Interested in developing collectivism within your studio? You’re in the right place!
You know that the studio structures that dominate the industry, and the methods they use to maximize profits, lead to toxic outcomes. But we all need money to live. So how do we strive for alternatives?
Of course, there is no single, perfect alternative. But we can support each other as we look for a better way, and challenge each other with the various types of alternatives we’re building.
In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into the heart of what makes a collective-minded studio thrive. We explore how foundational values are – not just stated, but actively integrated – in every facet of our operations. From understanding how our team members relate to our values to examining their practical application in decision-making and daily interactions, we’ll discuss how they shape work cultures.
We’ve seen many common pain points in the Baby Ghosts program, including:
- How do we make more money?
- How do we prioritize?
- How do we scope our game?
- How do we reach our audience?
Everyone needs the answers. But these pain points are a subset of bigger concerns – the things that studios often neglect to talk about. The real question is, why do we work the way we do? What experiences are informing us? Why are we making what we’re making in terms of scope and design? These are studio-wide questions and are part of larger, less frequently addressed problems that stem from fundamental work practices and experiences – and our values.
Here is how Gamma Space embodies these values in our processes to navigate various challenges.
First, we see video games as tools for change—a concept and practice mirroring our values. We prioritize collective care and well-being, ranking it high among our top five principles. Emphasizing vertical engagement, we commit to personal and group accountability—there’s no merit in values without real adherence and engagement. Finally, empowering individuals and supporting their personal growth and agency is crucial. We also strive to challenge entrenched industry norms, advocating for equity. While ‘equity’ is a concise term, it encompasses broader issues we can explore further. By aligning decisions with these values, we can address both immediate challenges and broader concerns, leading to more equitable and sustainable practices.
Our values should inform our actions: the why, what, and how. At Gamma Space, we’re driven by the belief that video games can instigate change. Our goal is to confront systemic biases. And we plan to achieve this through three main strategies: nurturing collective care, fostering accountability, and enhancing creative empowerment. This approach helps us scrutinize and refine our decisions, aligning them with our values. For example, when contemplating new projects or allocating funds, these values provide a lens through which we assess options. A solid, shared understanding of our values allows us to delve deeper into decision-making, applying concrete principles to a broader range of questions and challenges.
Translating your values into goals is at the heart of social impact. A tool for translating your values into practical, measurable action is the results flow. This diagram shows how your day-to-day activities flow in the short-, medium- and long-term, up to your ultimate goal. Translating your values into actionable goals is required if you’re interested in seeking social impact funds, such as from Weird Ghosts, or one of the other social impact funds in Canada.
We are really digging deep into values so that we can make collective decisions.
The way values are expressed historically in companies is often just lip service. Traditional companies are explicitly beholden to their capitalist framework: typically a top-down structure, infinite growth, infinite profit, and infinite shareholder value in some cases.
And even if they say things like, well, we’re a B Corp, and we’re interested in the triple bottom line – it’s still very difficult for these companies to do. “Good for employees,” “good for the environment,” and “good for shareholders” are all valued equally because they’re still trying to grow as much as they can and be as successful as possible. And part of the problem is that it starts to erase the meaning of these ideals.
So how can values become core to your practice and how you engage with your work? One way is to integrate values into your everyday tools and processes to build a common approach to introduce and practice ideas. This is important because if not everybody is speaking the same language, this is very difficult. It means that you’re not values-aligned, and everyone is interpreting the “right thing” differently. Expect this to happen – there will always be gradations of this. There’s no perfect unity here. But there is an idea that you’re working towards a shared understanding.
- Common approach to introduce + practice ideas
- Can be quantified and measured over time
- Course correction can be transparent to everyone
- Good information for reexamining your values regularly
A participant once called this a “codified” process, and that really hits the nail on the head. When you use tools, your values and impact can be quantified and measured over time. It means that if you start making changes and adjustments and course-correcting, this can be transparent to everyone. As opposed to a situation where the “boss” says “Oh, we had this meeting,” or “We talked about this over lunch,” or “We’ll let this slide this time and do this.” We can actually make these decisions transparent. And it’s good information for when you re-examine your values – this is not a thing that just gets set in stone. Your values and processes might actually change and get more refined.
An example of this for Gamma Space is that we recently updated our code of conduct. We did this because we felt the need to re-examine our anti-oppression framework and to think about how we apply anti-oppression to the space. This resulted in some very difficult conversations for some people. But everyone agreed about why we had to do it, so we collaboratively updated the policy.
