Telecommuting in engineering #1 - History > News

Telecommuting in engineering #1 – History > News

Remote, hybrid, back to the office, oh my. Many people have strong opinions about what the future of work should look like or how all the unknowns around the world will manifest. I don’t have all the answers, but I’d like to share how we approached this tangled web for Bungie engineering.

Disclaimer: This series presents history from the perspective of a single discipline, engineering. In fact, many groups at Bungie were simultaneously grappling with these challenges, with plenty of independent experimentation and cross-pollination of thought. In particular, “we” here usually refers to Bungie as a whole, unless it’s explicitly talking about engineering.

Since this is a tech blog, I feel totally comfortable starting with…

Definitions

  • Work from Home (WFH): An arrangement where employees work away from the official office of the company.
  • Remote (i.e. fully remote): Employees who are actually authorized for permanent teleworking. A remote employee may still visit an office once in a while, but it’s rare enough that they might be a plane ride away.
  • Hybrid: A business model in which a company maintains offices that are heavily used, but a large percentage of employees are working on any given day (these may or may not be remote employees). Can this be the best of both worlds? This is what many knowledge work companies try to figure out.

OK, with that out of the way, let’s dig deep into some…

Bungie’s History

At Bungie, we have a deep and longstanding reluctance to take advantage of working from home or remotely. Since our founding three decades ago, we have cultivated a culture of deep trust and caring, and not being together in the office felt inconsistent with that. We believed that most creativity resulted from interactions between talented people who trusted each other, and with everyone being together in person as much as possible, it seemed like an ideal setup to maximize those interactions. As with many other software vendors, we’ve even removed desks and cubicles to group desks more closely together, all to create more of those informal interactions (much to the chagrin of people who prefer to concentrate in silence!). We celebrated the ideal of conversation by sliding your chair.

Other aspects of our culture have co-evolved with this configuration of everyone in the office, further entrenching it. For example, we relied more on verbal knowledge transfer (versus documentation) than most companies of our size and complexity, which worked better than you might think due to our very long duration. average (over seven years), our pervasive culture of helpfulness and the accessibility of our open office. We have also gained in simplicity over the years by not having to solve a bunch of remote workflow challenges – for example, participating in game testing, meeting processes, or tools working well on remote desktops and home internet connections. Our foundation of “everyone is together in this building and that’s a key part of making great games” was really strong.

Between 2000 and 2014, we conducted a few external development experiments (partner teams, subcontractors, etc.), but the collaboration was invariably difficult and stressful to coordinate, despite all the efforts made. Even with various digital coordination tools, our culture was based on such deep assumptions of physical presence that people outside our four walls often felt left out and forgotten. A lot of human pain hides behind this sentence. Despite this, we thought we were still on the right track as external collaborators were the rare exception. Within our four walls, we were togetherthriving in constant recombination, and we could do anything.

That brings us to around 2015 when this model started to stretch at the seams. We had grown enough to need a second floor in our building – for the first time in over a decade, we weren’t all together in one contiguous space. It was a five minute walk from the second floor. They had their own kitchen. Sometimes they felt like they had their own planet. Most people didn’t want to work on this floor, it was like banishment. We tried hard to spread the leadership of the business down the floors, but we never made it such a desirable place – people wanted to be “downstairs”.

From there, we continued to grow, to the point that we rented several floors in a neighboring building. Now things were getting serious – it was a ten minute walk (sometimes in the rain) if anyone from Destiny 2’s Weapons and Armor team wanted to talk face to face with someone working on the campaigns , raids, dungeons, or cutscenes in Destiny 2. It’s tough — weapons people and raid people need to talk!

Then, in 2017, we embarked on more ambitious external development than ever before: partnering with entire studios to create major elements of Destiny 2. We coordinated better with them, but honestly, we still weren’t good at associating us outside our four walls.

Best of all, accommodation in Seattle was rapidly becoming more expensive – we saw an increasing number of people commuting for over thirty minutes each way – sometimes over an hour.

Then came the COVID-19 tidal wave.

Like everyone else we went fully remotely in less than four weeks (we’ve shared a lot more about our COVID response here). Before COVID, I would have estimated that going completely remote would take at least a year and be incredibly dangerous to our ability to make games. Doing it in a matter of weeks required tremendous adaptation from everyone, and incredible support and solutions from our TechOps/IT teams in particular. A lot of the old external collaboration issues surfaced – but suddenly they were prioritized – so we started the upgrade.
After the initial transition, we implemented several, many WFH workflow upgrades. A cornerstone I will mention is VirtualSync, an advanced implementation of Perforce on-demand recovery, which has been unpacked into a Presentation GDC 2022 by Brandon Moro.

That brings us to the end of 2021. Over the past 18 months, we’ve delivered some of the best player experiences Bungie has ever made, including a dramatic reimagining of Destiny 2’s episodic storytelling, all with nearly every world working from home. At a minimum, we’ve proven that we can have great player experiences from home.

So what comes next?

We believed a new normal would eventually arrive – and we believed that when the majority of COVID restrictions end, many people will be working in offices again. At the same time, as with many other companies, we had heard loud and clear from our employees that we could not return to the current situation – the flexibility to work from home at least sometimes is just too valuable. So how should we prepare for the new normal?

In our next article, we will see how we analyzed this situation and found a perfect solution without any drawbacks! Just kidding – like everyone else, we always face uncertainty and challenges, but I think the way we approached our plan was pretty neat and I can’t wait to share it with you!

-David Aldridge, Head of Engineering

We’d love to chat with you. Here are some of the most exciting technical roles we recruit for, and many more on our careers page!

  • Senior Mobile Graphics Engineer
    • We are looking for someone to help us bring our internal AAA engine (Tiger) to mobile, to give us a chance to inspire friendships between a few billion people that are mostly priceless on our current platforms.
    • No gaming experience required! If you’ve been doing graphics engineering on iOS or Android for a while in any context, we’d love to hear from you.
  • Senior Mobile Platforms Engineer
    • Same deal, but we’re looking for someone with lots of low-level mobile expertise outraged chart. This team is led by Eric Will, who has over a decade of experience adapting our Tiger engine to different platforms. He is excited to learn more about mobile and I promise you will learn a lot from him.
    • No gaming experience required!
  • Head of Incubation Gameplay Engineering
    • For more information on this particular incubation project, check out this two minute video.
    • Did you watch it? Go watch it!
    • Ok, so you want to work for and with this guy? I think you should; I was lucky to get there for 12 years!
    • This one requires gaming experience – we’re looking for someone who can lead a game team and wants to build a smaller game in a larger studio.

We know you can work anywhere. Please contact us, let us share more and see if you want to work here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.