Producers of the Round Table – Breaking in the Industry

Now it’s time for the first batch for the Producers of the Round Table. The idea of the Round Table is to get producers who work in major gaming companies to present their opinions. Some of you readers have presented questions, and now these guys have answered them – and the results are displayed here.

We have several professionals presenting their ideas regarding game production. You can see their pics (from left to right), and the names here:

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 (personal site: AdrianCrook.com)
Ben Gunstone, Production Director Stainless Games

Let’s get going.

GameProducer.net: 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; you can sneak a peek here and here

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 add 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, its 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, its 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.

What are the most important parts in the job application? What kind of applicants have higher likelihood to get a job?

Robbie Edwards: When reviewing applications, I’m looking something that sets an individual apart from the crowd. Specifically when searching for a producer, any experience in project management, including social, civic or even just personal work. Someone that has shown an interest in organizing projects, whatever the scale, is an interesting candidate. I also look for any skills that may grow the studio or introduce knowledge lacking from our talent pool. For example, a candidate with a background in housing construction could have insights on how lessons learned from construction that could improve our own processes. However, these interesting bits are only enough to get to the next stage in the hiring process and do not in themselves warrant an offer letter. During the interview process, I am simply looking for you to prove your aptitude at the necessary skills and to ensure your business and project management philosophies are congruent with the company’s, studio’s and team’s. I believe that a person’s approach towards their job is the most critical factors towards their success in the role and also one of the easiest things to evaluate during an interview.

Peter O’Brien: CV’s are an ice breaker; but what it sounds like is crucial. Does it sound naïve? Does it sound ill informed? Does it sound legible? Does it sound egotistical? First impressions count. A friend of mine used to be a recruitment consultant and it was common to simply remove two thirds off the top of a paper pile … culled! I’m glad to inform you that smaller developers are not as radical as that in my experience. Qualifications are only a part of the criteria (small part); in Production, experience rules.

That said, the basics need to be there – legibility, what drives you and positional skill relationship based on experience or tools you would use in that position. Once in the interview situation, be natural; do not try to be what you think someone is looking for; learn to read people and adapt to the questions if necessary. If you are a natural communicator there should be very few issues, if you are not … work at it.

I once bought a book on IQ tests because I knew the company would lay it in front of me … I can’t stand the stuff, it’s a false measurement; but I did it and walked through that phase of the interview. Be committed; think every interview is your first. Another story I have is I once interviewed an extraordinary applicant but due to my lack of Production experience in hiring skilled programmers I allowed my impression to be overruled. This same coder, within a month, had two AAA companies bidding for him. What did I see in him? His ability to go after something, commit to something (if memory serves well he decided 12 months previous to be a coder and so gained and MBA in Maths and a Computer Science degree in one year while fathering children, working a job and coming home to a wife). Like I said, extraordinary; I am still in touch with him today despite never working with him.

Harvard Bonin: The resume is most important for me. Make it concise, clear and to the point. Most producers that I’ve met often operate in a “bullet point” world. Don’t overindulge. The persons reading your resume often have many to review and keeping them succinct is key. References from people in the industry is very helpful and I would always suggest showing some of your past work. It may be a school project, past games, etc. Applicants that have a higher likelihood of getting a job often have degrees from a university. For producers, a business degree is very helpful.

Adrian Crook: Applicants who demonstrate organizational ability. Clear and concise communicators. Those who love games and can articulate the pros and cons of games played.

Ben Gunstone: It depends on the job. For a straight Producer position I wouldn’t hire anyone who doesn’t have industry experience and have at least 2 to 3 published games under their belt. These games must have been seen through from start to end. Having experience of the full dev cycle is very important.

For an AP position the criteria varies. I’m looking for people who can show the ability to take responsibility for their work, good organisation skills and excellent communications skills. If someone doesn’t have industry experience they can make sure those qualities are highlighted in their CV accordingly by pickling out parts of their jobs that cover similar roles or issues they have dealt with in the past. If they don’t have anything like that form their previous experience then you shouldn’t really be applying – look for another in-road to the industry to be able to show those qualities

As a game producer do you have any say in who is hired to your team, and if so what would you say the ratio is for new employees who are 1) experienced college graduates 2) new college graduates 3) those who don’t have a degree but have demonstrated their abilities through independent/personal projects?

Robbie Edwards: This varies wildly depending on job role. Certain jobs almost require experience, but where there is flexibility, it is in our best interest to find the best candidate. The best candidate isn’t necessarily the one with the most work experience or highest degree, but rather more often the candidate with the highest motivation, determination, ambition and willingness to grow. Within our company we have junior level people with doctorates and high level management people with only a high school diploma. In directly answering the question though, I would say as a guess that we have 40% experienced college graduates, 40% new college graduates and 20% other.

