Remote, hybrid, return-to-office, oh my. Many people have strong opinions on what the future of work should look like, or how all the unknowns in the broader world are going to shake out. I don’t have all the answers, but I’d like to share how we’ve approached this tangled web for Bungie engineering.
Disclaimer: This series presents a story from the perspective of a single discipline, Engineering. In fact, many groups at Bungie were simultaneously grappling with these challenges, with lots of independent experimentation and cross-pollination of thinking. In particular, “we” here generally refers to Bungie as a whole, unless explicitly discussing engineering.
Since this is a tech blog, I feel totally comfortable kicking off with…
- Work-from-home (WFH): An arrangement where employees work anywhere other than an official company office.
- Remote (a.k.a. fully remote): Employees who are effectively authorized for permanent WFH. A remote employee may still visit an office occasionally, but it’s infrequent enough that they can be a plane flight away.
- Hybrid: A model of business where a company maintains offices that see heavy use, but a significant percentage of employees WFH 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 are trying to figure out.
OK, with that out of the way, let’s dig deep into some...
At Bungie, we’ve had a long-standing and deep reluctance to leverage work-from-home or remote work. From our founding three decades ago, we’ve cultivated a culture of deep trust and caring, and not being together in the office felt incompatible with that. We believed that most creativity arose from interactions between talented people who trust each other, and everyone being together in-person as much as possible felt like an ideal setup to maximize those interactions. As with many other software companies, we even did away with offices and cubicles to pack desks together more tightly, all to create more of those casual interactions (to the chagrin of folks who prefer quiet focus!). We celebrated the ideal of the slide-your-chair-over conversation.
Other aspects of our culture co-evolved with that everyone-in-the-office setup, further entrenching it. For example, we’ve relied more heavily on verbal knowledge transfer (vs documentation) than most companies of our scale and complexity, which worked better than you might think due to our very long average tenure (over seven years), our ubiquitous culture of helpfulness, and the accessibility of our open office. We’ve also gained simplicity over the years by not having to solve a bunch of remote workflow challenges — e.g., playtest participation, meeting processes, or tools working well over remote desktop and home internet connections. Our foundation of “everyone is together in this building and that’s a key part of making great games” felt really solid.
Across 2000-2014, we did run a few experiments with external development (partner teams, contractors, etc.), but collaboration was invariably challenging and stressful to coordinate, despite best efforts all around. Even with various digital coordination tools, our culture relied on such deep assumptions of physical presence that the people outside our four walls often felt excluded and forgettable. A lot of human pain is behind that sentence. Despite that, we thought we were still on the right track because external collaborators were the rare exception. Within our four walls, we were together, thriving in constant recombination, and we could do anything.
That brings us to around 2015, when this model started straining 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 a single contiguous space. It was a five-minute walk to the second floor. They had their own kitchen. Sometimes it felt like they had their own planet. Most people didn’t want to work on that floor, it felt like banishment. We made efforts to spread company leadership across the floors, but we never made it an equally desirable place — people wanted to be “on the main floor.”
From there we kept growing, to the point that we rented several floors in a nearby building. Now things were getting serious—it was a ten-minute walk (sometimes in the rain) if someone on the Destiny 2 weapons and armor team wanted to talk face to face with someone working on Destiny 2 campaigns, raids, dungeons, or cinematics. That’s rough — the weapons people and the raids people need to talk!
Then, in 2017, we embarked on more ambitious external development than ever before: partnering with whole studios to make major parts of Destiny 2. We got better at coordinating with them, but honestly, we still weren’t great at partnering outside our four walls.
As a cherry on top, Seattle housing was rapidly getting more expensive — we saw increasing numbers of people commuting over thirty minutes each way — sometimes over an hour.
Then came the COVID-19 tidal wave.
Like everyone else, we went fully
remote in under four weeks (we shared a bunch more about our COVID response here
). Prior to COVID, I’d have estimated that going fully remote would take at least a year and be incredibly dangerous to our ability to make games. Doing it in a few weeks required tremendous adaptation from everyone, and unbelievable support and solutioning from our TechOps/IT teams in particular. A lot of the old external-collaboration pain points surfaced — but suddenly they were priority-one — so we started upgrading.
After the initial transition, we implemented many, many
WFH workflow upgrades. One cornerstone I’ll mention is VirtualSync, an advanced implementation of on-demand Perforce fetching, which was unpacked in a GDC 2022 presentation
by Brandon Moro.
That brings us to late 2021. Over the preceding 18 months, we’d shipped some of the best player experiences Bungie has ever made, including a dramatic reinvention of Destiny 2’s episodic storytelling, all with nearly everyone working from home. At minimum, we proved that we could make great player experiences from home.
So what comes next?
We believed that a new normal would arrive eventually—and we believed that when the majority of COVID restrictions ended, many people would work in offices again. At the same time, as with many other companies, we had heard loud and clear from our people that we couldn’t go back to the way things were—the flexibility of at least sometimes working from home is simply too valuable. So how should we prepare for the new normal?
In our next post, we’ll get into how we analyzed this situation and came up with a perfect solution with no downsides! Just kidding — like everyone else, we’re still dealing with uncertainty and challenges, but I think the way we approached our plan was kinda neat and I look forward to sharing it with you!
-David Aldridge, Head of Engineering
Would you like to work at Bungie?
We’d love to talk with you. Here are a couple of the most exciting tech roles we’re hiring for, with many more on our careers
- Senior Mobile Graphics Engineer
- We're looking for someone to help us port our in-house AAA engine (Tiger) to mobile, to give us a chance to inspire friendships among a few billion people who are mostly priced out of our current platforms.
- No games 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 a lot of low level mobile expertise besides graphics. This team is led by Eric Will, who has over a decade of experience in adapting our Tiger engine to different platforms. He's excited to learn about mobile from you and I promise you'll learn a lot from him.
- No games experience required!
- Incubation Gameplay Engineering Lead
- For more info on this particular incubation project, check out this two minute video.
- Did you watch it? Go watch it!
- Ok, so do you want to work for & with that guy? I think you should; I was lucky enough to get to for 12 years!
- This one does require games experience - we're looking for someone who can lead a gameplay team and wants to make a smaller game within a larger studio.
We know you could work anywhere. Please reach out, let us share more, and see if you want to work here.