An introduction to Lightheart’s culture

Hello world! I’m Chris, and I co-founded a game development company called Lightheart two years ago. In this post, I will introduce you to our unique culture and the way we make games.

The first time we met with an investor, we received a very good question: “How would you define your success in five years?”. Kalle (one of our co-founders) had a very inspiring response: “We are successful when other companies start copying our culture and the way we make games.”

Now that we have practiced our ways of working for almost two years at Lightheart and that our first game has its own little success, I think it’s a good time to start sharing about our culture and how we make games.

When we started talking about setting up a new mobile game studio, the first thing we discussed was about how the company will operate.

For me, as a coder, starting a new project means a unique chance to drop the hacky code, rewrite what needs to be rewritten, to make new tools. But for some reason, that rarely happens when companies are started. Maybe there are some talks about culture but in the end the base of the operational model stays the same. It has been inherited from a long history but does it still make sense in today’s world? Does it help produce the best games? Does it help to bring the best out of people?

We decided to question everything and start from scratch. What if we start with the assumption that we trust people? We trust they will do the right thing. How would that company look like?

Our journey really started after reading the book “Reinventing Organizations” from Frederic Laloux (aka The Bible). It really put into words what we wanted to do. And even more importantly, showed us the way with examples of many successful self-managed companies.

The first step was to remove the pyramid hierarchy and managers. People should be able to make their own decisions, any decision. To avoid complete chaos, we created a very clear process on how we make decisions. This is the centerpiece of our way of working.

But why no hierarchy? Anyone can make any decisions? What is this madness?

I really liked the analogy that I read somewhere (I can’t remember where so I can’t give credit).

Imagine you are driving on the highway. For traditional companies, the top managers make the big decisions: they steer the wheel hard to the left. The car is going fast towards the rail. You see it but you pray it’s all going to be alright. At the last moment, there is no choice: something needs to be done or the car will crash. The top managers need to make more big decisions: they steer the wheel hard to the right. The car is going fast to the other side of the road this time. So you pray. Until the next big decision…

Thanks to our ways of working, anyone can make the decision to adapt processes to reality, without asking 3 layers of command to do so. You are now driving a car and as soon as you see the car drifting towards the rail you make a small correction to its course to get back full speed straight ahead. You end up making a lot of small corrections all the time instead of one big emergency correction to avoid the crash.

For example, lately, someone thought it was time we offer lunch vouchers. She followed our process to make a decision and in a matter of a day, she took the decision that Lightheart will start offering lunch vouchers. Fast and effective. No need to be some sort of manager to take that kind of decision at Lightheart. (We’ll go through the inner workings of these decisions in another post.)

If we want everybody to be able to make good decisions, the next step is to make sure we have full transparency. Nothing is kept secret. Everyone knows the game metrics, all the salaries in the company, the state of the finance at any time…

Questioning everything is not easy and often fear kicks in. Can this go terribly wrong? Can the system be abused? But in the end, we always went back to our first assumption: we trust people. A good example of this is how we set up our salaries: everyone is free to choose their own salary. Yeah that sounds scary. It still does a bit.

You hate meetings? We do, too! At Lightheart, having a meeting is the exception, not the opposite. I think I spend a maximum of one hour per week in meetings.

This was just an introduction to our ways of working. I will go deeper into all those subjects in the next posts. First stop: how do we make decisions?

If that resonates with you and you can’t wait for the next post to know more… we are hiring :-p (yeah shameless promotion)

https://careers.lightheart.games

Thanks for reading.

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