Peter O’Brien: We have very talented and very experienced Leads and Managers as part of the Production/Development teams. As Producer I believe everyone can be managed, its part of what I do; it’s more important that those working with new candidates warm to them and respect their work. I would never expect the final call on which tools programmer, environment artist or game programmer we should hire.

The flexibility I have is that I can be as involved as I need to be but there are others who are better positioned to make the call and the final say sits with our Directors, for us its about maintaining a company attitude and ethic.

We dominantly invest in experience but we review every CV. We invest time and effort in fresher days, recruitment agencies and word of mouth. We also take on staff in various project phases and since the MSR days; if someone stands out… they are offered a position. I don’t want to estimate a split as I don’t have all the information.

Harvard Bonin: As a producer you always have a say in who is hired to the team, at least at EA. I would guess that the ratio is 40% experienced college graduates, 40% new college graduates and 20% no degree. Most often engineers have degrees, then producers/artists (art college), then designers. Often designers have history or writing degrees. These are just estimates over the years, however.

Adrian Crook: As the producer, I have the final say in who gets hired. I also do a lot of the recruiting myself, in some cases, using my personal networks. Re: the split between college grad and non-college grad, I’d say it’s 70/30 (college/non-college) these days. I could be way off, but it seems to be more and more the norm that even artists have college backgrounds. I started at EA when I was 19, so I never went to post secondary. But that seems to be an anomaly these days.

Ben Gunstone: Yes I do but more on a resource needed basis (tip: We need more programmers)

We look for all sorts and have good balance of new and experienced people here and every team has a mix. To a certain extent the project itself dictates the mix but as our teams are quite small and share a central tech base the experienced guys can help out on all projects.

if somebody wants to get a job in the gaming industry, what would be his next step? Where and how can he find a job? (for example: what would be a good website or resource to check out?)

Peter O’Brien: Skillset is pretty much a one stop shop.

Datascope hooked me up with a role at Hothouse and have continued to supply details almost monthly. Fortunately I am in a position to turn then down, despite some of the opportunities.

Its never a bad thing to contact developers directly; from a European perspective TIGA is a good place to start for contact details.

Thanks to the fantastic wikipedia, you can also get a global list.

General Advice:

Artists: Pay attention to your portfolio. However, think about how you package this – the font you use, the layout, the packaging. What is your folio trying to communicate? No experience is negligable if you show talent or ability; not all developers are looking for the same thing.

Programmers: Demo, demo, demo! Make sure the demo reflects the role. If its gameplay, make a game… forget graphics and focus on logic. If its graphics, show technique and problem solving skills to issues that are not lifted from a book or the same as your graduate mate also applying for the role.

Designers: This is a tough one. Key components are communication skills, problem solving skills. An ability to express oneself clearly is crucial. How do you show how you think? You don’t need code to make a game. Knowledge of fundamental design rules/history/principals is essential.

Testers: Keep an eye out around platform launches and ship dates. If you know a game is shipping in April then apply in January to see if they need support. Platform developers or large publishers is a good place to start, but if you can get into a development house you will learn the ropes. Above all, engage developers once you are there… they are people just like you.

There are many layers to most roles; the key is to prove you have the ability to contribute to a team. It won’t always be easy getting a response, and expect rejection. You should learn from every experience and not fear a change of approach.

Harvard Bonin: Like any career, there are many methods you can use when searching for a new job.

1. The internet: Sites like the ones listed below all have job postings and are utilized often by companies. All are reputable and very helpful when searching.

gamasutra.com
gamejobs.com
creativeheads.net

2. Conventions: There are a bunch of conventions that you can try to attend that often are more or less job fairs.

dicesummit.org
gdconf.com
siggraph.org

3. Industry Get Togethers: If you can make it to an industry social gathering its likely much easier to engage in conversation with someone in the business.

interactive.org

4. Recruiters: Mostly these are helpful to people already in the industry but they can possibly help.

5. Just Make Contacts: I got my original job through a friend of a friend. More often than not people in the business are happy to help new folks. The above places are good spots to start.

Ben Gunstone: There are piles of places to look. Edge and Games tm are great places to look for adverts from developers. You’ll find the main agencies advertise there as well.

gamesindustry.biz website is a good place and if you get hold of a copy of MCV or develop magazine are great too.

Remember that by applying directly to a developer you’ll save them the recruitment fees…which is nice :)

Make sure when you’re talking to agencies to verify that they are not going to blanket email out your C.V. Insist that they contact you before sending out your CV.

To summarize in one sentence – what a enthusiastic game developer needs in order to get a career in the gaming industry?

Robbie Edwards: Motivation, passion, talent and persistence.

