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Can There be a “Studio Personality” Indicator?

Can a studio’s culture, or personality, be measured? Having some simple metrics of a studio’s culture might be a useful starting place to discuss its strengths and weaknesses internally. This article poses the question of whether this is possible.

Clinton Keith, Blogger

August 18, 2011

4 Min Read

Can a studio’s culture, or personality, be measured?  Having some simple metrics of a studio’s culture might be a useful starting place to discuss its strengths and weaknesses internally.  This article poses the question of whether a set of metrics is possible and what they might look like by taking a lesson from the popular Myer’s-Briggs Type Indicator.

For the past dozen years, I’ve used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator) questionnaire, which is “designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions” through a simple four part metric.

I’ve found it to be an interesting tool that helps people  communicate with others who all think and feel differently.  The results can be taken too far, but one of the most interesting things about the MTBI is the consistency in its results.  I’ve always been measured as an INTJ by the test, but have been surprised when people who are trained in MTBI tell me I’m an INTJ after a few minutes of conversation.  There are even tools online, like TypeAlyzer (http://www.typealyzer.com/), which tell me that I’m an INTJ when it analyzes my blog (http://blog.agilegamedevelopment.com/)

After spending the past four years working with dozens of studios as an independent trainer and coach, I’ve seen common patterns and I’ve come to feel it’s possible to categorize these patters into an MTBI-like system.  I searched around and found a few candidates, but none of them seemed ideally suited to game development studios.  

What would such an indicator look like?  It should probably start at the same scale of the MTBI and have four dichotomies, or preference-pairs.  The four MTBI dichotomies are:

  1. Extraversion (E) - (I) Introversion

  2. Sensing (S) - (N) Intuition

  3. Thinking (T) - (F) Feeling

  4. Judgment (J) - (P) Perception

The MTBI dichotomies lack any positive or negative bias, which is often different from our daily use of these terms.  For example, when I first heard I had a preference towards introversion, I didn’t believe it.  “I’m not an introvert” I thought, “I talk to people all the time!”, but then I read more about these preferences(from Wikipedia):

  • Extraverts are action oriented, while introverts are thought oriented.

  • Extraverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, while introverts seek depth of knowledge and influence.

  • Extraverts often prefer more frequent interaction, while introverts prefer more substantial interaction.

  • Extraverts recharge and get their energy from spending time with people, while introverts recharge and get their energy from spending time alone.

The assessment didn’t sound so wrong after reading that.   Eventually it led me to try and improve communication with others based on the preference they seemed to have relative to my own. 

MTBI preferences aren’t absolutes either.  The MTBI provides a scale between the preference-pairs.  Very often you might find yourself near the center between them, as I was with extroversion and introversion.

How would a studio type indicator be used and what would its value be?  Some ideas:

  • A means to collect feedback from employees and gauge their view of the studio

  • To characterize multiple studios within a larger organization and compare them

  • To measure the evolution of a studio from its founding, onward

  • To identify dysfunctional patterns

The value of the MTBI is that it reminds us we all think and communicate differently.  Similarly, an equivalent studio indicator would raise awareness of the assumptions and vision of an organization and hopefully lead to meaningful conversation and alignment of that vision among everyone in it. 

What would be the best four dichotomies for a studio indicator?  I came up with a list, but I’d like to find out what other preferences developers think belong here.

  1. Process: Formal/Ad-Hoc - Are the practices and rules that govern how you work very clearly spelled out or does every project figure out how to build a game on their own while its being created?

  2. Leadership: Charismatic/Hierarchical -  Does the true leadership and vision of a studio reside with one or two outspoken people or does it emerge from a group of leads who occupy positions in a hierarchical structure?

  3. Identity: Inertial/Exploratory - Does the studio uniquely identify itself from its past successes or is it based on a vision of what it wants to be?

  4. Guidance: Self/External - Is the studio guided by it’s own decisions (e.g. a 3rd party independent) or is it owned by a larger parent company that makes many of the higher level decisions for it.

This is a first-pass list of dichotomies and I have to admit I’m not completely thrilled with them.  What different dichotomies should be in this list?  What would you think is necessary to include to describe your studio?  How should this indicator be used?

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