I just returned from the IGDA Leadership Forum followed by the Montreal International Games Summit. I wanted to wait until both events were behind me so I could provide a synopsis of the dual-conference experience. The best way to summarize what I learned over the past week is to talk about culture.

At the LF (which was in LA…apologies for all the abbreviations flying around) we heard from many distinguished speakers who went to great lengths to stress the importance of culture. Specifically, the culture of your studio and the importance thereof. Brenda Brathwaite and John Romero talked about the formation of Loot Drop and how they’ve fought to stay true to their company’s culture in the face of multiple buyout offers. Jesse Schell described how information flow and communication are important in building and maintaining the culture at Schell Games. Justin Beck (echoing what I’ve heard in the past from Marc Merrill) described the priority he places on hiring talented people who are aligned with the culture at Riot Games.

There was a similar theme running through the sessions at MIGS. Richard Lemarchand spoke about the unique culture at Naughty Dog and how mutual trust of coworkers has enabled them to ship stellar hits in the Uncharted franchise. Dorian Kieken of Bioware described the great lengths his organization has gone to in order to retain the culture of the original Edmonton studio as they’ve grown the new office in Montreal. Marie-Joelle Charlebois and Jean-Francois Malouin gave a talk on sustainable talent development at Ubisoft Montreal.

To further boil it down with my own analysis I would stress the importance of being intentional with your studio culture. Don’t just have business goals and acquire talent to fill positions. Think about what values you’d like to be associated with your company and make your business decisions line up. Be clear at the interview stage in stating the expectations you have for the type of people you let into your studio. This isn’t to say your culture will remain carved in stone, unchanging for the life of your organization. But whatever it is now and whatever you think you’d like it to become should be reflected in who you hire and how you run your production.

Maybe you need to grow more slowly than you’d like, as was the case at Bioware Montreal – limiting the outside influence that could otherwise dilute the culture you want to keep. Maybe you’ll go through lengthy reference checks and multiple interviews as they’ve done at Loot Drop to make sure you’re really getting the right people. Whatever steps you take, just be intentional about creating and maintaining the personality and values of your studio. The danger in being lax in this area is that you will find a culture creeping in that contradicts your vision for your company. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the social and psychological mentality of an organization. If you don’t work to instill the culture you want, other people will do it for you. And you might not like what they come up with.