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LGCF: LucasArts' Williams On Game Project Management

As the first lecture at the London Game Career Fair, Chris Williams of LucasArts, who will be providing a keynote at tomorrow's Game Developers Conference London event, discussed routes into project management for game industry hopefuls.
The London Career Fair, part of an ongoing week of video game related events in the city, opened today in Café Royal to a packed house of hungry job seekers and curious students. The event, which will continue tomorrow, offers prospective candidates the opportunity to meet and interview with hiring companies, such as LucasArts, THQ, Lionhead, 10tacle Studios, GamePlan, Blitz/Volatile Games, and many others. The event is also hosting a series of lectures, the first of which focused on jobs in development and management in the game industry. Chris Williams of LucasArts, who will be providing a keynote at tomorrow's Game Developers Conference London event, moved into management from the art side of the business. “Problem-solving is the number one skill you need in project management in games,” he says. “Game development is just one long series of problems.” “From a career fair point of view, there are a lot of opportunities for managers,” says Williams. The LucasArts veteran outlined some of the producer-level titles a employee might hold as a project manager, such as associate producer or executive; the roles vary somewhat from company to company. How managers interact with a publisher can also vary, depending on the studio’s relationship to the publisher, the title in development, and the history between the publisher and studio. Williams also took some time to explain the difference between working for a large, well-established company (where many project management and producers are hired specifically) to the small “scrappy start-ups” (where project managers tend to be people who rise to the occasion). He also explained Scrum-style development and other current working methods that would-be producers should have a clear understanding of before applying for a job. As for other personality requirements for the job, Williams says flexibility is key. “What we look for is people who can be nimble.” When asked about crunch time, Williams outlined the following rule: “If you lose two weeks of your life to crunching and making games, then that’s what you signed up for when you decided you wanted to make games.” However, he says that crunching for more than two weeks out of an eight-week period is a failure on the part of the project manager. “If we’re smart about our development tactics, then we can deliver the game on time,” he says. “It shouldn’t be typical that you’re working 60 or 70 hours per week on a regular basis,” he says, recommending that developers who are in that situation ought to look for another job. The subject of gameplay per square inch came up as an idea that LucasArts uses now in its next-generation development. The idea, from a project manager’s point of view, is to maximize the gameplay in areas where a lot of money has been spent on development. For example, if a $50,000 budget is spent on creating one room, the producer needs to recognize that cost and ask the game designers to make the most of that space. “The player has to want to be in that room for 15 minutes,” Williams says, as opposed to rushing through the room and not appreciating how much development time and money went into creating it. “Handheld is a massively viable market. Don’t think of handheld as being a substandard market,” cautions Williams. He notes that LucasArts takes handheld development very seriously, and that opportunities for job seekers are abundant in this sector. He also says job seekers should look for opportunities in other budding sectors, like Xbox Live Arcade. The event continues through Wednesday. Interested parties can visit the London Game Career Fair website for more information on the job fair and lectures.

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