An organizational culture is not something that gets dictated from on high and then magically trickles down to the rest of the organization. It’s a lot more complicated than that. There need to be explicit goals, incentives, policies, rules, regulations and much more, all respected and enforced by an entire organization. It really does take a village, as they say.
That said, even though the actual building and maintaining of a culture is a massive endeavour involving basically everyone in the organization, some people will ultimately be more influential and responsible than others. I’ve personally been part of both articulating and building several organizational cultures throughout my career. The list of “do’s and don’ts” I could put together would be quite large. For this piece I’ve chosen to focus on the seemingly great ideas or policies that nonetheless backfired catastrophically. Bear in mind that your mileage may vary; much comes down to the specifics, and just because I and/or someone else failed at something doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Consider the list below more of a “be careful” than a “don’t even try it”.
[Note: Very mild Dark Souls spoilers ahead.]
The Dark Souls franchise has been so influential both inside and outside the games industry that it almost feels like an insult to spend too much time introducing it. Though far from perfect in every respect, few franchises are better examples of a whole being greater than the sum of the parts; the uncompromising design, the audio and visuals, the multiplayer-without-social take on online play – every component feels right at home in a series that demands that you either love it on its own terms, or leave it alone altogether.
The storytelling in the franchise has also received a fair bit of attention. Some would call it “light-handed”, others “convoluted and weird”. I for one love the fact that the story and lore are “opt-in”, in a way that only really works in the video game format. Much of the story is found through careful observation of the environment and the reading of item descriptions, and since there is so much that the player can overlook or fail to contextualise, the plot will likely retain an air of mystery and ambiguity even for the most thorough of players. Additionally, the player character is written into the story of each game only after some great calamity has struck its world, letting the player feel like some sort of dark fantasy CSI agent, figuring out what the hell happened by fighting their way through and examining a massive crime scene.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 15 or so years in the games industry, it’s that few aspects of the business are paid as much lip service as hiring.
“Yes”, your prospective boss may tell you as they take you on a tour of the office, “hiring is extremely important. Hiring is ultimately how we maintain our culture and value creation capacity, while at the same time ensuring that we have the drive and flexibility needed to pivot when the market so demands – and also to beat that same market to the punch through everyday grassroots innovations”.
So far, so good, you think. A bit bureaucratic an answer perhaps, but the theory seems on-point.
And then they introduce you to Jane, the company’s lone in-house recruiter. Jane has been left to her own devices to dig up potential candidates or at the very least ensure that the candidates find her. She is also expected to manage all the vetting and stage 1 interviewing of every single eligible and interested candidate, regardless of subject matter area. Additionally, she is not allowed to use outside agencies to track candidates down. Too expensive, you see.
As you start looking around for the nearest fire escape, or at the very least a window to jump out of, you’re told by your host in a magnanimous tone of voice that Jane “has one of those fancy LinkedIn Pro accounts”. When you ask how many people she’s expected to recruit this fiscal year you quickly wish you hadn’t.
It’s a caricature, but one that most of us with hiring experience have, at least partially, experienced in real life. The reason it’s so common is because the underlying reasons are often the same. They include a lack of understanding of how much work is actually required in order to bring good staff through the door, as well as outright arrogance; thinking that the reputation of the company will magically attract the right people. The filtering process and negotiation phases are also routinely under-estimated, as well as what happens once the candidate has actually commenced working at the company.
I have, however, yet to meet anyone who claimed that having the right staff is not important. Many people just suck at attracting and hiring said staff. So I thought I’d put together a list of my own personal best practices for not only “doing hiring the right way”, but more importantly “doing games industry hiring the right way”.
The blog’s been dormant lately for a bunch of reasons, but I’m hoping to drop some lines again sometime soon, seeing as I’ve managed to move house and do all the other big projects that were in the pipe.
In the meantime, I’ve had the chance to do two Let’s Play videos for Mad Max and Just Cause 3, and would like to share them here.
Thanks for checking them out!
Just a very short update for those following my blog. I’ve started streaming. The angle of the stream is kind of the same as that of the blog; I’m trying to be me, while also being educational and somewhat interesting.
The first Game Design Centric let’s play I’m doing focuses on Bloodborne. Take a look at episode 1 right here, if you would:
I’m pretty sure that everyone who follows the games industry has noticed the controversy that’s developed over the past few weeks around Peter Molyneux, his company 22 Cans, and the Kickstarter-funded game Godus. I’m not going to bother to recap the whole chain of events, but I think it’s fair to say that the culmination of it all was this RockPaperShotgun interview. Anyone who’s heard anything about this story has probably heard of this piece in particular.
For my part, I’m not really interested in discussing the interview itself too much. It doesn’t really concern me how it was conducted, or how Molyneux came across (if anything, it pisses me off how belated the reaction is, seeing as none of this stuff is really new when it comes to Peter).
No, for my part I’m mostly interested in the assertions about how game development is conducted, what it takes to make a great game and the nature of making predictions and estimates. Because even if we were to accept the premise that Peter is completely honest in defending his past statements and actions, he is still quite unforgivably and amateurishly incorrect about a lot of things. At the very least, he needs to be cognizant of, and responsible for, his voluntarily and stubbornly viewing the game development process as impossibly chaotic and unpredictable. Even more so, he should be ashamed of trying to pretend that his own inadequacies are in any way inherent in the game development process. Perpetuating that kind naiveté might be a great way to whitewash one’s own incompetence, but it also does great harm to both gamers’ understanding of games and the game development community itself.
I offer this link without commentary: