I’m Captivated – and in need of assistance

24 Sep

In just a couple of weeks – October 6-8, to be precise, the first Captivate conference is taking place in Austin, TX.

http://captivateconference.com/

Obviously, given that it’s in my home town and I’m speaking at the conference, I’m a tad prejudiced, but I think Captivate is shaping up to be something pretty cool.

For starters, there’s the thing that got me most jazzed in the first place – the cross-media nature of the event. Austin’s such a big games, music and movie town, I had a head-slapping moment when the organizers said they were going to try to bring those communities together, instead of keeping them at arms length from one another, the way most conferences seem to do. How is it no one’s done that before? Sheesh!

And now that we’re getting closer to the date, attendance looks like it’ll be good, there’ll be live streaming of events and even opportunities to get up on a stage and pitch startup ideas whether you’re an official speaker or not. (Don’t ask me how that’s going to work – I just think it’s cool.)

Anyway, given that we’re a week and a half away from C-Day, you’d think I’d have my talk all wrapped up and ready to go, but that’s not the way I work. Oh, I’ve got plenty of material, but I’d like to get some input and additional material from you folks before I get up on stage, locked and loaded and ready to talk.

So, whether you’re attending Captivate or not, I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me on Games Leadership. That’s the topic of my talk, and while I have a fair amount of experience to draw from and (shocking!) lots of opinions, I wanted to draw on the wisdom of the crowd here and get some thoughts from you.

Here’s kind of what I’m looking for:

  • Who are gaming’s leaders?
  • How did they become the leaders they are?
  • Is there a difference between creative and business leadership (i.e., between game direction and game production or between studio leadership and discipline leadership)?
  • Does the game business do a good enough job training, evaluating and growing its leaders?
  • Is anyone, whether in development, publishing or academia rigorously training game leaders? Who? How?
  • What have been some of the best (and worst) experiences you’ve had that could be credited to or laid at the feet of great (or poor) leadership? (And, yes, everyone who’s worked for and with me is welcome to gang up on me here… I’m tough. I can take it.

I’m even looking to talk about how leadership might differ when you move from medium to medium, so feel free to chime in on film or music leadership, too!

That’s just a sample – if there are other leadership-oriented topics I’ve left out, answer questions I didn’t even think to ask. Basically, the more data points I have, the broader the perspective I can take, the better the talk’s going to be. So share. Talk to me about leadership – good and bad… How one becomes a leader – sensibly and not so sensibly… What role leadership plays in game development and publishing and how that’s changed over the years. Help a guy out here, wouldja?

And if you happen to see me at Captivate, come on over and say Hi. It’s Austin. We’re friendly.

Thanks!

Warren

15 Responses to “I’m Captivated – and in need of assistance”

  1. smmoulder September 24, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    Warren,

    I feel like there could be multiple talks out of this. For one, discussing the different leadership/management models between games/tech and Hollywood is a topic all on its own!

    Here’s a few thoughts on games leadership that may or may not sync with your own, but might provide some focus:

    – in games (and tech in general), the assumption is that your first task is to hire smart, talented, motivated people (STM’s). Do that.
    – Having done that, the next job is to provide clear focus and vision
    – Recognize that STM’s want to be part of determining that vision. Let them. You may be the final arbiter, but don’t short yourself the full value of your STM’s
    – Successful armies gave MORE initiative and command control to lower level leaders. Do that. Set up some structure (SCRUM, whatever) that really puts decisions down at the (not lowest) SMARTEST level
    – Build feedback loops. A certain amount of chaos can arise when you push decision-making down in a meaningful way. That’s great – cultivate processes that force the inevitable conflicts and chaos to the surface quickly and regularly for resolution. Then try very hard NOT to be the sole arbiter of solutions
    – Lead with vision and focus, “manage” through facilitation and empowerment. Not in words, but in actual organizational structure and processes.
    – Understand when a team needs to move from exploration to execution. Agile is great for the former, not always so effective for the latter. Be agile as a leader and see when you may need to transition to execution and delivery
    – Creativity tends to respond better to carrots than sticks

    OK, I’m sure that’s more than you wanted. I’m super excited to hear what you ultimately deliver. Good luck!

    Stuart

  2. smmoulder September 24, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    PS, by “….(not lowest) SMARTEST level” I meant simply to recharacterize “lowest” as “smartest”. In other words, push all the way down, understanding that with STM’s, that truly is the level with the most “smarts” to tackle and solve creative problems. Which is what game development is – hard work on creative problems to deliver on a fantastic creative vision.

