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Levelling Up - Part One: How the gaming industry is approaching sustainability

Insights from Odgers Berndtson Global Gaming Practice and Chief Sustainability Officers, ESG Directors, CEOs and Chairs in Gaming.

Over the last three years, the priorities of CEOs and senior business leaders have evolved, with a radical increase in the importance placed on people, purpose, and the planet.

As a result, we have seen the emergence of Chief Sustainability Officers and whilst such appointments are typically within publicly traded organizations, there has been a surge of importance placed on sustainability-centered strategic initiatives across the entire gaming industry.

In this piece, we explore the emergence of sustainability as a function within gaming, the pros and cons of such, and how ownership structures and geographies impact both the effectiveness and the importance placed on sustainability initiatives.

Firstly, it is important to define Sustainability; this is not solely about tackling environmental impact. The UN Global Compact states that corporate sustainability starts with a company’s value system and a principles-based approach to doing business. This means operating in ways that, at a minimum, meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.

As a gaming-specific example, it is interesting to look at how Rovio interpret this through their effective approach to sustainability and we will refer to these three areas throughout this piece.

  1. Safe and Responsible Gaming (Foster safe spaces for players and focus on inclusive game design and marketing campaigns)
  2. People & Society (Creating a diverse workforce, fostering an inclusive and equitable workplace and being a force of good in society)
  3. Climate & Environment (Minimise the negative impacts on organization – and associated value chain – has on the planet and focus on raising awareness of the climate issue within the industry and with players)

Tackling sustainability at leadership level…

Whilst not yet common, the CSO role has emerged as a topic of conversation amongst board members in our sector; what is on the to-do list of a Sustainability Leader and is this a necessary and long-term position?

A CSO/Sustainability Leader is responsible for working with the CEO and board to define key strategic priorities across the aforementioned three areas of sustainability, leading on the delivery of these priorities and designing appropriate initiatives alongside functional leaders that will do so.

The role of CSO/Sustainability Leader must be that of Facilitator, Champion and Expert but that does not mean responsibility lies solely with them. Driven by just one person, the sustainability agenda is unlikely to penetrate every facet of the studio/organization or drive real meaningful change.

There is an argument to say by that logic, the responsibility should be shared amongst the executive team thus negating the need for a CSO. For those within CSO or Sustainability Director roles currently, that is the future they envision; as sustainability literacy and understanding evolves, they are encouraging dialogue on the requirement and value of their role.

However, at this stage in the industry’s maturity and evolution, it is felt by many that without a CSO on the operating board or a Sustainability leader at minus one level, such responsibilities often default to the CHRO/Chief People Officer. Whilst this can be effective for leading on internal EDI initiatives, sustainability needs to be baked into the game-making, not just internal policies or corporate reporting.

Having a designated Sustainability leader means that person can span across Design, Product, Marketing, HR, Finance and facilitate change across all of the aforementioned three areas, with both an internal and external focus.

Whilst any member of an operating board must be literate across all functions, Sustainability is a nuanced and complex subject matter and our fundamental understanding of best practice across the Gaming industry must evolve before this can be a truly shared responsibility.

If not part of those high-level conversations then buy-in from across the executive team is critical. Lip service won’t suffice.

Summary:

Appointing a CSO:

  • Gives weight to a complex set of challenges that are not well understood by existing executives/board members and ensures the business takes note, at all levels
  • Ensures sustainability is baked into every aspect of the business operations, as the CSO has the sole focus of partnering with all functions to embed sustainability initiatives and practices – from game content to hiring policies.
  • Can take the heat off other executives/operating board members and encourage them to take less personal responsibility for driving initiatives across the three areas of Sustainability we have outlined.
  • Feels like an unnecessary luxury in smaller studios, with a primary focus of keeping the lights on and securing additional funding.

Read the next part of this global insight: Levelling up – Part 2: How gaming industry leaders can accomplish sustainability targets 


With special thanks to: Ubisoft, Rovio, Stillfront Group, MTG 

 

Odgers Berndtson supports the reduction in climate risk through its influence and work with organisations and their leaders around the world. The firm advises clients on finding board level environmental and sustainability specialists, as well as sustainability-conscious CEOs and other leaders. The firm has committed to, and set, science-based decarbonisation targets verified from the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), the global leader in driving corporate climate action through measurable targets backed by science. Read our full commitment here.

To discuss sustainability in the gaming industry or the introduction of a Sustainability leader to your studio/organisation, please contact Kathryn Spetch, Consultant, Global Gaming Practice directly or get in touch with us here. 

 

To read more on our collected insights and opinions on the subject of Sustainability in the workplace and beyond, read our Sustainability Matters here. 

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