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Student Postmortem: Downbeat

I don't really expect many people to read this as it is more a reference for myself so I can look back and see successes and failures of this student project :), mention to two gamasutra sources, Kain Shin and Paraluman Cruz, their blogs helped me a lot
In just the last few decades games production has gone from modest and relatively cheap backgrounds to a multi-billion pound entertainment industry[1]. Development teams started from as little as one person now can have hundreds of workers developing one title [2]. With the games business projected to increase even more over the next few years the respective detail on new games and their production are paramount to making them commercially and critically successful. The attention to market research is important to continue providing consumers with the entertainment they know and appreciate but also being innovative and able to predict niche markets that can be broken into, this is often dictated by what new technology there is available. The attention to detail in production methodologies and development practice is paramount to successful titles. With specific detail on the various roles that are necessary for effective game development I will discuss the role I played in my team for my personal project module. Performing the role of the Producer helped me realize the practical and theoretical tasks that need to be met to complete the producer’s role in an effective manner.

 

 

Introduction

The games industry is often cited as being an exciting place, in part due to the secrecy surrounding games in development and big money blockbuster titles such as Modern Warfare 2 [3]. Potentially obtaining a job in this competitive and demanding business is difficult due to the need to be highly skilled and experienced [4]. Achieving the target of being highly skilled highlights the emphasis there is on needing to be acutely aware of the detail needed for game development. Seeing as this specificity is crucial to capturing a job it influenced the aim for my project, see below...

 

"My aim is to learn firsthand about being a producer, the role a producer plays and what influences that this role has in a game development team."

 

Focussing on this aim I will detail how it underlines the objectives and the tasks I was to fulfil to achieve it. The objectives were...

1)     'to design and pitch a game concept'

2)     'to plan and schedule different assets the game needs in order for the project to be completed. Adapt the plan of the project if original plan is not working'

3)     'to work in a group project to further understand how different roles collaborate and achieve goals'.

Later these objectives will be expanded to show the detail to which they were completed and their importance to helping to accomplish the aim.

As well as the objectives there were a series of major tasks to carry out, these tasks were...

a)     'complete a detailed project plan using an appropriate project management framework'

b)    'manage group members efficiently so they can complete their assigned tasks, communicate effectively and complete tasks according to schedule'

c)     'ensure group sticks by Design Document, if changes are necessary then to make sure that they fit with the game’s style and scope'.

Like the above objectives these tasks will be extended so the detail of their importance to the overall aim can be highlighted. In addition to the role's objectives and tasks I will iterate any new tasks/objectives that had to be completed which were not previously identified (this also emphasizes that performing my role as a producer uncovered tasks that I may have formerly missed without actually undertaking the role firsthand). As well as the role and its responsibilities there is an extensive literature review which displays the reading involved in helping me understand the role I was undertaking, using books, websites and other resources I will feature relevant statements that benefitted my understanding of the producer's practical and conceptual demands. Finally, showing the progress of my comprehension for the producer's role will help me justify the choices I made throughout the project such as not choosing to not do a detailed project plan and how I learned aspects I completed were not traditionally correct thus furthering my understanding even further.

 

 

Literature Review

Ensuring that my knowledge of the Producer role was founded on the fundamental aspects of its demands I used online resources written by respected games industry members. These sources often had firsthand experience themselves; their experience was a good starting point for a true understanding of a Producer's requirements. Using these sources it assisted me in breaking down what tasks and objectives I needed to accomplish, I identified which skills and qualities link with individual tasks/objectives, I extracted these skills from an article by Jill Duffy who is a contributing editor of GameCareerGuide.com and managing editor of Game Developer magazine, see below...

  • Great scheduling ability. (Objective 2, Tasks a and b)
  • Exceptional organizational skills. (Objective 2, Tasks a, b and c)
  • Excellent leadership consensus-building abilities. (Objective 3, Task b)
  • Ability to direct development of a project from start to finish while meeting deadlines. (Objective 2 and 3, Tasks b and c)

 

As well as the above list of skills I used various other industry members for information on the Producer role, the below qualities are listed from Kain Shin who is an industry member working for the International Game Developers Association...

