Presented by N3TWORK
N3TWORK is a different kind of game company. On the surface, yes, it’s a mobile game developer working on hits like Legendary: Game of Heroes – but if you look a little harder, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
From its relatively flat and transparent company structure, to its lack of corporate titles, to its curated company culture, to its aggressively player-oriented approach, N3TWORK has a unique take on what game development can be. We interviewed two N3TWORK stalwarts, John Davison and Fay Griffin, to see what makes the company tick.
N3TWORK was born of an idea that there is still room for mobile games to grow. The company was founded by industry veteran Neil Young, using learnings from his time at ngmoco and Electronic Arts. The resulting company is reminiscent of neither and both, taking a very different approach to building teams and supporting games, but the end goal is the same: to create the best games possible.
John Davison was still working in game journalism, running CBS Interactive’s game group, when he saw a big shift in how people engaged with games. Now he runs N3TWORK’s audience relationship platform, and he realizes it all began that for him 10 years ago with the revelation that to please a gaming audience, you didn’t have to talk about every single game. It was better to focus primarily on the games they loved, and dive incredibly deep.
"I’ve worked at companies where they say ‘here are the company values’ and you never hear about it again after that. What impressed me is that this culture is part of the company DNA, and it informs every conversation."
“People are really passionate about games, and when it speaks to them and becomes their hobby, it’s really powerful,” he says. “That’s part of why I wanted to join this company. With a general gaming audience you lose people with specificity, but within an individual game’s community no detail is too small.”
For example, take any big RPG. In the community, you see people who are motivated by the lore, or by the stats. “There are opportunities to serve both of them, and reflect their passion back,” says Davison. “And there’s also a big opportunity around people that love something so much that they want to make something creative surrounding that. It’s about making sure everyone can see what everyone else is doing.”
Davison finds that the company culture really encourages this sort of curiosity and community curation from the inside. “I’ve worked at companies where they say ‘here are the company values’ and you never hear about it again after that,” he says. “What impressed me is that this culture is part of the company DNA, and it informs every conversation – and not in a trite way. We don’t have this notion of bosses per se – the approach is that the product and the audience for the product is in charge of the overall thing, so our core values help us meet those needs.”
There are five words that are essential to the core of N3TWORK, as Davison outlines: Greatness, Delight, Ownership, Dialog, and Action. Greatness about high absolute standards and understanding where our work is in relation to that and what we need to do to get there. Delight is about deeply understanding your player or customers’ expectation and having a plan to exceed them, but also finding moments of magic and delight in your daily work.
In terms of Ownership, “on the hiring side we want people who aren’t waiting to be told what to do,” says Davison. “It’s very much about initiative and problem solving, and understanding what it is you’re working on – through owning the thing you can identify what’s going to make it great.”
As for Dialog, “If I have a problem I need to work through, I realize, ‘there’s a bunch of smart people in the room, let’s find the right person to talk to,’” Davison adds. “It’s always struck me as a progressive way of approaching things. Very solutions-oriented, and even if someone’s not on the project with you, you can talk to them and work out how to do things.”
That moves us right along to Action – “If you spot that something is not right or needs doing, the culture is very much ‘go do it yourself then.’ That allows you to be nimble and focused on getting to that end goal and adapting what you’re doing as you go along. It’s something the company takes really seriously, and as a foundation, it works together really well.”
Davison has noted that in other companies, large and small, “you’ll get elements where knowledge gets locked up in one person – with a culture like N3TWORK’s, when you notice that’s a problem you can do something about it. Nobody needs to ask for permission.”
So how does the company structure work in a place with no bosses and no titles? For Fay Griffin, who works in Operations, it was a natural transition. “I’ve never been a titles person, I couldn’t care less what people call me” she says. “So it was very refreshing coming to N3TWORK knowing they don’t have a titles philosophy. Titles can be really limiting. I’m someone who likes to be able to wear many hats. If I see a problem I like to be able to solve it, and not be in an environment where that’s frowned upon because it’s not my job.”
