As direct-to-consumer vice president, Michael Lewis’s job description is a tall order. He’s in charge of delivering quality gaming products to consumers and encouraging engineers to experiment with new code. He also plays a key role in major marketing and hiring decisions.
What’s not in the job description but just as important? Developing intentional company culture.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to build our direct-to-consumer team from the ground up, starting as the D2C team’s first employee,” Lewis said. “Take-Two Interactive is a very empowering place for leaders, as our leadership doesn’t push homogeneity. That gave me a lot of freedom to define our team’s culture and structure.”
WHAT DOES TAKE-TWO DO?
Take-Two is a gaming developer responsible for iconic series such as “Grand Theft Auto,” “Red Dead Redemption” and “NBA 2K” — and is one of the world’s largest publicly traded interactive entertainment companies. “I lead the direct-to-consumer team at Take-Two, which means I’m responsible for running engineering, operations, marketing and monetization,” Lewis said. “Our team creates ways to help players discover and purchase our content, and we also build out central systems like friends, chat and identity.”
As a seasoned leader with more than 20 years of product development and marketing experience, Lewis understands the weight of his current role — and why maintaining a hands-on approach to company culture is essential to his team’s success.
“We worked closely with our recruiting and HR teams to put together an interview process that helped us get at our cultural values once we had established them,” he said. “This was key in helping us grow from five people to 60 with very high retention.”
The D2C team’s project list might look different after acquiring mobile gaming developer Zynga for more than $12 billion in January of 2022, but the excitement and possibility feel the same as day one. As Take-Two marches into 2023 as one of the gaming industry’s leading innovators, Lewis has big plans on the horizon — both for users, and his team.
“We’re focused on hiring, investing in automation, and defining how we build and integrate features to make these integrations repeatable,” he added. “We’re also investing in partner engineering to make it easy for our partners to integrate. It’s an exciting time to be at Take-Two.”
What’s your vision for leading your team?
We have two main focuses as a team. First, we help our labels by creating the best experiences for purchasing our content. Second, we want to make it as easy as possible to develop large, cross-platform games so that our gamers can easily find and play with friends.
How do you build team culture?
When our team was still just three or four people, we started defining our cultural pillars. I wanted a small set of pillars and I wanted them to be specific. You only have a cultural pillar if you can say the opposite and have that be a viable strategy. For example, “act with integrity” is not a pillar — no one is going to set “act without integrity” as a pillar.
TAKE-TWO’S DIRECT TO CONSUMER TEAM’S CULTURAL PILLARS
- Experiment to decide: An experiment can be as simple as building a low-fidelity version of an initiative, launching it and seeing how customers react. We have embraced this, and tried out several initiatives that we quickly killed. You need to invest in it, and get the whole team comfortable with projects getting killed.
- Iteration over excessive planning: Planning is important, especially as we’re routinely creating major launches and supporting millions of players, but a plan isn’t usually great if you haven’t done something like it before. We always try to split things into small releases, get them out, and then keep iterating.
- Working software over presentations: If you let it, PowerPoint will take over your whole culture where it’s all about what’s in slides, and teams spend all day presenting up the chain. We focus on making sites and features that are integrated in games, and will only really make presentations about the actual status when it’s the best way of describing it.
- Automate and invest in tooling: In our line of work, repeatability is critical. We sell thousands of products across our stores, so we’ve invested in processes and tools to automate everything. We also hold retrospective meetings after launches, and before major launches, to record what went well, what went wrong and to come up with recommendations on how to improve repeatability and automation.
These ladder into Take-Two’s core tenets, which are to be the most innovative, creative, and efficient entertainment company.
How do you help your team grow their careers? What tools and support do you offer to allow them to stretch their skills?
It starts with a career progression matrix, regular one-on-ones and a biannual review cycle. This makes clear expectations by level and role, creates a regular check-in process between managers and employees, and gives employees more systemic feedback at regular intervals. I also like to check in regularly with folks on the team at many levels in order to give more direct feedback. Our team is continuing to grow quickly, so understanding when team members are looking for additional support or responsibility is key.
You need employees to be self-directed about what learning and skill-stretching opportunities they want. Whole team trainings are usually not that helpful because individuals are at such different places. We have a corporate subscription to LinkedIn Learning which I’ve found incredibly helpful, and many folks on the team use. We also encourage the team to find additional training resources that appeal to them, and our teams have been generous with approving those requests, including more specialized resources like Frontend Masters, or in-person training and events like AWS re:Invent.
“Our team is continuing to grow quickly, so understanding when team members are looking for additional support or responsibility is key.”
What are you most excited about accomplishing with your team in the next year?
There are two major focuses for next year. Last year, Take-Two acquired Zynga for $12.7 billion in one of the largest acquisitions in gaming history. My top priority is ensuring that we’re successful in onboarding Zynga and delivering a series of successful launches with their titles.
My next priority is ensuring we’re successful in integrating the social services we’ve spent the last few years developing. As we announced previously, we have 87 games in active development and launching in the next few years. Most of these titles are incorporating features from our platform, so we need to support these launches and have them go well. I anticipate that our main challenge will be scaling the team to be able to tackle these challenges without missing a beat.