Peter O’Brien: Measured enthusiasm which reflects a learned attitude about the role; understand the company you are applying to and prepare to adapt but be truthful with it.

Harvard Bonin: To get into the industry an enthusiastic game developer needs and intimate knowledge of the business, a love for games and some form of university degree.

Adrian Crook: Passion, confidence, an analytical nature, strong communication skills and a love of games.

Ben Gunstone: Enthusiasm is great, coupled with genuine skill and a willingness to work hard when it’s needed (plus some hard playing when that is needed too!!) will go along way with us.

Thanks everybody!

This concludes the first session of the Round Table. If you have questions from these producers, feel free to contact me or tell your question in this blog entry. They aren’t guaranteed to get answered, but some of them will.

If you are a producer in a major studio (doing AAA games), feel free to contact me and tell your interest in contributing to these sessions.

Thanks Robbie, Peter, Harvard, Adrian and Ben for your contribution – we appreciate you taking time to answer these questions!

And everybody: if you want to get informed about the next session, subscribe to the newsletter to get informed.

The opinions expressed by these producers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, plans or positions of the companies where they work at.

21 thoughts on “Producers of the Round Table – Breaking in the Industry

  1. The game industry isn’t what it used to be. For every one person that is lucky enough to break into production (and that’s what it amounts to half the time — pure luck), another 10 hardworking QA grunts get passed over and stuck for months, if not years, in QA. A lot of today’s veteran producers wouldn’t be able to make it were they starting out today — especially those with no degrees (or trade school degrees, at best).

    Ken Levine got his first job as a game designer with no industry experience and he didn’t even know what a game designer did. The industry has changed a lot in the past decade plus.

  2. [...] how other producers have got their jobs We had a lengthy interview about breaking in the industry and if you haven’t checked that (at least 3 times) it’s about time to do so. From that [...]

  3. [...] a kid playing computer games… it really never crossed my mind that one day I might be hosting roundtables where I could hear what the video game makers of some of the largest gaming companies in the world [...]

  4. [...] deeper to answering about the necessity of having a degree, I’d like to remind about the breaking in the industry interview that was conducted with several producers. There’s plenty of insight about what one [...]

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  7. Isabel Ringing

    Didn’t read the article but from what I read everything is common sense. it’s all about separating the goods from the chaff. The truth is 90% of wannabes especially on sites like gamedev are all talkers and big egos but are far short on skills and work effort.

  8. [...] at the reassuringly eclectric GameProducer.net, site owner Juuso has posted the first ‘Producers of the Round Table’ article, called ‘Breaking Into The Industry’, in which he quizzes game producers about [...]

  9. [...] to break into the games industry?  Game Producer has hosted a roundtable (that initially slipped my attention) with industry insiders from some fairly prominent companies – [...]

  10. [...] Consoles * Xbox 360 Consoles * Video Game Design Degree * Become a Sponsor RECENT COMMENTS Scurvy Lobster: “Well taking an education in games is a way of showing dedication :-) But talented and [...]

  11. Well taking an education in games is a way of showing dedication :-)

    But talented and ressourceful people will probably always be able to fit in – education or not.

  12. #8 In my country (I’m from Poland) gaming education on universities is a new idea. I don’t know how it ends up, especially in Poland which is rather unknown country from the gaming industry perspective, but I think that “random” people with passion and some experience from hobby projects have equal or maybe even better chances to find a job in the industry then these “educated” ones.

  13. Good interview!

    I almost applied for job in Bizarre Creations – they do very interesting projects, and the environment seems to be very laid back and cool.

  14. #6 I believe that their luck was a result of the game business as it used to be. Today universities and gaming schools are training people for specific roles in a project. This will make it hard for “random” people to get in to the bigger companies.

    In my country we have had a national and government funded gaming education for three years now, and if you wan’t a job in the industry that would be the place to start.

  15. This is a great interview. A valuable resource for those who wish to get into game industry . Double thumbs Upppp….

  16. Great interview. One thing what comes to my mind is that most of them started being Game Producers, by luck and actualy noone of them thinked about this job earlier.

  17. [...] Game Producer Resource: » Producers of the Round Table [...]

  18. Great interview! I am looking forward to the next one.

  19. This is a great interview with lots of great insight. I’m glad to hear that several of them rose through the ranks from QA. That’s where I’m at now and now hope has been renewed.

  20. Ulf: Thank the producers – and thank the readers who came up with the questions. I’m merely a medium here – and very thankful myself :)

    Thanks for the questions – I aim to bring more producers in the Round Table and put less questions per session, hopefully bringing information in public in a more frequent basis.

  21. Very nice interview! Thanks very much, i hope another session will follow soon :)
    What i would find highly interesting is, how do professionals think about the future of pc gaming compared to console gaming?

    Greetings