  3. smmoulder September 25, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    PPS That was all obvious stuff, but NOT to folks in music and film. That is definitely NOT how a Hollywood studio is run. So given the audience, I thought “the basics” might be interesting.

  4. Shern Chong (@Shern_) September 25, 2013 at 5:02 am #

    (these are my fallible insights, with definite gaps of knowledge for lack of exposure to the deeper experiences in the other segments of our industry to garner more accurate understanding)

    Here’s kind of what I’m looking for:

    1. Who are gaming’s leaders?

    The spirit of leadership is distributed to 3 groups – decision makers in the hierarchy of game development and release, policy creators in studios or NGOs tied to games, & community leaders inside the pool of players.

    2. How did they become the leaders they are?

    Either by formal accepted authority within a organizational structure, or informally bestowed by majority assent in a societal system.

    3. Is there a difference between creative and business leadership (i.e., between game direction and game production or between studio leadership and discipline leadership)?

    There is a practical difference, based on the dichotomy of artistic goals and profit-generating goals. This industry is unique because its earlier cycle of growth had the most business-oriented guidance than other fields, thereby driving its evolution using, or governed by, business models as much as craftmanship.

    Decision makers who do not believe in that dichotomy had in turn made efforts to provide a cohesive environment that includes both the need to make a good game with the need to be fairly compensated for such efforts. But otherwise, there is a clash of values and goals between said entities.

    4. Does the game business do a good enough job training, evaluating and growing its leaders?

    The business environment will guarantee market proficiency, organization-based discipline, and quick assessment skills. It does not train the leaders in ethics, respect of the market community, understanding of progressive human behavior, nor appreciation of aesthetic qualities of a game product.

    The business teaches leaders on the functional, structural and commercial aspects. The leaders are left to themselves to learn more on the human aspects of games.

    5. Is anyone, whether in development, publishing or academia rigorously training game leaders? Who? How?

    Yes. Studios that pioneer or champion progressive practices that focus on the human, collective, and aesthetic improvements will have company cultures that encourage potential leaders to pick up these sensibilities and learn to apply them from a leader’s stand. Publishers focus more so on the faculties mentioned in (4) above. Academies confront more on the social, philosophical, and ethical nature of a game industry leader, allowing students to question their motivations, their future impacts in the field, and the current dissonance of the industry that brings about controversy or caution.

    There is a specific kind of leadership which I know, and use, and study, that can be infused into our field. It is called Servant Leadership.

    This mindset engenders the leader to remain humble in a posture of learning, to service the needs of those who bestow on him authority to govern or guide them, and to hold to traits such as trustworthiness and capacity to listen to others regardless of position or background.

    That a leader, rather than being at the top of a social pyramid, is instead the foundational bedrock holding the entire team up, and accompanying their field of expertise towards great excellence and fulfilment, and eventually empowering these members to become leaders themselves in their future teams, thereby creating a cycle of outward branching sustainable growth. The ultimate expression of this paradigm, will be systems based on it in formal bodies across the industry, to mold policies, models and expectations that support such a reality.

    How this is beneficial to the game scene is that ‘servant leaders’ will be balanced in both the necessities of business propagation, and the preservation of human quality both in development & player community. Where because a good idea can come from anyone, and in an industry that can grow into any direction, and new best practices comes in the most unexpected way, require a leader to be open-minded and flexible to trying new things, in which case resisting the forces of stagnation and insulation, primary concerns of the present predicament of our industry.

    • wspector October 1, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Shern. I’ve never used (or heard) the expression, “Servant Leadership” but I love it. I’ve always said – and will say again this weekend – that the key to success is hiring people better than you are, giving them clear goals, getting out of their way, holding them accountable and doing whatever they need to do their jobs. If I’m doing my job right as a leader the team does all the real work with just an occasional nudge from me. I think that expresses some of the same ideas you espouse – and some of the ideas Stuart mentioned in his comments – but the idea of the leader being the foundation or base of the pyramid is pretty genius. Thanks for the insight!

      • Shern Chong (@Shern_) October 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

        It was my greatest pleasure to advance this idea onwards, Warren. I myself learnt this from others in the very system that perpetuates this mindset, and am an entity borne of such a process. I have deep respect for your insights and philosophies through your body of work, and sharing this with you is but one small token of gratitude for your life’s work unknowingly guiding me in my own design philosophy in my game studio, and beyond. So thank you too.

