Navigating Now & Beyond: Moving to remote as a VR development studio (Cooperative Innovations)

By Simon Barratt, CEO of Cooperative Innovations

Like many developers, our team at Cooperative Innovations shifted to work-from-home a week before the official UK lockdown however with the hardware requirements for our VR projects and the fact we were in the run-up to launch we had to overcome a few extra challenges!

The impact of Coronavirus had started for us a lot earlier than most with our showcasing of Spaceteam VR at PAX East. At this point, the UK and US were in the denial stage to a certain degree, but our decision for PAX was to attend but to exercise an extreme version of our usual VR demo hygiene approaches at the event. This even included some people playing the game while wearing masks! Like many others, we faced a lot of disruption to our promotion plans due to the other event cancellations. This was important for public safety, and we don’t expect to be doing physical events for a long time yet!

Office wise a shift to remote working was something we had been considering since the start of the year as we looked at the challenges of finding a new larger office with the flexibility and space we needed as a primarily VR development studio.

The Oculus Quest was a boost for us in terms of the freedom, both space and location-wise, for testing sessions due to it being a standalone headset. This meant that when we did shift to work-from-home that even those with limited space could find an area to stand and play in test sessions while also using the Quest as a PC headset via the ‘Oculus Link’ feature.

Despite this consideration, we’d been giving things the move to working from home unexpectedly is still not an easy feat, especially when we were due to release Spaceteam VR in May.

Our first step was a questionnaire for our team in terms of understanding existing equipment, broadband capacity and, importantly for VR, the amount of available space they had for development and testing at home. Another aspect is space for the development PC’s we use as existing home machines or laptops tend to not suffice for the requirements of VR development!

With different VR headsets having varying requirements in terms of space and setup (Vive with its Lighthouses that need positioning around a room, Oculus Rift with its sensors needing visibility and Quest/Rift S being much more flexible) we had to consider this on a case by case basis and especially for programmers likely to be fixing any specific issues ensuring we had good hardware coverage. If we were in pure development mode it might have been fine to use the more flexible headsets in this time period, but with an upcoming release, we needed to ensure that development was being done on as broad a set of hardware as possible. We still ended up having to pop back into the office to collect some rarer headsets that we had left there during the remote work shift to fix up some minor launch issues!

This decision to ensure our VR hardware coverage was sufficient was especially important as our beta testing, and external QA plans were disrupted due to reduced time on our side and external partners work-from-home processes disrupting our schedule quite severely. This had a minor knock on to our release date and velocity of fixing bugs which was a shame.

Our other challenges likely mirror many other studios - we had too many video calls, we used 1-to-1 check-ins with everyone every other day while everyone settled in. We talked about mental health even more than we usually would as a team and had an external consultant chat with our team.

We were lucky because our work is primarily in Social VR meaning that we could hang out with each other inside Spaceteam VR which was a great relief from the ‘Video call fatigue’ we were all feeling!

In light of the, mostly successful, enforced experiment of remote working we’re now moving to be ‘Remote First’ as a studio for the long term. We don’t expect to be back in one large office for a long time, if ever!

 

About Cooperative Innovations

We’re passionate about immersive technologies and how they will impact the future of entertainment, work and life.

We build, license and implement high-quality immersive development tools to create worlds to play in, explore, learn from and share with others, regardless of sector or end user.

@CoopInnovations

Navigating Now and Beyond

This is part of our Navigating Now and Beyond in partnership with Sports Interactive series - guest articles and guides providing technical and practical advice for games companies to navigate working now and beyond the current Covid-19 crisis. 

Find more articles at our Navigating Now and Beyond hub here.