Dead Cells studio proclaims the virtues of paying everyone the same

French studio Motion Twin takes a different approach to employee compensation and project management. Can this work for the rest of the industry?

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Less than a week away from the big release of their new game, Dead Cells, french developers Motion Twin are doing the media rounds and the topic of their unique corporate structure has come into focus. During an interview with Kotaku, game designer Sébastien Bénard says that Motion Twin’s compensation and ownership system is, “a direct challenge, not just to the exploitative practices you see at a lot of other companies, but also to tired old world corporate structures in general.” The company pays each employee the same wage, regardless of their title or how long they’ve been with the studio.

Bénard explains how the day to day business and decisions are discussed by the team in-person or over the chat client Slack. When there is a lack of consensus on any given decision, a vote is held among the employees. This often leaves some team members unhappy they did not get their way. This is what Bénard deems  “the tricky part.” Sometimes team members must accept that their great idea will be discarded by the team at large.

While things appear to be working very well for the small team behind Dead Cells, expansion in the past put an enormous strain on the company structure. “Years ago, we did grow a lot, but this wasn’t a great experience,” Bénard said. “We lost much of what made Motion Twin a nice company to work in, and during the process, many people lost this important motivation and focus that worked for us. I think it requires quite a clever structure to go beyond 15 people with a similar equitable design, because you’ll need innovative systems to keep everyone involved.”

Time will tell how this arrangement will work for Motion Twin going forward. Dead Cells will be releasing on the current-gen consoles and Nintendo Switch August 7.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

From The Chatty

  • reply
    August 2, 2018 9:55 AM

    Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Dead Cells studio proclaims the virtues of paying everyone the same

    • Zek
      reply
      August 2, 2018 10:04 AM

      I don't like that at all, why should someone who is more productive and more critical to the success of the company not be rewarded? Either you're paying everyone very generously, or you're paying your senior employees a lot less than they would get at another job and they'll eventually leave.

      • reply
        August 2, 2018 10:14 AM

        Yup, there's a problem at my previous company where they're having to pay hires straight out of university the same as people who have been there awhile. You can imagine how well that's going over.

        This is more specific to the area I'm in than how the company pays in general. It's very difficult to find rendering people now (as in people that could write a rendering engine as opposed to just using Unity/Unreal) so they come at a price premium.

        So what's happening is the new hires come on at a level higher than they really are so they can be paid enough. But that doesn't sit well with the people who are actually at that level. Which means you now need to either promote the more senior people or they're likely to walk and then you've got a serious problem.

        Paying everyone the same sounds great until you have friction from people who are more senior getting the same as junior staff. Like you said, either the junior people are hilariously overpaid or the senior people are underpaid. It's probably a combination of both and I foresee lots of senior staff turnover in the future.

      • reply
        August 2, 2018 11:07 AM

        I can't believe I'm saying playing devil's advocate on this, but I could see this approach working as long as:

        1) Times are good and profits are strong, plus
        2) Everyone at the company is making way over their market worth anyway, and
        3) The cost-of-living at where everyone lives is low enough.

        In those (damn near impossible) conditions, the salary is basically just a dick-wagging number. If you flatten the salary gap, and if everyone's having fun, then I think it could definitely foster an org where everyone's in it together having a good time.

    • reply
      August 2, 2018 10:56 AM

      Sounds kinda inflexible to me. And harder to attract experienced talent.

      I'm not sure its all that "virtuous" either. It sounds like they are trying to solve a problem they don't have. The problem, as I see it, is ridiculous salaries for people at the top. 7-8 figure salaries for CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, etc. 10x - 100x the regular salaried employee. Are they pulling in the kind of profits to pay their top stake holders that much money? Not as an indie company, thats for sure. So are they in any way solving a problem that doesn't exist for them in the first place? Why bother?

      Who is complaining that a key manager or design lead or programmer lead is making 100k vs a new hire who is making 65k?

      But, whatever. Run your company how you want. They are making great games, and as long as it makes business sense to do what they are doing, go for it.

    • reply
      August 2, 2018 11:04 AM

      Experience and skills have varying market rates. People who can get a high salary on that market, will require something comparable. They'd go broke if they paid their QA team and everyone else that salary, and they'll have no highly experienced people if they pay them less under market value.

      I just don't see how this could work.