IGDA’s Christopher Hamilton: "The community here is just very special and truly amazing"

At IGDA’s Leadership Day Finland’s finest come together to discuss leadership in games

IGDA’s Christopher Hamilton: "The community here is just very special and truly amazing"

While our very own Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinkievent kicks off tomorrow, today is the International Game Developer Association Finland's leadership day also taking place in the capital of the country, and the spiritual home of mobile gaming, so naturally we’re in attendance.

At the Leadership Day by IGDA Finland there are talks and networking opportunities focused squarely on the subject of leadership in games. One of the people behind its success is former Genvid director of developer relations, ex-Rovio producer and board advisor to IGDA Finland, Christopher Hamilton. We caught up with him at the event to talk about its aims and his hopes for the future. Tell us about the IGDA and your Leadership Day event

Christopher Hamilton: The IGDA used to run a two day summit on leadership in games called the IGDA Leadership Summit and there was talk about finally taking that summit out of North America and bringing it to Finland. We have one of the strongest chapters of the world here and they had two board members that were Finnish. I’m not Finnish but I’m essentially representing Finland and the international side - I’m trying to get more of the ‘I’ in the IGDA if you will.

We wanted to have an event that was more like other events that are here, like Slush or Games First by Supercell and Roviocon. Other events tend to be a little more splashy, a little more interesting with lights and pizzazz, but also we know the community here is very gracious and provides plenty of backing.

We were able to secure city hall as a venue, where we didn’t have to pay anything. But one of the caveats of that was that we couldn’t charge for tickets. But we were able to raise enough money from sponsorships to cover all of the other costs, and we saw it as a way to give back to the community here. The community here is just very special and truly amazing, events like Leadership Day would not be possible without all the volunteers who regularly put their heart and souls and free time into creating opportunities for others.

For you personally, what makes you most passionate about the IGDA Leadership Day?

How we run companies, how we run teams and how we build that culture that makes the best games – these are some of the most important aspects of game development and running a successful company, but hardly anyone seems to talk about it.

There were certainly no conferences in Europe like this before and we decided that we’re going to run one that covers these vital topics.

Why do you think leadership in games has it's own specific disciplines and lessons to learn?

I think that there are lots of different ways to run companies and to run them well, but then there’s lots of toxic behaviours that persist in games - like crunch - and a lot of very difficult things that basically make having a career in games unsustainable.

If you’re constantly doing crunch or you’re constantly having to work for a company that’s underbidding other other companies for projects and working employees really hard, that quickly becomes unsustainable and people are afflicted with burnout and other issues.

The IGDA globally has long been speaking against crunch, and there’s all these studies that show crunch is just not good - it’s bad for you mentally, it’s bad for you health-wise, you’re less effective and less efficient, and yet lots of companies still do this. And it’s very much not a Finnish way of working, and therefore I think Finland is sort of a good place to bring together some of these other ways of running companies and really addressing a lot of these issues.

Because there's a lot of big names here, especially in mobile, is the hope that the IGDA Leadership Day will go some way to combat these toxic behaviours?

I think it’s just important that we discuss them, and there aren’t a whole lot of companies here that have those toxic ideas - I mean Finland gives us four weeks of vacation a year, there’s plenty of release valves.
There’s a lot of trust in the community here and as a result people feel empowered. At least with smaller companies there’s more of a sense of this than in other places. In any big company there’ll be layers of management that will make it more challenging. But my experience in Finland compared to other countries has largely been positive.

Do you think that Finland is a good case study for how new, innovative practices can be applied? Encouraging the growth of great companies and development of great games?

Yeah, absolutely. I think Finland is a very special place simply because certain companies have gotten lucky. They’ve found that recipe for success and are able to sort of propagate or pay tax money into the Finnish government. Which in turn creates programmes to develop video game educational programs or funding programs for startups and all these sorts of things to propagate that whole idea.

So it’s a very healthy ecosystem?

Yeah, 100%.

You’ve got games that are successful, you’ve got game companies of various sizes, you’ve got startups and smaller companies in various stages of their lifecycle. But you’ve also got very strong nonprofit organisations like IGDA Finland and the Finnish Game Jam and We Love Games and We in Games, that are all sort of supporting the ecosystem as well. You’ve got education programmes, you’ve got incubator programs, and you just have a lot of community support mechanisms where the community comes together and provides input for the people that are working on games.

At our regular monthly meetups for example we have demo corners where people can come in, demo their games and get real live player feedback. We have chat corners that allow people to network with one another and meet people, and expand their personal networks, because then when you need help you can find the people that can give you the answers.

In addition to the Finnish ‘home crowd’ do you have lots of international attendees this year?

It’ll be interesting to look at the streaming numbers. Often we look at the number of people who are streaming, there’s a big up-tick towards the end of the day through the IGDA Global channels. There’re a lot of people across Europe and even in North America that will be beginning to tune into the live stream. There are some people that know about the event and will come in early because they know they’re coming in for Pocket Gamer Connects too.

Do you think games events are particularly important and loved here in Helsinki?

You know, I’ve been in the games industry for a long time, I’ve been speaking and travelling to a wide range of events, so I pay very close attention to the industry event calendar. In my early days getting into game development in 2007 I was travelling to one or two conferences a year, and those conferences were vitally important to me in terms of understanding what I was doing, what other career opportunities were out there, how our company fit into the overall global ecosystem of game development and what other opportunities there might be out there.

A lot of people in Helsinki know about Pocket Gamer because it’s coming here - because there are so many professional game developers here - that this is an event that kind of comes to our backyard. And if you live in Helsinki or you live close to Helsinki, you don’t have to travel to the conference, you don’t have to pay for a hotel. And Pocket Gamer has been very good about giving tickets to IGDA volunteers and students, creating a lot of opportunities for people.


Staff Writer

Iwan is a Cardiff-based freelance writer, who joined the Pocket Gamer Biz site fresh-faced from University before moving to the editorial team in November of 2023.