Want to attract and retain talented people? Lead with your values

No matter the industry, finding and supporting the right people directly affects your success.

I believe it starts at the top with good leadership. Good leaders know how to align people, passion and values. Without it you risk team members feeling unfulfilled, leading to high turnover.

Historically, the video game industry has struggled with maintaining an inclusive workplace culture, and the lack of diversity across the sector has been well documented. With over 20 years leading the development of a number of successful games – including the Mass Effect franchise and League of Legends – I know that a homogeneous culture and a lack of diversity, transparency and candour can affect both the final product and the overall health of your teams.

When we started Phoenix Labs, I made it my mission to create something different: a long-term environment where game developers from all callings can come to do the best work of their careers, together.

In seven years, we’ve grown from three people with a pitch deck to a collaborative team of more than 200 passionate game makers successfully bringing our games to a global audience. I attribute our success to our radically different approach to cultivating culture and a steadfast belief that people are the end, not the means.

Here’s how we are shaping a video game development culture that stands out from the rest.

Our culture of diversity

The video game industry is infamous for its lack of diversity. A 2019 International Game Developers Association study shows that 71% of developers globally are men, while just 24% are women.

When it comes to race and ethnicity, 69% identify as white. We believe in a different approach. We seek out diverse perspectives, experiences and backgrounds to deeply influence our game development process and culture.

Not because it’s a good PR message, but because diversity fuels creativity and leads to better problem-solving by introducing new points of view we might not hear otherwise.

As of writing, over half of our developers come from historically under-represented groups in our industry. At Phoenix Labs, we believe diversity helps us grow, do better and work smarter, together. 

Lead transparently  

We’re an environment where people come to do their best work. That requires us to nurture the ability to express ourselves authentically and feel empowered to share their ideas.

The key? Transparency that starts with the leadership team. I believe that a healthy, thriving workplace leverages the knowledge, insights and experience of the collective. Rather than put people in boxes where they feel confined by their role on a team, we foster an environment of openness. By working collaboratively and ensuring transparency in all facets of our business, we create opportunities for greater participation, constructive feedback and growth. Importantly, when we are open and transparent, we build trust, and trust is what nurtures long-lasting relationships.

Do hard things others shy away from 

We believe that game experiences are fundamentally better and more fulfilling with friends, and today more than ever, people are turning to games for connection and social interaction.

From the start, we’ve been driven by a mission of unifying gamers globally regardless of location, language or device.

In 2019, our debut release, Dauntless, was the first game to launch with full cross-play capabilities. It has connected more than 25 million players from more than 50 countries across PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch.

Win together  

As we shifted from a singular focus on Dauntless to a multi-team, multi-game company, it was crucial for us to empower our teams to make the right calls.

This meant giving them the tools and support to drive their own success, and at the same time trusting them to make decisions free of micromanagement from leadership. And it’s working. Our prototyping process, in which any team member, regardless of role, level or team, is encouraged to pitch game concepts, has led to some of the most creative ideas I’ve seen in my career.

As we expand into new regions and introduce new games, a big piece of our strategy is to build studios around the right people, giving them the tools and empowerment to build great teams.

We focus on hiring experienced people who excel in a team environment, and then give them the agency to take on problems others shy away from. When we do this, we win together.•

Jesse Houston is the CEO and co-founder of Phoenix Labs, a leading video game studio in Vancouver. He previously held key leadership roles at both Riot Games and BioWare.