Time and again fundamental business questions are posed to game studios. We tend to answer with clichés like “that doesn’t apply to us in the game industry” or “we don’t really think about that and that’s why we make the greatest video games out there.” The answer often flies in the face of reason or logic, but we continue to see monolithic successes thrilling investors.
This attitude isn’t surprising. At their core, successful game studios start with passionate game enthusiasts who share the desire to create fun interactive experiences; not bottom-line driven executives and managers. I’ve been privileged to work side-by-side with some of these incredible artists, designers, producers, customer service representatives and QA analysts. For us, profitability comes with the sense of making something great and people playing the heck out of it.
So, aside from awesome people, what makes a great game studio? With success comes greater scrutiny and pressure to repeat successes. Transitioning from a small agile group of game creators to a larger organization with split focuses can tear at the fabric of an organization’s foundation.
Over the last 15 years, studios releasing megahit games soon hire personnel to meet growing customer expectations. These large influxes of new people tend to bring other values into the organization. Cultural diffusion often drives those studios to adopt a practice of larger outside corporations; establish a visionary mission statement and those values the studio will follow to successfully meet the mission statement’s promise.
Let’s take a look at a few of these values from successful companies:
There are recurring themes among these examples:
- Innovation rocks
- Player experience is critical
- Grow yourself and your people
Are you game industry material?
The themes above seem like a pretty good base for success, but why break it down like this? This is more for those folks looking to move into the game industry. The values listed above are important. I have seen them used to inspire, to provide a framework for good decision-making, and to bludgeon an agenda or person into compliance.
Research each core value and mission statement touted by a company where you would consider working. You will learn what an interviewer is looking for – key phrases and buzz words that will catch their attention and move a candidate along the interview process. In most game industry cases, cultural fit is as important as ability or skill level. Most of what we do can be taught to the right type of person. “Right” is subjective and often a frustrating criteria for candidate selection though. One person out of a panel of 10 may decide they just don’t like the candidate and veto the hire based on “fit.” Bottom line, before you walk into an interview, know the values of the people you are interviewing with.
Use professional sites like LinkedIn to research the person you will be interviewing with. Don’t be concerned with the fingerprint you leave when visiting someone’s profile. As a manager and leader, I can tell you that someone who takes the time to do their homework has gotten my attention before any meeting takes place.
The first step in building a successful studio is to create a solid foundation. One thing to note; not all values are equal in scope. Take for example Blizzard Entertainment’s Commit to Quality core value. This is not a value just for Quality Assurance, but everyone who touches the game during development. In comparison, Learn & Grow comes from experience with all core values.
Regardless, the message to take from this is that values offer a framework to make good business decisions. It is not dogma, but more of a guide when considering alternatives. Rarely will one decision satisfy all values and it may even fly in the face of one or more; in these cases, find someone and talk it through before taking action.
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and tends to strut while waddling about, it’s probably a game company.