Our Group ‘In Conversation With’ series will bring you profiles on senior leaders and groundbreakers across the company and its studios. We’ll be taking a deep dive into the working lives of some of the people who make us who we are today; sharing their knowledge, their career insights and what they hope to see in the future for Sumo Group.
In our first edition of this interview series, we spoke to Darren Mills, Director of Excellence of the Sumo Group. Darren is one of the co-founders of Sumo Group, and previously served as Art Director, Sheffield Studio Director and was responsible for founding and building Sumo India in the early days of the studio.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A DIRECTOR OF EXCELLENCE & INTEGRATION?
“It’s a title that is there for people to ask that exact question! We make great games, but how can we improve the experience of working here and how can we attract people to come and work for us. This role is about concentrating on everything we do outside of development and how we do that to the best of our ability.
“As a business leader and part of Sumo since day one I’ve been part of many discussions around what we’d like to and what we should do but, because we’ve been so busy, some of those things have not had the focus they deserve. The bigger we get the more studios and businesses we have, each bringing their own unique culture, ideas and identity to the wider Group, that focus becomes more and more vital. We want to encourage and nurture this and the people within the teams, ensuring Sumo Group continues to be the best possible place to work. It’s my role to ensure this happens and it’s why the role was created.”
WHY IS THE ROLE SO IMPORTANT?
“Within Sumo Group our studios have their own identity and their own culture, whether we have acquired them or set them up, it is important to us that this identity and individuality is kept. Alongside this however, we want to ensure everyone has the same framework to work from and opportunities to share ideas and collaborate across our businesses wherever possible.
“I want to ensure that every studio has access to the same opportunities, the same benefits and the same processes wherever possible.
“It’s about getting the ideas and things to work across the studios. A lot of consideration must go into bringing an idea to life in a company our size, where does this work, where do we introduce it first, can we introduce it group wide? And then how can we build on it once we do that?
“The more we grow, the more opinion there is and whilst we can't please everybody all the time what we want to do is find a balance. That balance only comes from understanding all the viewpoints and all the angles, so my role is there to be able to achieve that.
HOW DO YOU GO FROM ART TO EXCELLENCE?!
“You grow alongside the company in my case!
“Before I got into games I was working as a cameraman for a TV company, switching to games in 1995 as a junior artist at Gremlin Interactive when I got married and decided I needed a more 9 to 5, Monday to Friday type job as the camera work often involved a lot of evenings and weekends away from home as we mainly covered news and sport. When we founded Sumo in 2003, I initially started handling all things Art, as well as the being responsible for the design side too. Eventually Sean Millard took over the design side and I focused on art as we grew the company, opened the studio in India and hired more and more artists in both studios. When Paul Porter moved over to his current COO role, I stepped into heading up whole studio at Sheffield. As Sumo continued to grow it became clear there was an opportunity to really make a difference in bringing ideas to life to truly make this a great place to work.
“As a studio director, you've always got something to deliver, a meeting to be in, someone asking you a question, a report to write... and it's very much focused on managing the studio, managing teams and people and delivering against a plan that can change frequently, it’s a high pressure, high demand role. The time to sit back and be truly creative and think outside that, isn’t often a luxury afforded to many studio directors.
“To have the freedom to go out to all other studios to talk to people and get ideas from them as well and see how I can work with those is invaluable. Sumo has been around a long time, but it doesn’t mean we have all the answers. New ideas can come from anywhere and I'm quite happy to listen to new ideas and run with them, working them up into either a process, a policy, or a proposal that can improve an aspect the company.”
YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT SO FAR IN THIS ROLE?
“My proudest achievement so far has been getting a detailed proposal through the board last year around a new work life reward initiative which included the new bonus system, flexible working and the new holidays. It was a big achievement and felt like it was the proof of concept of the role as I was able to collaborate with HR, Finance, and IT to bring all those ideas together, gather a bunch of people to work together on that proposal and get it through the board approval. And that's what my role is, to bring ideas, departments and people together and get the end results.”
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS?
“I started in this role right at the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic. The first week of lockdown was my first week in the job and, frustratingly, one the biggest things I had wanted to get straight to was touring around all our studios and businesses and getting to understand all those cultures… Of course, that couldn’t happen due to the lockdowns but I'm looking forward to doing that as soon as possible.
“We succeed as a company if our people are happy and I want to get out there, and not only find those new ideas but also about question whether we're doing the right thing with what we have in place.
“That might sometimes mean looking back at old policies and seeing if they are still relevant, or it might be writing new policies or new processes that we didn't need 10 years ago. We have some amazing people working for us creating some amazing stuff and I think we succeed as a company if those people are happy in what they do and want to continue to do it.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN GAMES, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
“Be a sponge, listen to everyone, ask a lot of questions, and surround yourself with a good team.”