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Getting into Game Production - Part 3
After my previous article called "What Makes a Good Game Producer?", many people have asked what they could do to become Game Producers. After replying the same thing over and over again, I decided to write it all down and share it with everyone.
Ernst ten Bosch
December 21, 2015
15 Min Read
Note from the author
The opinions expressed here are my own and not representative of my current or former employer's policy or conduct in any way, shape or form.
In Part 2 of this article, I talked about motivations and assumptions associated with becoming a Game Producer. In this third and final segment, I want to talk about the application itself, the interview and what to expect, after which I will close with some final thoughts. But first, we should talk about your résumé.
It seems like every country and culture has its own philosophy on how the prepare a good résumé. I think people tend to overthink this. I have met many hiring managers who don’t even read résumés, or only glance at them, or go straight to the section they think is important; maybe the candidate’s education or their work experience. In any case, it is my opinion that hiring managers know to anticipate those differences, and can see past the cosmetic aspect, the form and layout, to the heart of what matters, namely the person’s qualifications. Losing sleep over how your resume should look is losing sleep over nothing. It’s the information in your résumé that’s important. What follows is my personal philosophy on preparing the contents of a résumé. If your ideas differ from mine, that’s fine too; I am not advocating for one ‘best’ method.
I am a firm believer in not lying, bullshitting or even overselling yourself too much in your résumé (or during an interview for that matter). In fact, I tend to undersell myself. I realize this is the worst career advice you are ever going to hear, especially in the US where there is more a tradition of “fake it ‘til you make it”, but presenting myself as something I’m not causes me to stress out and sleep poorly, and I need my sleep. I feel far more comfortable going into an interview if I know I can easily talk about or defend anything I have mentioned in my résumé, than if I had tried to show-off or over embellish things instead. It makes me feel like a fraud. Ultimately, I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver, than over-promise and under-deliver, but that’s just me.
I tend to split my resume in two general sections: the things you *MUST* show, and the things you *WANT* to show.
What you have to show
These are the things that directly address each of the requirements in the job posting. It will behoove you to make sure they are all addressed in some way, shape or form in your résumé. This is because you don’t know how the list of requirements was drafted in the first place, but you have to assume the hiring manager, or a number of hiring managers were involved, each with their specific requirement they are particularly interested in. You don’t want to be in a situation where they ask you about something that was listed in the job posting, and you have no answer.
Unavoidably, there will be requirements that you don’t quite meet, at least not entirely. Don’t let those stop you from applying. As I said before, if you genuinely believe that you have the experience and the skills to do the job, apply. Just make sure you have a solid answer ready for those requirements when they come up. For instance if they ask for ‘at least one title shipped’, and your background is in web design, talk about a webpage that was launched, how many people visited it, what broke and had to be fixed, how many people worked on the design and needed to be herded, guided or motivated. Sure, it may not be enough, but having a solid response ready to every specific requirement that is listed, will make the interview flow much easier and leave them with a far better impression of you.
What you want to show
The second section of content I feel requires a prominent spot in any resume, consists of the things you *want* to show. Successfully controlling and amplifying the specific things you want the hiring managers to see above all else, achieves three goals:
The first one is that is takes the attention away from any weaknesses you may have in your resume, like a lack of experience in one specific area or the fact that you’ve been switching jobs a lot in recent years. This is classic misdirection, and it is something that most hiring managers in my experience are quickly inclined to fall prey to. In that sense, they are like magpies; if something shiny catches their eye over here, that’s where they’ll look. Rarely have I have been involved in an interview in with the hiring managers would examine the candidates resume to such a degree as to reveal all the nitty-gritty defects. And really, that also makes sense. As I mentioned before, there are no concrete skills or a specific, minimum number of years of experience you need to have to do this job per se, so it would be out of character for a hiring manager to religiously scrutinize a candidate’s resume for every little detail and fact.
