13 Feb 2017

Gaming company's unlimited leave: 'If they do their job, why not?'

8:08 pm on 13 February 2017

Workers at the country's fastest-growing video-gaming studio have unlimited leave, no middle managers and share in the profits - "it's not just about being altruistic or anything, it's just good business".

Rocketwerkz chief executive Dean Hall in the company's Dunedin headquarters.

Rocketwerkz chief executive Dean Hall in the company's Dunedin headquarters. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Rocketwerkz chief executive Dean Hall made his name as the creator of zombie survival game DayZ, a global hit.

Today he is funnelling that success into Rocketwerkz at a glass building on Dunedin's waterfront, with five games in development and 40 employees.

The studio is dark and full of computer screens, but even on a Monday morning there is a buzz in the air as game-makers huddle together in pairs solving problems, or tossing ideas.

Space is tight - the company is growing fast, and cramming in more game-makers by the week, and they will soon take over the entire floor.

"It's a really cool space," he says.

"You can see there's alot of collaboration happens. A lot of people think of coding as sitting there, typing away, but it's really not like that any more."

Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, clutching a coffee and mixing with his staff, it's clear why Mr Hall is being called an unlikely chief executive.

But to him it's just a better way to work.

He pegs his own salary to no more than 10 percent above the highest-paid employee, there's a flat structure and profit sharing with the game designers.

And then there's the unlimited leave.

"Unlimited annual leave means taking as much leave as you want, or essentially as much leave as you can, while still doing your work.

"We have people leaving shortly for overseas trips. They've still be able enjoy Christmas with their family, and that's not just about being altruistic or anything, it's just good business."

Mr Hall says someone could take most of the year off and still be paid.

"If they do their job, why not? In fact, if we can discover people who can do a year's worth of work in a month, I mean, wow, imagine if we had a whole company full of those people."

He says Rocketwerkz is crossing Dunedin with Silicon Valley, and he is lobbying every politician who will listen to get law changes to support these Silicon Valley-style contracts.

He is now attracting high fliers from the biggest gaming studios in the world.

Rocketwerkz creative director Rashad Deric

Rocketwerkz creative director Rashad Deric Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Creative director Rashad Deric moved from the US to Germany to London, before settling in Dunedin in April.

"It's a really good corporate shift. So when you come from a lot of the Western developers who really do have a crunch culture, you really do work long hours, often not by choice, even shifting out of that mindset can be challenging sometimes," says Mr Deric.

"But I think people who are looking for something different, who are the kind of people we attract, that's one of the things they get, and they embrace."

And Mr Hall has another big aim too - to build a billion dollar industry which employs legions of creative New Zealanders.

Rocketwerkz worker Shaun Hammond

Rocketwerkz worker Shaun Hammond Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

People like Shaun Hammond from Kaitaia, who used to design graphics interfaces at home for fun, and now has a dream job.

"It's kind of changed my outlook on life a little bit, from going not thinking I could get into the gaming industry at all... to not knowing what I could do in the next five years... It might be a lot more.", says Mr Hammond.

Mr Hammond says people who hear he has unlimited leave think he must slack around, but he says it's the opposite.

He says the studio's work culture makes him want to work harder, and see how far he can go.