Women’s history month celebrates women’s vital role in making history, including in the gaming industry. Historically a male-dominated field, women have impacted the industry as founders, esports athletes, developers, content creators, and analysts. Inclusivity has been growing as a prominent issue in the gaming industry. In this article, we highlight Lisa’s endeavor in leading Niko Partners over the last two decades.
Prior to founding Niko Partners, what lead you into researching the Asian games industry?
LH: Researching the Asian games industry was not what I planned to do, it just happened as a surprise. I was always fascinated with global issues—especially Asia—and understanding people from everywhere. I have a personal motto which is “peace through intercultural understanding.” In graduate school, I focused on US-Japan economic competitiveness and moved to Tokyo to learn about it directly from the Japanese. I was working in a Japanese securities company where I was the only female foreigner out of 1,200 employees, I was given a task to do research on small cap Japanese stocks for international investors. I switched from investment research to market research and worked at IDC when I moved back to California. There, I was assigned to the Asia Pacific group and learned a lot about technology companies in Asia. Then, I worked for Viant as a Lead Strategist—it was a company that was building everybody’s websites when internet was started happening.
In 2002, I founded Niko Partners and I thought Niko was going to help multimedia software companies expand internationally. Right after the dot-com bubble burst, video game companies gained a lot of capital. However, they really did not get Asia – specifically China — at all. The absence of Chinese game industry market research at that time encouraged me to use my skills and help these game companies to understand China. So, I gathered a team that I met through networking around the world, assigned the tasks, and we wrote the first-ever China’s video game industry in English. Many firms purchased it. In fact, I went to the GDC conference in 2003 and I tried to set up a meeting with middleware companies and they helped to sell the reports and they are interested in buying the updates for the next year. And 20 years later, we cover far more than China and beyond PC gaming. We’ve had a lot of growth, but it started with that one idea.
You are a female founder in a male-dominated industry, how did that affect the way you founded and grew Niko Partners?
LH: I believe for every individual, regardless of gender, you have to be your authentic self. If you are a smart woman, just be yourself—everybody wants to talk to you. I think nothing is more powerful in this world than a smart woman. If we aspire to be smart, productive, resourceful, loving people then we will all succeed. In the video gaming industry, I have something to offer because we had information about China and later about other countries too. Most people that I was talking to in the US or foreign companies in Asian conferences did not have this information. They needed what Niko Partners knew. If you have something that people need and you can have a conversation, everyone will talk to you. This is just like trade between countries.
Being the most prominent market intelligence firm covering Asian game industry, what differentiates Niko Partners compared to other firms?
LH: I think what differentiates us is that we have a lot of local expertise, and we have a global perspective to help companies understand that local level. Even if they have local offices in the countries that we covered—or they might have even headquartered there, it is not the main job of their company. Therefore, we help them to do the market research. What is good about doing it outside the client company is that we can be very objective.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in the 20 years of Niko’s existence?
LH: One of our biggest challenges is that we are a small company spread out in so many countries. But it is also one of our biggest advantages. As the President of the company, my biggest challenge is creating a cohesive company without having everybody in the same office together. Then, we have had challenges that are out of our control, like if the economy collapses. But those times we still keep our head down and write our research reports and do our custom projects. Niko Partners has been in business longer than Tencent Games, but they have thousands of employees and make billions of dollars. Sometimes I look at their huge scale and I feel like I have not accomplished much! So, another challenge is keeping my perspective – and having people in Niko Partners keep their perspective – to remember that we are doing great things and a lot of huge companies depend on us.
How did you overcome those challenges?
LH: The video games industry is always fun and interesting. So, people are always interested in doing their job. But to overcome the challenges, it takes a lot of discipline, it takes a lot of sticking to schedule and being on time. If we depend on each other and one person is late, then everybody is late. So being on time and being disciplined and sticking to plan and using technology tools and making sure the team is happy and productive, this enables us to keep going and growing.
You are running Niko Partners with people from vastly different backgrounds, what do you do in order to build a sense of belonging within the team?
LH: I think it is just the art of conversation, discussion and exchanging ideas. I love that the team is from different cultures, nationalities, religions, genders, and ethnicities. I feel like we are like a mini–United Nations because we have so many different people representing their countries, and everybody is doing great work because we are working together.
What are the advantages of a global, multicultural team?
LH: The advantages are that we can cover lots of different markets with a small team and share ideas. My strategy of building a company to even help with economic peace through intercultural understanding stems from having people who understand all these different markets. That is the basis of Niko. For me, the more I realize that I know the more I realize how much left there is to know. So, when referring to me as an expert in the Asia video games industry, I might know more than some people but there is so much more to know.
What advice would you like to give for women and girls who are aspiring to thrive in the gaming industry?
LH: For all the young women who started business in the game industry, I would say show the world your strength. If you are a great artist, do your art. If you are a great strategic thinker, do your strategic thinking. If you are good at doing market research and data collection, do that. But everybody needs to be humble and realize that they have to start at the low level—everybody has to start at the low level. That is just how life is. Everybody should be patient and work really hard and all of a sudden, your natural strength will emerge, and you become indispensable.
Lisa Cosmas Hanson started Niko Partners from with simple idea to help various companies and entities to understand a market that at the time was rarely scrutinized. And for 20 years, Lisa has run Niko Partners for 20 years with her motto in mind—peace through intercultural understanding.
Author: Salsabila Aziziah, junior analyst, Niko Partners