Interview with James Portnow

Q&A email interview with James Portnow on the topic of issues in the gaming industry's production process.

Hey everyone, I created this email Q&A piece for James Portnow to gain a little more insight on issues with video game production. I used this interview in a research paper I wrote for my Senior Project Research Paper. Enjoy!


If you had to discuss the number one problem behind the pre-production process, what would it be and what would you say about it?

Overscoping.  It's easy early on to overestimate how smoothly the creation process will go and to inadequately plan for the amount of time you'll need for iteration.  This fact kills more games than anything else in the industry.

Could you please describe any possible problems (or the largest problem) with the employment system within the gaming industry?

We have no good metric for vetting new talent.  Our human resources staff often comes from outside the industry and we haven't developed any quality tools to help them sort through the massive number of resumes they have to process on a regular basis.  This leads to hiring based on 'experience' but experience is often misleading (as this is a self reinforcing system where someone who got hired in by a friend back in the SNES/Genesis days will appear very valuable regardless of actual ability).

Within a company, it is obvious that synergy is important to creating a game. Could you discuss how vital it is within the industry that a company's workers work together well (specifically cross-department workers, i.e. a programmer and an artist)?

Well, creating games is a multidisciplinary project.  Communication and the ability to work with people coming from radically different backgrounds and mindsets is essential when working in this business.  But as far as resource sharing between companies goes, we are, to our detriment, still a remarkably secretive industry so there is very little collaboration between studios.

In your mind, what is the largest downfall in the production process of a game that ultimately results in a game being shipped that isn’t as high a quality as other games?

Again, overscoping.  In any game you ever work on you'll find there's more that you want to put into the game than your budget or schedule will possibly allow.  Great teams find the things on their list that will give the end player the most for the resources spent on them, teams which fall apart try to get everything in.

You’ve written a ton of columns and articles on how the gaming industry could be improved. Through all of the years, what would you say has been the thing that is consistently done well by all of the major game production companies that results in the shipping of a well-rounded product?


I can't state it enough, but when trying to get fifty people from radically different backgrounds to come together to produce a creative produce, the ability to rein in what it is you're actually proposing to do and develop for reality rather than try to indulge all the disparate ideas in front of you is really the key to success.

Hope that helps!

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