Interview

PG Connects London 2017 speaker spotlight: Gram Games' Erin O’Brien on culture as a product

PG Connects London 2017 speaker spotlight: Gram Games' Erin O’Brien on culture as a product

Pocket Gamer Connects London will kick off 2017 in style on January 16th to 17th.

Tickets are still available.

So to give you a hint at what you can expect, we're shining the spotlight onto our speakers to provide a deeper look at the personalities who will be taking the stage.

Erin O’Brien is Culture Developer at Gram Games, who will be hosting the session 'Developing Culture As Product: How Gram Games Set Itself Apart' at Pocket Gamer Connects London 2017 on January 17th at 3pm.

PocketGamer.biz: What kind of studio culture have you tried to foster at Gram Games?

Erin O’Brien: Gram’s culture is based around a few key principles: flat structure, constant iteration, a familial environment, willingness to make and learn from mistakes, and constant communication.

Frankly, we think the work-life divide is a fallacy - you shouldn’t have to divide your personality between who you are at work, and who you are at home.

We’ve created an environment and culture where people can be themselves, are comfortable and fulfilled, so that they create the best possible products and progress in their careers.

Ultimately, games are fun. If you want to make good, fun games that people will enjoy, then you need to ensure the environment that the people are being creative in supports this.

If a company facilitates a lifestyle that makes employees happy, those employees are going to contribute positively and creatively, whilst also ensuring that the culture is protected.

Gram knows that no one is perfect - but we try to use that to our advantage. In our experience, some of the most poignant learning moments come from of our most egregious mistakes.

If a company facilitates a lifestyle that makes employees happy, they are going to contribute positively.

We’ve created an environment where our employees are able to fail but also learn from these experiences.

We believe that failing can be turning into a positive, by taking learning from these instances and improving on them in the next iteration. After all, this is what learning is.

Finally, and perhaps most simply, we put a high premium on communication and transparency - everyone should have an understanding of what is going on at any given time. We are all equally a part of what Gram does.

Technical skill is great - but if you can’t communicate your creation, your findings, or your insights to the people around you, then it’s not of much use to anyone. We’re all friends here, so we communicate like it.

What do you mean by ‘developing culture as a product’?

Culture is Gram’s most important product. Our games, of course, are critical, and we are incredibly proud of them. However, the driving force behind the creation of these games is our culture, and we believe this will outlast the life cycle of a single game.

As a company, we need to contribute resources and attention to our culture, just as we would with any product. We need to maintain it as a live product notice bugs, glitches, and improve upon them quickly. We need to market our culture - promote it to the world so that people are willing to buy into it and become part of it.

Culture is the one product that everyone is universally committed to. Projects and teams change every day, but everyone at Gram remains committed to creating and maintaining the optimal company culture.

Why is this philosophy so important your studio?

I don’t think Gram would have achieved success without its company culture. As a company, we are able to communicate, contribute, and support each other - and that fosters our collective success.

I don’t think Gram would have achieved success without its company culture.

Without the overhead of bureaucracy, or hierarchy and, with all the resources they need, our employees are able to reach the limits of their creative potential - that’s what’s given us three hit games.

Our employees work hard, and contribute to the best of their abilities, because our culture and environment makes them happy and fulfilled. They want to see the studio succeed - not just their projects. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

The culture we’ve created encourages team members to take risks, by rewarding those that have learnt from mistakes, which supports long-term success

How do you protect that studio culture as the company expands its headcount and number of offices?

As our studio expands, and we acquire new members of the Gram family, our culture will change. That is the nature of culture - it’s a product of the “hearts and souls of the people” (to quote Ghandi) that comprise it.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t go to extreme lengths to ensure that the central principles of Gram culture are maintained. First and foremost, when bringing in new talent, we look for culture fit above all else.

That’s why we start out our interview process with a conversation to understand the person and their ambitions and their approach.

No matter your technical skill, if you’re going to be successful at Gram, you’re going to need to be able to sit down and shoot the breeze with any of your team members. As we said before, we value communication and collaboration highly. You’re a member of a team and need to act as such.

We’re also vigilant. Like any live product, bugs and glitches are going to crop up in any new version. So we keep an eye out for them, and address those problems proactively as they arise. Growing pains are natural.

Our culture will change. That is the nature of culture - it’s a product of the 'hearts and souls of the people'

We’re sure to remind our employees and talent about Gram values and Gram culture at every possible juncture. This is done through meetings, townhalls, company trips, company activities, or just over a beer - so that we ensure it runs through everything they do.

What major trends do you predict for 2017?

For Gram, I’m incredibly excited to see the further establishment and excitement of the London office. It’s exciting each and every time we bring on just one new member to the Gram family - however, bringing on nearly 30 is going to be a rush.

I also can’t wait to see the products and innovation that come out of our new studio, as well as out of Istanbul. I’m constantly in awe of the talent of the people in our team - they’re going to do great things this year.

I’m excited to see how new technologies and new revenue streams change the shape of the gaming industry in the coming year. I’m also keen to see how companies continue to evolve with regards to talent acquisition and talent maintenance.

What are you looking forward to seeing at Pocket Gamer Connects London 2017?

I’m mostly excited to see how different companies are interacting with new technologies and to see how the rise of VR/AR, AI and machine learning are affecting the products that studios are putting out.

It’s incredibly exciting to be involved in this industry, and I am excited to see what kind of innovation has emerged this year.

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