A brief intro to making your indie game studio impactful

Weird Ghosts is a social impact fund, meaning that our investments aim to produce measurable social impacts as well as financial returns. For us, this means supporting teams that are intentionally trying to make the world a better place through the games they make and how they make them.

There’s a wide variety of lenses that can be used to assess the level of impact, inclusion, and sustainability any business has. A race or gender lens might look at the identities and experiences of the founders; an equity lens might look deeper into how a company’s work serves particular communities’ needs and how that is done on an operational level; an impact lens brings the outcomes of a company’s work into focus.

This might all sound like the terrain of big corporations’ social responsibility proclamations. How can a small indie game studio plan to actually help make these impacts?

First, we need to have a shared understanding of what social impact means. In our world, it’s an approach to focusing and scaling your work in response to social problems or to further cultural change. Pairing your approach with outcomes – actual, measurable changes out there in the real world – is how you make and track impact. This takes you beyond a mission or vision statement and sets you up with a roadmap that can help you achieve those changes you wish to see in the world.

Getting caught up in the fun parts of the day-to-day of running a game studio (let’s not mention all the not so fun parts for now!) can make it easy to lose sight of the outcomes you hope to achieve vs. what you want and need to do in order to ship your game. Having a decision-making framework tied to impact for prioritizing your tasks, your projects, your methods, and your planning is key for studios embracing cooperative values, and it can sit alongside your existing project management tools.

Building this framework into your workflow leads to transparency, allows for accountability and lets you set and meet concrete targets. Plus it makes it easier to communicate your impact both internally and externally (say, to potential clients, players, and investors). It is powerful for you, your team and your community to know why these contributions matter.

You will also need to have a clear understanding with your team about how having a social impact strategy fits into what you are doing. Why is it important? This will set the stage for having good conversations and investing your time and energy into meeting these goals. The why is everything!

What are the areas of your business where you can identify and track social impact? Here are just a couple of ideas to get you going:

  • The founder story: How do the intersectional identities and experiences of your founders bring something new and important into the world? What unique – and perhaps underrepresented – perspectives do you bring into the content or tools you are creating?
  • Hiring and skill-building: What can you do to advance technical, artistic, business or other skills among equity-seeking groups? Can you hire and train youth from historically and continually marginalized communities? Can you develop partnerships or programs that bring more jobs into your local community?
  • Place-based and giving: Can you reinvest profits or donate labour to initiatives in your local community?
  • Narrative and content: Is your game tackling social problems such as mental health advocacy, housing injustice, racial injustice, or environmental and climate issues? Bringing attention to a specific cause? How can you authentically bring these themes to a broad audience and design experiences that advance change?
  • Ownership and governance: Are power and profits shared with your employees? Who is at the centre of decision-making in your company? How and to whom do benefits accrue? Which workers and communities are impacted by your work? Are you modeling new or healthier ways of working?

To start your impact journey, you need to describe your dream-world. What does the planet look like if you are successful in achieving the change you want? Get really specific: What is the timeline, who is impacted, and what exactly will be achieved? Being specific about when, who and what is is critical because it embeds the potential for accountability into your dream-world, and makes it possible to create a workback plan and determine what resources are needed to get there.

Once you’ve defined your dream world, you need a strategy for making it a reality. Your strategy will align your actions and intended impact within the constraints of the resources you actually have. We’ll talk more about the nuts and bolts of creating your impact strategy, techniques for measuring and adapting your activities, and creating an internal roadmap in future posts!

Starting a game studio can be daunting, but it is also the best time to build these impact goals into your practice and pave the way for bigger changes on the horizon.

O Ghost