A Designer’s Take on a What Makes a Good Producer

In light of my experiences last semester during capstone, I’d actually like to make a bit of a different kind of post, a more personal one. As I first mentioned way back in my very first capstone blog post, I was not only the Lead Designer but I was also the acting Producer for my team as well. Now, I’ve played the Producer role before, but not since my freshman year back in 2013 and that time wasn’t even really that close to the extent of my role for capstone. So, I’d like to take up a bit of your time, loyal readers, and discuss exactly what I think (my opinion) makes a good Producer as well as how I think that I measured up during last semester.

Here’s a little bit of a simple breakdown of my points for you all before I get into more detail:

  • Documentation
  • Time management
  • Promotes communication and cohesion

First and foremost, as can be seen above, a good Producer should be willing and able to create and update their required and any useful business documentation. I know, I know, this sounds like a simple enough point but this is actually overlooked more often than not. Sure, maybe this isn’t as important a tool for Producers as some other things but these documents, which can range from simple project timelines to more complex business/project and budget plans, are more important than most people seem to realize. A big part of these business documents can be helpful when attempting to pitch the game during its development. Something that, in the field, can mean the life or death of the project depending on whether or not it is funded which can hinge largely on things like business/project and budget plans. Here at Champlain College, every team role is graded and critiqued on their documentation and is expected to complete it but seeing as we aren’t actually out in the field yet, it isn’t regarded as highly as it could, should or will be. Plus, writing these documents isn’t exactly what I would call the cleanest of jobs. They’re boring for most people to even think about, let alone write, and they can be a horrible slog for someone who isn’t interested in that aspect of the industry. For me, it was just that kind of slog. I hated and I mean absolutely hated writing Producer documentation but I still did it and I did it to the best of my ability as the acting Producer because I knew that they would only help my team in the long run.

Going off of that first point, it’s absolutely crucial that the Producer be phenomenal when it comes to time management. Don’t get me wrong, time management skills are something that every member of the team and most people outside of our field should have but the Producer, in my opinion, should be the top rung of this ladder. The Producer doesn’t touch the game but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have an effect on it. Instead of meddling in the engine, the Producer is in charge of taking care of documents, setting up team meetings, making sure the game’s budget is in check and getting the game’s name out there (at first) and that’s just barely scratching the surface of their role. Now imagine a Producer with horrible time management skills or a lack thereof trying to juggle all of these rather copious and difficult tasks. It just wouldn’t work. They would procrastinate, they would miss deadlines and the team and the game would most likely be affected quite greatly and the team may even fall apart completely. The best Producers that I have worked with during my time here at Champlain College have kept electronic or even written schedules for themselves that they adhered to every day to manage their time and tasks. I mean, you don’t have to be as thorough as that to be a good Producer in my eyes but at least have some skill when it comes to prioritization. Playing games comes only after we’ve spent some time creating them. Please reread that sentence a few times; I mean it. Many a student has been kicked out of Champlain College’s Game Studio during my time here simply because they spent more time playing games than they did making them.

A great Producer should not only be great with but should also promote both communication and cohesion within the team. This is a huge one because even as a student, I’ve already seen my fair share of game teams go under due to poor team cohesion and a lack of communication. Basically, the team is like a family and the Producer is like the mother or father. It is their job to make sure that each member of the team is kept in the loop and in constant communication with all of the other members of the team. As a Designer, I constantly need to be talking to both Artists and Programmers about different aspects of my game’s design and implementation but if I have no way to do that then it creates stutters in the game’s development timeline, stutters that we may not be able to afford. Sure, the other members of the team are also responsible for communicating with one another, but it is the Producer that ultimately acts as the glue to keep the team together, which leads me to the second part of this point: team cohesion. I’ll throw another analogy at you for this part, and this actually has to do with both communication and cohesion and even other aspects. I like to think of the game team and the game being developed as the roots and a tree respectively. The roots (the team) are what provide the tree (the game) with its nutrients which allows it to constantly grow. However, the tree can grow out of control and the team can be met with scope issues that may see the game unfinished or released too early to meet a deadline or even scrapped altogether. The Producer comes in as either of two roles, the pruner or the lumberjack (good and bad respectively). The pruner is the one that helps to nurture that communication and cohesion and lightly and politely cuts things from the game or development plan that may venture into scope-heavy territory, keeping the team and game grounded and on track by pruning the “game tree” in just the right way. The lumberjack, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of the pruner. The lumberjack doesn’t wish to see the game grow and flourish or even if they do, they end up cutting the whole tree down in one fell swoop through their lack of all of the above skills that I’ve mentioned and blatant disregard of their duties to the team. If you want to be a good or better yet a great Producer, please, for the love of all that is holy, please don’t be a lumberjack.

So how do I measure up?

Well, if I’m being completely honest, I’d say that I measure up quite well to the standards of a good Producer that I myself have set. That’s not a goo enough response, though, so I’ll go into a bit more detail about a few things.

  • Documentation – With this, I’d say I merited top marks. While, as I mentioned earlier, I hated writing business documents, I still did them and put all of my effort into them in order to do them well. I had them all done and updated when they needed to be in a timely manner and I opted not to draft documents that I didn’t believe the team needed in order to save time. Again, I’m not a Producer by trade, so there are a million examples of these documents that I’m sure I could find that would blow mine out of the water but overall, I’d say I did a damn fine job for a Designer.
  • Time Management – Throughout last semester, I’d say that I did a fairly decent job of managing my time when it came to working on Sword of the Sorcerer. That said, a tiny bit of procrastination with other classes led to a bit of slacking on the Producer side near the end, so I’d knock a few points of my score for this one. Still, I was able to get everything done that needed to be for both roles by the end of the semester.
  • Communication and Cohesion – This is probably where I shined the most. Throwing all modesty out the door, I would consider myself to be somewhat of a natural-born leader and that showed during our work last semester. I was able to assign tasks and cut things I (and the rest of the team) thought were out of scope with ease, but I also didn’t “rule” with an iron fist. In order to promote the cohesion I was looking for, I worked via compromise and consensus, making sure that all of my team members agreed on something or some kind of compromise after testing before anything actually made it into the game. Due to this, our original team never once had an argument or any really major disagreement on anything during the game’s development last semester and we were even considered to be one of the most cohesive teams with the best team dynamic. For this category, I’d give myself top marks.

Looking over all of this, I’d say that I would merit probably somewhere around a 7/10, enough for me to consider myself a good or at least a decent Producer by my own standards. That said, acting as a Producer for a semester taught me a lot about their work and the kind of effort that goes into being a great Producer and it’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

Thanks for sticking around until the end and I hope you liked this retro and introspective post! Stay tuned for more weekly updates on Sword of the Sorcerer and other posts like this one!


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