Lenka Kaciakova, VP of Operations at Wooga GmbH
Berlin-based developer Wooga makes games with thougtful and compelling stories. With Lenka Kaciakova, Vice President of Operations at Wooga, we talk about the history of Wooga from its beginnings to today's business, their well-being strategy and the advantages of Berlin as the location for their studio.
What makes Berlin the ideal location for the foundation of a mobile gaming studio?
Access to talent! Already quite a while ago Berlin became a melting pot for startups. As many of those companies started maturing it gave rise to a thriving environment with talent settling in Berlin not just from neighboring countries, but also from overseas. Of course it’s always hard to compare but it almost feels to be akin to what I would read about how the West coast of the USA was experiencing back in its heyday. So I can only say that Berlin is a very exciting place to be, especially being at one of Germany’s largest gaming companies which directly benefits from the appeal that this city has for tech talent, both domestically as well as internationally. Berlin’s central location - between eastern and western Europe - of course also helps. It provides easy access to nearby Western markets such as France, the UK, Italy and Spain but there is also direct access to eastern Europe and the baltic states. All of them have large talent pools with a vast knowledge and skill base in digitalisation and tech. Lastly, it’s probably worth highlighting that despite the fact that, yes, Germany may not be at the forefront when it comes to digitalisation and may sometimes seem a little slow, yet I can assure you it’s actually moving in the right direction and is evolving its ‘old economy’ characteristics and embracing themes like ‘new work’ while successfully safeguarding the great social security benefits it’s known for like (access to) health and child care.
Well, first of all let’s acknowledge that Wooga had its fair share of challenges and changes it had to cope with not unlike any other promising startup that went through hypergrowth and then almost lost its way. In general, we did learn from our mistakes and were able to understand and implement how to sustainably scale the organization. But I can tell you it was a big learning curve and obviously it is not just blue skies for us now - we still learn every day! We at Wooga have a mentality to try and do the right thing. That also means, as we get wiser, we course-correct when we see we did things less optimally in the past. So adapting and learning is vital to our development. And we also seek for that mindset in new Woogas, alongside the fact that they should excel in their craft and are able to leave their ego outside, ie. be real team players. Lastly, we pay special attention to ensure we have a diverse employee base. We pride ourselves in the fact that our games are translated into 30 different languages and is played all around the world. So naturally, it’s critical for us to seek for a similar kind of diversity in our own team. What I hope also helps are things like our pretty flat structure with little hierarchy, our clear vision, truly living up to our values especially our core value of Thoughtful Communications, and having meaningful benefits for our employees to fit their individual needs such as a Kita collaboration, access to coaching and free German classes for our employees and their +1s, educational budget for all employees – even if they are on long term leave and much more.
You work on a successful well-being strategy. What does this strategy entail, how is it implemented and how successful has it been so far?
The starting point for us is proactively surveying our employees every month about their well-being which allows for a genuinely data-driven approach. We can see if there is a trend in parts of the organization that indicates that well-being is in danger. If so, we can immediately jump into action and address the issue(s). Of course well-being strongly correlates to almost everything an employee acts (out) on, for instance, the higher the feeling of well-being the more collaborative one may behave instead of being competitive. It’s also a central theme in our growth strategy. Yes we want to grow but we want to do it in a way that it’s sustainable. What we mean with that is: we ask ourselves all the time how big is actually reasonable as we strive to maintain our skill level in our crafts and aspired culture while also ensuring a high quality of onboarding and integration of all new hires. It’s also important to talk about the elephant in the room: in the gaming industry less than 10% of all new-gaming-projects ever really make it. If you think about it, it really is an astonishing number. And obviously Wooga has had its fair share of failed projects. How one handles these failures can really make or break the organization, and I’m proud to be able to say that Wooga in recent years was able to deliver on its commitment of a no lay-off approach after a project is terminated – which for the gaming industry is quite uncommon. Lastly, we put a lot of care in providing assistance to Woogas to help with the physical, social and mental well-being of our team members. To name a few: yoga, various sports, mindspace and coaching sessions at the Fürstenberg Institute, and educational budgets.
Wooga specializes in story-driven casual games. Why is narrative so important to you and how do you write a story that never ends?
Well it would be amiss if I wouldn’t mention that we are not unique in that sense; story driven games these days are not a rarity in the industry or of course in other sections of the entertainment industries. But unlike songs, books, films/ TV series, games do have a unique aspect meaning that you can be put in the driver seat so to speak and that may well be why the gaming industry has become the biggest market in entertainment. At Wooga we strive to implement the story-driven aspect in a way that players feel empowered to live out her/ his/ their own story or fantasy, and continues to seek for what’s next whilst it being a joyful experience. We are also known to tell our stories through our beautiful art and flawless interaction with (mobile) devices. I’m so proud of our incredible art team that every time seems to be able to amaze with new beautiful visual designs.
In 2011, Wooga was voted Best Startup of the Decade by Gründerszene. You have come a long way since then. What would you say did help you the most as you transitioned from those humble beginnings to a company with over 300 employees nowadays?
Wooga at the time was a real German startup wonder with already 3 successful games even though it was only founded two years earlier. Obviously we were very proud to receive this accolade…As mentioned before, Wooga subsequently also went through its fair share of trouble. I think what really helped is the fact that from its foundation Wooga has always had a deep humbleness about it - though of course me humble-bragging about this specific fact right now may seem oddly contrarian. However, no, I would like to posit that at our core, it’s still very much part of our current DNA and I think that has helped us tremendously to overcome those challenging times, triggering a steep learning curve every time we needed it the most. As a maturing company, we eventually did our homework and introduced values, vision and annual strategic priorities. All this does, however, require constant investment in trust and development by the leadership. While doing that you must not forget to keep your eyes on your vision and nurture and continue to inspire creativity. But I do believe that while we do so, we must stay humble and thoughtful as we strive to inspire joy in work and play…
This news was published by GamesCapitalBerlin and can be found here.
Medienwirtschaft, Medientechnologie, Games, Film- und Fernsehwirtschaft