GDC 2014: Positive Signs

This was my first year running the Leadership roundtable at GDC. I had two fears going in: 1) that no one would show up, and 2) that I’d end up with a room of alpha personalities, each of whom would try to run the room. So, when I showed up half an hour early for my first roundtable and saw 4 people scattered to the edges of a room that could handle 80, I was sure that I was in for #1. By the time the session started and we had 70+ people in the room, I was sure it wasn’t going to be #1, but #2 was a real possibility.

Instead, we had a very smooth, supportive conversation that was encouraging on a number of fronts.

  • Leadership as supporting the team.  This was definitely the subtext of the entire conversation, that leadership is not about driving the team, running the team, or whipping the underperformers, but rather that effective leadership in a collaborative and complex environment like game development is about supporting the team.  At the end of the first session, I asked the participants for some quick-fire, aphoristic summaries of their approach to leadership; what came back were things like “to protect and serve”, “remove the obstacles and let the team excel”, and “take care of everything extraneous and let the team focus”.  I think that would have been a very different conversation fifteen years ago.  It seems that we are, actually, maturing as an industry.
  • Women in leadership.  There were a number of strong, compelling female voices in the conversation, and in general a fair number of women in the room.  I don’t have exact stats, but I’d say that we ran about 20% women on the first day, which isn’t bad for the games industry but still woefully inadequate.  The good news is that it was just completely normal for these women to be there doing what they were doing.  No one challenged it, directly or indirectly, and it’s clear from the participants that the future for women as leaders in games is bright indeed.
  • We are getting better at this.  Part of a roundtable is getting people to share their problems so that the rest of the room can help.  There was a clear pattern in this, as the more common problems got responses from all angles.  The more abstruse difficulties got fewer responses, usually from the more clearly veteran folks in the room.  What this says to me is that the bar for what qualifies as a difficult problem is definitely going up.  The common problems have been solved multiple times, repeatedly, and in a great variety of contexts.  As an industry, we’re moving on to more challenging ground.

I’m not sure whether I’ll run this roundtable again next year.  Some of that will depend on how the surveys come back; some of that will depend on what else I’m committed to.  What remains clear, though, is that we are making progress in this area.  Oh, and there is clearly a hunger to make more progress, which is encouraging in its own right.

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