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Talking Shop: DeNA's Head of Culture and Communication

We chat with DeNA's Sarah Fuchs about what it takes to build a great corporate culture

Every Wednesday and Friday, GamesIndustry International sits down with another member of the industry to talk about what they do. Today, we're talking to DeNA Head of Culture & Communication Sarah Fuchs! Fuchs makes sure the employees within DeNA remain a strong, cohesive family. She is a twelve-year veteran in the industry, having previously served as a producer before taking on her current responsibilities.

Sarah Fuchs is all about bringing people within DeNA together. She builds within the company a space where "every employee feels happy, engaged and proud to work for DeNA every day." Making DeNA's corporate culture sing is her remit, one she takes seriously.

"Culture is not something that can be forced. Culture is something that evolves based on the people and the environment. It's my job to cultivate, stimulate and nurture what already exists," she said. "We spend the majority of our waking hours at work. It's crucial that we work with people that we like and respect; with whom we have a sense of camaraderie and trust. People who like each other are more comfortable volunteering ideas and helping each other become successful."

Before landing at DeNA, Fuchs spent a long time as a producer on various projects at Electronic Arts and EA Maxis, in addition to a short stint in public relations. She believes her previous work prepared her for her current position: helping DeNA employees communicate with one another.

"It gives me context," Fuchs explained. "I know what it's like to be in the trenches trying to ship a game. I've experienced crunch time. I understand all of the facets of game development and pouring your heart into your project. Because I've experienced these aspects of game development, I'm able to relate to the people that are doing it at DeNA."

Fuchs takes the time to have one-on-one conversations with all employees.

Fuchs said she spends her average day "speaking to as many people as I possibly can." This communication takes the form of formal one-on-one conversations, simple meetings in the kitchen, or even quick chats to make sure employees are happy and fulfilled. She also is the brains behind a number of DeNA initiatives to foster a deeper corporate culture.

"When I'm not [speaking with employees], I'm working with the other person in my culture team to coordinate our internal employee magazine called 'DeNA Dig' and trying to improve our communication habits with social experiments like 'meeting-free Thursdays'. I also spend time planning celebratory events for key game milestones. I try to encourage team bonding whenever possible, including fun events like 'Pi Day'. On March 14 employees brought in their favorite pies, including our CEO Clive Downie who this year shared his famous 'Very Berry' pie," she said.

"DeNA hosts monthly company All Hands Meetings where we introduce new hires and rally the entire San Francisco office to share accomplishments and celebrate each other's hard work," she added. "Additionally, we try to have happy hours as often as we can to encourage socializing among employees, including regular Whiskey Social events. We place great importance on our company qualities, which are our global, cultural standards that are the foundation of our business."

One of DeNA's Whiskey Socials.

Fuchs works hard to ensure that employees have a way to not only speak with each other, but also DeNA's management. She is committed to personal one-on-one meetings "with every employee every quarter" and tries to have executives meet with employees on a regular basis.

"I want to give them a forum to bring up anything that's on their minds. I want to make sure they understand that their thoughts and feelings are important and the company is hearing them. These conversations can act as a catalyst for management and executive team conversations with employees," she said. "The executive team is also particularly committed to making sure that employees have access to them. Our CEO has regular lunches and one-on-one's with employees."

Building DeNA's company culture also involves significant community outreach.

"I also focus on ways DeNA can help the community at large. This is incredibly important to me. Since I've taken on this role we've planned a company community service day, we've become part of a mentorship program that focuses on improving the lives of at-risk junior high school students, and we partnered with Charity:Water, an organization that provides clean drinking water to those without. I am always trying to come up with ways for DeNA to give back," Fuchs said.

"I won't say that people at DeNA don't work long hours; we work hard and we play hard."

The video game industry has long struggled with employees having a poor work-life balance, especially on the production side. Fuchs said correcting this issue is one of her top priorities.

"Throughout my time in the industry I've definitely struggled with work-life balance. I won't say that people at DeNA don't work long hours; we work hard and we play hard," she said. "DeNA believes in commitment. Commitment doesn't mean face time and it doesn't mean working 24/7. For DeNA, commitment is hitting your goals and your deadlines and consistently delivering your best work."

"For me, it is also about learning to set boundaries and sticking to them. I have two small children and need to leave at 5:00 pm every day. DeNA respects that. Well-rested, happy people produce better work. I strongly encourage people at DeNA to set work-life boundaries and stick to them."

In addition to the work-life balance, managing stress is also a large part of keeping employees healthy. DeNA provides a number of company perks to lower stress within its employees.

"We have some valuable tools at our disposal; we have yoga classes, a relaxation room with couches, and a game room. We encourage people to take breaks and socialize. It's good for creativity," Fuchs told us. "We are also extremely lucky in that we have a beautiful building right next to the Giants' Ballpark overlooking the Bay. Just looking out the window can be a stress reliever. We also have spontaneous dart wars and a few kegs placed in strategic locations around the office. Additionally, we ensure that developers are well-fed with healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, along with a well-stocked snacks and drinks area."

Many of the tools used to build DeNA culture have originated within the company, like an internal Wiki and an organization chart. Other initiatives include employee-led classes and seminars to distribute information and expertise.

"We have an internal company tool that a group of people created during our last Make-a-Thon called Connectus. It's basically a photo directory/organization chart that has personal contact information for each employee. It's great to be able to look people up. We also have an internal Wiki that the culture team maintains with videos of our important meetings, links to key documents, and more," Fuchs said.

"This is my dream job - I get paid to make people happy every day."

"We have a great program called 'Get Schooled,' where we get employees together to teach each other different aspects of the business," she added. "We find subject matter experts from within DeNA and then we host lunches where they share their expertise with the rest of the office. We've had Get Schooled lunches covering game post-mortems, insights on analytics, and an intro to Investor Relations, among other topics. We are always looking for ways to share our collective knowledge. This is a unique part of DeNA's culture and it encourages learning across departments."

When asked how she would repeat her journey to her current career, Fuchs said she wouldn't change a thing. Her past experience prepared her for bringing DeNA's people together.

"All of the experience I gained from doing public relations and making games has shaped who I am and how I do my job," she explained. "It's given me a strength and backbone to make tough decisions and fight for what's important. I'm lucky enough to know how it feels to be part of a game team creating something amazing and experiencing the highs and lows that go with it. Over the years I've worked with so many incredible people and for me, it's always been about the people. I love working with people. I love getting to know them. I love understanding what inspires them and helping them solve problems. This is my dream job - I get paid to make people happy every day."

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Mike Williams avatar
Mike Williams: M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.
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