Is the game industry mismanaged?

When I sold my computer store, Microdigital, to Laskys (part of the Ladbroke group of companies) in the early 1980s one of the first things they did was to bundle me off on a residential management training course at Carewell Lodge, next to Lingfield racecourse. It was a given that to be at any management position in Ladbrokes you had to have the right training. This contrasts very sharply with my experience in the computer games industry.

It seems to me that most senior games management are where they are today by being in the right place at the right time. And that entrepeneurial skills (or smooth talking) have been valued well above management skills. At middle management level it seems that people are promoted, without training, till they reach their level of incompetence.

Anecdotally one director (not a Darling) at Codemasters used to deride my management training believing his natural (in other words rubbish) management skill were far superior.

It is not like this in other industries. In well managed industries you get the management training before you get any chance of promotion to higher responsiblity. And there is a glass ceiling which you will never get through without an MBA. To such a point that MBAs now earn substantially more than non MBAs with the same non management skills.

And this is how it is going to be in games (and already is in some places). The reasons are simple. Part of the problem is that we are a very young industry and we are still growing up, as we do our businesses will become more normal. A further influence is that publisher consolidation will be by big well managed companies who will squeeze out the chaff (an example of this is imminent in the UK). But most of all it will be because the untrained managers will underperform and Darwin and capitalism will, eventually, do their job. Though on the evidence that I have seen this process is taking a long time.

So what do you do about it? Firstly educate yourself. Read the Economist every week. Read some good management texts. (I still do both of these today). If you want to get to the top get an MBA, do it part time by remote learning if you have to. And as for your staff, only employ people who are better than yourself and always ensure they have the management training for the job that they are doing, especially at promotion time.

It is essential in a company to have a culture of management excellence. From the top to the bottom. And this is still suprisingly rare in computer games.

 So what are your experiences of game industry management? Use the comments to let everyone know.


  1. It depends at what level you are looking at management. Companies like EA, Activision, and most recently TakeTwo have very strong managers. That is why these companies are on top and make a ton of money. They are businesses and they are run like bussinesses. They aren’t in the business of making art, they are in the business of making money.

    Now, if you look at a smaller publisher or studio, they are much more concerned with making their art, inevitably they won’t be as business savvy.

  2. Like Jordan mentions, it depends on the size and the nature of the company.

    I do tend to disagree with his views though, having worked in a number of industries (Stockbroking, Telecoms, Finance) the problem seems to be what kind of person is in control – in my mind there are two clear types:

    Type 1 – Bean counter (Finance orientated)
    Type 2 – Creative (Marketing orientated)

    These managment styles are in dire contrast to each other.

    A bean counter will ensure that everything is costed accurately and monitored and checked and double checked. A creative person will drive the products forward, regardless of cost and/or structure

    The problem is that only a combination of both skills will work, you need the bean counter to ensure everything is costed, affordable and manageable – but without a creative driving force – the bean counter is unlikely to invest in new IP, as it will be seen as too risky.

    So in summary, risk adverse companies normally hire bean counters and non risk adverse companies tend to go for the more creative types – what’s actually needed is a blend of skills.

    Once the structure at the top is right, the rest of the management ranks will fall into place.

    People are always promoted to a level of ‘incompetence’ – that’s the nature of the beast – however, better appraisal systems and skill assesments by line managers are needed to ensure these mistakes are not made and if they are, not repeated.

    Just my 2 pence

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