Now this, I thought, was a rare opportunity for wisdom.
I looked into the faces of 6 game studio CEOs staring back at me on Zoom. All very successful. All incredibly smart and capable.
And then I asked my question:
What should the responsibilities for a games studio CEO be?
While I received some very similar responses, I was surprised by some of the very different answers, priorities, and allocation of time to different activities that I heard back.
Why Should You Even Care?
What if you’re not a CEO, should you even care?
In my humble opinion, you should. The key leaders of any startup or even larger company carry an outsized impact on the outcomes for the company. Therefore, you should consider whether the leadership at your company is operating in a way that will lead your organization to success.
Great football coaches carry success with them to different teams. If you are staking your livelihood with an organization, shouldn’t you consider whether the leadership of that organization has leadership that you believe in?
The Role of the Great Games Studio CEO
As I pondered how I am acting as the CEO of LILA Games, I decided this was a question worthy of further investigation, discussion, and deep introspection.
Gaming CEOs Slack Survey
To get deeper insights on this, I decided to run a survey to see how a larger pool of Game CEOs thought about this. So, I took to Slack. In fact, a specific slack channel exists just for games studio CEOs (65 of them).
I posted the following questions there:
Gaming CEO Survey: How important are the following activities to a startup gaming studio CEO?
- Funding: Securing funding and investment activities
- Strategy: Ensuring the company has a superior organizational or product strategy
- People: Recruitment and hiring the best people possible
- Planning: Ensuring the company has a well-developed plan for its game development
- Vision: Setting the company mission and overall direction of the company
- Culture: Establishing a strong company culture
- Marketing + Branding: Developing the company’s image and brand with investors, players, and the influencer community
- Product + Operations: Ensuring the game product is on the right track and the company is operating efficiently/effectively
- Training: Ensuring employees are developing and learning to do their jobs more effectively
- Processes: Focus on establishing efficient and effective organizational processes
For each of the priorities, I asked the CEOs to stack rank (10 being highest) the priorities from the list above. Since not all CEOs follow instructions lol, we wound up with a heavier weight towards higher priority scores as you can see below.
Here were the results:
It was also interesting to note the variance on some of the priorities which I show below:
- The highest priority score with the lowest variance (meaning most agreement by having least amount of different scores) was “Culture” yet do CEOs actually spend the majority of their time on this really? I sorta doubt that.
- The priorities with the highest variance were “Product” and “Processes.” You could argue that one of the greatest CEOs of our lifetime (ever?), Elon Musk, likely spends most of his time on these two areas based on interviews he’s conducted.
- Interestingly, “People” is fourth on the list, I would have guessed this would have ranked higher.
- Finally, if I were running this survey again, I would likely have included “Technology” as a priority category as I do know of some CEOs that focused on this.
3 Primary Perspectives on CEOs
I believe there are 3 primary perspectives when it comes to how people think of CEOs:
- Finance View: Popularized by Warren Buffett; view of the CEO as a “capital allocator” or someone who decides how to allocate resources within a company to different projects. This view has gained wide popularity, especially amongst finance people and Silicon Valley douchebags.
- VC View: View of CEO as someone who can raise money, hire good people, find product/market fit, and then scale their companies.
- Consulting/Large Company Operations View: Focus of CEO as someone who can optimize against people, process, and technology. You may see some version of the below in a typical management consultancy slide deck:
The issue I have with these specific perspectives on CEO roles is that it overly simplifies the job of the CEO and misses key points of specificity and nuance that actually may be more insightful.
So how should we think about the role of CEOs?
And even further, back to the original question: What Makes A Great Games Company CEO?
Podcast Panel Discussion
As a former management consultant, we often uncovered key insights through a series of internal and external audits. So I’m extremely fortunate to be connected to a bunch of really smart and hella dope people in the games industry.
To discuss this issue, I was able to bring on the following bad-asses:
- Gigi Levy-Weiss, Partner NFX
- Brian Peganoff, former Corp Dev at Glu and VP at Deutsche Bank
- Kristian Segerstrale, CEO Super Evil Megacorp
Too many great insights to summarize for you here. So check it out!