Blog – What do I even do as a game producer?
In previous article “How to be a great producer” I realized I mentioned how to be a great producer but what if you don´t know what a game producer do? Originally I was going to continue from where I left off but I think it is important to share the theory behind what a game producer does, right? I will give you some examples of what I do and share some other information.
As a Video Game Producer there are several obstacles that need to be passed and we also need a wide knowledge, skill and experience to get our job done. Obviously not everything is the same for everyone or that everyone experience the same things. I will try and explain some of the most important roles I have at FatCow Games.
A producer job isn´t all about task management and sitting alone in the office, no. I also need to help out with finishing the game or reducing the teams work. The producer is like oil and the team is the car, without the oil the car won´t drive and without the car the oil has no purpose. Which means what? Both are important for reaching the end goal! It can be as trivial as making Tea, so the team doesn´´t have worry about trivial matters thus focusing on game development. Another part of the contribution is what decoration I want to put in the office!
As the producer I have to make a lot of decisions and sometimes it is just about the process of making a choice, other times it is just the decision that needs to be made even if it is wrong. Making great decisions as a great producer requires skills such as finding all the relevant information, asking for help and advice, giving myself deadlines on when things need to be done and so on. Like mentioned in previous blog “How to be a great producer”, the longer I take the more negatively it affects the team. I am not perfect so obviously some decisions can be wrong and have to be re-done. It can be as trivial as should the Angry Birds decoration be placed like this….or maybe….perhaps….
Then there is the meetings with people that only care about money, this is where I need to explain the budget, how much money I spent and why I need more time to complete a game. I might have to go through an analysis of profit and loss using printed out excel sheets for the specific project, sometimes I try distracting them with entertainment so they will forget why they really attended the meeting in the first place, hoping the corporate world doesn´t stop our creativity.
As a producer I also need to plan ahead several weeks, especially if I am traveling. It is a big problem if a problem arises due to lack of planning! I need to think, plan and investigate ahead of time so nothing happens, I need to catch the problem before it happens or before it is too late, at worse I need to minimize the damage. For example, if we need a publisher for a new game I need to start contacting them and negotiating for it as soon as possible. If we need certain equipment or technology I also need to secure the rights for it ahead of time. I must consider all issues that can potentially affect the development, the people and the environment.
I mean, if I know I will be away from office for a week I need to make sure the plant stays alive with minimum amount of damage to it, so I have to water it extra before I leave town so when I get back it isn´t totally yellow and about to die.
Power of Consensus
Another job of a producer is to ensure the harmonious relationship with the team, be it internally or externally and wherever! When I make a decision now I always consult with the people involved and then decide what to do. The idea is to make people believe in the idea and choice as if it was their own, this is done by asking for recommendation and opinion. That said, making a decision that everyone agrees on is very difficult and in most cases someone is not going to be happy anyway. If everyone agrees to put up posters on the wall and have a n00b corner, you are one step closer to creating a harmonious relationship!
As the producer I sometimes have to help with delivering specific things for games or content, often related to campaigns or community related things. Sometimes it can be fun and simple things to test and market a brand by working with an animator to produce an animation to build brand awareness, ensuring it is finished within a deadline. Such as FatCow Games Mascot Animation:
As mentioned in Ep 03 of Game Production vLog in our youtube channel I also have to create the outline on what we will base the game development on. I talk with the team to establish the path for finishing the game and how to approach it to best reach our goals. As mentioned in the video I also recommend creating paper prototypes while in pre-production phase.
The Super Production Plan
As the producer I would create a plan which would normally consist of tons of documents describing every possible bit and elements of the game and how we are going to finish it. It would contain the plan for areas like creation of the game, designers involved, artist and programmers. I then would present it to the team so they can see the risks, budget, features, schedule and required art assets. Do not mix a producers production plan for game design document, it is not the same thing.
I would add following pointers that I learned from elsewhere
* Why the game is fun
* The actual design document which explains the creative and artistic vision of the game, I am always involved here from start to finish and in many cases the one who writes it.
* Tech document which tells gibberish features and technical stuff, this particular document I never touch myself! To me it get too complicated so I have to ask Michael to help me here.
* Risk Plan to explain the risks to everyone and also constraints
* Numbers and stuff would be the budget requirements which explains monthly cost and general cost from new license, equipment and so on.
Game Design Document
I am originally a game designer thus I handle the game design writing myself, I later include additional support to further develop the concept into a producible, possible and fun game. I should point out that it is known that game designers who might not have an understanding or experience in game production often create complicated and crazy design document, which is why I always involve myself in game design areas to ensure it is realistic yet fun.