The second goal is that it allows you to focus on what makes you special. Hiring managers always want to know that: “Why should we hire YOU?” As in, why you and not someone else. What they are looking for is something special about you; some quality on which they would be missing out if they went with someone else. Or some special bit of experience, insight, creativity or expertise that you, and only you, could deliver. This could stem from almost anything, but by that I don’t mean that anything can sound cool or amazing, but rather that most people will likely have something that they can phrase in such a way that makes it sound unique and special. It may be something small and seemingly unrelated, like that you were in the military, or that you like painting miniatures in your spare time. This tells the hiring manager something about what motivates you or what you feel passionately about. For instance, if you were in the military, you can say you understand hard work and the benefits of things being orderly. I wouldn’t push it too far though. As I mentioned before, I try to avoid bullshitting too much in my resume or interview, for fear of not being able to deliver. Ideally you actually do have something unique to offer. But the fact is, not everyone has had amazing, mind-blowing life experiences. Of course ‘scheduling’ sounds way cooler if you say you used to do it at NASA, and ‘project management’ sounds sexy when you can say you did it for Interpol. But most people will not have something so memorable to speak of, in which case, it may require some poetic license and embellishment.
Thirdly, emphasizing what makes you unique will makes people remember you. I have colleagues who still talk about that candidate we interviewed who was a nuclear physicist on board a submarine. Or the one who came to the interview wearing a pink, three-piece suite with a white tie. Again, hiring managers are magpies: “Oooh! Shiny!”
Of course, being memorable in the eyes of the hiring manager's, doesn’t mean you’ll do a good job, or even like the job. But it definitely makes you stand out among the dozens of other candidates, and therefore gives you a slight advantage. All the more so if it can be backed up with genuine skill and relevant work experience.
So let’s assume you’ve thought about it long enough, and you’ve decided you want to become a Game Producer. You’ve spent time, maybe even several years, preparing for it by gaining relevant work experience, reading up on what the job entails, fraternizing with people in the business, preparing your résumé and, above all, playing lots and lots of videogames. You’ve found a position at a company that appeals to you, and you’ve responded with an application.
Now, days or weeks later, you’ve received the happy email that starts with the beautiful words: “We would like to invite you for an interview….yada, yada, yada” YIPPIEEE!!! There is no feeling like it: you’re happy but also nervous. Up until now you’ve had the luxury of being detached; it all went through email, there was no hurry, no one knew about it. But now shit just got real. There’s no more hiding under a rock. Now you need to prepare for the interview.
What to expect
I think there are many preconceptions about job interviews, especially among 1.) people who haven’t had many, 2.) people who, paradoxically, have had *too* many, and 3.) people who have never been on the other side of a job interview. Most people I speak to who are preparing for an interview, that is, who are interviewing in order to get a new job for themselves, seem to think that it’s like taking a test at school; on one hand is you, the interviewee, who, like a student, is asked a number of questions that need to be answered correctly; and on the other hand is the hiring manager who is essentially an evil, bad tempered teacher in possession of all the answers and is waiting for a chance catch the poor interviewee in a lie or a some other kind of dishonest conduct. In this relationship, the interviewee is a desperate beggar whose career, happiness and entire life are completely at the mercy of an omnipotent and omniscient despot.
Needless to say, the truth is far from this. There is no way of knowing the context of the interview, that is, what has gone on before the interview or what the reason is for the need of interviewing candidates for a position in the first place. It might be that there have been few, qualified applicants, and that you are basically a shoe-in. It could also be that the candidate has already been chosen from the internal ranks and that the hiring company is only legally required to conduct interviews with external candidates or that they are only doing so out of a sense of fairness and equality. The people conducting the interviews could just be HR, checking names off a list, or it could be a hiring manager who is too far removed from the day to day work to know that the job will truly entail.
But of course it may well be a legitimate, honest attempt to find a suitable new colleague to be part of the team. If that is the case, then obviously you need to have all your basis covered with regards to the standard interview questions and topics, like your previous employment, ambitions, greatest professional screw-ups, cognitive reasoning skills etc.; there are literally thousands of articles floating around the interwebz that can give a halfway decent rendition of what to expect from an interview. For our purposes, what follows are the recurring topics of conversations and themes specifically related to Game Production that I have regularly come across in the +/- 100 interviews I’ve been involved in during the past ten years.
Expect the following
They will ask you about videogames. Most serious gaming companies want their employees to also be gamers. They want their people to love videogames, have strong opinions about videogames and be able to talk about them. Doing so successfully and convincingly during an interview is always good. It also makes the interview more pleasant in general, and gives the interviewee a chance to show what a cool, laid back guy he can be. But knowing videogames is also a helpful work tool; in a world of specialists (artists, designers, programmers), being able to speak the common tongue of videogames is immensely useful in establishing a rapport with all of your colleagues. Even more so if you can demonstrate close familiarity with the game you are applying to work on, so be prepared to do some game playing homework if needed!
