affinity



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Blizzard veteran Paul Sams current grew to become the president and chief working officer at recreation studio Certain Affinity after serving a couple of years as a strategic adviser.

Sams is working with founder and CEO Max Hoberman, a former Bungie multiplayer and on-line lead who based the Austin, Texas-based and Toronto-based firm in 2006.

Sams is being tapped to assist lead progress in order that Sure Affinity — which has labored on 30 titles like Name of Responsibility, Halo, World of Tanks, Left 4 Useless, and Hearthstone — can go to the subsequent degree. Most of its work to date has been serving to different builders full their bold video games. Now it’s weighing making its personal mental properties.

I spoke with Sams and Hoberman about operating a studio at a time when the sport market is in a state of flux, as world financial situations and a troublesome gaming cycle add uncertainty. They are saying they are going to deal with growing a quality-based tradition and leveling up the ability of the group. The corporate has 240 staff and it’s hiring.

Sams spent 20 years at Blizzard, the place he held the position of COO, and he was just lately the CEO of Prepared At Daybreak Studios, the maker of Lone Echo and The Order: 1886. Sure Affinity labored on Halo Infinite and it’s nonetheless working with 343 Industries on the title.

Right here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Paul Sams is president and COO of Sure Affinity.

GamesBeat: What are you hoping to do with Sure Affinity?

Paul Sams: Effectively, I don’t know the way a lot you understand about what I’ve been doing to this point with them, however for the final three years I’ve served as a strategic advisor and particular advisor to the corporate, working carefully with Max and the opposite govt administration and senior management group on a wide range of initiatives, together with the strategic planning course of, serving to with a wide range of tasks, negotiations, various kinds of actions associated to serving to to scale and develop the enterprise and take care of the assorted challenges that any firm faces. I’ve had an important alternative to work with Max and get to know him and the corporate.

Throughout that point, I’ve fallen in love with the corporate and the group. I see some unimaginable alternatives for the corporate sooner or later. One factor we’ll discuss at the moment is–me having the ability to be part of forces with the corporate goes to permit me to do a variety of the varieties of issues I’ve traditionally executed in my previous, which is to assist gifted growth leaders be capable of deal with making nice video games, and to not need to do all the opposite stuff that they could have historically executed, notably with a founder that’s each making an attempt to do growth and lead the corporate.

Max is a really skilled, gifted growth chief. This transition goes to permit him to focus the vast majority of his power towards making nice video games, which is one thing that Sure Affinity has already executed a variety of, largely in a co-development capability on main franchises. However our need is to maneuver into changing into extra of a lead growth firm. Not that we’re going to depart co-dev. We’ll proceed doing that. However we additionally need to transition into lead.

I’m excited in regards to the prospects of the corporate. I see large potential. I see a variety of parallels with my previous experiences the place I joined and felt like I noticed some particular, distinctive issues in regards to the firm that may assist propel it to the subsequent degree. I’m tremendous pumped to have the ability to try this with Max and the group. I really feel like it is a actually distinctive and particular firm that may profit from that.

Max Hoberman is founder and CEO of Sure Affinity.

GamesBeat: What’s your particular position and title?

Sams: My title goes to be president and chief working officer. We will speak extra in regards to the division of labor, however primarily Max might be main our growth actions, and I’ll be main the non-development actions. Very similar to I’ve executed in my prior roles at different firms I’ve helped to guide. That doesn’t imply that Max received’t nonetheless be concerned in main the corporate. He completely will. However he’ll be able to deal with the event stuff extra so than having to fret about different issues.

GamesBeat: How massive is Sure Affinity now? What sort of milestones has it reached?

Max Hoberman: We’re in a reasonably regular state now at about 240 complete employees. About 200 roughly are within the U.S., after which 40 in Canada. We opened up a second studio in Toronto a couple of years in the past, a bit earlier than the pandemic. We’ve been slowly constructing that group. However relative to our variety of tasks and the scope of tasks and our ambition, that’s nonetheless fairly small. We have to convey on a variety of extra individuals to comprehend that ambition.

GamesBeat: What have been the large tasks up to now that you simply’ve been spending your time on?

