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When the employees own the company: The soul of Rain
by Peter Wingaard Meldahl on 05/22/14 10:46:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I, Peter Meldahl, am a game designer and an entrepreneur. My company, Rain, is a small Norwegian developer. At the very end of 2013 Rain released Teslagrad, a game it took 3 years and many peoples combined effort to create.
 

Rain as a company is a bit different form what one would normally expect. We are owned by the people that work here. Not in the sense that the founders own the company, and we are all founders. No. Rain is owned by it's employees, and regular adjustments make sure that it stays that way. Think of the way Valve has created an internal structure where power over what gets done is essentially distributed, and extrapolate that to mean that everyone is also involved on the level of ownership and profits.


When we created Rain we wanted it to primarily be a place of creation. Essentially a framework for our own artistic endeavors. We also wanted it to be a place that lasted. But: Build into the base structure of any commercial company is profit and ownership. We knew several others that had set out with similar goals. Often there would be a number of founders, and shares would be divided equally between them. Then some people would join after a while, and some of the initial founders would fall off. Retaining ownership, but essentially become “Dead Weight” in all other senses.


A few years down the lines and a special hierarchy forms. Founders both currently inside and outside the company at the top, together with a few investors with purely financial motives at the very top, and the core of the actual creation of worth in the company being completely disconnected from controlling their own fate. We did not want this for Rain.


Over the years we have indeed lost half our original founders out of the company. We have also gotten in new talented people that today do some of our very best and most important work. And we're still a young company! In a typical company structure I think this could have been devastating. Instead ownership has moved on to the new initiative in the company.


In the end it is a blend of the Indie spirit of agency and the Norwegian spirit that comes together to motivate us. In Norway charity donations is way less common than for example in the US, instead we come together around charity work, or “Dugnad” as we call it. A group of people come together to create something for the common good, be it an organization, a soup kitchen for the homeless or a neighborhood playground. This is so normal that for every one Norwegian of any age, there is an average of 2 memberships in such groups. This helps us get the mindset where we create something in such a way that might not be the most beneficial for it's creators, but rather shaping it to be the best it can be on it's own terms. In today's capitalistic world this might be a strange thought.


Since we started up, several new Norwegian companies have popped up too. It seems we are as a nation are joining the Scandinavian Indie wave that is already going strong in Sweden and Denmark. Since Rain is already a bit established I have been asked for advice from many of the new start ups, and it warms my heart to see that several of them like our model enough to want to emulate it.


We have come to believe that to retain some ownership in what you create and to have agency over your own fate trough having a voice in the fate of the collective you are part of is in itself a great motivator. For myself it has made the task of juggling the needs of my employees and coworkers against the need of our owners very simple.


I am the CEO of Rain Games, and I have been from the start. I work for the company, and thus ultimately for my own employees. Every year at the general assembly Rain chooses it's own leadership. I am honored that I have so far always been elected to lead the way. For many it would probably seem absurd to create a company from where you could ultimately be fired, and where were that to happen your ownership would also be reduced. But I get to work for the people that truly matter in the company, and I would not want to work for anyone else.


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