They will want to know that you can see the bigger picture. A producer has to be able to see beyond the confines of his cubicle. It is imperative that you demonstrate in the interview that you have experience thinking long term, and being aware of the fact that many other departments and people also have their own requirements, unique circumstances, priorities, business objectives and hurdles. Even if a producer is assigned to only a single department or discipline, he’s is the one burdened with the responsibility of staying in touch with the outside world and the greater goings-on.
They will want to see how you deal with situations you are not familiar with. In the course of developing a videogame, it is very likely that you will be confronted with situations you have no experience or familiarity with. And yet you will be the person designated to deal with them. In the interview, they will want to see and hear evidence of how you handle those types of challenges. Ideally you can come up with a example of a stressful situation in your previous job during which you were able to stay calm, think rationality, rally the team together and slowly but surely overcome any trouble. Sometimes the interviewer will ask you a straight up questions they know you will have trouble answering.This is a classic example of the interviewer not wanting to hear the right answer, but rather to see how you go about coming to a decent resolution.
They will want to know that you can stick to dates. Schedules, dates and milestones play an important role in the daily working life of a Producer, so you can expect some talk about your punctuality and planning skills. This can be about anything from your daily work habits, to organizing and running meetings, to how you go about planning long term projects to how you communicate in a clear and concise way which milestones needs to be reached by when and by whom. Ideally you can refer to a successfully concluded project you were intimately involved in and for which you were in charge of the schedule and milestone planning. Familiarity with an established methodology of project management can sometimes come in useful here.
Conflict resolution. In a collaborative environment like a game development team, in which individual opinions fly around all day everyday, there is bound to be a lot of conflict, sometimes out in the open, sometime just in the back of people's’ mind. Whatever the case, a producer will either need to come out in front of it and keep it from blowing up, or he will need to deal with the fallout later on. So the interviewer will want to hear from you that you are aware that this is something that can happen, and that you have dealt with similar situations in the past, most of which were ideally resolved successfully by you. So think of situations where people held strong, differing opinions on an important, work related subject, and explain how it was your antics that brought it to a satisfactory conclusion. Like everything else i’ve been talking about, this can refer to almost any situation of interpersonal conflict; it’s not unique to game development.This type of thing happens everywhere; surely anyone can think of a decent example.
By anticipating these eventualities and just doing decent preparation that you would normally do for any interview, you should be in a good position to undergo an interview for Game Producer. Just keep in mind: interviews for Game Producer are not about getting the answers right; no one is looking at your portfolio or checking your code. And ultimately, like with any job interview, it is out of your hands. At this early stage, you just have to be fortunate enough and hope that they are in fact looking for a new colleague and that you have a genuine shot at it. It's not a question of making sure all the boxes are checked, and you're guaranteed to get the job. There is a lot of luck involved, which may seem shitty, and it is, but should also be a consolation: getting declined or rejected doesn’t mean you were a bad candidate, not by a longshot. It just means that there was one person out there who had one positive attribute more to bring to the table than you. And all that means is that you should keep trying.
This was an article about what someone, who has little contact or interaction with game development, might do to prepare for an eventual attempt at applying for a job as entry-level Game Producer. In a nutshell, it comes down to this:
Get involved in the video games scene.
Find work to gain some...any, experience.
Use the experience you have to your benefit in preparing for an application.
Keep playing video games; as much as you can!
I realise that this article has made the whole endeavor seem very daunting and uninviting. That is as it should be, but it is not unique to the gaming industry. Most people I know find it hard to get their dream job in any sector, even if they are one of the few who know what that dream job is. Things take time, and there are lot of people out there struggling for the same thing, and there is only so much to go around.
But our business is about fun and entertainment and about sharing that with others. It’s about creating worlds, telling stories and bringing everyone along for the ride. Trying to get into this industry is exciting because to most of us, it is still strange and exotic. It is filled with art, music and technology. It can take you to faraway places, new cultures and the alluring pull of a hungry audience. And after years and years of trying, you may find that, even if success has remained elusive, it was still fun to try.
If you are interested in reading more about being a good Game Producer, I invite you to read my other artical "What Makes a Good Game Producer".
I hope some of you have found this useful.
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