1. Listen to your project, not your ego
When you start at a new company, you want to impress. One early project at Failbetter needed a lot of work doing in not a lot of time, so I tried to massage the deadlines into one uneasy - but impressive! - melange. Sure, it was a tall order, but wouldn’t it be cool if we could do it? Wouldn’t it be great if I turned the project around against everyone’s expectations? Cue confetti laurel wreaths trumpets dancing tiger entourages etc etc etc
Obviously, this was a terrible idea.
We ended up pushing the project back a little, then back again to a much more achievable deadline. I instigated the first pushback, but it was my devs who initiated the second. A second pushback should not only not have fallen to them, but it should have never been necessary in the first place.
Lesson: producing is not about you. Producing is working through a team. Stop thinking about how you’ll look and start listening to what your project and your team are telling you.
2. Write everything down
On average, people can hold around seven things in their head at one time. This means it’s super easy to forget things.
It’s part of my job to record a large amount of the valuable, evanescent information zipping around a development studio. Conversations over tea could easily be the skeleton of an important spec, while meetings are a glut of information essential to record. I get through a lot of notebooks, but taking notes on even the most innocuous of things (‘Josh Madeupski may have thoughts on mobile games’) can turn out to be incredibly important (‘reward Josh w/ diamonds for getting us on the front page of the App Store’).
Capturing detail also means a development team doesn’t go round in circles having the same conversations every three months. Enabling your devs to get on with things efficiently is Production 101!
3. Technical and non-technical is a lie
If you consider yourself ‘non-technical’, working with a technical team makes you feel dumb. First thing: you’re not dumb. Second thing: games are bundles of tech, so if you work in the industry, take an interest!
Oh, you may say, I am a writer! Oh, I work in PR! Oh, I am a traditional illustrator living in a cabin on the fringes of the universe with nothing but a notepad and the ink of my MIND! No dice: there is absolutely no reason the tech behind the glossy veil of graphics and UI is beyond you.
Apart from tech being a) amazing b) the future c) important so that we can become biotechnically enhanced beautiful cyborg people, it’s vital that I understand what tech my team are working on. How else am I going to be useful to my devs?
If you don’t understand a technical aspect of a game, talk to the people working on it, read around subjects you don’t understand and revel in the fact that you have a wealth of knowledge and a host of specialists to help you understand it.
4. People > processes
Producers like process. It means there’s a plan. If everyone just does the thing that’s clearly delineated on the flowchart, everything will be okay!
However: life will inevitably encroach. Processes are there to make people’s lives easier, not to straightjacket them. If they don’t serve the needs of the people who use them, they don’t serve the project.
It feels safe to keep doing what you’ve done in a previous job, or following a process that’s been in use for a while. But it may not be smart. Be prepared to change your systems to suit the people in them.
5. Producers plan for the future - but it’s okay not to plan your future
I’m ambitious. The people at Failbetter are ambitious. It’s inspiring to work with people like that, but it’s also darned intimidating.
Confession! I don’t have a career gameplan. And this feels intrinsically bad. But I’ve learned that it’s not bad that I’d like to try out a bunch of different things. I work with people I admire for a boss I trust with a glut of opportunities before me. It’s secure and rewarding to work towards a specific end goal, but the autonomy to try things out, forge a variety of paths and learn a smorgasbord of skills is even better.
So final lesson: don’t worry if you don’t have a step-by-step guide to your future. If you’re intellectually omnivorous and find a company you like, you’ll fall into a good place naturally. The most important things are that you’re always learning and (almost!) always enjoying yourself - everything else will follow.