Sent on July 2nd 2021.

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It’s Joakim here. Greetings from Helsinki!

Last week, Sophie Vo launched her new podcast called Raise and Play. Sophie has recently been very active on creating content for games industry people and the podcast is a great extension to what she is already doing.

On the first episode, Sophie has Drussila Hollanda, co-founder and CEO of Papukaya, who recently left Supercell to start her own game company. I used to work with Drussila some nine years ago at Supercell and her journey in gaming is impressive.

Here are some highlights from the discussion.

How do you approach values and company culture?

When I started Papukaya, I started writing down things that I think are important for me in the company. And as my co-founder joined, it became a collaborative process. It’s never ready. It’s just this ongoing thing.

And it started as a very ugly document with lots of random thoughts. And then we started fine tuning it with what are the values, and we had debates about it. Now it has been evolved, now we have a nicer deck.

Ilkka (Supercell CEO) suggested to look at situations that we already went through that reflects the values and to put examples in the deck. And then it forces you to think: are we even true to these things that we are saying? Because if you’re not, then its just words in a fancy deck.

We were able to do these exercises [and ask:] Are we able to take risk? Are we afraid? Have we been really pushing ourselves? It’s a tool for self reflection almost.

When it comes to hiring, with every candidate, I show them the deck and I want to know what resonates the most, to understand how they think. I have tailored questions to dig for examples where they’ve been in situations that have reflected those values. I think it’s been a really good tool.

If you had one thing you’d wish to change about the industry, what would it be?

I’m curious about seeing different kinds of people involved in game development. There are great games that are not being made or ideas we haven’t seen yet since we weren’t able to tap into more diverse talent.

I think there is a lot of talk of what is not a real game. For some people, mobile games are not real games. Or who is a real gamer, a real developer, and I’m like, come on, there’s room for everybody. There’s huge demand for all kinds of things out there. Let’s just all have fun together and learn from each other. And I think this industry could go a lot further.

Listen to the full episode by going here.

🎮 Accountability for independent teams

I’ve been happy to see growing game studios embracing the independent teams model. Why? Because the bottoms-up, passion-driven, the gut feeling approach is better than management-driven game initiatives. You empower people with the sense of actual ownership when they can be vision holders and mini-CEOs of the projects that they’ve envisioned.

As a studio grows, and you start having four, five, maybe even eight or ten independent teams working on games at various stages, how do you create accountability. Why do you need it?

Patrick Lencioni talks about accountability in companies in his book The Advantage:

“Even well-intentioned members of a team need to be held accountable if a team is going to stick to its decisions and accomplish its goals. In some cases, people will deviate from a plan or a decision knowingly, tempted to do something in their individual best interest but not that of the team. In other cases, people will stray without realizing it, getting distracted or caught up in the pushes and pulls of daily work. In either case, it’s the job of the team to call those people out and keep them in line.”

Let’s examine the role of accountability in the concepting, prototyping, and production phases of game development with independent teams.

How do projects move from prototyping to production? The most common model has to do with people coming together around an exciting game idea, believing it has potential. It’s like the concept and the prototype create a center of gravity that draws people. Why is the center of gravity something that matters? We want people to feel they are passionate about an idea and want to be a part of bringing that idea to life.

Once in production, the teams can be held accountable with a format like Pixar’s Braintrust, popularizes in Ed Catmull’s book Creativity Inc. where Pixar directors frequently meet to put a film in production under the microscope.

Why would this a good thing for gaming? Accountability from peers saying what they think about the game, without forcing anything on the game lead, is where the team’s independence is kept sacred. The Braintrust group, which should be formed out of peers of game leads, could point out that they would kill the game right now. Or that they would change this or that.

Hearing this kind of feedback might sound harsh, but it’s all up to the game lead to making the decisions. As Catmull writes in Creativity, Inc.:

“The Braintrust has no authority. The director does not have to follow any of the specific suggestions. After a Braintrust meeting, it is up to him or her to figure out how to address the feedback.”

From the game team’s side, the accountability comes from the game lead coming back to the group with an answer of either “We will kill the game because X” or “We will continue with the game because of Y.”

By having accountability, you can uphold a sense of urgency. Game projects that are doomed are holding up resources that could be used in other projects.

🎙 Ben Cousens, Lakestar

Ben Cousens is an investor at Lakestar Ventures. He follows the worlds of gaming and crypto very closely and has backed a number of very exciting companies working at the intersection of gaming and crypto. In this episode, we talk about how Ben got excited about crypto, why gaming is a natural place for Bitcoin, and what the future looks like.

Here are my highlights from the discussion.

What could Bitcoin spending in mobile games be like?

It’s challenging on iOS, with Apple’s restrictions on the apps to do a fully Bitcoin me in a mobile game. We are working with five developers now, who are all experimenting with different methods of this, and have figured out ways where Apple has accepted it.

We’ve seen that it has massively increased retention and engagement because there is a financial component to the game. We’ve got a substantial player base in Brazil on our Counter Strike kind of proof-of-concept. Players might take away anywhere between $5 and $25 home a month. In Brazil, that’s a decent amount of money.

Have you seen any signs of Bitcoin and gaming happening in the more casual space?

We’re going to announce a new game from a new developer at an upcoming MintGox that is very focused on the same areas that King etc. Go after terms of gameplay, so you can think of casual match or merge gaming? I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

If I would be a mobile game developer, what would be a good ways to get Bitcoin into my game?

ZEBEDEE offers a set of open Rest API’s that work with Unity and Unreal which you can interface with and you get a developer dashboard, which gives you analytics and to monitor your transactions. Soon arriving is also the ZEBEDEE game server which will let developers get going with a best practices game server for running a Bitcoin native game.

Listen to the full episode by going here.

📃 Articles worth reading

Can Apple change ads? — “So, Steve Jobs changed music by sweeping away an arcane, complex, user-hostile experience driven by perverse incentives and misaligned industry structures. That also describes mobile apps before the iPhone. Does it describe online advertising? Well, yes – obviously.”

How much confidence is too much confidence when building your new startup? — “As investor Graham Duncan explains, startups are so awash in ambiguity that is the founder’s responsibility to hold that ambiguity. There is tension in the fact that as you create something from nothing, there is an inevitable cognitive dissonance. This cognitive dissonance, Duncan explains, is ‘borne of having to act as though everything is going to come together when there’s obviously a real chance, for reasons outside your control, it may not.’”

+ 🇫🇮 Finnish games industry grows by 9% to nearly $3 billion in revenue — “Of the 200 studios based in Finland, 46 of them made a turnover of more than €1 million ($1.22 million) by the end of the year. This represented an increase of approximately 35 per cent when compared to the findings in 2018.”

Four Growth Paradigms: Zynga, Applovin, Skillz, and Jam City — “We’re nearing the end of the “easy pickings” phase for game company growth through M&A. Zynga has arguably been the most successful of mobile game companies at leveraging M&A for growth over the past 5 years. While Zynga has continued to show growth over the past year and likely has growth locked in for the next few years, the big question moving forward is how do they continue growing longer-term?”

💬 Quote that I’ve been thinking about

“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” — David Bowie

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