News: Mojang, the studio behind the insanely successful Minecraft, has shed some light on how the studio is run, which includes some very interesting parallels with Valve Software’s empowering management structure.
I’m sure you’ve all read the awesome Valve Software employee handbook, a guide that is handed out to new hires so they can get up to speed on how the studio is managed. It turns out that Mojang runs a very similar ship with a focus on empowering its employees over a hierarchical structure.
“The atmosphere is usually very relaxed in the office, and we don’t have any middle management or anything like that. I worry about growing, as that could change the mood to something else, so I want us to keep focusing on not making super polished games, as those require larger teams,” says Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, the mind behind Minecraft, to Develop.
Valve similarly uses a system of ‘cabals’, letting smaller teams work on their own rather than focusing the whole studio on larger projects.
Carl Manneh, who oversees the business side of things as CEO, says that Mojang allows its developers to “work on stuff they want to work on”. This closely echoes Valve’s policy to let each developer decide for themselves what project they’d like to start or contribute to. That’s why all the desks have wheels.
Then there’s the Mojam, an annual weekend of frantic game development that allows the rapid prototyping of game concepts. As mentioned in The Final Hours of Portal 2, Gabe Newell does something similar between major releases, alotting every employee a week or so to come up with ideas which are then presented in group. That’s how F-Stop came about, an entirely new puzzle mechanic that would have headlined Portal 2 before focus testing indicated that people really wanted to work with portals.
Manneh also mentions that “since we are small development teams, we prefer multi-talents. Also, almost equally important as talent is how well we believe the person would fit into the group.” The Valve handbook specifically states that when looking for new hires, they prefer “T-shaped people”. These are both generalists (highly skilled at a broad set of valuable things – the top of the T) and also experts (among the best in their field within a narrow discipline – the vertical leg of the T).
Much has been made of Valve’s ‘bossless’ structure, with Gabe Newell serving as the one thing that comes closest to any kind of leader. While Mojang has more visible leadership, “everyone in Mojang can have a say in anything if they’re brazen enough,” says art director Markus Toivonen.
Valve and Mojang are both enjoying loads of success, and it seems their similar management approaches are instrumental in that. No matter how you slice it or how nebulous the term, they can both be considered as indie.