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Creative Strategy

Creative Strategy

With Skylanders: Swap Force, veteran video game studio Vicarious Visions took on its most complex, challenging, and creative product to date. How co-founders Guha and Karthik Bala used the MIT Executive MBA program to steer their company to massive critical and commercial success.

Guha and Karthik Bala entered the MIT Executive MBA program in the fall of 2011, just as Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was hitting shelves.

Spyro’s Adventure, a video game in which players use toys to connect with the game, was a smash among children ages 6-12. The brothers’ video game studio, Vicarious Visions, collaborated with Skylanders’ creators to develop the game for the Nintendo 3DS.

Vicarious Visions’ parent company, Activision, followed up with a sequel in 2012. And Vicarious Visions led the series’ 2013 release, Skylanders: Swap Force. Earlier this year, Activision announced the Skylanders franchise had earned $2 billion and sold more than 175 million toys.

All the while, the Bala brothers were traveling back and forth from their upstate New York offices to Cambridge for the MIT Executive MBA program. There, they developed a cohort of peers and faculty as well as the business and leadership acumen they needed to build on Skylanders’ incredible success.

“For me, it was this notion that I’m getting really good at what I know, but is that all I should be thinking about?” Guha Bala says. “We set a mission for ourselves. It’s about becoming a great entertainment company by shaping popular culture through games. And to be able to reshape popular culture requires a much greater awareness than just the creative product. How do you think about the creative idea, but also your organization and the firm relative to the industry and relative to the world as well? For me, it was clear that I didn’t have that perspective yet.”

The 20-month MIT Executive MBA program is designed for mid-career executives at pivotal junctures in their careers. Students visit MIT every third Friday and Saturday and for four weeklong modules. The curriculum runs the gamut from applied economics to competitive strategy to operations management, negotiations, and system dynamics. There are two Action Learning projects: Operations Lab (O-Lab), in which students use their new skills and knowledge to undertake change at their organizations; and Global Organizations Lab (GO-Lab), in which teams of students advise a global firm on a challenging project or decision.

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