Why It’s More Than Just Courteous to Play Nice With “The Suits”

I like slow news days; they give me a chance to think aloud.  :)

A few weeks ago, I read an article in Gamasutra entitled Incorporating Marketing into Game Development. The author makes some really worthwhile points, but I’m not highlighting it for that reason; I’m highlighting it because it exposes deep prejudices that have plagued the video game industry for years. The article begins:

Have you ever tried to design a video game while wearing a suit? Doesn’t work. The moment you don that matching slate Armani you become a “suit”– your imagination is instantly limited to sequels of licensed ’70s TV shows and clones of titles that were popular and groundbreaking two years hence.

The problem is that there’s always a “suit” with an eye on the bottom line that will want to muck with your design. Armed with sales figures and focus tests, he threatens to steal the soul of your game. His intentions are good — he wants to make sure the game sees financial success — but his relationship to the game design is antagonistic rather than collaborative.

Here’s a suggestion: do his job for him…

This sentiment is endemic to the industry. I even experienced it at EA, which prides itself on an “X Process” intended to encourage cross-functional cooperation. Ever heard of “division of labor?” This amazing concept has permitted the development of modern civilization. Not that hunter-gathering wasn’t fun and all.

Good marketing professionals spend their day trying to understand the customer. They study mechanisms via which to connect with buyers. They explore strategic pricing models (which, I’m afraid, is tough to do from an armchair. A few thousand marketing professors are still trying to figure this stuff out.) Say what you like about their effectiveness, but marketers must, by definition, have something to share. If nothing else, a competing point of view! Homogeneity is as helpful to a business enterprise as it is to the evolution of a species… in other words, not.

Instead of insulting “the suits”, why not make a sincere effort to work with them? This means more than the occasional courtesy call between development milestones. It means inviting them to game brainstorming sessions. It means asking to attend to some marketing meetings. Does this take time? Absolutely. Will some significant percentage of the suits’ feedback go straight into the trash? Very probably. But who knows … you might just get a million-dollar insight during the process. Meanwhile, you’ve built an actual relationship with the people you’re counting on to sell your product! They have more reason to like and respect you, and hopefully vice-versa. Isn’t that better than bitching and moaning when your game gets marketed “the wrong way” (assuming it gets marketing’s attention at all?)

This stuff takes time. If you’ve never bothered to build a relationship with the suits, you won’t do it overnight. But the rewards are worth the effort. This isn’t mindless blather like “there’s no ‘I’ in team”. It’s a fundamental recognition of the fact that nowadays, without market insight and marketing support, a game is probably toast. You can try to wing it on your own. There’s certainly a chance you’ll get lucky (it happens all the time.) I prefer not to count on luck.

PS. This editorial is not a defense of innovation-phobic business types. Yes, they exist, and yes, it can be painful to work with them. That’s no excuse to ignore the real benefits of a strong working relationship with the business team (in general.)

3 responses to “Why It’s More Than Just Courteous to Play Nice With “The Suits”

  1. Pingback: The Integrative Stream » Attack of the Suits

  2. I’d say better to work earlier on… have both game designers and marketing work towards a common product from the start. If you can’t get them to agree to the game you envision it at the start, you likely wont get them to agree to it later…

  3. Right. There’s no point in bringing marketing into the process long after it has already gotten underway; too much gets fixed in the beginning, and you lose the opportunity to create a common vision that everyone understands and buys into.

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