 

  • They keep meetings short and on track
  • Updates the schedule once a week or more
  • Sees the big picture
  • Catches problems before they happen
  • Is a highly empathic people person with good social instincts
  • Always trying to improve

 

Later these above qualities will be expanded for added detail and I will identify which qualities were applied during the project and which weren't, detailing the reasons for both respectively. Below is a very simple overall statement from Marc Mencher who is CEO of GameRecruiter.com...

 

  • Good and frequent communication with your team will be your greatest asset

Using these skills and qualities I will discuss their level of importance in how they helped me achieve certain tasks/objectives. As well as using industry member articles I published some of my own articles online, I will discuss how writing about the games industry and the position of a Producer facilitated my knowledge even further.

 

Websites directly used for task/objective support:

-       http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/250/so_you_want_to_be_a_producer.php

-       http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/414/game_production_an_introduction.php

-       http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/411/game_design_an_introduction.php

(All three above links are articles written by industry members that specify the basic qualities needed to become a good producer, these are the sources I went to first which formed my basic understanding and helped me to create objectives and tasks)

 

-       http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/KainShin/20090531/1605/WTF_Do_Producers_Do_All_Day.php (from Kain Shin who is an industry member working for the International Game Developers Association)

 

-       http://www.develop-online.net/features/410/How-to-get-a-job-in-Production (Interview with industry member on how to get a job in Game Production)

 

Websites corroborating the above sources:

http://archives.igda.org/breakingin/path_production.htm (Advice on becoming a Producer)

 

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/: (Range of articles giving advice on how to get into the games industry)

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/getting_started/ (Background to games industry careers)

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/392/how_to_really_get_your_first_job_in_the_game_industry.php (Advice on getting a job in the games industry)

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/414/game_production_an_introduction.php (How to become a Producer)

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/411/game_design_an_introduction.php (How to become a Designer)

 

http://archives.igda.org/breakingin/career_paths.htm: (Game Development Paths Homepage)

-  http://archives.igda.org/breakingin/path_design.htm (Advice on becoming a Designer)

-  http://archives.igda.org/breakingin/path_production.htm (Advice on becoming a Producer)

 

http://www.gamasutra.com/: (Games Community Website)

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/KainShin/20090531/1605/WTF_Do_Producers_Do_All_Day.php (Advice on being a good Producer)

 

 http://www.develop-online.net/: (Latest Industry news page)

            http://www.develop-online.net/features/410/How-to-get-a-job-in-Production (Interview with industry member on how to get a job in Game Production)

 

Books:

·         Successful IT Projects; Dalcher & Brodie

·         Management; Pitt, Black & Porter

·         Human Resource Management; Torrington & Hall

·         Beginning Game Level Design; J. Feil & M. Scattergood

 

 

Body

As stressed in the introduction finding detail in the Producer's tasks and objectives are critical in learning the optimum level the role can be performed at. Exposing myself to the role for an academic year facilitated my understanding and appreciation for the specificity of the individual demands accompanied with the position.

 

The first objective 1) 'to design and pitch a game concept' was not relevant to the conventional Producer role but I fulfilled it anyway. The reason for this was that I have a keen interest in design as well as production and being from a background which teaches design too gave me an opportunity to fulfil this task, fulfilling this objective did not deviate me from other objectives because it was the first step in development to create a game concept, without a game concept Producers cannot start their role.

 

Secondly, 2) 'to plan and schedule different assets the game needs in order for the project to be completed. Adapt the plan of the project if original plan is not working'. This objective was contentious for a number of reasons. I did complete a plan for assets that would be needed but didn't go into scheduling their expected completion date. The rationale behind this was not for a lack of time or effort on my part into making the asset list but because I felt that the kind of detail expected to go into an accurate schedule is ultimately wasted.

