Tips For How to Lead and Manage a Games Business

Six times a year, the non-profit industry organization Interactive Denmark arranges the Growing Games events, with the aim of strengthening the business-side of the Danish games industry. In September, the theme was Leadership and Management.

It’s quite a promising headline, isn’t it? Maybe, but it was nonetheless what Growing Games tried to answer this month, as they invited some of the brightest people from the Danish games industry for a workshop at IO-Interactive’s offices.

 

The first keynote speaker to take the stage to talk about leading and managing a games business was Brian Meidell, the CEO and Founder of Cape Copenhagen – a company that currently employs 32 people, have shipped over 60 games, and recently received an investment from Egmont Publishing.

Brian Meidell of Cape Copenhagen

Brian Meidell of Cape Copenhagen

One of the great difficulties Cape Copenhagen has had to deal with in their 7 years of existence has been finding the fine line between production of own IPs and work for hire jobs. A difficult task, and one that has taken many hits for even the strong team at Cape Copenhagen to learn, Meidell explains, as he went through the company history, showing how they went from “hockey stick” revenue growth to serious trouble, to growth yet again.

“The managing team were the last people to realize that we actually had fun making other people’s games. And we don’t make games that suck – how many can say that? I don’t regret not making our own games, I really don’t.”, Meidell honestly admitted.

And near the end of his presentation, as the room sat full of captivated Danish game developers, Meidell summed up his speech with:

Cape Copenhagen’s current recipe for leading a games business:

  1. Always true: Be an awesome person
  2. Hire other awesome people (no assholes allowed)
  3. Clear goals, mandate & ownership
  4. Have them (the employees, ed.) tell you what they’re doing
  5. Give them (the employees, ed.) guidance, support & feedback
  6. Negative feedback is super important

 

In addition, Meidell also had a few key takeaways from the presentation as a whole, as he adds that as a leader of a games business, you need to remember that:

  • It is hard to stop managing and start leading
  • Leadership is a new skillset
  • Don’t count on investment deals @ >3 months
  • Fail, learn, be honest about it
  • Be smaller than 10 or bigger than 25 employees – it’s very though being in the middle
  • Understand when leadership, management and production are no longer the same thing
  • Don’t do A to afford B – core business only! (e.g. don’t do work for hire to afford own IPs)
  • Don’t be the smartest person in the room (hire a board of directors)

 

Next keynote on stage was from Anna Porse, the CEO of Manto – a consulting firm that actually helps run the Growing Games events.

Anna Porse of Manto

Anna Porse of Manto

Before moving on to her key points, Porse spent the first few minutes introducing “the DNA of the creative employee”, and how you deal with, and motivate, the four archetypes of employees, which are; “the salary worker”, “the pragmatic”, the performance tripper”, and the primadonna.

You can find Anne Porse’s presentation here, but hear key takeaways for any leader of a games business were to:

 

  1. Think in terms of feeding “the calling” – if someone is motivated about whatever field they’re in, feed them!
  2. Be courageous. Some primadonnas might say that you’re a bad leader. So stand in front of your team, put the hat on, and say “I’m the leader!”. Especially with primadonnas, if you don’t step up and say who’s leading, they won’t respect you.
  3. Inspire and be passionate
  4. Be generous
  5. Protect and take care of your primadonnas and recognize that people are different

 

Christian Fonnesbech of Investigate North

Christian Fonnesbech of Investigate North

The last keynote speaker on stage was Christian Fonnesbech, Senior Content Producer and consultant – and an experienced manager with 36 projects within the games industry behind him. No matter what project he has worked on, however, he has always found that one of the most important aspects of leading a team is to be goal oriented at all times.

“The goal (as a manager and leader, red.) is to be goal oriented without actually knowing the goal.”, Fonnesbech says.

In an uplifting and entertaining way, Fonnesbech’s presentation focused on the four tools that he uses when he manages creative teams. And these are:

Tool number one: Ask for help – people like it!

Tool number two: Management & leadership is a CRAFT

  • You can learn it. You can go to business school and you can read books about. Just don’t think it’s a skill you’re supposed to be born with. If someone seems to be born with these skills, it’s probably something they’ve got from their parents.

Tool number three: Know what you want!

  • I have made the realization that every time technology changed, the way we told stories changed too. So I wanted to figure out how to tell stories in the tech area.
  • You have to figure out and agree on where you are in the story, and in the entrepreneurial process. This is what got me through 36 games; knowing what you want.

Tool number four: Structure the process

  • Discovery -> Strategy document -> Concept development x 7 -> Budget and planning -> Development -> Test and iteration -> Launch, spread & moderate.

 

Do you agree with these tips for leading and managing a games business? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to add your own experiences too!

Authors
Sune Thorsen

Sune is not only a gamer and writer who wishes his keyboard-typing-speed would translate directly into Nintendo 64 controller agility, but also the co-founder and CEO of NordicGameBits.

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