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Mission and Culture: Lessons from RIOT Games

Terrence Cohen, tech lead at Riot games, came to our shared work space last night to talk about company mission and culture. In this blog post, I sum some of that up and share what I learned!

Richard Atlas, Blogger

March 19, 2015

4 Min Read

Last night, Terrance Cohen of Riot games came to our shared workspace to give a talk about Mission and Company Culture. In this blog post I'm going to go over the key points, what I learned, and how we plan to apply this to our own company.

IMG_20150318_184544Terrence is the tech lead at Riot, and he gave some great info / tips about:

  • Challenges for small studios

  • Mission and company culture

  • General advice

Challenges for Small Studios

Small studios have a variety of different challenges, some that have clear answers and some that don't.

Tons of speculation: there's no guarantee that your project will succeed or that you'll make any money. Having a strong, cohesive team in which everyone believes in your vision can ensure that you get past the speculation and doubt.

Build or buy: Do your research to figure out what tech you want to buy, crowd-source, or build yourself. There's no point, especially as a small studio, to build tech from the ground up if it already exists.

Find and retain great talent: This is one of the ones that's harder to answer... in the talk he didn't really provide a solution but here at Clever Endeavour our goal is to always be on the lookout for talent through communities, blogs, Facebook groups, and other (maybe unsuspecting) places.

Scale very carefully: A company can scale quickly if a game takes off, but you need to make sure that everyone really buys into your focus and your mission (which we're about to talk about) rather than simply paying for decent labour.

Terrance also mentioned Dunbar's number, the highest number of people you can possibly maintain relationships with and know what they're doing in their lives, based on brain size and capacity. Basically the idea is that this number is around 150, but in the realm of a game company where everyone needs to have an extremely focused mission, that can drop by a lot.

Mission and Company Culture

It's extremely important to have a strong company culture and mission statement that the entire organization believes in. While mission is the goal, culture is made up of the steps taken and the attitude required to reach that goal.

At Riot, they have a clear mission. Their culture then feeds off that mission, and big decisions are made with this mission always in mind.

Who are you making games for? At Riot especially, they make sure to focus on player experience. To do this, they need to truly understand for whom they are making games, and how those people act, enjoy games, live, etc. For Terrence, that is the basis for their company mission.

Vision: "the stick against which ideas are measured": He defined vision as such, and explained that having a strong vision means saying no to great ideas. Accepting that there are great ideas that have a time and place, but now isn't the time and place, can only happen if you have a strong mission that you're turning to when making big decisions.

Talk about vision and culture constantly: Always be talking about your company vision, let it evolve and change organically, it's not set in stone.

As Fortune magazine said: "the best employers in the U.S. say culture is their greatest tool".

General Advice

Growth: Growth and scaling should happen carefully, based on company culture and mission. At Clever Endeavour, we try to operate on the back-end like a big company to prepare for the future. We try to anticipate the scaling, and at 12-15 people we shouldn't have a problem with the way we do business as a team of 3 (currently).

Try to make new mistakes: There are a number of problems that come up over and over, try to solve those problems in a way that isn't just patching them up, truly fix them and anticipate new, different problems / mistakes.

Default to trust: When problems or disagreements arise, default to trust. Realize that the person you've hired / are working with is someone you trusted enough to bring onto the team and trust their opinion and decision-making skills.

Speak softly and carry a big stick: The idea of exercising intelligent forethought, and coming prepared with big guns when problems arise. Try to plan ahead for everything... if you have no idea, ask someone. They've made that mistake before, whatever it may be.

And finally, with a quote from St-Euxpéry:

“In anything at all, perfection is finally achieved when there is nothing left to add and nothing left to take away.”

This can be applied to your game, your company, your relationships, anything! And with that, I leave you. Feel free to comment below and start a discussion :)

You can check out the Clever Endeavour website here.

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