The final objective was 3) 'to work in a group project to further understand how different roles collaborate and achieve goals'. This I felt personally was considerably the most rewarding aspect of the project. Previously not having worked with programmers it was beneficial to finally work together with them to see exactly what tasks they had to complete and at what point different tasks traverse between disciplines (often artists), without learning this aspect of production personally I feel it would be inefficient to attempt to read about all academically but help my grasp to see it practically.

 

To complete these objectives I needed to fulfil a range of tasks, these were 'complete a detailed project plan using an appropriate project management framework', I chosen to not do this conventionally. This is because expecting fellow students to stick to a rigid schedule plan successfully is highly dubious. The reasons I was convinced of this unreliability was because I had unsuccessfully tried to ingrain an attitude where attendance to project meetings was of the highest importance in the first semester. I potentially could have still completed a detailed project plan but was certain that the constant changes to the schedule would make it more trouble than it was worth, a group not sticking by a schedule to a degree which means it needs to be changed entirely (and in effective creates an entire new schedule) defeats the point in creating a plan in the first place. The advice from industry members (regarding schedule creation) in being an effective producer only helps if one's team is abiding by the schedule, the majority of their advice is based on certain assumptions such as having industry-level workers, these workers are paid and have this as their sole occupation. Going by that assumption; expecting fellow students to give the same dedication as industry-workers would have been incredibly naive, and it would have been entirely ineffective for me and my group had I done so.  However, not creating any sort of plan whatsoever would in effect mean a producer was not contributing much towards a successful production cycle. I used a theoretical production style called 'quick and dirty prototyping', see diagram below...

04_flowchart.jpg

Defining this framework basically calls for the group to come up with the respective game's functionality (the games features) using no art (just placeholders) and rough coding but add the art at a later point. Below is an image of my team's game without ANY final art assets but with the basic gameplay features working and then finally with the art assets...

   finished game

 

  no art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second task was 'manage group members efficiently so they can complete their assigned tasks, communicate effectively and complete tasks according to schedule'. Determining the successfulness of completing this task can be hard to perceive by myself alone. Communication is intrinsically between at least two people and judging your own effectiveness at this undertaking is likely to be inaccurate. At a minimum, I can say I attempted to communicate regularly over a range of methods to group members to ensure they were aware of the situation the project was in and their current respective tasks.

Thirdly I needed to 'ensure group sticks by Design Document, if changes are necessary then to make sure that they fit with the game’s style and scope'. It can be argued that this task crosses into a designers role but seeing as the design document was complete at the time this task was to be tested it would be ineffective to change my project aims to simply accommodate this task.

Since I have discussed in detail the objectives and tasks' conclusions taken from my project aim I will go onto discuss iterate any new tasks/objectives that had to be completed which were not previously identified. Then I will go onto discuss the skills and qualities highlighted by my sources, showing whether I displayed them successfully or not. I will also show the progress of my comprehension for the producer’s role using my online presence.

Firstly, there were no major tasks that I had to undertake previously missed from my project aim. I had contingency tasks if a team member was to permanently leave the group, for example if our sole artist was to leave I would have undertaken the task of completing some art assets for our game. Fortunately this did not occur so this contingency plan was never put into practice.

The following skills such as 'Great scheduling ability' I displayed by choosing a new form of production that I felt would benefit my team far more than a standard form. As well as this a quality highlighted was 'Exceptional organizational skills' which I believe I exhibited to a certain degree, it was hard to ensure fellow students correspond with all aspects of being a Producer but I don't think I could have been much more organised. 'Excellent leadership consensus-building abilities' were exhibited by my dedication to turn up to every meeting that my group had, regardless of whether I had a direct contribution to make at that point, this way I felt it encouraged my team to work because if I had not turned up then they possible would have just left the meeting without my attendance. 'Ability to direct development of a project from start to finish while meeting deadlines', as stated previously I did not make a detailed schedule but assets that were necessary for the game were completed (in fact there were no assets missing at the end of the project) such as art and code

