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Living Bungie's Values as Engineers

Company values are a funny thing—they can so easily feel like insincere marketing, or wishful thinking of company leadership, or simply a list of generic positive attributes that any company might endorse—a thesaurus-check away from the Scout Law. In my experience, it’s rare for a company’s values to tell you something insightful about the company itself, and similarly rare for the values to have significant and sustained influence on how employees operate.

In that context, I’m pretty proud of Bungie’s Values. I think they stake out meaningful positions and they’ve felt continuously relevant since we adopted them back in July of 2016. We haven’t always lived up to them, but they’ve consistently felt like aspirational ideals worth striving towards.   

Let’s recap those values real quick:
  • Teams are Stronger Than Heroes: World-class people, world-class teams. We hold ourselves and each other to the highest standard of mutual respect, inclusivity, and support, knowing that teams whose members speak their mind and take risks will accomplish what no individual ever could. Our wins are always team wins.
  • Player Experience First: We define success as delivering extraordinary experiences to our fans. The first job of everyone in the studio is to know how their work brings joy to our community, and to never get lost in the narrow perspective of their own craft.
  • Strong Ideas, Loosely Held: We know our first idea will never be our best. Constant improvement means setting egos aside, sharing ideas early and often, and offering constructive feedback with open hearts and minds.
  • Closing is an Everyday Practice: At Bungie, closing means selecting an achievable, short-term goal and finishing it. Set realistic goals, break big ideas into smaller ones, and make progress every day in the service of our vision.
  • Widen Your Perspective: Everyone should feel welcome in our studio and in our games. So we work hard to recognize our unconscious biases, amplify underrepresented voices, question the status quo, and to always assume the best of one another.
  • Keep it Fun: A team that enjoys working together is unstoppable. So be yourself, have a life outside of work, and enjoy the people around you for doing the same.
  • Put a Dent in the Universe: We believe that everything worth doing is hard. When we see an opportunity to change the world, we’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and break convention to make it happen. 

Standing here in 2022, I still regularly hear Bungie folks organically reference these values, and I think it’s because they’re both inspiring and useful. The counterpoints aren’t trivially wrong, which makes them interesting statements. You could invert most of these and still make good games, but with a very different culture. These principles help us consistently make choices that evolve our culture towards what we want to live in.

That said, by necessity, these values are pretty high level—they have to apply across every project, group, and discipline at Bungie. As engineers, we encounter many decisions and situations that aren’t really covered. There’s fresh urgency to this challenge because we’re growing fast and we’re going digital-first. When someone starts at Bungie, we can’t rely on 95 percent of their interactions being with people who’ve been here a long time, and we can’t rely on the thousand casual in-person interactions that used to happen in their first year.

The natural osmosis of culture has been compromised, so we need to get better at intentionally integrating people into our culture—at reliably helping everyone get to that shared baseline where they move beyond fitting in and start to feel like they belong. Where they move beyond learning Bungie culture and start helping us grow it. To do that, we need to be able to describe our culture with fresh clarity. Of course, documents don’t make a culture, people do—but we all need to know what we’re working towards.

To tackle that challenge, over the last few months we built a v1 of an Engineering Values Handbook to describe how we want to live Bungie's Values as engineers.

Over the next few Tech Blog posts, we’d like to share that handbook with you. We hope it’s an interesting view into our culture, and into some choices you might consider if you’re evolving your own culture. 

Before we dive in, let’s peek at a few disclaimers together:
  • Going back to the “values as insincere marketing” risk we talked about earlier, our handbook is intended to be 75 percent “reflection of where Bungie engineering is today,” and 25 percent “aspirational ideals we strive towards, helping us get better year after year.”  We don’t always live this way, but we’re trying.
  • To keep our handbook more readable and focused on the interesting bits, we've tried not to adopt too many inline disclaimers like “try,” "generally," "where reasonable," or "except in emergencies."  Please accept this general disclaimer instead: as with coding guidelines, we believe there are sensible exceptions to most best-practices and we trust our people to work those out together.
  • We’re trying to avoid polishing these too hard. Like our culture, our handbook isn’t final, and it never will be. Our hope is that, like the Bungie Values themselves, our handbook will help us consistently make choices that evolve our culture towards what we want to live in.

Sound good? Please come enjoy the first post with us: Teams are Stronger than Heroes.

-- David Aldridge, Head of Engineering


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