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  • Producers of the Round Table: Round One

  •, a game production resource, recently held its first Producers of the Round Table. The Round Table is a place for producers who work in game industry to present their opinions in response to questions gathered from readers.

    In this debut, participants include Robbie Edwards, Senior Producer Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft, Peter O'Brien, Producer at Bizarre Creations, Harvard Bonin, Senior Producer at Electronic Arts, Adrian Crook, Producer Relic Entertainment, and Ben Gunstone, Production Director Stainless Games. Who you are, where you work and what are you working on at the moment?

    Robbie Edwards: I am Producer at Red Storm Entertainment and Ubisoft. I just recently completed work on Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 for Xbox 360 and my current projects are unannounced.

    Peter O'Brien: My adopted name at Bizarre Creations is ‘pob' (an abbreviation for my real name of Peter O'Brien)... very English, very northern! Located on the North West of England, UK (Liverpool), I lead the Production of PGR4.

    Harvard Bonin: I am a Senior Producer at Electronic Arts. My latest project is Command & Conquer 3. Past work includes C&C Generals, C&C Red Alert 2 and The Lord of the Rings The Battle for Middle-earth.

    Adrian Crook: Producer at Relic Entertainment / THQ Canada. I produced The Outfit for the Xbox 360. I am currently headed up Relic Labs - our internal concept/incubation group that is charged with creating the concepts for our Next Big Thing, as well as, potentially, our Next Small Thing.

    Ben Gunstone: Hi, I am the Production Director at Stainless Games based on the Isle of Wight. We are working on a bunch of XBLA games at the moment and have already released Crystal Quest, Novadrome and Centipede & Millipede on XBLA. We are in the process of completing a set of Atari classics for XBLA including Missile Command, Asteroids, Tempest, Battlezone and Warlords. We are also working on the recently announced Happy Tree Friends (on XBLA and PC) for SEGA.

    What inspired you the most to become a game producer/developer, or did you just fall in to the position after a period of time?

    Robbie Edwards:
    I started my career in the gaming industry through a bit of luck by answering an ad in my local newspaper for testers. The ad was hiring temporary testers for an upcoming game titled Rainbow Six. At the time, I was working in a terrible job, but it was a secure job. Hoping that I could make a good impression and advance, I left my full time job and became a temporary tester job at Red Storm Entertainment. It was not as easy to impress as I had hoped, but after a few lucky breaks, the company offered me a full time position in tech support. I quickly discovered that I was not a good tech support representative lacking both the patience and demeanor needed. After a few months, I moved back into testing and worked on the studio's console titles. After a few more months, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the Associate Producer for Ghost Recon and that began my career as a producer.

    Peter O'Brien: I trained as a 3D designer; the aim was to create ‘real world' Products such as furniture, social space, kitsch objects or sustainable products. However, the most valuable lessons formed around design thinking; the why, what, who and why again.

    Still, frustrated with the limitations of ‘real world' design and a lack or technical skill and conflict with what defined a ‘product' I was inspired by Metal Gear on the PS1. Over time I realised where my skill set lay.

    I was young(ish) and headed for London as a Game Tester at Sega Europe. Arriving just in time for the Dreamcast launch ‘crunch'; armed with a creative ego and a ‘how to' attitude I was a Producer managing European and Japanese titles within 18 months. The rise was a little quick but I remember sleeping under my desk and going offsite, shacked up in a hotel to help ship MSR... You could say they were my game producer stripes. I don't regret a single day!

    Harvard Bonin: My inspiration came much like it comes to everyone - I love to play games. When I was younger I even sent in game ideas to Atari. If I recall correctly one was a 3-D version of Scramble (though I didn't know what 3-D was then...this was around 1983). The second was a mix of Joust/Metroid. I guess I was an accidental pioneer! Too bad they were both rejected. I think most people in the business who got into it for the love of games secretly want to be designers when they grow up. I had followed the industry closely through magazines, etc. and had an intimate knowledge of the inner-workings and the various companies. I started at Virgin Interactive in Irvine, California very nearly out of sheer luck. I had always wanted to make games and I was fortunate enough to have a "friend of a friend" at Virgin. I began as Studio Coordinator... essentially a post that required me to report the studio status to the head of production at the time. From there I moved into an Associate Producer role, then Producer and now, Senior Producer.

