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  • Game Production, An Introduction

    - Jill Duffy
    What is production, as it relates to video games?

    Production generally refers to the work that producers do, and in the context of video game development, it specifically refers to project management. Often in game development, there is only one producer per title in development, so the term "producer" is a bit more relevant than "production team." On large multi-million dollar console titles, there may be multiple producers, but they will always be far outnumbered by programmers and artists.

    What do producers do?

    A producer of a video game is the person who oversees everyone and their work on a day-to-day basis. Producers have knowledge of what's going on in every department, usually to a fairly tight level of detail, which allows them to see whether and how all the other departments' work is coming together. Part of a producer's job is to spot potential problems before they become problems, including issues related to scheduling, time management, budgets, and inter-departmental cooperation (for example, making sure that what the design team is doing fits with the work the art team is producing).

    One of the main responsibilities of a producer is to create all the schedules, and then make sure people are sticking to them. When work simply cannot be completed in the time frame originally allotted, it's often up to the producer to rework the schedules and find a sensible solution. Producers can never make everyone happy all the time, but they do keep everyone productive.

    Overall, the producer is the person who knows what's going on across the board at all times, which allows him or her to know the state of the game project internally as well communicate that progress to the publisher. Similar titles found in related industries include project manager, project director, or simply "producer," as in film and theater.

    What job titles can a producer have?

    • Producer
    • Production coordinator
    • Assistant producer
    • Associate producer
    • Director of production

    What does a producer need to know?

    Above all else, a producer needs to know how to get along with all kinds of people: introverts, extroverts, dogmatists, pushovers, people whose top priority is making money, and people whose top priority is making the best game they've ever made.

    A producer should know a little bit about every department in game development but does not need to be a master in any of them. However, it helps producers tremendously to know about game design, as that knowledge can help them shape a clearer picture of the state of the game as it progresses through development. It also helps for producers to know a little bit about programming, or at least not be afraid to learn it. And while a producer does not necessarily have to have a background in fine art, it does benefit them to know what language to use when giving feedback to artists.

    Aside from have remarkable people skills and an ability to learn a little bit about everything, producers do have to have some hands-on skills, too. They need to know how to make and read spreadsheets so they can tackle all the scheduling. They need to know how to write well in order to both communicate with the publisher and document that communication. They need to be able to prioritize tasks for other people, or in other words, be able to look at an enormous list of work to do and, rather than feel overwhelmed by it, be able to become its master.

    How much money do producers make?

    The average salary for a producer, across all levels of experience, is $77,131. The average salary for a producer with three or fewer years experience is $52,885. Both of these statistics are taken from the Game Developer Salary Survey, reflecting salaries reported at year-end 2006.

    What types of people or personality traits make good producers?

    If you are a list-maker, you might make a good producer. Between type A and type B personalities, the average game producer probably falls somewhere in the middle, but leans toward being dominated by type A. Why? Between all the task-mastering and budgeting, the producer still has to be a cheery and likable person who has face-to-face contact with everyone on the team, and to be approachable, you need a little type B.

    Producers in the game industry often say they have always been producers, in one way or another, all their life. Whenever they were in a group project, they naturally took the leadership role. Whenever a group of neighborhood kids congregated on a summer night, they were the ones who divided everyone into teams and explained the rules of Man Hunt.

    What other resources does have for me if I want to know more about production?

    "So You Want To Be A Producer," by Marc Mencher

    "Production Basics and Beyond," by staff

    "Ask the Experts: How to Become a Producer," by Jill Duffy

    "Ask the Experts: Courses for Video Game Producers," by Jill Duffy

    "Book Review: The Game Producer's Handbook," review by Brad Kane

    The More Careers forum in our Community section


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