game developers: where’s the loyalty?

Marshall Goldsmith wrote an article for Harvard Business Review called How To Keep Good Employees in a Bad Economy. there have been plenty of layoffs in the last year or more, but even before that i saw an awful lot of people come and go. i think Goldsmith’s six steps are actually excellent ways to rate employers in the video game industry. more people leave this business as they age than others, leaving an uncommonly young workforce, and (dare i say) somewhat unskilled management as they’re promoted. feel free to take issue with the comment, but i’m one of the few who entered games from a more corporate background and has seen both sides.

  1. Show Respect: Goldsmith recommends inspiring loyalty by treating employees with kindness, respect, and dignity instead of intimidation. i’d love to hear what other people think, but based on unscientific hearsay, there’s more of the latter. i’ve heard so many horror stories since i moved over!
  2. Focus on a Thriving Environment: people need to learn and develop skills in order to grow and evolve. this is universal, but requires a special kind of focus in a technology driven business. when the gameplay employees develop and enjoy in spare hours revolves around skill advancement and progression, people become particularly attuned to this need.
  3. Offer Ongoing Training: few companies advance game technology in meaningful ways. is it lack of formal understanding of innovation, training, or time? i’ve learned that innovation isn’t time-dependent so much as procedural. perhaps all play a role, but i think training could make the biggest difference. when’s the last time you noticed management brushing up on conflict resolution, delegation, motivation and so on? an annual trip by a select few to GDC hardly passes for training. a modeler i know who wanted time to take a sculpture class was discouraged. as well, teams aren’t exposed to other teams. for example, my own efforts in the last few years to cross-train user interface art, design, and programming were met with confusion. silos live on.
  4. Provide Coaching: game leaders are good at wandering from meeting to meeting expressing their druthers, but it’s much harder to develop individuals one-on-one. some are operating outside their area of expertise, and others just can’t be bothered. i’ve known programmers that haven’t spoken to their supervisors in weeks, let alone had them examine their work regularly and offer suggestions for improvements.
  5. Give Feedback: some game companies don’t even do annual reviews, and i haven’t heard of one yet that does the regular ongoing performance review companies like IBM do. this means developers go 365 (or more) days assuming they’re doing fine, or frustrated by what must look like capricious surprises. most annual reviews are based on quick salary discussion and a little feedback based on the prior few weeks’ activity.
  6. Money and Decision-Making: if you’re building blockbuster games, you’re probably getting paid decently. you may also be receiving bonuses, have good equipment to work with and so on. however, having bank can be a crutch. an organization may just throw money at human resource problems instead of improving points 1 through 5. make sure if you ask employees how to improve effectiveness that you also act on it, or at least respond to the advice. be careful not to overact, overturning previous changes and constantly reorganizing. chaos is stressful!

there are a few other industries with a lot of employee turnover. advertising may be one. i think it’s valuable to keep people around, and the game industry could be doing a better job of inspiring loyalty.

No Responses to “game developers: where’s the loyalty?”

  1. Marshall Goldsmith Says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful review and re-application of my article!

  2. davidicus Says:

    on a slightly related note, an Amazon reviewer of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith lists these points of executive weakness borne out of success. once a game sells well, i think all levels of management can suffer from these. worse, their employees may then adopt some of the behaviors in defense. i’ve certainly caught myself at it.

    1. Need to win at all costs.
    2. Desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
    3. Need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
    4. Needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound witty and wise.
    5. Overuse of “No,” “But” or “However.”
    6. Need to show people we are smarter than they think we are
    7. Use of emotional volatility as a management tool.
    8. Need to share our negative thoughts, even if not asked.
    9. Refusal to share information in order to exert an advantage.
    10. Inability to praise and reward.
    11. Annoying way in which we overestimate our contribution to any success.
    12. Need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
    13. Need to deflect blame from ourselves and onto events and people from our past.
    14. Failure to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
    15. Inability to take responsibility for our actions.
    16. Act of not listening.
    17. Failure to express gratitude.
    18. Need to attack the innocent, even though they are usually only trying to help us.
    19. Need to blame anyone but ourselves.
    20. Excessive need to be “me.”
    21. Goal obsession at the expense of a larger mission.

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