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Playtest Producer at Guildhall

As a producer on the Capstone games Hymn of the Sands and Kraven Manor, a grad student at the Guildhall at SMU discusses the type of production role he's taken on.

In our time at the Guildhall at SMU, I'd guess that grad students end up spending about 60% of their effort on individual classes and projects, and about 40% on larger team games.  These mostly take the form of three "TGP" games of increasing team size and complexity.  

While the student artists, programmers, and level designers are rounding out their portfolios with solo projects, we in the production discipline get to spend more time on team games.  In addition to working on our own three TGP games, we serve as producers for the teams of the following, younger "cohort" (graduating class) of students.  Basically, we get a lot of team experience in a very short time, and a lot of chances to better define our role and what style of producer we're going to become. 

Over the last eight weeks I've been producer on a new team's current Capstone project, Hymn of the Sands, an isometric action game with some light RPG and puzzle elements.  My role on this project offered more flexibility than previous games.  Now that we're about halfway through development, I've done some reflection and seen how my team experiences so far affected what I'm doing now.

So far, biggest mistake as a producer was my relatively hands-off approach during simultaneous development of two TGP1 projects last year: Scarlet Moon and The Wild Within. (I detailed some of my experiences with these projects earlier in this blog.)

My peer feedback for these projects wasn't terribly negative, but I wished my time were spent more as part of the team.  Those parts I'd done so diligently in my producer role (documenting, scheduling, scrum mastering, and a dozen other reports and sundries) weren't really the job.  The sum of the structural tasks I'd been assigned, to be honest, weren't what my teams most wanted: a reliable guy who got pesonally invested in the game and the team. Call it a mini-revelation.  What they wanted of me was what I preferred to be doing.

My biggest win so far at Guildhall was the playtesting process when I served as Art Producer on Kraven Manor, a game that became far more successful than we anticipated.  I served as a kind of 'fill in the gaps' producer for our tiny art department, working on a dozen small things like asset management, audio, story texts, and playtest analysis.  

I found that the playtesting we ran and analyzed were hugely useful to our development.  Most of our development challenges and douAfter our Alpha milestone on Kraven Manor, I pushed to move our playtesting to a wide public audience, downloadable through torrents and our website.  The unexpected result was a flood of YouTube "Let's Play" videos of Kraven Manor, giving us a huge amount of feedback and insight. Today, months later, multiple new Kraven Manor videos appear on YouTube every day.  Once beta playtest data started coming in on its own, we found that our team direction, visibility, and productivity increased.  This was partly due to the later stage of development, but also due to the knowledge that comes fro mplaytests.  When our team had doubts or conflicts about a design decision, I could easily comb our playtests for applicable feedback, or simply add a question to the questionnaire.

This playtest feedback helped inform the type of production tasks I wanted to emphasize, and the type of producer I most gravitate toward: a playtest-minded producer.  In my current team, I emphasize playtesting beyond that of my previous projects, in an earlier stage of development.  I consider my primary goal first to be to be informing the team of their progress from a more objective viewpoint, gaining insight when our heads are too close to a problem, and then encouraging discussion of our priorities and future goals through playtest analysis.

 

You can playtest the current build of Hymn of the Sands at http://guildhallgames.weebly.com/

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