By Chris Kenji Beer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Chris Lee is our first candidate for the 2016 Asian Technology and Innovation 40 and Under award category.
There are a number of noteworthy innovations going on at En Masse Entertainment. It is no secret in the gaming world that Japan and South Korea are far and away the world’s best and most innovative countries for gaming. As the “largest independently Asian-owned games studio in the U.S.,” En Masse was recently rated in the top third of all games studios in the country by Develop 100’s Annual Studio Hot List.
Lee and his associates decided to locate their company’s headquarters in Seattle —America’s number one gaming city, according to a Gamasutra report and Sperling’s BestPlaces. When you walk into En Masse offices toward the top of the Russell Investments Center skyscraper in downtown Seattle, you notice there are no corner offices that set apart the management or executive team. In Japan and South Korea, this may be standard. But in the United States, it is quite unusual, even for the tech industry known to be more open, level, and innovative with their management style, office space, and layout.
Chris Lee, the CEO, claims his desk right in the middle of a large open space of desks and computers. He comes to greet me with a resolve and curiosity.
Like so many successful entrepreneurs, Lee’s mother was a poor, hard working immigrant from South Korea. “Her life goal was to survive, find stability. I didn’t have to think so much about that,” he says.
After earning a Business Administration degree from the University of Washington, Chris knew one thing for certain. “I am passionate about games.” Chris started at the bottom of the corporate ladder as a quality assurance tester for Electronic Arts (EA) in Vancouver, B.C. “I just became immersed in my work. I thought it was amazing I could make a career out of something I loved to do,” says Lee. Among a team of developers and testers, an opportunity arose for Chris to volunteer in EA’s marketing department. He took the initiative and volunteered his time to help make the marketing project happen and was instantly recognized for his good work and initiative. This evolved into a product manager position and really was the initial impetus for launching his career into management. Finding and teaming with a good and willing mentor was also critical to Lee’s success. “I was also very lucky to have a manager at EA who took me under his wing and help me grow professionally,“ adds Lee.
In 2004, Chris joined the Halo team at Microsoft and played a role in the launch of Age of Empires and Forts. Then, he project managed the launch of Gotham Racing and Halo Wars, all prominent Microsoft Xbox titles. His career at Microsoft peaked when he became group product manager of Halo 3.
Around that time in 2009, Blue Hole, a South Korean games studio holding company, created En Masse Entertainment initially to bring Tera to America, the popular MMO (massively multiplayer online) game.
Tera was the first game published by En Masse. The company published it in the United States in 2012 after launching first in South Korea and Japan a year earlier. Given Chris’ reputation for building strong business and development teams, he was asked to run the newly formed company. “I believe in keeping your head down and working your way up in the company,” said Lee. “Take care of your own business, and the other stuff takes care of itself.”
Chris says you need “hard skills and soft skills” to succeed. “Hard skills,” Lee says, are the same as business skills —“how to use the information and technology tools, the marketing performance metrics, and building the right company support, such as customer support and administration, and strategic framework. “Soft skills are much harder to teach,” says Lee. You start by “putting yourself in the shoes of your audience.
Position the product in a way that the audience can get excited about it.” The soft skills includes feedback from the audience and your own intuition about what the audience wants or needs. Other soft skills Lee considers important is your ability to work with your peers.
Being the middle child of a large family and dealing with lots of personalities helped Lee prepare for his professional life. “I was also open to being coached. It came naturally to me,” said Lee. “In the work world, you have to be coachable, listen, and be open to advice from others.”
“I also believe in constantly improving myself. I do lots of reading outside of work.” Most recently, Lee has read and recommends “Switch,” by Chip and Dan Heath, and “The Tipping Point,” by Malcolm Gladwell. Lee encourages other young aspiring professionals to never stop learning.
Chatting with Chris, you really get a sense that he believes in the team he built. “I don’t know if I could do it without them.”
Lee’s advice to those just starting out? “Figure out what gets you the most excited,” asserts Lee. The word “passion” comes to Lee’s mind. “Figure out a way to make it match up with your professional life. There is no way you will fail if you work hard at it.”
Chris Kenji Beer can be reached at email@example.com.