This is a series of stories told by leaders in the Doncaster area (City of). These stories have been curated by me (Kurt Ewald Lindley) as part of a collaboration between Doncaster Council, Doncaster Chamber of Commerce and other Team Doncaster member to showcase, not just the best of Doncaster, but to inform the development of Doncaster’s Economic Strategy and
“make it the best place to do business.”
NDA’s (Non-disclosure Agreement), the doorway to a hidden gaming world, phones locked away and security fobs needed for each room – this is the story of Kudos QA.
They may go unnoticed to the general public navigating Doncaster’s Market Place, but this is a company that is growing quickly, because of the energy of its owners and the talent that lives within our region.
Kudos QA run by Robbo (Andrew Robson CEO) is a tailored quality assurance service for games developers and publishers. They offer a wide selection of services in; Computer Games, Digital Media and iGaming as part of the outsourcing sector of the Entertainment Industries.
The Journey – turbulent to say the least
As I sat down with Robbo and Nibs (Naomi Turner – General Manager) at the kitchen table of their offices I was handed an NDA. At first I thought this was a joke. It’s never been a thing before. However, as Robbo made quite clear, “what happens behind these security doors is ‘top secret’”. In each of these rooms sat teams of skilled games testers, effectively trying to break developer’s dreams. Trying to find ‘bugs’ in their creations before the games make it to market.
Who would have expected such a volume of people, would be housed behind one little door off Doncaster’s Market Place. All working on projects they cannot speak of outside this room, “they all have code names so as not to accidently slip up”. I was amazed.
The journey for Robbo and Nib’s and Chris Burrows (QA Manager, Nib’s twin Brother) was not a simple one, I will share just an abridged version here.
Robbo left school with very little by way of formal qualifications. After a short stint as a labourer, in 1994 he found his way into the games industry via ‘Bullfrog Productions’. A video games developer based in Guildford, “the epicentre of games design in the UK”.
Between the 90’s and now Robbo and Nibs have experienced a journey of great highs, including the growth of the companies they’ve worked with/owned, and lows. The loss of some big deals, bankruptcy and a rebirth opportunity which brought them to Doncaster.
In this time Nibs navigated her path from Degree in sports science to sales in the pharmaceutical industry and cleaner along the way via Testology.
In 2015 Chris moved to Surrey from his home in Wales, to do his dream job at Testology as a games tester. For the time being this team of 3 were under one roof. Chris made his way to become a lead tester and continued to develop in the Industry.
In this same journey period, Robbo returned to the building trade before coming together with Nibs to create what is Kudos QA. Soon after this Andy approached Chris with the QA Manager role. He jumped at the chance and relocated to Doncaster. Nibs shared:
“he’s worked his socks off with us setting up the Kudos QA team, getting all the processes and testers in place ready to get the cogs turning at Kudos QA.”
What’s important to recognise here is that business activity does not happen in a vacuum. Life happens too. Life happens around you, life can impact upon business and vice versa. What is equally important to recognise is that we can start again…
“Sometimes you need to hit the bottom to go back to the top, wherever that is”
Challenges in Business – Stigma
“Stigma, this isn’t just kids playing games in their darkened rooms”
Robbo and Nibs explained the need to dispel the myth of games testing. Firstly it’s an all gender team and secondly there is a great deal more that goes into the role. I saw this first hand (but I can’t tell you about it – ha ha). The diligence of the workforce and attention to detail is paramount. Analytical thinking, initiative and the ability to consider new ways to do things, whilst holding true to a methodical approach under time pressures.
“The current education system isn’t responsive enough to keep up with changes in the industry, it can’t change quick enough”
Robbo and Nibs shared that they struggled to find an “industry ready workforce”. So they have created their own in house tester training programme to meet their clients ever evolving demands. “It’s the fastest and most effective way to get into the industry”. Neither were saying ‘don’t do a degree’, but that other routes must be available.
Lessons for others – your people are important
“Hire the right people, they know what to do”
Whilst Robbo and Nibs are CEO and GM respectively, they have not enforced a hierarchical structure to heavily on the team. Their roles are not in their e mail footers and don’t look to be evident around the building. As much as they can they like to give their employees freedom. Their view – “the job should be fun”.
“Make everyone feel part of the team”
By their own admission it can be hard, especially where some staff are on zero hours contracts, so not always in the office. Some may not feel the same sense of job security. They do what they can to involve all staff in their weekly meetings, and share the successes openly along with the realities of revenue generation targets, so everyone knows the picture.
Advice to a younger you (and the ones who didn’t choose so well)
Robbo – “do a job that feels like (or even is) your hobby, then you will never work a day in your life”
Nibs – “whatever you do, do it to your best, I had to be the best cleaner, the best sales person”
The Legacy – talent development
“the hidden talent sits in the no pile”
I loved this quote, Robbo was trying to point out that a good number of his team may not have been other peoples first choice. Whilst like any other organisation they have what sounds like a robust recruitment process, perhaps they look at their employees from a different angle to others. Which allows them to see the talent others don’t.
Robbo and Nibs would like to improve their connection with the education system within Doncaster, to better prepare young people for work in their industry. They already have a good connection with a number of providers including Harrison College, through which they have supported student placement opportunities.
The Call to Action – Collaboration
Robbo and Nibs were keen to say “there’s enough work out there, lets help each other be the best at their piece of the pie”.
Their call to action would be to create a ‘tech hub’ in Doncaster, where interlinking industries of games design, web development and digital all gather in support of each other. To share challenges, support development and offer links to others who can help.
Your one ask of ‘Team Doncaster’
“the challenge we have is qualifying for any funding, to get anything agreed can take an age”
In part this challenge is perhaps due to the newness of the industry in relation to the funding streams and those who manage them. Kudos QA (like a number of ‘newer industries’) don’t always fit the criteria of standard funding arrangements. Their ask is for flexibility and pace. This is an industry that moves quickly and at times they don’t have the luxury of waiting to hear if they qualify, they just need to crack on.
Kudos QA is aspiring to be;
“the Bentley of Games Testing”
Its this journey that excited Robbo and Nibs, to be the best in their sector. They seem to be headed in the right direction with this. Now 3 years on, previous employees who have flown the nest, have established themselves as producers and contacting Kudos QA to do work (from fledgling tester to producer, now client).
Robbo, Nibs and Chris are one of the many teams who are making Doncaster the best place to do business. And it’s from this story and the stories of others that ‘Team Doncaster’ hope to create a robust, prosperous Economic Strategy for our City.
Do you have a story or know of a Doncaster Leader with a story to share for #DNBusinessTalks? Get in touch here.