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EGD Special: Company Culture In Gaming

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In this episode, I’m talking about the ten tools for building a strong company culture in gaming.

In May of 2020, I did a webinar on the topic of Company Culture In Gaming. I went through the top ten tools for building strong company culture — things like trust, values, rituals, and the pact between the employer and employee. Then I cover the behaviors, surfacing problems, and hiring for culture. I talk about a bottoms-up culture, how to react to hard times, and how to keep curiosity to improve the culture.

The top ten tools for creating a strong company culture are:

1. Trust

  • A startup’s comparative advantage is speed. But lack of trust creates massive friction. So startups virtually eliminate their edge if they don’t build trust—with customers and each other—into their DNA from day one.
  • Lack of trust between people in a company creates massive friction for speed and velocity. Startups can eliminate all the edge that they have if they don’t build trust with each other, and with the players of their games. Trust needs to be in the DNA of the company from day one.

2. Values

Company values need to be verbs, so that they are actionable. It’s your actions, not your words, that will dictate your culture.

First-time founders might not think that mission and core values are essential in the early days. But the fact is that people come and go, but the company will stay. The company is an entity of its own.

3. Rituals

When you have actionable values, you can strengthen them by turning them into rituals.

At Next Games, we had an all-hands event every Friday called Kudos, where each employee would draw a wrapped candy from a box and then give it to someone in the company. When giving the candy to that person, they’d need to speak out loud what value of the company this person had represented in the actions during the week. The main idea with Kudos was to show gratitude.

4. Actions

As the saying goes: Culture is what happens when the CEO isn’t in the room.

Here are some forward-looking, “Won’t stand still” behaviors for leaders:

  • Read every day
  • Complement others
  • Embrace change
  • Forgive others
  • Talk about ideas
  • Continuous learning
  • Accept responsibility for faiures
  • Have a sense of gratitude
  • Set goals and develop life plans

Modern leaders are enablers, facilitators. But they also still lead by setting an example, through action and behavior.

5. Hire for culture

You can change the culture by hiring people with certain skills, knowledge, interests, manners. Again, the culture is the people and their behaviors.

As Callum Brighting said: “I want people to very quickly work out if they belong here or not. We’re not going to get it right 100% of the time. We’re going to make mistakes in our hiring pipeline, for sure. And I want people that we bring into very quickly be able to work out like ‘Ah, this isn’t the place for me. I don’t feel like I couldn’t belong’. So that’s our internal emotion metric.”

6. Surfacing problems

You need to have a safe environment to talk about problems. Anybody in the company can voice out an issue or problem, and that it is dealt with.

Speaking out needs to happen without blame, without someone feeling that they will get fired because they spoke out, or that they’ll get blamed for a mistake they made. Or during eventual layoffs, they will be the first people to be let go.

7. Pact

I wrote about this one in my book The Long Term Game: How to build a video games company:

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman talks about the concept that LinkedIn uses to create alliances with their employees in his and Chris Yeh’s book The Alliance. The Tour of Duty concept allows both the employee and the employer to plan for the future, and both will benefit from the relationship.

The idea is that during the hire process, the employer and employee specify what the are going to do during the “duty” which can be the next two years on the job. They specify how the company is going to change in the employee’s life and how the employee is going to change the employer’s life, and this is the mission they are both going to accomplish together.

This is a different form of compensation that what people are used to. The Tour of Duty is more than just monetary compensation. It is a path to new opportunities and it highlights progression in skills. The company gets to launch new games, grow its market share and expand to new markets. The employee gets new responsibilities, expands their capabilities and makes more money in the process.

8. Top-down & bottoms-up

This is about communication. You have a communication loop, going from the top to the bottom, and then a feedback loop from the bottom to the top. It’s constantly there, and people feel like it’s a living organism where needs at the bottom are equal to the needs of the top.

9. Hard Times

The Roman empire spent loads of money to keep people happy so that they wouldn’t complain. Until the money ran out and the party was over. Similar instances can be seen when wealthy companies create ”happiness” by spending money.

When financial issues come up about, where people need to be laid off, how do you structure that in a way that everybody still feels safe and that there’s a strong culture and people who need to leave, will still feel that they were part of something strong?

10. Curiosity

“Aren’t you ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnants of your life and to dedicate to wisdom only that time can’t be directed to business?” Seneca, On The Brevity Of Life, 3.5b

“The closest analogy I can give to what a great leader is it’s like being a parent. If you think about what being a great parent is what do you want what makes a great parent. We want to give our child opportunities education, discipline them when necessary. also that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves, great leaders want exactly the same thing. They want to provide their people opportunity education discipline when necessary, build their self confidence, given the opportunity to try and fail, all so that they could achieve more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.” — Simon Sinek