Hoberman: Weirdly sufficient, it’s a tough query, as a result of we’ve executed a lot. At any cut-off date we sometimes have three totally different groups operating. I’ve been doing that since I began the corporate. I’ve misplaced monitor. We’ve labored on 15 to twenty totally different IPs and possibly near 40 totally different distinct releases. We’re about to show 16. Probably the most notable franchises we’ve labored on are Name of Responsibility and Halo. We’ve executed 5 – 6–I feel 5 totally different Name of Responsibility video games and 6 totally different Halo titles that we’ve labored on in some kind or style. However we’ve additionally labored on different issues. We did all of the multiplayer for DOOM 2016.

We’ve really executed so much in recent times that both hasn’t seen the sunshine of day but or might not see the sunshine of day. We’ll see. We’re connected to Hogwarts Legacy, serving to them get that recreation out the door. We haven’t made any large bulletins, although it’s public that we’re engaged on it. We labored on Amazon’s New World and helped them a bunch. Numerous the work we did for them is nearly to launch. That’s fairly thrilling for us.

The largest factor we’re doing that’s public proper now, for greater than two years now we’ve been engaged on Halo Infinite doing one thing that–they’re very prescriptive about what we will say. However we’re doing one thing unannounced, and we’re doing lead growth on that unannounced factor, from conception and design. It’s one thing large and new for the franchise. However I can’t say any extra about it. That’s our single largest undertaking of our three tasks at present. Now we have near 100 builders engaged on that.

GamesBeat: Have you ever taken the lead on the rest over time?

Hoberman: We’ve executed a couple of smaller video games which have launched traditionally that we did lead growth on right here and there. The primary one was all the way in which again in 2007 once we did Age of Booty, our personal IP with Capcom in a partnership. Afterward we did Crimson Alliance, our form of dungeon crawler. We made a cell Age of Booty as nicely. Past that, we’ve executed lead growth on quite a few issues that aren’t out out there but.

The opposite one which’s publicly out there’s a recreation known as Final Expedition, which we ended up licensing. We constructed a extremely enjoyable playable demo for this co-op survival sci-fi shooter, and we ended up licensing that to a different firm to do the event as a result of we didn’t have the bandwidth. We had an excessive amount of happening. That was bittersweet. It was economically good for the enterprise, nevertheless it’s a recreation we’re actually obsessed with. We’ve executed lead growth on a couple of different issues which might be NDA’d. Two different main video games that we’ve executed lead growth on which might be nonetheless within the works and can finally come out sometime. However we’re not allowed to speak about these.

Sure Affinity has a rep as an excellent place to work.

GamesBeat: What have you ever seen over the previous yr or so, the place we’ve gone via so many alternative states of the sport trade? We had a 30 % progress yr in 2020, somewhat bit slower progress in 2021, and now it seems like some contraction in 2022 with totally different challenges associated to recession and perhaps the provision of cash as nicely. How have you ever ridden via a few of this? Have been there choices you needed to make that replicate these bigger macro tendencies?

Hoberman: I used to be simply chatting about this with a few of our leaders and advisors yesterday. For us, a variety of the–we by no means actually felt like, within the excessive finish co-development area, that we had a lot competitors. There are only a few those who do what we do, and there’s greater than sufficient work to go round. Final yr was a variety of acquisitions, and a few of these studios that traditionally have been in the identical area as us getting acquired and shifting to doing lead growth. The variety of those who do what we do, unbiased firms, is extremely small. In excessive finish co-development, the place we personal a whole chunk of a recreation, player-facing, begin to end, I feel you’ll be able to depend the businesses on one hand worldwide.

We’ve had no scarcity of labor regardless of the ups and downs of the trade. We flip a stunning variety of tasks. That’s all the time been the case for Sure Affinity. Mockingly, regardless of all this chaos, we had our most worthwhile yr in our historical past final yr. We’re on monitor to beat that this yr. The downturn hasn’t instantly affected us from an financial standpoint. But it surely has affected us from an worker acquisition and retention standpoint. Your complete labor market has change into much more aggressive and much dearer. That impacts everybody. We’re not alone in that. However that’s completely affected all of us. Everybody I speak to feels prefer it’s affected all of us roughly equally.

