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How “Groupthink” Can Be Harming Your Gaming Studio’s Growth

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon where individuals aim for agreement amongst a group, often setting aside their personal beliefs to conform to the group's views. Social psychologist Irving L. Janis first spoke about this phenomenon in 1972.

Individuals who disagree with the majority may choose to remain silent, valuing harmony over causing disruption in the group's consensus & in the company overall. This phenomenon can lead to issues, as even those with good intentions can make unreasonable decisions when faced with significant pressure from others in the group, especially from leaders or more senior team members.

This phenomenon might impact all functions & teams in a gaming studio but we will discuss how it particularly comes in the way of having an optimal growth strategy & operations for your games.

Firstly one must understand what makes a good UA manager in terms of skills. Because of the nature of the job, technical or hard UA skills are really not enough: the best UA managers also have great soft skills and most importantly strong UA critical thinking skills. This topic deserves a separate blog post! (coming soon)


How does groupthink negatively affect your games' growth?


1.  Reduced Innovation & Testing

It’s very easy to get stuck in the status quo, especially if things are going ok. The team routinely follows the same patterns and avoids “rocking the boat”. If someone in the team doesn’t come up and say “it would be a good idea to test this or that” or “to try doing things differently like this” or “to analyze this”, the UA activity will become stagnant.

2.  Poor Problem-Solving

When groupthink prevails, problem-solving suffers because potential solutions are not thoroughly debated or considered. Many times, issues that arise require out of the box thinking to be solved. We might be faced with issues like: tracking not working, drop in ROAS performance, sudden increase in CPIs, sudden drop in spend etc… All these issues require robust problem-solving skills & for teams to think outside of the box, especially if it is issues that are faced for the first time.

3.  Inefficient Budget Management

It would surprise you to see how many teams do not actually efficiently manage their budgets. For instance, a UA manager influenced by groupthink may continue to allocate budgets towards channels or strategies that are familiar and historically used rather than being super flexible month on month with the budget management. An example: Meta was our top performer last year. This year it’s Google, but we continue to allocate a bigger percentage of spend to Meta because this is what has been done historically and no one has really rocked the status quo.

Another phenomenon that happens too often is keeping an underperforming UA channel for longer than it needs to be, just because it’s been live for a long time. A good UA manager would stand up and voice their opinion to argue that based on the data, the studio should shift their budgets elsewhere to make spend more efficient.

4.  Reduced Risk & Poor Risk-Management

Every test or campaign in user acquisition carries a certain level of risk. A UA manager's fear of deviating from the norm can prevent them from suggesting or supporting strategies that could yield high rewards. This risk aversion can lead to missed opportunities in the rapidly evolving gaming industry.

5.  Echo Chamber Effect & Confirmation Bias

 In a groupthink situation, there might be a lack of diverse thoughts and opinions, leading to decisions based on consensus rather than data-driven insights. Groupthink can also lead to confirmation bias, where a manager might only acknowledge or give weight to information that confirms the group's existing beliefs or strategies, ignoring insights that suggest a need for a change in approach. For example, focusing on certain metrics that validate the group’s existing strategies, while neglecting other key performance indicators that might suggest a need for a different strategy.


6.  Lack of Creativity & New Ideas in UA Assets

When groupthink is prevalent, marketing teams might default to familiar designs, concepts, and messages. Of course it’s good to find “winning formulas” and iterate on those, but an efficient creative strategy also has room for testing out of the box concepts & strategies.

Another negative effect of groupthink, is that individuals may feel pressured to conform and withhold unique insights or critiques on creatives that could lead to more effective marketing assets.

A UA manager should really voice their opinion in terms of what they think could work or not based on experience, without fearing rocking the status quo with the designers & creative teams. I’ve personally been in many situations whereby there were strong clashes in opinions between the teams regarding creatives in brainstorm meetings. These different opinions can lead to fruitful conversations with the aim of ultimately producing the best possible UA assets. Groupthink comes in the way of that.


What are efficient ways to combat the negative effects of groupthink?


1.  Leadership Awareness & Promoting Diverse Perspectives

Managers should consciously avoid expressing strong opinions early in the discussion to prevent undue influence on the group’s decisions. They should also foster an environment where all team members feel safe to express their opinions and concerns without fear of criticism or marginalization in an open dialogue.

2.  Assign a Devil’s Advocate

A cool idea would be to designate one or more group members to take on the role of the “devil’s advocate”, challenging ideas and assumptions, helping to prevent premature consensus, to make sure every idea is debated thoroughly.

3.  Encourage Critical Thinking

Training in critical thinking and problem-solving can empower individuals to analyze and critique ideas more effectively.

A very important part of the training I do for junior UA managers is to help them develop their UA critical thinking skills: while learning the UA hard skills, I persistently encourage them to think and find solutions & plans of action by themselves, in a guided way of course, bouncing their ideas off of me while I give them feedback on them.

In the course of their training, I also consistently highlight and illustrate why & how important it is to always voice their opinion & recommendations within the broader company. Critical thinking should be cultivated in order to combat groupthink.


4.  Question & Review Decisions, Processes & KPIs Systematically

Regularly assess decisions, current processes, strategies, and way of doing things by aiming to always improve them. Teams & leaders that think that they are already doing something really well and there is no need to find ways to improve things (I’ve heard this before) have lost the game in this fast paced industry! There is always room for improvement. “Successful leaders in volatile environments spend less time relying on what they already know, and proportionally more time on exploring new concepts and ideas.” (IMD)

When was the last time you re-calibrated your ROAS goals? It is a process that needs to be done systematically. I have seen studios go quarters without re-adjusting their ROAS goals based on recent data & product KPI changes.


5.  Seek External Opinions & Expertise


The growth leaders I admire the most in the industry are the ones that are open to admitting that “we have a pretty good team, but there might be things that we don’t know or that we are not doing.”

One of the most effective ways to combat groupthink is to bring in outside experts to provide feedback and challenge the group’s ideas, processes & way of doing things.

It’s a role I take on many times: Studios hire me to either audit their UA operations or give them feedback and help them build internal processes. Such a process I very often help with is the full creative process.

The biggest and most successful studios, actually know that even the smallest percentage improvement in efficiency & effectiveness can have a big impact on bottom line revenue and this is why they don’t shy away from asking for external expert help, even if it is just to get some validation that they are doing something right. I once audited the Meta & Google activity of one of the biggest European gaming studios, and the head of growth told me “If you don’t find any recommendations to give us, even better, it means that we are doing things right!”. I did however find a few things 😊



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