"We want people who are more interested in thinking about about problems to solve, versus a static area of responsibility."
Griffin also feels that titles can limit the way people think about the work they’re doing. “You get fixated on ‘I’m a product manager level 1, what do I do to get to be a product manager level 4,’” she says. “We want people who are more interested in thinking about about problems to solve, versus a static area of responsibility.”
And it’s not as though new hires are thrown into this new world of “get out there and do it” with no assistance. Nobody expects people to know what they’re doing immediately.
“We don’t have managers, but you get a coach when you start, and you can think of that person as kind of a mentor” Griffin says. “The coach is responsible for onboarding that person. We have a pretty well-defined onboarding process that starts with an overview of the company’s values and goals.”
The coaches and the people they’re coaching continue to meet once a week, or once every other week, depending on the desires of the person who’s being coached.
“It goes with our values and overall philosophy where you control your growth and destiny at N3TWORK,” Griffin says. “I can’t, for someone I’m coaching, say ‘I think you should be doing this.’ You would come to me and go ‘I want to be doing X,’ and I’d say ‘great, what plan can we put together to help you do that.’ So you really are in charge of your own career growth, but there are lots of people there who can help you get to what it is you want to do.”
Why does Davison work at N3TWORK? “Because it’s awesome,” he jokes. “I think that ‘really wanting to win’ quality is something that’s important. We look for those people who have maybe been in second place and realized it’s not fun, and they want to be around people that are inspiring. I’ve worked in some places where it’s very heads down and get on with it. This place is very collaborative, with a feeling of everyone being in it together.”
“Everyone communicates,” he adds. “There’s a lot of visibility into what everyone is doing – transparency of processes and learning. Even if you’re not part of a project, if someone learns something interesting about how something went down, that will get shared with you. It’s just a very positive and collaborative bunch of people.”
“I think it’s the most pragmatic place I’ve ever worked,” he concludes. “And not in a boring pragmatic way, but coming at it with the audience always in mind.”
"It’s a group of diverse, smart people who are looking to improve the industry they’re working in, and challenge each other – in a good way!"
Griffin has a similar feeling. She loves N3TWORK, but notes that they’re looking for certain kinds of people. “N3TWORK’s not for everyone,” she says. “There are some people who like to work at bigger companies because they like to do their one specific job. I guess it’s about what your personal ambition is. Do you want to be a small cog in a big system, or do you want to actually be deciding how that system gets built and used?”
“I’m always looking to learn new things,” Griffin adds, as her own personal to that question. “I want to work with people who are smarter than I am, so I can grow my skillset and constantly be challenged, and I think that’s what N3TWORK brings. It’s a group of diverse, smart people who are looking to improve the industry they’re working in, and challenge each other – in a good way!”
“And diversity is important to us,” she says. “We are making games that we want to appeal to everybody, and we know the best way possible to do that is to make sure there’s a diverse range of people working on it, and those opinions and feelings are all in there.”
N3TWORK has around 30 open positions now, in locations across the globe – the majority are in San Francisco. Griffin notes that the salaries are competitive for the Bay Area game industry, despite the company being a startup. But they don’t feel the need to throw around a bunch of extra perks – they feel like the true value of the company is in its structure and its people.
“We refer to N3TWORK like we’re building a professional sports team,” says Griffin. “We’re hand-picking the best pitcher, the best first baseman, but we’re curating the group of people that we are picking, and making sure they can all work well together. We function more as a sports team than as a corporate environment checklist.”
If you’d like to learn more about how N3TWORK operates from a game development side, the company has two talks at GDC 2018: 'Legendary: Game of Heroes': Designing for Live, and Succeeding with Licensed IP for Mobile F2P Games, both of which deal with the company’s design philosophy.
And of course, if any of this sounds interesting to you, N3TWORK has a number of positions open, from Engineering, to Production, to User Acquisition, to Testing! As Griffin puts it, “We want to attract the people who inherently love what they do, want to make great things, and work with great people.”