However so far as forward-looking, my view is that the economic system–it’s a pendulum, and it swings and rebounds. It’s pure that through the peak of the pandemic, when everybody was caught at house, for lots of people’s leisure {dollars} to get spent on video video games. They’ve all the time been wonderful bang in your buck, so to talk. Nice ROI by way of time. I feel as that pendulum swung, issues are beginning to chill out and open up, and it’s pure that there are different issues competing for leisure {dollars}. In the long term, it’s been an enormous boon for the trade. It’s been an opener that has launched so many new individuals to video games and broadened the market immensely.

That pendulum will swing again. I predict that subsequent yr in some unspecified time in the future, from the standpoint of the large gamers within the trade, they’ll see tendencies begin to enhance. I’m guessing the center of subsequent yr, the tendencies and forecasts will begin to enhance and so they’ll begin to loosen their belts. However that’s predicting the long run.

GamesBeat: Partly as a result of a variety of these video games which were delayed are going to ship?

Hoberman: The pandemic and dealing from house and all of the turnover within the trade have created some actual challenges, completely. The stress to retain individuals has added to that, the place high quality of life is at a premium for extra publishers and extra builders than it was. It’s all the time been for us, however extra individuals are beginning to deal with their builders–it’s an influence dynamic shift. They’re beginning to deal with their builders a bit higher, which suggests they’re not going to show the screws on them and push them fairly as onerous as they could have traditionally. That has a cascading influence on releases. That is Paul’s world greater than mine, although.

GamesBeat: So far as the necessity for a COO usually, have you ever seen this over time? Are there some particular duties to do right now that make extra sense for you?

Hoberman: I do know Paul has seen a necessity. Over the previous couple of years of attending to know Paul, it’s opened my eyes to it. I began out as a developer and spent my first 10 years extra on the event facet within the trade. I’ve been operating Sure Affinity for 16 years, dipping one foot in every camp, growth and enterprise management. The extent of expertise and experience and the breadth of expertise that Paul brings to the desk makes my expertise–it simply dwarfs it, to be trustworthy. There are limits on what I’ve been capable of do with cut up focus, but additionally with considerably restricted expertise so far as serving to the corporate to take it to the subsequent degree and understand our ambitions, among the extra transformative issues we need to do.

Sure Affinity’s recreation room.

I’ve little question in my thoughts that bringing Paul on board, having Paul as a associate actually, a seat on the very high of the group on the management desk – alongside me and my spouse, who additionally works for us in a management capability – goes to be a complete recreation changer for us. I do know you could have extra specifics about your objectives and focus, Paul, that I’ll allow you to converse on.

Sams: Truthfully I really feel like we have to unlock the facility of Max on our recreation growth, along with our very gifted group of different growth leaders. I’ve seen this in a wide range of circumstances in my previous, the place you had a extremely gifted growth chief that has cut up focus. Once you’re capable of assist them not really feel like they should have their focus in all these areas, however somewhat can deal with making nice video games which might be enjoyable and interesting, constructing that insistence on the a part of the participant to need to play these video games and construct these communities, it could actually assist propel the corporate to the subsequent degree in methods that you may’t when it’s a must to cut up the main target.

Once I take into consideration the position that I’ll have on the firm and the parallels that it has with among the roles I’ve had beforehand, I need to assist to construct an surroundings the place the sport growth leaders and all the sport builders don’t have any worries on the earth aside from making nice video games. As you’ll be able to think about, once you’re operating an organization, and notably an independently owned firm, it’s a must to all the time take into consideration the subsequent contract. How will we handle all these totally different elements of the enterprise? Once you don’t have the protection web of a mum or dad firm that may cowl the prices if issues fall brief, you could have a degree of stress and fear in your coronary heart often. You need to maintain your staff and ensure the payments are being paid and all that.

