Game Studio Culture: How A Studio’s Culture Extends To The Player

This was a paper I did for my MBA about how the culture in a studio breathes life into the games and players themselves.

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By Estelle Tigani

Corporate culture acts as the very life and soul of a company, which in turn dictates how a company operates, how employees treat each other, and possibly even the type of products and services that a company chooses to produce for its customers. Gareth R. Jones (2013) offers the following definition for corporate culture: “The set of shared values and norms that controls organizational members’ interactions with each other and with suppliers, customers, and other people outside the organization. An organization’s culture is shaped by the people inside the organization, by the ethics of the organization, by the employment rights given to employees, and by the type of structure used by the organization” (p.9). We see many examples of very different cultures within the entertainment industry spanning from Sony Pictures Entertainment through to The Walt Disney Company, each of which are a tribute to the evolution and history of the company over many years.

I would argue that the games industry goes a step further, and allows the corporate culture of the entire studio to be dictated by the type or genre of games which the company produces. Unlike the film industry, which sees the same production company produce a wide variety of films for a broad range of audiences, it is far more apparent in the games industry that a single studio chooses to produce only first-person-shooters, for example. One such studio known for this specific genre is Treyarch, now famous for its contributions to the Call of Duty franchise. In contrast, Naughty Dog is famed for its intense story-driven action adventures, and for this studio to suddenly announce a wartime first-person-shooter would arguably come as a shock to the industry. With this in mind, it can become quite clear of the collective culture and single-mindedness these studios have towards their differing products. Additionally, the way in which operations are run and employees approach their work are heavily influenced by this culture. The result is that each studio has a specific style or flair woven into each of its games. It’s easy to tell when you are playing a game made by Ubisoft compared to Nintendo.

This strict focus on game-driven culture is not just essential to the production processes and tools used to create a game from beginning to end, but also the way in which the studio interacts with its current and prospective customers, namely gamers. To distinguish the different types of gamers and their different preferences demands a separate paper entirely, however in this current era of video games, it is far more clearer than ever that specific groups of gamers are choosing to play very different games and franchises based on their genre or even based on their existing understanding of a specific studio. With more connectivity between studio and gamer, the savvy choices gamers can make about their purchases, and the power and influence gamers now have to determine the success or failure of a newly released title, studios are forced to take real responsibility for providing a product that fits these desires and choices of their target gamers. On discussing the success of his studio Riot Games, co-founder Brandon Beck (2014) acknowledges the following, “a strong culture acts as a membrane that can keep large groups of people working in alignment. Trust is also a key component for teamwork, as it allows teams to focus on satisfying players instead of playing politics in the office. That also helps developers to be more autonomous with their decision-making, which makes for happier employees.” Each studio has its own level of quality and style which makes their game their own, and this is scrutinized by gamers and critics alike through reviews, online streaming playthroughs, conventions, etc.

The necessity for a game studio to hype its own corporate culture ten times more than the average company is crucial to retention of its loyal gamer base. It needs to extend that corporate culture over to the gamer in order to make the gamer feel like they are a part of the studio when they play. This in turn forms a relationship between studio and player, and such successful studios become memorable and industry leaders. An example of such a studio including its gamers into the company culture is Blizzard Entertainment when it hosts its annual Blizzcon convention. Here gamers travel from all over the world to interact with employees, play demos of upcoming titles, and revel in the unique atmosphere of the Blizzard culture through music, entertainment, and costume play (‘cosplay’). When one walks through the expo floors of Blizzcon, the feeling of being a part of the team becomes infectious. Lead Game Designer of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft Franchise, Ion Hazzikostas (2014), stated in an interview with CNET, “The other thing about this thing called World of Warcraft is that it is also a testament to our players. Testament to the bonds they have formed. One of the cool things with BlizzCon coming up is that it’s always great to have this opportunity to meet so many of our fans in person, but also to see people meeting each other face to face for the first time…You see that repeated over and over again throughout the convention halls…In many ways it’s greater than the sum of its parts because of that extra ingredient which is the awesome players that bring that to the table.”

The games industry enjoys a unique ability to connect and interact with its customers in ways that other industries have not yet been able to perfect on the same level. Not every business in the world can truly capture its own customer base through expression of its corporate culture. By defining a strong corporate culture that drives the type of games a single studio produces, how these are produced, and how this culture in turn can be embraced by gamers, these companies are able to shine separate from their competing studios. Furthermore, it provides avenues for which customer service can be refined and quality assurance be maximized as a result from the rich feedback – directly from gamers – that these avenues provide.

 

References

Jones, G. R. (2013). Organizational theory, design, and change (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River,

NJ: Prentice Hall.

Sinclair, B. (2014). Riot’s Secret Sauce: People. Game Industry.biz. Retrieved from http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2014-11-10-riots-secret-sauce-people

Byrne, S. (2014). A Massive Success: 10 Years Of World Of Warcraft (Q&A). CNET. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/world-of-warcraft-ten-year-anniversary-interview-ion-hazzikostas/

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