A recent press story that was published in the New York Times says that bad corporate culture could destroy Zynga. The article talks about how Zynga intimidated staff into returning stock options and also mentions lawsuits against EA and Activision brought by their employees. In all of these companies what is not being questioned is “what” they make or “what” they do, but “how” their people go about doing it, and “who” this says they are. What is implied is that, in the end, if customers don’t like the people, they won’t want to use their products.
Companies need to care more about “who” and “how” because of how actively consumers connect with brands, companies, and the people behind them. On the Internet, news travels not just fast, but superfast. The world is increasingly transparent. Netflix recently announced a customer service policy change that was unpopular. They rapidly shed customers and the value of their stock plummeted nearly 80%, trimming the company’s value by more than $12 billion. Before this misstep it looked like Netflix could do no wrong.
As the game industry goes to the web and becomes increasingly viral, we are shifting from products to services. The industry used to have a phrase, “ship it and forget it”. But with live online services, the true business now begins only after the public begins to use a new game and gives us feedback about it. And these services involve millions of daily interactions with our customers. Customers notice how responsive we are and how they are treated, and they’re going to talk about it and it’s going to go viral. To be competitive we have to behave better than our competitors. We need to develop healthy ecosystems both internally and externally. A first and basic need is for our employees to collaborate. I also think that even with competitors, we need to look for more new ways to connect, share, cooperate and build value as collaborators. Because of the nature of the Internet it is possible for many companies to collaborate and make new ecosystems that are better for everyone.
I’ve always believed in building a strong corporate culture. Back at Apple in 1979, the founders asked me to lead a committee to define Apple Corporate Values, which we defined for the first time. And from then until I left in 1982, I gave a weekly speech to our new employees as the company grew from 50 people to 4,000. I think that giving attention to corporate values helps sustain the right culture as an organization grows. Managers can incorporate “who” people are and “how” they behave in recruiting new staff and rewarding and promoting existing staff. I took the same approach when I founded Electronic Arts. Time and leadership changes are going to modify organizations but even after 30 years both of these companies are alive and well.
At Digital Chocolate, I worked with my early employees to choose key values that would fit into an acronym. To my amusement, they waited until I was out of the room to organize them into the acronym, “EIEIO”, which helps us keep our sense of humor. Our key values are Excellence, Innovation, Energy, Integrity and Ownership. We want to do things well and we have made over 100 award-winning games. We’ve always focused on originating our own IP (Intellectual Property) and we’ve built a culture that has the courage and trust to do it well. We are very passionate about what we do, and it takes tremendous energy and commitment to tolerate the industry’s high pace of change. Integrity is very important to me. We have a one-class work society that is an open, transparent, fair, empowering, egalitarian, and team-oriented meritocracy. For example, I have always insisted that every employee must have stock options so that we are all owners. We’ve had to make extra legal efforts with the governments of India, Spain, and Russia to make this happen. Many other companies would not have cared or would have given up. We bring that same attitude to how we value and prize our customers. Finally, we are determined to hold ourselves accountable to each other and to our customers. We strive to do the right thing and to follow through on our commitments. We respect each other and our customers. Frankly, we’re grateful.
The book, Creating a Business You’ll Love, has a great story by Howard Schultz of Starbucks. They didn’t think their espresso was good enough so they closed all their stores two hours early one day in order to do a massive live training session. They admitted to their customers that their service wasn’t good enough. And they actively chose to lose money in 7,100 stores for those two hours. I don’t think there is any doubt that their brand and trust grew enormously from this commitment and dedication to caring for their customers.
In the game industry shift from product to service, it’s no longer about the game; it’s about the customer experience. And the customer experience involves rapid feedback loops between our players and our employees. We all need to tune up our organizational cultures to match up with this; and our customers need to be included as members of our team. We need to feel their needs, respond and align with them. The key purpose is to build trust among and between our employees and our customers. That will be the future of great brands.