Holly Liu, cofounder of mobile gaming company Kabam, maker of The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth and Marvel Contest of Champions, says that you have to instill core values and build a global culture to succeed as you expand to become a global company.
More than ever, game companies have to spread worldwide as they pursue a billion mobile users around the globe in the $30 billion mobile games market. You can add teams rapidly around the world, but those new divisions have to fit within the culture set by the headquarters office, preferably by the CEO. Kabam, which has more than 800 employees, started in San Francisco and it has opened offices in places like Beijing and Berlin.
“Building a global culture helps you to succeed,” Liu said in a talk at the Gaming Insiders event in San Francisco on Thursday. “Our vision is to be the best global free-to-play game company.”
Liu’s talk was interesting in that she’s a rare female founder at a major game company, and she hasn’t done as much speaking as other executives at Kabam.
Kabam recorded its values in 2010, when the company had maybe 130 people. At the end of 2011, the company had 450 employees. By writing down the values, which came from CEO Kevin Chou and the founding team, people could coordinate better and weave it into the onboarding process for new hires. Rewards were also built around people who lived up to the values, Liu said. Performance reviews and firings were also based on living up to the values, she said.
“If you have someone who doesn’t believe in your values, it is cancerous,” Liu said.
Liu said it pays of to hire a diverse group of people with a variety of skills. Kabam started that way, and it had to develop a value of respect for those skills. Kabam has marketing, technical, business, and operations chops. But it also has people from entertainment, tech, media, and other industries. Liu is a game designer, but the other founders like Chou have business and marketing skills. Game teams include people from finance and other categories.
“You have to respect the skill sets that people have brought to the table,” she said. “I’m quite proud about this about Kabam. We have a lot of diverse perspectives and a lot of diverse experience on our game teams. I feel that richness has enabled us to recognize some of the shifts and react in a very different way. I believe that makes us stronger in the future.”
In China, Kabam opened its office in 2010. Three people who started the office had experience in business, operations, and product. Now it’s more than 200 employees, and it made The Hobbit game, which generated more than $100 million in revenues for Kabam. To instill the values of the company in the foreign offices, Kabam sent its headquarters people over to help start the offices.
“That diversity continues to permeate,” she said. “Because we operated locally in China for five years, we can capture more opportunity there.”
The next big game that the team in China is localizing is Marvel Contest of Champions.
“They’re culturalizing it and localizing it for Chinese players,” she said. “This came from the core team for The Hobbit. If we didn’t put the time in to learn the core skills in making a game based on an intellectual property and seeing the shifts in the Chinese market, we wouldn’t have been able to capture this opportunity. I urge you to think global from the beginning, and start global.”