This example reinforces how we work together, and our concept of care for each other and challenging systemic norms. So this “work product” or process brought us together because even our internal processes and policies are as important as our external-facing work.
I want to introduce a tool that we use a lot. It’s the Layers of Effect (grab our Miro template). It was developed by UX designer Kat Zhou. It can be adapted for use in large-scale and granular decisions. It helps you understand the impact of your choices before you get to work, and it allows you to thoughtfully project intentional and unintentional effects on your audience.
The process starts with a template resembling a bullseye or concentric circles, where the center represents the primary audience or effect, followed by secondary and tertiary effects. The purpose is to assess the impact of initiatives and activities on the audience and affected people.
Here is an example for an accelerator program for underrepresented game studio founders. This illustrates how initial ideas and potential negative outcomes are considered. One effect is that participants learn various skills, but concerns about reporting, privacy, and intellectual property are also acknowledged as secondary effects. The process involves weighing positive impacts, like community support and network connections, against potential negatives, such as privacy concerns or compromised feelings of independence.
We also have a spot for the desired outcome.
This is a real board we collaborated on about two years ago to start to develop the Baby Ghosts program. Of course, it’s evolved a lot since then. This is a map of our good intentions. “Participants are introduced to value flow to help recognize internal efforts,” – cool, they’re going to learn different ways to value themselves! “Participants learn to present to publishers and other funders.” That also sounds like a good thing. “Participants develop project scoping, budgeting and presentation skills,” – another good thing. We couldn’t think of any negative things as a primary effect. But if we take a step out to secondary effects, there might be some negative things.
One example we have is that participants will be encouraged to memo about value flow in their reporting. But reporting and sharing may feel at odds with independence. It just doesn’t feel right to some people. Of course, we believe there is more value than downside to openness, but in our experience, some people have a lot of trouble with it.
Reporting may also feel at odds with privacy and intellectual property. Some studios might feel, “Oh, I can’t share this because it’s our trade secret.” Or, “We can’t share this in the community, I don’t trust what’s happening here.” That might make people feel less inclined to participate. But there’s some positive things here: “Participants feel supported by community,” “Participants connect with a bigger network.” We can start to balance these out and try to evaluate these things after we put these sticky notes in. We have conversations about them through the lens of our values, to say, why might these things be true? And how can we mitigate them? What is our actual way of dealing with these things that will make this a better experience?
Then we zoom out as far as we can to the tertiary. One is “Participants may be overwhelmed by the scope of the process.” And this is a thing that happens!
Once you start getting into it, you might realize, “Oh, we’ve never had these conversations together as a team to this level! Every time we get a little bit deeper, it becomes a bit more overwhelming.So how do we deal with that? And how can we provide tools for our participants to help them with that? Can we provide opportunities for them to break out, take a breather, talk to us, and have studio workshops between these larger cohort sessions?
And this one’s a real one: “Participants may feel this process distracts them from creating their game.” We hear you, we want you to make your game too! But we also want you to survive and thrive along the way, and be able to enjoy and celebrate the success of the game afterwards and not just immediately flame out. We want you to continue to be a game studio after launch!
We’ve seen dozens of games built and launched through Gamma Space. And they’ve all been amazing. But sometimes we talk to creators and they say, “I don’t know how to talk about my game,” and also, “I don’t want to share anything about my game until I have a publisher and have money.” So many things stand in the way of their success because they are trapped in old ways of thinking.
But other things come at the tertiary level: Co-op behaviour models, valuable methods, and the extension of the reach beyond the program for individuals to other aspects of their lives. And that is what we think is a positive possible outcome from this.
Embedding actionable values within studio development is not just about stating ideals but about putting them into play in every aspect of our operations. From the way we interact with each other to the decisions we make and the projects we undertake, our values guide the way.
By committing to these principles, we don’t just create a workplace – we foster a collective that thrives on mutual respect, inclusivity, and growth.
Question: I’m struggling to separate secondary versus tertiary content. How do you decide the levels?
Answer: The tertiary levels are effects of the secondary level effects – so effects of effects! You have to discuss and collectively decide where these effects lie as a studio. What is the full impact? When you take a step back (and perhaps get some feedback), you might learn that your tertiary effects are actually secondary effects or even primary effects.
The important thing is to imagine the outcomes of each activity and then each effect as you work through the circles.
This content was developed by Gamma Space for a 2023 Baby Ghosts cohort presentation. We have summarized and adapted it here.