For a 10-year retrospective and the lessons they had discovered along the road, Built In got down with the head of game design.

In a lot of video games, gamers frequently take on the role of a leader.

No matter who the protagonists are, the media frequently endows them with strong leadership skills, whether they are the commander of massive armies, a modest hero thrown into the role of saviour, or a silent farmer attempting to reinvigorate a tiny hamlet.

Same values are followed both within and outside of DoubleDown Interactive’s offices. The business gives workers the opportunity to assume the position of manager, even for individual contributors, taking a cue from the tales and worlds of its sector.

Consider Ian Smith as an example. The manager of game design joined the organisation as a freelance mobile developer and eventually rose through the ranks to take charge of that division.

Instead than viewing people as static office equipment that serves a purpose, Smith said, the company’s culture pushed him to explore and broaden his skill set./

Like other leadership positions, the transition from IC to department manager wasn’t without its difficulties and adjustments. The secret is having individuals that encourage their development and learning along the road, like non-player characters in a video game. Team members like Smith may create their own leadership stance and cadence through a protracted, encouraged process of trial and error.

The empowering culture at DoubleDown eventually produces a leader who imparts their own unique perspective on what it means to be a good manager. Made In Seattle got down with Smith for a conversation on what it’s like to have an employer that invests in their career trajectory in order to hear their advise and get insight into their experience.


Explain the steps you took to go from being an individual contributor to a manager.

I’ve been working with DoubleDown for over ten years. I’ve been able to advance throughout that period from being a mobile game developer to a game producer to a game designer before becoming the manager of the game design division, which was always my long-term objective. Every manager I’ve worked with has been really supportive of my development, and now that I supervise designers, I try to do the same.

What do you think the main obstacle to making the switch to management is, and how are you overcoming it?

The hardest thing for me is knowing whether to respond with criticism when one of my game designers approaches a design in a fundamentally different way than I do. I would’ve. I frequently know how I would handle a certain challenge because game design is a subjective field. Nonetheless, there are frequently a wide variety of ways to arrive to various solutions. I still battle with knowing when to say, “I don’t think this is the road to follow for this design,” and when to say, “That’s not how I would do it, but it’s a sound decision.”

I aim to provide constructive criticism to my game designers, which means guiding them to become the greatest versions of themselves rather than instructing them in my style of design. I’ll constantly be working to improve it since it’s a test of my humility and my openness.

What suggestions do you have for individual contributors who have just received a promotion to management or who aspire to do so in the future?

Demonstrate empathy. To lead effectively, you must comprehend people. You won’t get the greatest results from your reports if you manage everyone in the same manner in which you like to be managed.

I’ll never stop attempting to characterise it as a test of humility and open-mindedness.

Regardless of the field or position, we are all individuals who exist in settings far broader than the office. Thus, treat each person with respect, make an attempt to understand them, and treat them like a whole human being. Although it’s basically just life advice, managers may benefit even more from it.

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