        By the way, Warren, I’ve sent you a message on your Facebook inbox. Sorry for the bother.

  5. smmoulder September 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    @Shern “That a leader, rather than being at the top of a social pyramid, is instead the foundational bedrock holding the entire team up…”

    Yes! This is one message is a profoundly different way than the “Hollywood” way and if nothing else was shared, this would be it.

    The key thing is to drive it home with specific real world examples of how this approach has worked and profoundly altered the course of a game’s development. Otherwise the suits will just dismiss this as a philosophy and not understand it as the path to a sustainable success and organization.

  6. Shern Chong (@Shern_) September 25, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    I followed that practice with the design team I was in, and how when I was guiding the concept art crew to work with design, and when I had to link up with the animators.

    The planning, allocating of workload, and learning from mistakes were eventually taken over by them after running through the basics in earlier meetings.

    Better yet, they continued to operate in that cycle within their own teams after their task with design was done, and included new members into the process when they joined the studio.

    Taking, and sharing, ownership of repeatable success is a trait of leadership, and none of them were leads in their team.

  7. smmoulder September 25, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

    Warren, a different approach… pick the top 3 leaders you’ve worked with (under, over, side by side, doesn’t matter). Now tell stories that illustrate WHY each was a great leader. Believe it or not, an intro, 3 people and 3 stories and a summary of lessons learned is a good hour. And probably pretty entertaining to boot.

    • wspector October 1, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

      Wow. I love this idea. I’m pretty far into working on my talk but I may junk it and go with this approach instead – or maybe I’ll lay out some foundational ideas and then roll into my personal experiences as case studies. Thanks, Stuart!

      • smmoulder October 1, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

        Yes, it occurred to me much later that you are a storyteller. And presentations that work tend to be stories, well told. There will be plenty of other opportunities for you. And you’re right, still possible to weave in some of this into the work you’ve already got going.

  8. Edward Caffrey September 28, 2013 at 11:46 pm #

    My brother might be able to help you out. He has given multiple talks on the history of wargamming at both Origins and the connections conferences. He is currently a civilian contractor at Wright Paterson AFB. Congress is giving him some time off to write a book.

  9. Shern Chong (@Shern_) October 10, 2013 at 6:36 am #

    Hey Warren, how did your segment go? Tried the story approach?

  10. Saam Pahlavan (@saampahlavan) October 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    Hey Warren, it was good to meet you at Captivate…well outside of it technically. I hope I didn’t interrupt your lunch for too long. I just wanted to drop a message thanking you for taking the time to talk to me and my buddy, Fred. We actually won the student competition, so that’s awesome. I look forward to finding more about the upcoming UT game program! Cheers.

  11. Carlo Travierso October 23, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    Who are gaming’s leaders?
    Leaders come and leaders go, this question will always constantly evolve depending on the trends. I could name all the companies that are powerful right now but there are a few that have withstood the test of time.

    Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Valve, Blizzard, Activision

    How did they become the leaders they are?
    The people who started the foundation of these companies worked their tails off. They started small and recruited wisely. Recruited. They believed in themselves when things were at the fore front of new technologies. Technology will continue to evolve but man kind can only take so much.

    Is there a difference between creative and business leadership (i.e., between game direction and game production or between studio leadership and discipline leadership)?

    Yes there is. Creative leadership involves leading creative people and doing regular checks on their work. Warren Spector was the leader of Deus Ex (I theorize creatively.) Eidos was the business leader.

    Does the game business do a good enough job training, evaluating and growing its leaders?
    It depends on the company and those that are chosen for the next project. Look at Ubisoft, they do a strong job. Naughty Dog, Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft.

    Is anyone, whether in development, publishing or academia rigorously training game leaders?
    The Guildhall, Full Sail, Kotaku, World Organizations, ESPN and Latina Magazines.

    Who? How?
    What have been some of the best (and worst) experiences you’ve had that could be credited to or
    laid at the feet of great (or poor) leadership? (And, yes, everyone who’s worked for and with me is welcome to gang up on me here… I’m tough. I can take it.

    Riding a motorcycle is a great experience. I would give credit to Mordeth13 from Youtube. He is a strong leader and has great leadership. The videos he created are educational and teach you how to properly learn motorcycle riding while graduating from motorcycle school.

    For my bad experience contact me personally.

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