A full year, with 140 people on the production floor, searching for an idea or a new powerful feature to create a new brand, will seem like a long time to anyone. To anyone certainly, but to Ubisoft's Stéphane Cardin who was on such a “floor”, trying to revive one of Ubisoft’s franchise and turn it into a profitable venture, most certainly. In the video game industry, a year is the equivalent of eternity. And in a labour-intensive industry like video-games, it costs a fortune.
To escape his purgatory, Cardin went to senior management, ready to take the fall. But contrary to his fear that day, Ubisoft’s leaders did nothing of the sorts. They chose an alternate route. And then, as if the seed the producer planted when he killed one of the studio’s most important projects had grown into a tree - or rather, a bush full of ramifications - the idea of failing fast started to make its way in the studio’s strategists’ heads.
The basis for this system of fast improvement and fast failing is the team, a collective notion which at Ubisoft has a very specific meaning. In Cardin’s account, management wanted beyond everything to preserve Cardin’s team - a loosely-coupled, evolving group of creatives, game designers, programmers - a combination of talents that they believed could learn from the setback and serve as guides looking forward to things to come.
With a whole new generation of consoles being released at the end of this year, video-game companies are facing massive pressure to perform. To interpret the technology, to interpret the trends, to interpret the state of the world that will be, and to deliver graphics, sounds, scenarios, experiences that will allow them to strive, both creatively and economically in the next decade. To face that challenge, you need leaders. One, by one, or ten by ten, teams like Cardin’s are the ones to follow. They carve the path ahead, blowing our minds to pieces, like a thousand confettis sparkling down in structured chaos. “You understand how birds fly”, writes management scholar Henry Mintzberg, “by studying them one at a time, not by scanning them on radar screens”.
This text is part of a series written in the context of the Fifth edition of the Montreal-Barcelona Summer School on Management of Creativity, organized by Mosaic HEC Montréal and Universitat Barcelona, July 9 to 24, 2013.
Illustration by Studio 923a. Read all posts in the series at blog.fandco.ca/yulbcn.