Marmalade Game Studio’s Cristina Mereuta on why talent trumps genre experience

Since the Summer of 2016, Marmalade has been making digital board games. We’ve learned a lot in that time, and we believe this evolution shows in each game we release. But one of the biggest lessons learned for me and my business partner, Mike Willis, came from our background working on franchises such as FIFA and Harry Potter. I joined EA in 2011 as a producer and, on my first day, I scored an own goal in FIFA because I didn’t know the teams change ends at half-time. Through my new colleagues’ laughter, I realised two things. One, it was going to take a lot of learning to get good at this job while working on a game I wouldn’t naturally play, and two, if I did get good at this job while working on FIFA, then I could make anything that I wanted.

I did learn a lot – about football, of course, but mainly about the importance of rigour and discipline. Working on FIFA shaped my work ethic and helped crystalise my belief about how great games can be made – even if you’ve never been involved with a particular franchise or genre before.

Day after day, I saw a core group of people who were prepared to fight for their ideas, to put their neck on the line for the good of the game, constantly in search of new and more effective ways of working. Alongside that, I also saw the entire team held back by those who didn’t share their enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Mike was working on Harry Potter, and while the environment and context were different, he was arriving at similar conclusions. He realised he couldn’t make a great game by simply making his bits brilliant. He needed to be part of a diverse and motivated team, who shared his passion and enthusiasm for finding the fun in every element of the design.

There was some exceptional talent on both teams, but we both saw endless waste and inefficiency. So when we took over Marmalade in 2016, we knew exactly where we wanted to focus our attention. We wanted to surround ourselves with the most exceptional and driven people we could find, and create an efficient and streamlined work environment that allowed their ideas to flourish.

One of our key principles is to constantly reflect on what is and isn’t working. Even when we’re developing for an established brand, like our upcoming Monopoly game, we are always looking for ways to push the envelope and stretch ourselves. We look back at our previous work, identify the weakest parts, and focus on improving them – while always leaving room for innovation and experimentation.

Neither Mike nor I had ever worked on digital board games before Marmalade. The same is true of many of our team members. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re making FIFA, Harry Potter, Monopoly, or something else entirely: when you piece together a team of exceptional talent, and create the right environment for them to shine, that’s how great games are made.

Cristina is the COO of Marmalade Game Studio and, alongside CEO Mike Willis, one of the company’s creative leads. Their upcoming Monopoly game hits iOS and Android on the 4th of December

About Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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