Below is a summary from my last email explaining to a new team member on minimum things a GDD needs to cover.
Brief description/pitch of the game?
Objective of the game?
- If the objective is simply “get as far as possible”, then state it so. If the objective is “kill X monsters within X time limit,” then that is another matter. In either case, give as much detail as possible to aid the reader in having some basis in understanding the rest of the design document as he reads on. What is the goal and why would they want to reach it?
- After starting the game, is there a title screen, what does it look like, is there an option screen, what are the choices, is there story board or animated sequences, can it be skipped if so how?
- When the game starts, we see our funny character on screen. Describe the start and what happens next. If nothing happens until the player does something, explain what the users options are and what happens as a result of all possible actions. Maybe the rocks start falling right away without the player doing anything? Maybe the character starts running without the player running? Keep in mind that most games to some extent are controlled by the user. There normally doesnt do anything on its own. Optimally when playing a game the character would do such and such an act such and such, which would cause the AI do that and that, and the player option would be X and Y.
- Explain the AI and it is often helpful to write a “walkthrough” of the game to further enhance the readers ability to visualize the game like so: You are taking a walk down the field when suddenly you hear rumbling sound, you turn around as you see a rolling gigantic rock towards you. You panic and start running…while running you jump over a bear which is trying to claw you down to the ground…the jump slowed you down a bit and you hear the rock closing in…you increase your speed and…balblalbalblal”
What is the planned interface?
What is the planned perspective (1st person vs. 3rd person)?
What is the basic interactive structure? (e.g. Chapters vs. Great Middle Section, Levels, etc.).
What is the “heart” of the gameplay? (e.g. speed, actions, style, continuous, turnbased, etc.?
How does multi-player work?
How difficult is the game?
How long will it take the average player to complete?
Characters and Monsters – Explain their personality and what they are capable of doing, how they function and work in the game along with who the player plays.
World – Explain how the world is, where it is and how it looks and feels.
Controls – Describe the user interface
Describe on game interface – Typical health bar, action button, point bar and so on
Describe all menus in detail by building the structure and explaining it in detail.
Onscreen text – Please explain where, how, when, what font and color the onscreen text are. At least explain how it might be…
Graphics – Explain and show general graphic and style
On Screen user interface – Provide sketches of the interface and use what we call “callouts” to point out what is what, even though it is obvious it is a health bar you would normally write “Health Bar” and point an arrow etc.
Art list – Art list is never in the same document but a separate art bible is created to show what arts are created, needed and implemented. Also known as asset list.
Sound and music – Give example of sound and music, find reference if you must to provide examples. Every action in the game should be provided with a sound but it also needs to be prioritized so it doesnt “overshadow” more important sounds. For example when stomping in Idyllic it gives a powerful sound but when you do normal stomp it also gives out a sound, the priority when using stomp would be to mute normal stomp so the more powerful stomp sound is activated. Makes sense? The music can be described in written form in term of style but as mentioned it is easier finding something on youtube or something.
The detailed sound, music and voice list is a separate list and will not be included in the GDD (Game Design Document).
Contract & Legal Stuff
Even though I have access to other professionals and lawyers I need to know the basic things about contract, ownership, ip, exit deals and so on. This wasn´t an issue early on but the longer you are a producer the more you get into these things.
I also have to handle branding which is basically the vision and concept behind a game and the company.
This is basically porting or upgrading the game to a new consoles, say if we were making an xbox 360 game and we know there are rumors about a new xbox next year, it is my job to plan ahead so the game is ready for the other console. I would have to contact the hardware manufacturer and get lots of information to prepare for something like this.
It is my delightful job to hook up with the press and present pre-release versions, competition and so on unless I use a PR/Market guy to reduce some of this work load such as competitions. As the producer I must continually make time for this, improve my speaking skills, presentation of my messages and show my passionate enthusiasm until death do us apart. This area is quite demanding as it requires ongoing interviews, screenshots, material, trailers and so on.
In such a small company I am also in charge of Quality Assurance and testing work for the games and products. I am in charge of finding, organizing and keeping track of the testers along with the incoming bug reports. To say the least, this is probably the most demanding, challenging and stressful part of my job which becomes fun once the team fixes the bugs and we ship the game to holy land of gold. Since I am terrible at database management we use pre existing tools to input and track bugs properly. Luckily I had an active tester for Idyllic @doomfan on twitter which probably reduced my worries A LOT!
