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Here's one way to retain developers between projects: Lab Time

Here's one way to retain developers between projects: Lab Time Exclusive

October 10, 2014 | By Alex Wawro, Mike Rose

Yesterday we ran a story about Ubisoft's 'interproject' division, a place where Kotaku reports the company sends some developers who are between projects but still worth keeping on the payroll.

We encouraged Gamasutra readers who had seen similar practices to share their stories, and many did in comments on our original story.

Others shared their stories in emails to [email protected], including Wooga's PR manager Greg Latham. He says the German mobile/social game publisher (Monster World, Jelly Splash) maintains a similar talent retention initiative called 'Lab Time,' where developers go when their project has been cancelled and they can't find a role on another team within the company.

If a Wooga developer is assigned to Lab Time, they must have a project to work on: developing a tool for internal use, doing market research, and the like. Sometimes they pitch in to help other teams on their projects, and those short-term arrangements often lead to full-time assignments on the team.

"As with any project like this, and as highlighted with the Ubisoft example, this system has drawbacks," writes Latham, who claims that two months is the longest span a Wooga developer has ever spent in lab time so far. "Too much time in lab time, even with a project

"As with any project like this, and as highlighted with the Ubisoft example, this system has drawbacks."
to work on, can lead to a lack of motivation. But from our perspective, it's a great way to retain employees."

Kotaku's report on Ubisoft's retention strategy suggests that the company lays off developers who languish in interproject without convincing another team to let them sign on as a full-time member. Even if they eventually find another team to work with, some Ubisoft sources cited by Kotaku expressed frustration with the depressing, seemingly pointless nature of interproject.

Wooga seems to have struggled with similar developer morale issues. "Employee response to going into lab time varies quite a bit depending on how comfortable they are with self-directed projects," writes Latham. "Some are very excited and embrace the free time to work on projects and ideas that they have been meaning to explore, whereas others can struggle with the lack of structure."

Latham also claims Wooga only fires developers based on performance, and has not yet done so to anyone who was in lab time.

For developers at companies with similar programs, Latham suggests that the key to remaining productive and motivated is to set goals. "Requiring employees to set clear, achievable goals for the lab time project, including a deadline they work towards, really helps."

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