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Interview With Gardens Co-Founder Chris Bell On How The Garden Is Growing, One Year Later

Interview With Gardens Co-Founder Chris Bell On How The Garden Is Growing, One Year Later – Last year, I got to ask Chris and Stephen Bell, co-founders of the new studio Gardens about what they’re trying to do with this new team.

How they intend to create “ambitious games the sustainable, healthy way,” and what that means for an industry that sees burnout everywhere, far too often, and immense talent exiting due to highly avoidable issues.

It’s been a little over a year since I spoke to the founders, and after the recent news that the studio was able to acquire an impressive amount of funding from some veteran video game industry figures, I got to catch up, this time with Chris Bell, on how things are going in the year since the studio’s public reveal, and what’s next for the team.

Interview With Gardens Co-Founder Chris Bell On How The Garden Is Growing, One Year Later

PSU: How did it feel once the studio was announced last year?

It was incredible. The response we got was really overwhelming — we had over 1 billion media impressions with that first announcement, and the response from other developers, games media and fans alike was overwhelmingly positive. Seeing people’s excitement about the team and what we’re building, even when only giving hints, was extremely invigorating.4

PSU: What’s been the biggest change at Gardens since the studio was publicly revealed?

Probably just how much the project has progressed since we made that announcement. At the time, we had been working on proofing out our networking infrastructure and had a very rudimentary playable that was just entirely unity-store assets. We’re still in prototyping, but now we’re doing so in something that actually looks and feels like the game.

We did a lot of work to find the fun (we’re still doing that work). The other biggest change is probably how much the studio has grown up since then. There’s a lot that goes into starting and growing a company, and implementing and refining your policies and processes is just a never-ending effort. It definitely feels like we’re a lot more grown up as a company — well, maybe not grown up, we still have a long way to go, but maybe more adolescent. We’re getting there.

PSU: Last year you talked a lot about creating games in a sustainable, healthy way – how has that been executed so far? What are the day-to-day implications of that?

That’s an ongoing effort and we certainly haven’t been perfect. We’re constantly trying to evaluate and refine our processes. We aspire to make world-class, high-craft games, and we love what we do — so with that passion you’re going to put in the time and dedication to make the thing the best it can be.

The challenge as leaders is making sure that we’re keeping an eye on the team and ensuring that we all get time away from the work, time to rest and feel restored and pursue other interests. To have really full, rounded lives, so that they come back to the project rejuvenated and inspired. We encourage people to take off a week per quarter, we try to keep to sustainable working hours, and if someone puts in some extra hours to finish something we make sure they take time off on the back end.

On top of that, we practice pay transparency so that people know they’re being compensated fairly, we are implementing a system to hopefully empower teammates and their managers to grow their skillsets and chart paths to promotion, we’re trying to invest in training and mentorship for the team so that we can ensure we’re really supporting one another.

And lastly we’ve just tried to remain dedicated to responsible scoping and scheduling — this is meant to be a forever game, something that continues to expand and evolve, so we’re very much looking at it as a marathon and planning accordingly.

PSU: What did it mean for you to get this kind of funding for your upcoming project from these partners and industry veterans?

It’s extremely validating to have received this support, and especially from so many legendary names. This game is about strangers of different abilities coming together to make magic, and the syndicate we put together is really a reflection of that.

The funding is obviously crucial — it will go toward scaling up the studio, bringing on the world-class talent we need to meet the ambition of our project. And it provides the studio with security during a really turbulent time — we’re unfortunately seeing more and more news of studio closures and layoffs, so ensuring the security of our team was a top priority.

But it’s more than just capital — in putting together this group of investors and advisers, we were really looking to build robust, complementary, material support.

We know what we’re good at, and we know where we need help, and our partners have hit the ground running, offering all kinds of support, from design feedback to support in scaling and so forth.

PSU: Online, live-service titles are the biggest games in the industry right now – what can you say about your current project that you believe will set it apart from those behemoths and compete with them?

We have a shapeshifting world unlike any I’ve really experienced before, something that can constantly offer new calls to adventure, and a foundation of innovative, playful multiplayer mechanics and systems that I think really make us stand out. And we have a captivating, evergreen art style. Nothing else looks like our game. Abd I mean that very literally — Lexie literally invented a new way to render linework.

PSU: Now that you’ve secured more than $35 million in funding (including your previous round of $4.5M), what’s next?

We’ll be scaling the studio and continuing to prototype and build out the project. We’re also not done fundraising — the funding we’ve brought in is definitely a big help and provides decent runway for the studio, but this is an ambitious project, and we’ll definitely be looking to bring in more funding to bring us through launch and beyond, hopefully growing this project for decades to come.

Thank you to Chris Bell for your time and your generous answers, and thank you to Evolve PR’s Sarah Dawson for making this interview possible.