In my thoughts, I really feel very comfy having the ability to run and handle all these varieties of issues at a degree that can enable Max to really feel comfy and never burdened about these issues. He can use his superpowers towards what I feel goes to actually propel the corporate to the subsequent degree. I’ll additionally deal with our expertise, rising our inside expertise that we have now and augmenting it with another nice expertise from outdoors to assist, once more, scale the corporate and take it to the subsequent degree that we wish to have the ability to obtain. I be ok with having the ability to try this in partnership with Max and the remainder of the management group.

Max talked earlier about how Sure Affinity is certainly one of a really choose group of firms that does what they do within the co-development area. My official begin date isn’t till subsequent week, so I can say this, since I’m nonetheless an outsider. I’d argue that they’re not just one of some, however I imagine they’re the very best unbiased triple-A co-developer on the earth. That’s a part of what attracted me. I’m enthusiastic about working for what I understand to be as the very best firms of their area. That’s what I feel Sure Affinity is. It’s why I used to be with the businesses that I used to be with earlier than. There’s a variety of parallels between the dedication to high quality and the gameplay-first focus mentality, the dedication to discovering enjoyable and constructing a vibrant participant neighborhood.

I’m pumped up to have the ability to assist them get to that subsequent degree. I feel they’re proper on the sting of having the ability to try this. It’s an thrilling time for Sure Affinity and I’m excited for us to have the ability to work collectively in a each day capability so we will make these issues occur.

GamesBeat: Do you could have some ideas on extra dramatic modifications, like doing your personal IP or making acquisitions or elevating cash?

Sams: One factor that I’d say about IP growth–I’m a giant fan of it. I can let you know that Max is as nicely. In case you get extra time with Max, he’ll let you know how he’s additionally an creator. He’s written his personal novel just lately. He’s closely concerned in the entire sorts of IP actions that we have now internally, and we have now a quantity. Final Expedition is certainly one of them, that we’ve licensed out. We even have one other recreation we’re engaged on that’s unannounced, that Max and a few of our key growth leaders have been advancing on the brand new IP facet of issues. It’s undoubtedly a part of the DNA of the corporate, however that has not been capable of come out as a lot as they could have wished to. In co-development you’re usually working inside a franchise and IP that your writer has offered to you. It’s definitely aspirational for us to have the ability to try this. We see the advantages of constructing our personal IP and proudly owning our personal IP. It’s one thing we’re dedicated to. Max can speak to it extra.

World of Tanks is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Sure Affinity has labored on World of Tanks.

Hoberman: I’ve a background as a developer. I had a variety of success as a multiplayer, social methods, on-line developer, taking the Halo sequence on-line. I really feel like over the previous 16 years, along with rising as a enterprise chief, I’ve additionally grown by myself as a artistic, as a world-builder and a storyteller and a variety of different issues. I haven’t actually gotten to use that in gaming area in the way in which that I’d wish to. I’m enthusiastic about having the ability to merge that zeal and one thing I do know I’ve some actual aptitude earlier than, merge that again into gaming and see the place it will get us.

Sams: One little tidbit so as to add to that. You already know among the prolific world-builders I’ve labored with. I’ve had the chance to work deeply with them, a few of my finest associates on the firms I used to be at. I feel Max has, from what I’ve been capable of observe–he has lots of the identical attributes and capabilities and ability set. He’s executed it extra outdoors of the sport area along with his novel work, however he’s additionally been doing it on the firm. Each single factor I’ve seen that’s come out from him has been actually stable. I feel it’s going to place the corporate nicely as we’re constructing our personal IP.

Hoberman: I do know that I’ve some aptitude. I’m fairly positive that I’ve some actual potential in what I’m writing. However we don’t need to overpromise. It’s nonetheless an experiment.

GamesBeat: We’re in a unique world now with a extra numerous set of players and extra variety points to take care of in operating firms. How are you approaching a few of these challenges?

Hoberman: As a company, I really feel like we’ve executed an excellent job. Paul’s been with us for 3 years as an advisor, alongside for the journey but additionally serving to information us. I really feel like we’ve ridden out some unprecedented challenges, in all probability higher than many, even lots of our massive shoppers and opponents, by way of making distant work and hybrid work profitable, and among the political and social pressures and challenges, issues like that. I feel we’ve executed an excellent job. I’m handing that baton to Paul with help from a really sturdy enterprise management group. I’m assured that we’ll proceed to be a frontrunner and a job mannequin and set an instance in how we deal with our staff, how we interface with the neighborhood, all these items that current radical challenges for everybody. That’s very excessive degree. There are one million examples of that.