As well as the above list of skills I used the below qualities to help be a more effective Producer. 'keep meetings short and on track' , I am a great believer of this statement, it encourages teams to focus on the issue of the meeting rather than hijack it for other purposes (other meetings can be scheduled to do this). The second quality is 'Updates the schedule once a week or more', meeting on a weekly basis covered this quality. Not only did the team meet once a week I sent an e-mail confirming the meeting's minutes and highlighting what would need to be discussed at the next meeting. This quality: 'Sees the big picture' is another quality that is hard to prove, but simply taking the team through a development cycle, completing the game and keeping deviation from the design document to a minimum are all aspects of its success. Finally, 'Always trying to improve' was additional quality I believed strongly in at this level. At every meeting I would ask my team (both programmers, artists) what improvements I can make personally (as the Producer) and how general working practices can be improved on a weekly basis. This ensured any members of the team had any issues that they could come to me in confidence with suggestions that I would take seriously and try and implement if I felt they would be beneficial to the group.

As well as these qualities there were other qualities encouraged by different games industry members such as 'Good and frequent communication with your team will be your greatest asset', as said above I believe I displayed this quality by meeting on a weekly basis and sending emails to every group member to ensure they were aware of the project's situation.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion I have listed the aim of my project, its supporting objectives and tasks. I used these tasks to complete my objective and thus help me achieve my project aim, as well as a range of qualities and skills identified by games industry members. In highlighting individual objectives and tasks it helped me breakdown the role of a Producer, in breaking down the role of the Producer the true reasoning behind their function can be articulated accurately. Displaying a range of skills and qualities helped to what degree of excellence I completed the role of the Producer. Although conventional choices should be applied for a Producer there are many ways in which being innovative and applying a careful thought process to the situation of the project are more beneficial to the team. Completing my position in the project firsthand rather than study it in a strictly academic stance was more valuable to my comprehension of its demands. In citing experienced industry members and putting into practice their recommendations I learned how they had come to those recommendations by applying my tasks and completing objectives.

 

References:

[1] Games Industry.biz. 2008. [online]. Available from: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/global-games-industry-sales-68-3-billion-by-2012-says-report [Accessed 17th May 2010]

[2] Forbes. 2006. [online]. Available from: http://www.forbes.com/2006/12/11/games-gta-options-tech-enter-cx_rr_1211taketwo.html [Accessed 17th May 2010]

[3] BBC News. 2009. [online]. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8355788.stm  [Accessed 17th May 2010]

[4] Electronic Arts. 2010. [online]. Available from: https://jobs.ea.com/search/view.do?id=a0z50000000JnJBAA0  [Accessed 17th May 2010]


Sources:

Game Career Guide. 2010. [online]. Available from: http://www.gamecareerguide.com/getting_started/ [Accessed 17th May 2010]

 

Marc Mencher. 2006. [online]. Available from: http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/250/so_you_want_to_be_a_producer.php [Accessed 17th May 2010]

 

Jill Duffy. 2007. [online]. Available from: http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/414/game_production_an_introduction.php [Accessed 17th May 2010]

 

Jill Duffy. 2007. [online]. Available from; http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/411/game_design_an_introduction.php [Accessed 17th May 2010]

 

Simeon Peebler. 2007. [online]. Available from: http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/392/how_to_really_get_your_first_job_in_the_game_industry.php [Accessed 17th May 2010]


Kain Shin. 2009. [online]. Available from: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/KainShin/20090531/1605/WTF_Do_Producers_Do_All_Day.php [Accessed 17th May 2010]


Develop. 2009. [online]. Available from: http://www.develop-online.net/features/410/How-to-get-a-job-in-Production [Accessed 17th May 2010]


International Game Developers Association. 2002. [online]. Available from: http://archives.igda.org/breakingin/path_production.htm [Accessed 17th May 2010]

 

International Game Developers Association. 2002. [online]. Available from: http://archives.igda.org/breakingin/career_paths.htm [Accessed 17th May 2010]

 

International Game Developers Association. 2002. [online]. Available from: http://archives.igda.org/breakingin/path_design.htm [Accessed 17th May 2010]

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