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EGD News #93 — No hierarchy at a game studio

EGD News #93 — No hierarchy at a game studio

Sent on July 30th 2021.

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💡 No hierarchy at a game studio

Chris Pardon, Co-founder of Lightheart Entertainment, who are the makers of the hit game Mr. Autofire, recently published a Medium post on Lightheart’s culture.

In the article, Chris wrote:

“The first time we met with an investor, we received a very good question: How would you define your success in five years?. Kalle (one of our co-founders) had a very inspiring response: We are successful when other companies start copying our culture and the way we make games.”

“Our journey started after reading the book “Reinventing Organizations” from Frederic Laloux (aka The Bible). It put into words what we wanted to do. And even more importantly, showed us the way with examples of many successful self-managed companies.”

“The first step was to remove the pyramid hierarchy and managers. People should be able to make their own decisions, any decision. To avoid complete chaos, we created a very clear process on how we make decisions. This is the centerpiece of our way of working.”

I wanted to find out more about how Chris and his co-founders approach the culture of “no hierarchy.”

Why did you want to make Lightheart Entertainment into a Teal Organization?

We wanted to build a company where we trust people to know what they do (and let them do it) and a fairer company. We started looking around at all different ways to run companies: reading books, blogs… Reinventing Organization was an eye-opener, and we knew we wanted to go in that direction. With that said, I believe we are a self-managed or self-organized company rather than strictly a Teal Organization.

Laloux goes a lot deeper in the concept of wholeness than we do (one of the three pillars of a Teal Org: bring the entire you at work, including the emotional and spiritual parts). I sometimes call the “Reinventing Organization” a bible because the book is so inspiring. However, I think it’s essential to be still critical: when we try to find a solution to a problem, we have to choose what we believe will work best for us, even if it doesn’t fit the teal mold.

How do you avoid ego traps at Lightheart?

Creating a safe space to express yourself is very important for us. It all starts with hiring and figuring out if ego would become a problem with the candidates. Then the way we operate helps to keep the ego away. As we don’t have a hierarchy, you can’t boost your ego by bossing people around. We have no titles.

If you are a VP of something, you may start becoming your title. Also looking at other people’s salaries and choosing your salary with others in mind helps a bit. Finally, we don’t shy away from having a conversation if we see ego becoming a problem.

What does career development look like at Lightheart?

We can’t grow vertically at Lightheart as we don’t have a hierarchy. Instead, you can expand horizontally. You can take new responsibilities, learn new skills. As we are not siloed, it’s easier to pick tasks from a different discipline. You can also get better and better in your specialization. Sure, you won’t get a fancy title, but your recognition in the company will still grow, and your salary will still increase.

When you start a new game project, how do you pick the team that will work on the new game?

At the moment, it’s organic: we talk to each other and see who would fit better for the next project, who wants to change to another game… We are still very small, so it’s relatively easy. This will become more tricky when we are 100, and many people have worked for one or two years on the same project. For that, I don’t have the answer yet. But we usually think about solutions to these problems when they arise and do not worry years in advance.

You have used the Tiel Organization theory to build your company. Have you constructed a playbook document of some-sorts where you adapt items from the Reinventing Organizations book?

When we make decisions, we document them in our intra with the reasoning, which constitutes our playbook. We could think of a friendlier format at some point. One of the risks of a pdf playbook is that it creates a feeling that those processes are immutable while we have a culture where every process should be easily updated if we feel there is a better way to do it.

That’s it! Chris promises to continue writing about Lightheart’s culture. I’ll come back to anything that he posts in the future about reinventing organizations.

📈 H1 2021 Newsletter stats

During the first half of 2021, I published 26 Friday newsletters. In each newsletter, I included three or four articles that I thought were worth reading for my newsletter subscribers.

I wanted to share the top three articles, based on how many clicks they received on my newsletter, from on the newsletter and also on the EGD website blog posts of those newsletters.

Without any order, here are the top three articles that are worth reading.

What I wish I knew when building a new games studio from March 2021.

Sophie Vo started Vodoo’s Berlin studio just before the pandemic. In this article, she shares what she learned during the first year of running a new game studio. Sophie answers the question of “What went well according to the plan? What didn’t go well? What would I do differently now?”

Here are the items that I most loved about the article.

  • If it takes more than a week to validate a critical assumption, drop it.
  • Before evaluating someone’s performance, evaluate first their emotional state
  • Take care of yourself before others.
  • Your main limit is your own vision

You can read the full article by going here.

7 tips for successful video game prototyping from March 2021.

In my humble opinion, nothing beats the feel of an early prototype, to move from idea stage to execution and results. In this article from March, Will Luton shares his tips on how game developers can build prototypes that meet developer objectives and lead to results.

Here are the things I most loved about this article.

  • Don’t paper prototype
  • Build only what you need
  • Make it look bad

Read the full article by going here.

Startups Get Bigger, Faster, Farther with “Advisor/Founder Fit” from April 2021.

I loved having this second opinion on startup advisors, a topic I’ve previously covered on the blog. In this article, Angel covers the differences between mentors, board members and advisors and what all their roles should be.

I’ll return to some more highlights from the first half of 2021 in the following newsletters.

🎙 Ask Me Anything #3

This week I published my third Ask Me Anything podcast episode, where I answer people’s questions related to game studios, fundraising, and all other entrepreneurship related stuff. I will be recording another episode quite soon, so please submit your questions by filling out this form.

Here are some of the questions that I answered on the episode.

  • In soft launch and retention Day-1 test, how should we treat players who’ve consumed all the content on Day-0?
  • How hard is it to get funding for a Latin American studio that is remote-first?
  • If my company only makes 1-2 million in revenue, how will investors who want 100m react?
  • How can I get co-founders to join my startup without infringing non-solicitation clauses?
  • What is the approach in protecting novel game ideas?

You can go and listen to my answers or read the full transcript, which includes links to content that I mention in the episode, by going here.

📹 In Case You Missed These Webinars

📃 Articles worth reading

Don’t Let Your Best Product Managers All Become People Managers Or Your Company Will Suffer — “Organizations by design as they grow, scale with people who thrive in more complex hierarchical environments. While the traditional org chart structure might one day be replaced by more evolved thinking better suited for technology-driven economies it has dominated capitalism since industrialization. For what it’s worth, I’m not disregarding or criticizing the people who fill these roles or rejecting the notion that large companies can’t innovate or do good work. But I also don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that the amount of process and structure do challenge certain types of individualistic thinking and the challenging of norms.”

“Fantasy Hollywood” — Crypto and Community-Owned Characters — “Every day we consume popular entertainment centered on characters. A collection of successful characters can become the foundation for a franchise — e.g. Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter — that can span decades, and be incorporated into successful products across platforms and media types. But today, most successful characters exist as intellectual property owned by a single corporation. This means that fans don’t have any governance, let alone direct ownership, of these characters, limiting them to being only passive consumers of the products and narratives that the corporation decides to create.”

I helped pioneer UX design. What I see today disturbs me — “The implicit promise of UX for many of us was a burgeoning philosophy of management by inquiry and insight, in which new creative explorations would lead to new questions about human behavior, which in turn would drive the definition of new product and value opportunities.”

💬 Quote that I’ve been thinking about

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” — Kurt Vonnegut

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I hope you have a great weekend!