Rise & Play’s Sophie Vo: “70% of post-merger integrations fall short of realising their intended value.”

The Rise & Play founder spoke at Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki 2023 about cultural changes for studios after mergers and acquisitions.

Rise & Play’s Sophie Vo: “70% of post-merger integrations fall short of realising their intended value.”

Having your company acquired by a new partner is always going to be a major upheaval to your company culture. So what’s the best way to make sure the things that you’re proud of continue to thrive while you all work together for a new common good?

Sophie Vo the founder of Rise & Play the knowledge sharing platform for games industry leaders addressed such issues in her talk “Setting up Studio Culture after being acquired” at PGC Helsinki 2023.

Embracing change

Change is inevitable, especially after a studio is acquired. Even without other implications, integrating a new studio into a large company’s management structure with always necessitate some alterations. As Vo stated, “You don’t need to change completely, but you need to acknowledge what is changing and prepare for it.”

Vo pointed out some key myths that she feels are often repeated post-acquisition: “We will preserve our culture and DNA post acquisition. We will keep our creative freedom. And we are financially safe.” None of these may be untrue in a macro sense, but the argument that they can be maintained simply by stating them ignores the facts.

Facing the facts

So what’s the best way to address such change? As Vo said, it’s important to confront the fact that acquisitions - while valuable - are always difficult from a personal standpoint. “Based on global M&A statistics, 70% of post-merger integrations (PMI) fall short of realising their intended synergies and value,” she explained. “So, what proactive measures can we take to address this challenge for future acquisitions? It is imperative to recognize that the key to successful integration lies in focusing on people, as they are the cornerstone of a company's value. Therefore, during an acquisition, prioritising attention on personnel is essential to optimising the likelihood of a successful integration.”

How to do it?

Vo’s advice is simple. “You must break down what your culture truly is at its essence. What is unchangeable in spite of change itself. First we need to ask, What is culture? Well it’s multiple things, the people, the processes and the leadership values.” Post-acquisition Vo advised companies to look at what has changed. “In terms of people, that would be who is making the decision on who’s hired, promoted or dismissed and how? With processes it’s who decides which game starts, stops or launches? How do we work? And finally for leadership values, who from the leadership stays?”

With this breakdown of the core values, one can begin to understand what a studio’s culture is at its core, and - if beneficial - how best to preserve this. But as Vo stressed, this is not the product of wishful thinking but a continued dedication to understanding and planning post-acquisition.

Experience, experience, experience

“I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to have played a strategic role in overseeing the game studio Savage Games following its acquisition by PlayStation,” she explained. “The process of implementing the adequate framework for various facets of the culture including internal communication, hiring, onboarding, training, promotion, and recognition, to consolidate Savage Games Studio's identity in collaboration with PlayStation, proved to be both highly demanding and gratifying. That experience stands among one of the best learnings of my career, I am very grateful for it.”

Vo demonstrated some of the stages used in such a transition: “A culture gap assessment and risks mitigation, integration plan and implementation, vesting period, and founders’ succession planning. All with a view to preparing for those who might move on or decide that the new studio culture isn’t for them, and maintaining the positive contributions of those who move on.”

Summing up

Vo finished by pointing out that change is not bad, and that many acquisitions do in fact lead to the continued growth. Change is inevitable, and rather than a stumbling block, is an opportunity for growth.

“It’s not bad, but it’s important you acknowledge that there will be change.”


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.