    Adrian Crook: I grew up playing games - everything from Parsec on the TI 99/4A to Civilization and Populous on the PC. I never thought I could be the one who made them - at most I dreamed of working for an elite game cracking (read: piracy) group. Luckily I wound up on the right side of the law.

    Ben Gunstone: Well I never started with the driving passion for working on games that so many people I hear about but did rather fall into it. I started many moons ago by working at Nintendo on their "games hotline", answering gameplay questions. Form there moved into QA and then into Production. It seemed a natural fit to my skill set... or maybe lack of any other skills.

    Not everyone can apply at a studio and become a producer immediately. What advice do you have for those out there who want to work for a professional game studio and eventually become a producer?

    Robbie Edwards: Baby steps. Not many companies are going to be willing to put their multi-million dollar projects into the hands of an amateur. So you should be willing to accept and work entry level jobs in the industry and view these opportunities as a job interview. Approach every day with the intention of showing that you are a skilled and dedicated employee. Do everything that is asked of you and do it better than anyone else would. At the same time, learn everything you can about the industry and about other people's role in the development cycle. Over time you will not only show that you are a capable employee but also gain the respect of your coworkers, which will be crucial to your success when you do move into the role of producer.

    Peter O'Brien: Production has many faces in our industry; there is little or no standardisation of the term so you will rarely receive the same answer where you most expect it. Skillset (in the UK) are trying to address this.

    Harvard Bonin: In my view, there are 3 essential components of the producer role: business, execution, vision.

    Getting a degree in business is very helpful. For me, I ended up getting my MBA, which has helped me greatly when managing the day to day and franchise operations surrounding a project. Producers need to think of their projects as a business unit itself. It is a money making venture. While it happens to be a business that you will likely love, its still just a dollars and cents venture. Yes, it's an artistic love, but producers can't let that feeling get in the way of making sound business decisions.

    Next, having an understanding of leadership principles is vital. After all, the producer is generally responsible for getting the project done. Wise decisions regarding resources, people, schedules, etc. are critical. For the producer, often every decision is urgent and can take the team down the wrong or right path to completion. There are many books on the market regarding leadership and I suggest you invest in a few. John C. Maxwell has a number of books that might be worth your time. There are seminars and courses that can aid you as well. The Dale Carnegie course, while many years old now, was a very important influence for me personally.

    The producer needs to have a talent for "getting the job done" and at some level this is an innate attitude the producer must adopt. Getting the team to understand the urgency of the job at hand while maintaining good relationships can be a challenge. That's why familiarizing yourself with leadership principles is a key to success.

    Vision is a tricky thing. My personal definition for vision is: The ability to insert predictability into unpredictable situations. Having a clear idea of how to get from Point A to Point B in the best way possible for both the health of the team and health of the project is a very valuable trait - and one that can take the longest to cultivate. Also, it's not just knowing how to get there. Its also an ability to envision what you'll have when you do. Some of this comes with experience but much comes from taking the time to actually think deeply about your project. You should set aside at minimum an hour every week to do this. Close your office door, take a walk, go to the beach, throw ideas on a white board... whatever allows you the time and freedom to think uninterrupted. I would also advise that you collaborate with the many smart people on your project. They often consider paths you may not.

    Ben Gunstone:
    You need experience and you need to set your sights at something realistic. The experience doesn't need to be as a producer at first but can be based on many different things. A lot of producers I've spoken to will have (like me) worked their way up through the QA ranks, some other move across from other disciplines like code or art and the last place to get the experience is to get a degree in something relevant.

    Most importantly though is to realise that you are not going to put into a position of responsibility from day one and you have to learn form the ground up.


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