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Small teams and big ideas are key to Gree's new 'G-Lab'

Gree's San Francisco studio is implementing "G-Lab" -- a new cross-departmental initiative that intends to use small teams and fast prototyping to come up with the next big mobile game ideas.
Tokyo, Japan-based Gree is a bona fide mobile game giant nowadays. And sometimes, giants need some extra motivation to get them to move them into new directions. That's where Gree's newly-launched "G-Lab" will step in. Headed up by VPs of engineering Andy Keidel and Ram Gudavalli at the company's San Francisco location, G-Lab will consist of small teams with lots of freedom that will prototype new games in short spans of time. Think of it as a longer-running game jam within a company -- a format that's similar to R&D efforts in game companies ranging from Double Fine to EA. The company already has successful games like Modern War and Jackpot Slots, but Gree hopes the initiative will help the company expand its creative and financial horizons. Here's a Q&A we conducted with Keidel and Gudavalli, telling us more about the program.

Can you tell me a bit about G-Lab? What is it and how does it work?

Keidel: G-Lab is a new initiative here at Gree in San Francisco that gives people from different teams a chance to work together to design and build new games and apps on an aggressive timeline. The team is given three months to prototype several products and launch a polished version of at least one of them. The G-Lab team will be made up of some of our top performers from art, engineering, and UI/UX. Team members will rotate every three months. Anyone at Gree who is not on the team full-time will still have the opportunity to contribute to G-Lab projects. We will have advisory members across all groups who are there for help (game design, marketing, analytics, operations, etc.) and an executive review board who will be checking in throughout the process. The goal is to get the whole company involved.

How did the idea come about?

Gudavalli: The idea originated from our internal hackathons. Each time we’ve held a hackathon, the results have been amazing. Small teams with lots of creative freedom have been able to create stunning products in only a few days. But we have not had the time or support to turn these prototypes into fully featured, polished games that we could release. We began to wonder, “What if instead of holding a hackathon for a few days, we could run one for a few months?” What makes G-Lab different from other R&D groups is the focus on bringing real products to market quickly. The team members rotate every three months, and on each iteration the goal is to prototype several apps and launch at least one of them at the same quality bar we set for our current games. We have some amazing talent at Gree, and G-Lab is an opportunity to unlock more of our creative potential.

Why did Gree feel the need to start this initiative?

Keidel: We tend to be hyper-focused most of the time on our core titles. While this produces great results, we also recognize the importance of rapid innovation. We think that by pulling together a small team of very dedicated and creative individuals and giving them the time and support they need to experiment with new ideas, we will increase our chances of developing new hits. In addition, we are looking to learn techniques to iterate faster and collaborate more effectively, which can provide benefits across the company.

What do you hope to accomplish with it?

Gudavalli: We hope to come up with something awesome. We hope that the creativity, expertise, and passion that our team members pour into their work will translate into success in a highly competitive market.

What's the first project for G-Lab, and who is involved?

Keidel: The team has a short list of ideas at this point that are all extremely interesting. We will most likely spend the first few weeks prototyping some of them, sort of like holding a few mini hackathons. As we go, our expectation is that a few favorites will emerge and then we can focus exclusively on those. Our first G-Lab team has already been selected, and development officially kicks off on the 19th. We are very excited to see what happens next!

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