MOTION TWIN
Edge|Christmas 2020
The French cooperative that’s getting bigger and smaller at the same time
Alex Spencer

Most studios, in the wake of their breakthrough hit, tend to expand. But then, Motion Twin isn’t like most studios. Headcount at the studio’s Bordeaux office has fluctuated pretty much constantly since its founding in 2001, but the number peaked at 17. That was in 2010, years before Dead Cells’ unexpected success changed everything for the studio. Today, Motion Twin consists of just six people.

This is, at least in part, down to the thing that makes Motion Twin unusual: since 2005 it has operated as a workers’ co-operative. (Occasionally the words ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ are thrown into the mix, at least in part as a nod to Monty Python And The Holy Grail.) This means a flat hierarchy where each employee is equal. “The salary is equal, the time off work is equal and the power of decision-making is also equal,” artist and associate Gwenaël Massé says.

The homepage of Motion Twin’s website sums its philosophy up in two large words: “NO BOSS”. Each member of the team is empowered to make decisions on their own. When this leads to clashes, they’re put to a company-wide vote. At least, that’s the theory. “Actual votes are very rare, because it’s only if there is a lot of disagreement,” programmer and co-CEO Christophe Rautou says. “Most of the time, we talk the problem through and resolve it like that, even if there are one or two people that may have some doubts in the end.”

Larger decisions that affect the entire company, such as moving office, changing working hours, and hiring and firing, are handled in the same way. “Day to day, you have your role, the thing that you’re specialised in, but you’re also involved in all of the major strategic decisions. Those decisions are taken together. And so that takes extra time and extra brain cycles,” Rautou says. “Some important decisions take weeks or months.”

The larger the company, the longer and more complicated this decision-making process naturally becomes. According to former Motion Twin co-CEO Steve Filby, “there’s a natural limit to how big you can get when you have that zero-hierarchy situation.” When the decision being made is something as important as the studio’s next project, too many voices can risk everything grinding to a halt. “If everyone wants to go in a different direction, you end up with a company which is not moving at all because everyone has the same amount of say in that decision,” Rautou says. “So that’s one of the things that make us want to stay small – probably never more than ten people.”

When that project is the anticipated follow-up to the biggest success in your studio’s history? Well, it’s not hard to see why this team of six, once they were done with Dead Cells, spent nine months producing nine prototypes that could become its next release. “We took this time because we knew it was a very special time for us as developers,” Massé says. And Motion Twin knows well what a difference it can make, choosing the right game to work on next.

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