6 lessons all businesses should learn from the gaming world

Chris van der Kuyl

One of Scotland’s leading tech entrepreneurs, Chris is founder, owner and chairman of one of the UK’s most successful videogame developers, 4J Studios: responsible for the multi-million selling and multi-award winning Minecraft Console editions. Minecraft is a global phenomenon and is currently on track to become the most successful videogame of all time. Chris is also the founding Chairman of Entrepreneurial Scotland (ES), which exists to inspire, connect and develop Entrepreneurial behaviour in all Scotland’s People.
We met with Chris to learn how technology is constantly shaping the future of brands and why businesses should be learning from the gaming world.

Chris Van Der Kuyl Boss to Boss Interview Profile Photo

1. Realise that you’re in a technology business.

The gaming world has long been dominated by technology, but the truth is that there aren’t any markets now that are untouched by tech. And if companies believe they’re the exception then they probably won’t be in business for long!

Technology has never moved this fast before and yet will never be this slow again. That’s something that all business people should keep at the front of their minds.

Technology has never moved this fast before and yet will never be this slow again

2. Keep it lean. Keep it agile.

In the gaming world, it’s all about rapid iteration. You have an idea, you test it with a number of people and iterate quickly. The moment your game stops evolving is the moment it loses ground on the competition.

Nowadays it’s got to be the same in business. None of us know exactly what will work and what won’t, so all you can do is move quickly and react to the data. Some industries have always done this, such as retail, but others have traditionally moved slowly, conducting lots of research but then sticking to their strategy no matter what. With the amount of data now available that simply isn’t good enough. You must test, learn and adapt constantly.

3. Don’t just follow the crowd.

Data is vital. It tells you precisely what’s working and what isn’t and in sufficient volumes its conclusions are irrefutable. However, that is not to say it paints the whole picture.

The trouble with data is it tells you what happened yesterday, and it’s limited to the decisions you (or your competitors) took, not the decisions you didn’t. There is always a better way of doing things and if you’re never trying new things then you’ll never find out what they are, but you can be sure your competitors will!

4. Develop a community.

In the gaming, world community has become critical to retention. We make the instruments, but it’s the bloggers and YouTubers that decide how they should be played. By giving them a free voice they provide vital information in helping us decide where to take the game next. Furthermore, they have added an entirely new dimension onto the user experience. It’s no longer just about playing games but about watching others and discussing strategy.

Understand what truly matters to that audience and develop a community around it

This phenomenon is not restricted to the gaming world. Every business in every market needs to realise that it isn’t about them but about their users, and if they can understand what truly matters to that audience and develop a community around it, their acquisition and retention rates will shift to an entirely new level.

5. Keep barriers low

In the gaming world accessibility is everything. There are so many choices out there that you have to make it really easy for people to start engaging with your product. I’m always wary of any game that doesn’t allow you to see it before you’ve paid.

Again, the same applies in business. Whether it’s sharing content or offering free trials, you have to be willing to keep initial barriers low or users will simply move onto a competitor.

6. Don’t confuse size with success

When we started we took on significant investment so that we could grow quickly. However, in 2003 those investors decided they wanted to realise their return and so sold to an American company. We knew it was too early but there was little that we could do. Less than 12 months later the American company went under and the journey was over.

When we started again we knew we had to adopt a different strategy. We decided against taking investment and instead focused on making great games and growing in an organic but profitable way. This ensured we wouldn’t be forced into making bad decisions for the wrong reasons.

Through technology, even the smallest brands can change the world

What it has taught me is that being small doesn’t have to be a barrier to achieving enormous commercial success in gaming, and it’s the same in any sector. As the world becomes increasingly digitised, it’s better to have a small team doing remarkable work than a huge team doing mediocre work. Through technology, even the smallest brands can change the world.