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10 Tips: Increasing the Effectiveness of Producers

September 27, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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."

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Brian Tsukerman
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Thanks for this advice. It's given me a better idea of my role and responsibilities in a development team, and what I need to focus on in order to make sure my teammates are operating under a unified vision.

Richard Matey
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Great article, this was very helpful and appreciate getting the different viewpoints from various people in the industry.

Justin Lynch
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There's plenty of great advice in this article!

If I could add one thing to this list it would be that a Producer always needs to be objective in their decision making. Producers who push their own ideas and agendas usually set themselves and their team up for disaster. It's still good to voice your opinion on things but you can't let it cloud your judgement when you need to make an important decision.

Ferdi Cam
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Also important:
- Balanced diet
- Regular exercise
- Drinking sufficient amounts of water

Beatrice Margarita Lapa
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Totally agree with Ferdi Cam. When I was starting out as an associate producer (I was also finishing my final year at grad school), I was frequently getting hospitalized due to stress-related illnesses (ulcer is among them). A balanced diet, 20-minute walks in the park after every meal, and a minimum of 2 liters of water daily fixed all that.

Think of it tactical JRPGs, beefing up your main character while you play with your resources and your party members' builds.