From a enterprise standpoint, the challenges on the enterprise facet aren’t new, in a wierd sense. The pattern has all the time been that it’s getting dearer to do excessive finish video games. Until you’re going to radically pivot and change into a small indie developer, in an effort to compete within the area that we’re in we have now to journey that wave and determine how to achieve success. Specialization amongst builders is rising. Prices are rising. Timelines are rising. All these components. However none of that’s new. That seems like change is steady to me, for a very long time.

The problem for us, the distinctive problem, is how will we protect all the great in what we’ve constructed, how will we protect the elements of our enterprise which might be working, whereas additionally making the required modifications to set ourselves as much as be a powerful lead developer sooner or later? These issues will not be all the time–typically they’re contradictory to at least one one other. It’s a must to determine the right way to make every little thing work collectively. It turns into a singular components for Sure Affinity. That’s the place I’m excited to have Paul to assist resolve that puzzle.

Sams: Truthfully, I feel the corporate has been doing a reasonably nice job at this. I don’t know if you understand, however the firm has workplaces in each Austin and in Toronto. The Toronto workplace has solely been round for a few years. However in that brief time, they have been named the very best place to work within the recreation trade in Canada. That’s an indicator to me of the dedication to the workers and the worker expertise. It’s one thing that you simply see all through the corporate. I’ve been actually impressed by how Max and the management group prioritize the workers’ work-life steadiness. It’s higher than any firm I’ve seen within the trade. And the way they prioritize the workers’ households and their wants.

One factor Max does that I really like, yearly he asks the HR group to seek out one thing new that they’ll add to the worker advantages or the worker expertise, one thing that may be additive with out taking something away. Generally what you see in large firms is they are saying, “We’re going so as to add this…however then we’ll take away this.” Max is all about, “How can we make it higher yearly for the workers? How will we create a extra secure and inclusive surroundings? How will we ensure that we put variety first?” In case you take a look at our administration group, we have now a number of girls and minorities within the senior govt group. It’s been a serious dedication and precedence on the a part of Max and his management group to do this.

Halo: Grasp Chief Assortment’s Halo 2 multiplayer.

That’s tremendous thrilling to me, as a result of I imagine, such as you mentioned earlier, that the trade is altering. It’s evolving. Extra girls are taking part in video video games than ever earlier than. There are extra individuals taking part in video games the world over in numerous international locations than ever earlier than. With a view to construct video games that attraction to that broader viewers, you want to have the same illustration inside your group. You perceive what these gamers need and wish as a result of it’s you. I’m enthusiastic about being part of that, having the ability to hopefully increase that in significant, materials methods. It’s not solely the suitable factor to do, nevertheless it’s the factor that’s going to ship the very best outcomes for the corporate and for the gamers.

Hoberman: Right here’s a enjoyable tidbit for you. After 16 years at a bootstrapped startup–I began the corporate funding it out of my very own checking account. In that whole time we’ve grown yearly, and we’ve by no means laid off a single individual, ever. That’s what I’m saying. Regardless of all of the ups and downs of the sport trade and the economic system and every little thing else, there’s a higher approach, I imagine. There’s a approach, even with the restricted sources of an unbiased firm, to create a secure, wholesome work surroundings.

I discover it irritating to say the least, and typically appalling, that firms with a lot higher sources don’t try this. They don’t spend money on their staff and supply that excessive degree of safety for his or her staff, that stability. That’s one factor that units us aside. That individual wave, I really feel like we’ve ridden it like professionals, whereas so many in the remainder of the trade really feel like amateurs to me. That’s very blunt, nevertheless it’s trustworthy.

Sams: On that matter, we’re not making an attempt to say that’s everybody. However because it pertains to defending the workers and prioritizing stability, I feel they’ve only a few friends, if any.

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