Growing Games: Driving Team Performance

Lots of tips and tricks on how to manage the creative teams in game development was shared during the latest Growing Games workshop.

Where would you be without your team? In the world of game development, we often talk about art, audio, and 3d objects as assets. But the greatest asset is probably the people you work with. They are your eyes and ears, hands and heart, and getting them all to march in the same direction, can be something of a challenge.

Hannes Seifert, head of IO Interactive

Hannes Seifert, head of IO Interactive

That was the theme for the latest edition of Growing Games, a series of workshops arranged by the Danish organization, Interactive Denmark, that focus on business development for companies within game development, digital media, web and interactive design.

Hosting the workshop was Denmark’s largest game development studio, IO Interactive, so it felt only natural that it was IO Interactive‘s studio leader, Hannes Seifert, who was first in line to address the crowd of approximately 50 people. A round of introductions among the crowd revealed a nice mix of game developers, both green and experienced, consultants, and people from other digital interactive businesses.

 

First item on the schedule was a so-called mini springboard. An opportunity for a game developer to present his or hers company, and ask a board of seasoned veterans for advice regarding some of the challenges they are facing or decisions they have had to make.

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Pixeleaps Peter Kjær

Taking the opportunity this time was Peter Kjær from Aarhus-based game developer Pixeleap, who wanted to ask the board, how and how fast they should grow their small company. But the board decided to focus on a slightly different aspect of the company.

Right now, Pixeleap is both developing their own games but are also taking in work-for hire projects that are perhaps more in a gamefication direction than actual game development. But the clear recommendation from almost everyone in the panel was, that they should decide, which one of these directions was their top priority, and only then could they begin to look at how and how fast to expand their business.

 

Next up was Anna Porse from the consultancy firm Manto, who talked about how you understand and lead creative employees, starting out with the very telling quote:

You often don’t think about leadership, before it becomes a problem.

Anna Porse of Manto

Anna Porse of Manto

She then went on to introduce the four different types of employees you would typically run into as a leader. The Salary-worker, the Pragmatic, the Performance Tripper and then finally, the one type that is most widespread in creative industries such as game development: The Primadonna.

She talked about how the Primadonnas see their works as a source of identify for themselves. What they do is extremely important to them. They see their work as a calling, and something with a higher purpose. This also means that they are motivated just as much by their own ambitions and standards – their internal push, as the push that comes from an external leader.

This means, that Primadonnas can sometimes be hard to handle, and you need to set aside time to address problems as soon as they appear – or they will grow, Anna Porse warned. But on the other hand, Primadonnas will also do their very utmost to get the best possible result.

 

Then it was Brian Meidells turn to take the stage. As CEO of Cape Copenhagen, a Copenhagen-based developer that has grown from 3 to 36 employees in about two years, he was there to talk about how you handle that kind of growth, without crashing.

An org. chart indicating, that Cape Copenhagen's fat expansion didn't come without its problems.

An org. chart indicating, that Cape Copenhagen’s fast expansion didn’t come without its problems.

And as Meidells’ slides showed, it had sometimes come close to that – crashing, that is. Not the least because the three founders of Cape Copenhagen ended up acting as a bottleneck for all decisions, even as the organization kept growing. With a great sense of humor, he explained how they had hired new people, which created new problems in the organization, which they then hired new people to fix, and so on.

The epiphany came when the founders realized, that what they needed was not someone to argument their power, but someone to actually replace most of their functions, so they could concentrate on leading instead of dipping their fingers in every minuscule detail. This does not mean that all is now perfect. But they are getting there, according to Meidell.

We still have a lot of problems, but at least now we have an understanding of what is wrong.

Meidell also mentioned how another of Interactive Denmark’s programs, the so-called SOLID-program, had helped them in the process of setting up a new form of organization, where they had a new layer of creative management, that could replace the old ‘founder’s-bottleneck’-system.

As a closing note, he also recommended everyone interested in creative leadership, to read the book “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull.

 

After lunch had been served (and eaten), it was time for a short round of workshops, where the participants looked at each other’s organizations, and talked about how they could solve any problems with leadership that arose from this.

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Charlotte Delran (photo: @jcconnect)

After that, it was Charlotte Delran’s turn to give her talk.  As an old IO Interactive alumni, she was visiting her old home turf to talk about “Leadership in Creative Businesses.”  But the first thing she brought up, was the fact that a lot of small companies are not good at asking for help. “We’re poor at asking for help but benefits are huge,” she said. She suggested that everybody, if they didn’t already have one, should start working towards getting a mentor or advisory board as soon as they leave the room. “Asking for help is difficult – but vital. But setting it up in a formal framework can make it easier.”

As Anna Porse had also mentioned, Delran also emphasized how a lot of people in the creative businesses are driven by their passion. And as a leader, it’s your responsibility to channel that passion.

If you are not leading and managing your team, you are abusing their passion.

Delran explained that as a leader of creative people, you should be ambitious on behalf of your employees, and always give them a goal to strive for. It can therefore be a good idea to set up specific goals or KPI’s, as this also allows you to celebrate, when you reach these. And you should always be loyal to your team, and assume responsibility. After all – you’re the one who hired them, and who are managing them.

 

Here's Kiloo's Jeppe Kiilberg Møller, showing rule no. 2.

Here’s Kiloo’s Jeppe Kilberg Møller, showing rule no. 2.

Last up was Jeppe Kilberg Møller, manager for the Copenhagen office of Denmark’s mobile success, Kiloo, who just recently rounded 500 million downloads of their runaway hit, Subway Surfers. His talk about “Leading and building innovation,” included 10 concrete rules that you should follow if you want to succeed with leading and building said innovation.

      1. Be yourself! Don’t lose yourself. Know what your stengths and weaknesses are.
      2. Be open-minded. Accepting that others might have a better solution than you is essential. Take input
      3. Set Goals. It sets a direction to move in, so you don’t have to micro-manage every day.
      4. Give responsibility. Trust your team. It gives you time to focus on the things you are good at
      5. Manage expectations – both for the company and for each individual.
      6. Be present. Don’t close the door, but be reachable. People need to feel, that they are listened to
      7. Communicate. Show and tell what’s happening so changes are always known and openly displayed
      8. Listen. Don’t just talk, let others talk to. Understand what they want, so you can give it to them
      9. Praise. Celebrate when things go great, and tell people when they do something valuable.
      10. Learn what makes people tick. Understand what drives them, and how they function and perform best

 

Finally, the day was rounded off with two pitches from the participants themselves. Renee Jessen presented a prototype of a children’s game based on a popular book series called ‘Nomerne’. And he demonstrated the ability to stay cool in stressed situations, as he solved the returning problem of non-compatible display adapters for projectors, by simply using a laptop’s webcam to film the presentation off his tablet.

And after that, Muhammad Arshad pitched his outsourcing services located in Peshawar, resulting in some discussions about how the work culture may differ between countries, and how it can be made compatible.

 

Next Growing Games is October 6th, where the theme is “Term sheets and business strategy”.

Growing Games is free, but signup is mandatory. Visit Interactive Denmark to learn more.

Jesper K. Kristiansen

Multi-passionate game developer and journalist. Has been writing about the Danish games industry for more than ten years, and creating audio design for both Danish and International games for almost as long.

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