If any single role in game development could lay claim to being the glue holding projects together, it's that of the producer. It's the producers' job to steer the project, manage workflows and generally work to keep everything on track. But while producers are an established part of game development process, it is a role that is far from fixed.
Some producers toil away within development studios, handling the daily task of managing a project and -- in smaller studios at least -- often getting involved with work that goes beyond the tighter remit of simply producing a game. Others work for publishers, overseeing the games being developed by external studios.
"The main difference between an external and an internal producer is that the team of an external producer sits outside of the company and that he nearly always has less authority over them than with internal teams," says Thorsten Stein, an external producer at online game publisher Bigpoint.
Regardless of where they work, project management is a core part of the producer's job but, says Steve Finn, head of production at online multiplayer specialists RedBedlam, "just coming up with a Gantt chart and going 'there you are, that's that done' reduces the role down to one of time keeping.""
A lot of the job is managing people," he says. "In the office environment you're a combination between mum and dad, and in the business environment you are very protective of your team, and trying to make the client as happy as possible."
Since producers are often the bridge between the business and creative sides of game development, producers need to be able to cope with stress from all angles.
"It can be super stressful," says Jeff Riggall, senior games producer at Cartoon Network Digital. "You've got the team members that are looking to you, and if you don't have something you can do right away or if things are falling behind you've got that stress.
"On top of that, you've got people that are higher than you who are looking for results and that pressure coming down on you too to figure things out. Producers are a unique type of individual that can take those stressful situations and not blow up."
So what steps can producers take to keep things moving along and ease that pressure? Gamasutra asked Riggall, Stein, Finn and Sega Studios Australia's Darius Sadeghian for their top tips for producers.
1. Know a little about a lot
"It helps if you've had experience on the shop floor, because otherwise people think 'Well, what does he know?'" says Steve Finn, head of production at RedBedlam, the British developer behind MMO The Missing Ink.
"One of the greatest advantages in coming into my current job was that I had to do some of the pieces of work that ultimately ended up being my team's role when we started because there was no one else at the time to do it. So I did some 3D art, some 2D art, some UI design, some programming, a bit of all of it.
"Most of it was balls, of course, because I'm by no means an artist or programmer -- but if you want to instruct someone on what you would like them to do, it's good to have even a smidgen of understanding of the lingo, what they do, and the challenges they come up against."
2. Make time to prototype
Prototyping is a game development basic, but it's something that cannot be neglected -- even when development cycles are short, says Jeff Riggall, senior games producer at Cartoon Network Digital.
"It helps tremendously to at least do a quick prototype of your core features rather than going in blind and hoping something is going to work the way you want," he says. "With Dreamworks' Dragons: Wild Skies we didn't have long. It was a six to seven month development cycle. But we had to prototype some of the flight stuff and QuickTime sequences because it was the only way to see if it was going to work the way we wanted it to. You might not have much time to do it, but as a producer you've really, truly got to squeeze it in."