At the 2007 IGDA Leadership Forum, Torpex Games co-founder and president Bill Dugan spoke about the relationship between development teams and external producers, and discussed the finer points of an often tricky working relationship.
Dugan surmised there may be less than 1,000 external producers in the world. Their responsibilities are being sure the game is on time, on budget, and of quality. The fundamental problem, according to Dugan, is that the external producer isn't on the actual development team.
He set up the model of two types of producers: a "1", who is very hands-off and detached -- and a "10", who is too
hands-on. As Dugan pointed out, either extremity has its downside. A "1" producer's main tool to enhance quality and ensure timeliness? Prayer, says Dugan. On the other hand, a "10" producer will "crush the delicate snowflake that is the developer's soul."
However, Dugan says there are also upsides. For example, with a "1", the developer has more freedom. "If the developer is working on a port, then it's easier to [work with] a '1'," he explains.
Dugan highlighted producer relationships wherein conversation always occurs about reactions to the last milestone, but rarely about the external producer's involvement.
"It's difficult to have a conversation and sometimes just having a conversation can be useful," he explained. "There is not reason not to have a conversation after milestone. The conversation will reveal more closely what the publisher is likely to do. However, in my experience the external doesn't always fully tell what the publisher is thinking about the game."
Additionally, an uninvolved producer also makes for a poor cheerleader. "The external producer has the power to undermine all the cheerleading the rest of the company can do for your game," Dugan said. "Having the producer on your side is as important as having publishing executives on your side. He should probably be involved in, or oversee, something in the actual development."
He suggested that it's more productive to get the external producer involved. "You can think of this of crass manipulation, but I prefer to think of this as a beneficial side effect of having another voice involved with your game. Having him involved in debates and decisions is more useful than having them react to milestones."
He gave an example of a project getting killed by an external source. The artwork was done, but the publisher decided at the last minute that the lead character needed to be older. The developer put a goatee on the character -- which made it look like a young character with a goatee pasted on. The character was stretched to look taller, which required a lot of animation fixing. It left them with a character that looked only somewhat acceptable. It ended up being one reason the game got killed and, Dugan pointed out, these are the risks that an external publisher most affects.
He concluded by noting that the publisher's goals and developer's goals are often incongruous, and the external producer has to factor in these unaligned objectives while evaluating these ongoing risks.
"The goals are never aligned and everyone has different objectives. The external producer provides checks and balances," Dugan said.