By now you should be going “Holy Cow, you do a lot” because I am not done yet! I am also in charge of meetings in sales, buyers, marketing and pr areas to help boosting sales by providing clear vision behind the game, why it is awesome and all that. I need to clearly communicate the message to all sales channel and directly to the awesome consumers like YOU! Simply saying Fund our development to create more and better games, please buy a copy of idyllic from here has proven little results, but feel free to prove me wrong!
Since I use a per project model I am also in charge of hiring and interviewing all the talented and awesome people out there, in hope of finding a potential key team member.
Play lots of games
Although I don´t do this while at work, it is still an important part of my job and I bet a lot of game industry professionals actually play less then they did before entering the industry! But it is also my job to know the games out there, use the knowledge of what it is a fun game and transfer it to the current projects. I need to talk to designers in a designer way, articulate to artist in an artistic way and talk about features in a technical way with the programmers. Everyday I need to learn more to keep up with my team. Technically I am still in “school”.
Which is why I might as well mention knowledge and continually learning new methods, techniques and approaches. Everything is progressing quickly and I have to keep up with time to ensure my knowledge is exceptionally awesome and up to date.
I also need to manage everything that will be inside of the game, this includes all assets such as art assets like models, textures, interface, menu, cinematic and so on. When on design side I need to manage tools, designs, specifications, stories, scripts, gameplay and what not. On programming which is my weakest side I try and manage tools, functionality, pipelines and documentation but lately I am shoving that work over to Lead Programmer Michael because I am not superman. Then there is the asset management like sound, music, localization, marketing materials and so on.
I haven´t done it yet for Idyllic but I did it 4Travellers where I needed to organize and manage all languages out of the game and inside of the game using database and excel.
Everyday I have to consider where to allocate the resources to any given task and prioritize things, luckily we aren´t many and the project doesn´t last years.
For example for Idyllic I had to manage the whole process of creating the artwork for the game. I had to track art assets and categorize it as completed or ongoing. Like everything else in game production I have to re-evaluate and prioritize the art assets too.
This is another weak area of mine but luckily on Idyllic! I worked with Thomas from NorthBySound who is also a friend to me, thus he saved me a lot of headache when doing editing, sound effects and music. I also got extra help from Kadir Cakir in prototype stages and I appreciate his help too, he also did emergency sounds and animation sounds for the fatcow mascot animation video, since we are terrible in audio areas.
A great producer as mentioned before needs to be master in time management because time is not infinite but finite element in life and it is not different in game development. My job is to allocate resources on any given project to ensure that they have the most effective and efficient impact on the project within the deadline. This is a very important topic which takes a whole book probably, so I would recommend that you watch Randy Pausch 1 hour youtube video on time management in general HERE
Art of Pitching
As a producer I need to be godly in pitching! It is basically when I try and sell an idea or concept to funding sources, team members, investors and so on. I have to take on my sales person hat! Without a good pitch there probably won´t be much of a game.
This is quite a special point because unlike in other industries a producer in game industry probably never has the same experience twice, so the more experience on more project the better suited and ready the producer is. I have a little over 3 years now and 3 projects and hopefully this year 5 projects by 2013. Another funny thing is that there are different problems in large project VS smaller projects, external project and internal projects, co-developed project or alone and so on. So it is important to get your hands dirty wherever and whenever you can.
I have to make lots of schedules which puts time management and resource management into a practical schedule.
When I do projects I always go in with a personal ownership type of mindset, I take personal sense of pride and accomplishment with my team. It isn´t about taking credit but ensuring we reach the finish line as a team.
One of the reason I am writing these blogs and doing vlogs in youtube channel is because teaching others is an important skill too. It improves my communication skills as I receive feedback so I am able to communicate my knowledge, lessons and experience to my team but also our community. I need to be clear and give a rational reason behind decisions and explain everything properly, be able to answer questions and so on. As we get new team members I need to integrate them and learn them things too. My job is to ensure everyone else gets better then me, it ensure I can focus on my job and people become more independent so I can indirectly improve too.
Working with programming team
My job is to track progress and understand everything from a technical side, I also need to help solve problems from a non technical side.
Now, I think I covered 70% of my job and I hope it was interesting, I used notes from old theoretic books to organize this content using my own experience and knowledge to pass on knowledge.
As usual, I simply request that you support our ongoing effort in sharing knowledge through blogs and vlogs such as “Episode 01: Introduction” , “Episode 02: Game Production Cycles” and “Episode 03: Pre-Production and Game concept” by sharing, twitter, facebook, subscribing, rss feed and so on. If you can spare a dollar then please buy a copy of Idyllic!