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If you want your studio to succeed, put people first - Riot

At the annual DICE Summit in Las Vegas, Riot CEO Brandon Beck argues that companies -- in this case, game companies -- don't invest enough in their people, which leads to painful negative outcomes.

Kris Graft, Contributor

February 4, 2015

3 Min Read

"The holy grail for game development is one word," according to Brandon Beck, CEO of League of Legends developer Riot Games. That word is "People."

At the annual DICE Summit in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Beck argued that companies -- in this case, game companies -- don't invest enough in their people. That can lead to all kinds of negative outcomes.

"We're infamous for burnout," said Beck by way of example. And that's despite the advancements in game development we enjoy today, and certainly despite the passion people have when they first join the game industry.

Great software is obviously important, but Beck believes it's sometimes easy to forget that software is only as valuable as the people behind it.

"Great proprietary tech and IP cannot make a great game, without great developers," he said. "But conversely, great game developers can make great games from scratch."

"Often, we treat people as the commodity, and the IP as the precious asset," Beck added. That's backwards, and not the way companies can grow and become successful.

Being a people-focused company also means that management needs to understand that failure is a key part of great game development. Give people the support they need when they fail, so they can eventually reap the subsequent success.

"Successes are almost always preceded by a litany of failures," said Beck. People who make games, who face new, often unique problems every day, need to be given space for the kind of failure that can lead to success.

Beck, an executive, said managers need to rethink the role that they play in companies. Leaders can't simply dole out responsibilities, or a list of demands. Rather, they need to "provide support to staff, and facilitate creativity and collaboration," he said. "In order to innovate...it requires sort of a shift in the mindset and balance of power away from the stereotypical supervisor type, to an environment where people collaborate really effectively."

Instead of tasking people, as a manager, managers need to play more of a support and motivational role. And while most everyone wants to progress within a company, not every single person wants to -- or is fit to -- climb the management ladder. Talent needs to be focused appropriately.

"It's critical that we have non-management growth paths that are equally rewarding," Beck said. He added that employers should look for "authentic passion" in potential hires -- extensive experience in game development is not the be-all end-all. "Cultural alignment matters so much," Beck said. "It's not enough just to hire talented people." 

In order for all of this to work, coworkers must trust one another. "Trust is the absolute foundation of teamwork," Beck said. When coworkers can trust one another, corporate politics are put to the side, and for Riot, the focus directs to the people who give them their business: Players.

To Beck, with all of Riot's success, the company is still a work in progress -- he's still learning, and not everything is perfect, but he's confident Riot has a solid foundation. "The only real constant [from the birth of Riot], the only real value-driver was the quality of the collaboration. It wasn't our IP ... It wasn't our tech. ... It certainly wasn't our business model," he said. "At the end of the day...people trump all."

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