Meet Richard Atlas, CEO of Clever Endeavour Games

1. Hello, who are you and what are you known for?

I’m Richard Atlas, and I’m one of the co-founders of Clever Endeavour Games. We made the game Ultimate Chicken Horse, which was originally released in 2016 and has been receiving updates for several years. We’re now working on a new project, but I’m not known for that yet! Outside of the game itself, I’ve given a few talks at GDC and other games events that revolve around business or fostering a strong team culture.

2. What initially attracted you to the industry, and how did you break into the games industry?

I was interested in the idea of creating world that people could interact with. Games, to me, are the most interactive media and offer an extremely wide range of audience experience. You can paint the nicest landscape picture in the world, and place a beautiful barn on a hill, but you can’t look inside the barn on a painting. I also find it really interesting that games are such a combination of a number of fields of study—programming, art, design, marketing, etc. It’s cool to try to mesh different people from different worlds together and come up with a consistent product. I actually started studying music after high school, then switched to sciences and ended up with a mechanical engineering degree. Towards the end of that degree, though, I started dreaming up games and writing long (and probably terrible) game design documents. Eventually, the opportunity to hop into the industry presented itself when an accelerator called Execution Labs was opening submissions, and I was “between” engineering jobs. I got a team together—my two other founders—and we planned to apply for this. We didn’t get in, but we pressed on and created Ultimate Chicken Horse together.

3. In this notoriously turbulent industry, what qualities do you feel helped you navigate your career path?

I was really fortunate to be able to start my own thing. The fact that I could live at home with minimal expenses (no car, no kids, etc.) was huge for allowing me and my founders to spend almost a full year without income. So the first thing is to acknowledge that, and the fact that most people don’t have that kind of opportunity. Otherwise, I think I have a certain drive for getting things done and not giving up or letting things stand in my way. I’ve always been willing to ask uncomfortable questions, or for a favour from someone higher up the chain than me—for example, representatives from Valve, Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony. When showcasing Ultimate Chicken Horse at events, I’ve gone around and made conversation with anyone and everyone, handing out keys and trying to get them to see our game. I think this trait has been helpful not only in business development but as a CEO on my team as well.

Ultimate Chicken Horse is Richard Atlas’ first professional debut in the games industry, a party platformer where you build the level as you play, taking turns placing traps and hazards and trying to screw your friends out of a win.
4. For those learning about our industry or interested in your role can you explain your job title, its function and what impact do you have in game titles?

I work at Clever Endeavour Games, a Montreal-based studio of 6 people (as of November 2021). We’re a studio that likes to put people first—we don’t risk people’s mental or physical health by doing crunch or making them over-work, and we’re as human as possible with our approach to days off, vacations, etc. One of the strengths of the studio is that we tend to speak our minds openly, and this results not only in great feedback for management but also really productive design discussions with more team members involved. We’re maturing as a company and with every year that goes by, we improve our onboarding, documentation, and processes to try to give people as much space as possible to be creative and get their best work done. Another cool perk of the company is that since we’ve been doing well with Ultimate Chicken Horse, we’ve been able to support a ton of initiatives which aim to help marginalized developers in the industry, as well as donate to charities outside of the games industry that help the people most in need. I’m really proud of this aspect!

5. What’s your favorite part of your job?

My favourite part of my job is being able to see things come together, whether that’s people aligning on a design decision, or seeing the the game actually progress in a new build. I know that I don’t usually have a direct hand in what goes into that new build, but it does feel rewarding knowing that I’m responsible for holding down the fort and making people’s lives as easy as possible to get their work done. I also really enjoy the industry and the people I get to meet, not to mention having work tasks that involve playing video games for research (note the lack of quotation marks on the word ‘research’!).

6. Where do you work? Can you explain more about the studio, it’s culture, size, strengths and why you chose to work there?

I work at Clever Endeavour Games, a Montreal-based studio of 6 people (as of November 2021). We’re a studio that likes to put people first—we don’t risk people’s mental or physical health by doing crunch or making them over-work, and we’re as human as possible with our approach to days off, vacations, etc. One of the strengths of the studio is that we tend to speak our minds openly, and this results not only in great feedback for management but also really productive design discussions with more team members involved. We’re maturing as a company and with every year that goes by, we improve our onboarding, documentation, and processes to try to give people as much space as possible to be creative and get their best work done. Another cool perk of the company is that since we’ve been doing well with Ultimate Chicken Horse, we’ve been able to support a ton of initiatives which aim to help marginalized developers in the industry, as well as donate to charities outside of the games industry that help the people most in need. I’m really proud of this aspect!

Clever Endeavour Games recently launched the physical edition of Ultimate Chicken Horse exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, which includes the soundtrack, a compendium booklet, and keychain.

7. How has COVID after your career, studio and what lasting changes both good and bad do you feel COVID has brought to the games industry?

It’s been tough to work remotely while we’re in such a creative and wide-open phase of work while concepting a new game. We had a lot of different changes happen at the same time—staff changes, new project, very different project from our first one, and remote work, and the combination of all of those things has made for a bit of a rough ride. That said, it’s pushing us to learn and grow and I’m confident that we’ll come out of it stronger than before. On the flipside, game sales have been really good during the pandemic across the board, as it seems that people have been cooped up in their houses and playing (and therefore buying) games. Our community is still thriving, and there are always players around to play the game, so that’s encouraging. In general, I think COVID will change what work looks like forever. Even on our team, we had a couple of people who moved to houses outside of the city to do hybrid work and come into work on occasion. The amount of remote work means that a company, say, in San Francisco, can pay 1/8th of what they would pay in SF for an employee in a small town, and that employee will still enjoy a much higher standard of living. Employers know this, and employees know this, and I don’t think we’ll ever return to a world where people will be doing work in person that could be done from anywhere. I also think this will slowly shift us into the 4-day work week, as we’ve seen with some game studios already. In general, I think we’re going to see a completely different approach to what work is and how it interacts with our lives, and I think it’s pretty exciting!

8. What shall I be doing right now to improve my career prospects?

Meeting people and talking to people! It’s harder without in-person events, but it seems that those will be coming back soon. Reach out to people even if you don’t think they’ll answer you, and apply to jobs even if you don’t qualify, highlighting the ways in which you could bring something special to the team.movies and games, but it’ll also be great to bridge the language barrier one day with all the Japanese developers I work with!

9. Is there a quote that motivates you?

10. Can you share your thoughts about the next 5 years outlook for games?

I believe I answered most of this in the section about COVID and work!

11. What advice would you give your younger self when looking at the games industry?

I would probably have told myself to do some sort of formal education in games, but then I wouldn’t be where I am now, so… Maybe I’d just give my younger self the general advice that I shouldn’t care so much about what people think, because they don’t really care that much about what you might be wearing or how you might be speaking.