I’m always on the lookout for general business news and research that seems relevant to the video game industry, and there was some good stuff in the latest issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. In particular, let me draw your attention to Is Creativity a Foreign Concept?
To summarize: a team of researchers from INSEAD and Kellogg conducted a series of tests on graduate students who had and had not lived abroad for a significant period of time (at least six months). They found that having spent time abroad increased the chances of finding innovative solutions to tricky problems. An even bigger boost was demonstrated by students who had lived abroad for at least two or three years. From the article:
My friend Ben Mattes, a very talented producer for Ubisoft, made a great comment on my previous blog article which I’d like to unceremoniously lift out of context:
When I worked at Gameloft I invested significant energy into creative motivational ‘events’. When I left, the guy who replaced me continued this tradition and came up with (what I thought was) a great idea to help beat the heat in the summer. Instead of a traditional 5-7 with beer and chips, he brought in an ice-cream ‘team’ from the local ‘Ben And Jerry’s’ to serve cones and sundaes to the team after an important meeting. I liked the idea and tried it with my team shortly after starting at Ubisoft.
At the time no one said anything negative. They all had slightly bemused smiles on their faces and got in line to dutifully collect their ice-cream. Some even went back for seconds.
Months later, though, I learned that I had made an awful impression with this act. The team immediately questioned whether I “belonged” if I would favor ice-cream over beer (the stable for such events).
To this day whenever I bring the team together for beers the ice-cream fiasco comes up (all in good fun, I hope).
I’m subscribed to a producers’ mail list that recently hosted a discussion about the pros and cons of milestone-related monetary bonuses for employees. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were a broad variety of opinions. I thought it might be interesting to share some quotes (plus my own thoughts, of course!)
There appeared to be consensus on the long-term ineffectivness of this type of bonus. A number of well-known research studies [example] have had similar conclusions. All the more interesting, then, that this form of compensation remains widely in-use (not just in the video game industry, but many others as well.) Comments from the list:
This breakout session was led by Chris Avellone (the brain behind Planescape Torment, which remains my favorite game ever.) Chris encouraged attendees to speak openly about their successes, failures, and concerns; the result was an interesting survey of the demons troubling many game writers. Producers, take note.
For starters, not a single person spoke up when Chris asked them to describe a success. But plenty of people were willing to toss out failures and frustrations.
I’m only now getting the chance to process the notes that I wrote at AGC. Here’s a partial transcript of the “Writing Comedy” session (there’s another, also incomplete report at Gamasutra.) I’ve highlighted in red a few quotes that I found interesting and/or amusing.
Moderator: Rich Bryant, writer for Spin City (the TV show)
Panelists: Matt Soell, writer for Stubbs the Zombie; Tom Abernathy, writer for Destroy All Humans!.
Tom: Over the last 15 years, game humor went from the “one guy in a garage” kind of humor to, for better and worse. more sophisticated humor, as we in games have begun to compare our medium to film and TV. I.e. we’re not just writing fart jokes now, although farting was the basis of an entire design mechanic in Stubbs.
Parks Associates has unveiled a study that seeks to eliminate the meaningless terms “hardcore gamer” and “casual gamer”. Kudos to Parks; I’ve always felt that the game industry’s limited vocabulary for describing customers has hobbled design and marketing creativity. (It’s like trying to describe the natural world with just three words: “plant”, “animal”, and “mineral”. You could do it, but you’ll definitely lose something in the process.)
The Parks study revealed six segments:
- Power gamers: 11% of the market, but account for 30% of current spending.
- Social gamers: 13% of the market; enjoy gaming as a way to interact with friends.
- Leisure gamers: 14% of the market; spend 58 hours per month playing mainly casual titles. However, they prefer challenging games and show high interest in new gaming services.
- Dormant gamers: 26% of the market; love gaming but spend little time because of family, work, or school. They like to play with friends and family and prefer challenging games.
- Incidental gamers: 12% of the market; play mostly online games for 20 hours a month, mainly out of boredom.
- Occasional gamers: 24% of the market; play puzzle, word, and board games almost exclusively.
A big debate has been brewing for months now, and this weekend marked the event that will finally blow the lid off that debate. I’m not talking about “PS3 vs. Xbox 360” — partisans in that fight won’t rest anytime soon. I’m talking about the debut of Snakes on a Plane, the movie that bloggers (and a few media scholars) love to talk about, and cynics love to trash. There are lessons here for the game industry.
Intro to Snakes on a Plane
A brief recap, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this. Snakes on a Plane features Samuel L. Jackson, in a story so silly that as soon as bloggers got wind of it, they began gleefully making parodies and hailing the movie as the upcoming camp hit of the year. Makers of the movie (including Jackson) were probably not initially intending to create a camp hit, but when they realized what was happening, they did something relatively unusual in Hollywood: they adapted their marketing efforts (and even the movie itself) to conform to the camp expectations of the blogosphere.
One thing that seems to be neglected at a fair number of game companies is the tuning of organizational processes (OP for short). OP relates to a wide variety of issues, including but not limited to: organizational structure, decision-making, corporate politics and culture, incentives and goal-setting, hierarchy, hiring, etc. Tuning OP isn’t simply a question of implementing, monitoring, or enforcing policies. and it is relevant to all managers, not merely HR professionals.
Unfortunately, I could write a few more paragraphs and you still might wonder what I was yammering about. So instead, I’ve decided to list some of my favorite readings from my old OP bschool course and summarize them for you. Hopefully, it will be immediately apparent why this stuff is useful! (Unfortunately, none of the readings are available for free — some are books, and some have to be purchased from Harvard for a few bucks.)