Monthly Archives: June 2007

What’s Better Than One Ad?

I don’t remember which marketing book posed this question (it might have been one of Seth Godin’s, although not sure): what’s better than one ad?

The right answer was: six ads.

Meaning: repeating the ad. That’s the key.

That’s one of the reasons I keep repeating word GameProducer.net to make sure that people remember it. I display it on the site headline. I mention it several times on interviews. I mention it in blog posts (like this). I keep repeating it over and over.

Some people might think that you shouldn’t promote your products, or that you should be shy about your product. I think that anybody who truly believes in his product (whether it’s cleaning service, video game or a hot dog brand) should tell about it. Others won’t be telling about your product, so make sure you say things out loud.

Are you shy about your product?

If you are, then ask yourself: Why?

If you believe your product gives value to your audience – why not talk about it? Why not help people to remember it and you?

Keep repeating whatever you want to promote: that’s how somebody will eventually remember it.

Fallout 3 Teaser

Long awaited Fallout 3 video is now online – looking pretty sweet. I’ve always enjoyed how they’ve created a special Fallout atmosphere: the same trend seems to continue in the upcoming sequel.

More Producers Wanted to The Round Table

The first game production round table session got thousands of views in just a day, and several comments from people reporting how they enjoyed the post. Now I’m looking for more producers to join the Round Table.

If you are a producer (or manager/director) in an AAA company and have industry experience, please contact me. If you know somebody who could qualify – ask them to contact me.

Basically the Round Table discussions mean simply a gathering of producers, where they give their point-of-views on different game production related material. The “interview” won’t take so much time to answer (for example, first batch contained 7 questions, and in the future I aim to have 3-4 questions which should be relatively fast to answer).

Check out the first round table session and feel free to throw questions in case you’d have some ideas that could be discussed. If you want to take part, then contact me and give a brief bio about yourself (where you work, what games you’ve been doing).

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.

FREE Is Good

I’ve always heard and known that giving anything for FREE is a great way to gain exposure. It has been interesting to watch the effect of “free” by checking out the website statistics for two of my websites that I haven’t promoted almost at all (excluding the times I’ve mentioned them here on this blog).

Highpiled.com got 254 visits in February, 350 month after that, 502 the month after that and now 991 visits in May. In comparison with CelticHill.com: 100 visits in Feb, then 86, then 96 and finally 83 in May.

I haven’t promoted these sites in anywhere, besides mentioned them sometimes in my blog. It’s quite interesting that Highpiled climbed to almost thousand visitors in just a few months (without me promoting it) and I recently got request from PCZone to include the free game on their magazine (naturally I said “sure”). That probably will bring some more exposure and traffic for Highpiled. Celtic Hill traffic on the other hand has stayed quite steady.

Highpiled is free, Celtichill doesn’t. Free works.

Same thing occurred with my newsletter subscribers. In just couple of days after announcing my free game production e-book the subscriber amount pretty much doubled from 200 to 400. (And still growing nicely).

Naturally the growth can stop: if Highpiled wouldn’t be fun to play (at least for a while), I’m quite sure people would stop coming to the site. If I’d send totally worthless emails to people on my mailing list – the subscribers would disappear. “Free” equals to “Good”, but the moment you combine “free + trash” then it gets you “disaster”. Spamming people, attempts to trick people or making your game inaccessible are couple of examples that can get you to the dark side.

But when used in the right side – free may equal good to everybody.

What Did You Say Year Ago?

I checked my website archives to see what I had said a year ago, and whether it made any sense today. Here’s what I found:

Don’t walk in the dark where I was basically saying not to accept everybody’s advice. I believe that’s a good tip after a year. Questioning authority comes hand-in-hand with this piece of advice. I still agree with this

I had made another post Traffic statistics for June 2006. I had about 500 unique visits and 1000 pageviews as daily average and the site Technorati rank was 20,060 (436 links from 108 sites).

It’s quite nice to see that in May 2007 my site got 33,123 unique visits and 62,353 pageviews. Technorati Rank was 17,258 (Authority: 236) with 2,307 links. Thanks everybody for your support!

We’ll see what happens within the next year.

Do you have old archives where you could check out what did you say in your blog year ago? If so, how about writing to your blog (and perhaps pinging us so we can check your comments) and telling what you said one year ago. Remember to tell whether you still agree with your past thinking…

How to Create Your First Game If You Are an Artist

Some days ago I wrote a post about How to create your first game, and continued by presenting additional recommended resources.

Question:
One of you readers – Swirley – asked what to do if you cannot code:

thank’s for the help but in more of a art person and i dont know any1 who knows how 2 code or anything im just starting from skrach.

Answer:
Well, I believe there’s some routes you can take. First, you could simply hire somebody to code for you. The second option would be to partnership somebody who can code. Third option could be “learn to code”, although I personally don’t think it’s a good option to do everything by yourself. I’d recommend finding some reliable long-term business partner with whom you could make the games you want.

Okay, those choices was pretty obvious – and won’t help much if you don’t know where to find programmers. Art people probably know lots of art forums, and spend their time asking programmers in those graphics forums. A better option is to go there where the programmers hang out.

Here’s three places where you can find programmers

  • Indiegamer – lots of casual game makers and programmers. Just go there and tell people that you are an “art dude looking to partner with a coder” and you’ll get plenty of responses.
  • GameDev – Another place filled with coders. Just go there and tell you’d like to get into making games. I’m sure you’ll find people to help you out.
  • Rent a Coder – If you already have a clear idea and need to hire somebody, you might consider throwing a project proposal to this site. There’s plenty of takers out there.

Naturally I recommend to check out people’s background and past projects before getting into bigger partnership with them. That will save everybody’s time and effort.

Remember to do a proper proposal
I wrote in the past on How to find an artist for your game project. While that post was meant for programmers, it still contains useful information for those who want to find programmers for their projects.

I believe there’s couple of essential you need to do:

  • An (online) portfolio: Make sure you have a some kind of portfolio that you can show to people. It doesn’t matter to make a fancy looking website. What’s important is that you need to put your fancy looking work online so people can easily check what kind of artist you are.
  • Past experience: If you have made games (or some related projects) before, it would be good to mention those projects and tell how you contributed to them.

Start spending time on where programmers are. I’m sure you’ll find somebody to help you out.

Starcraft II Video

Pretty nice looking CGI trailer of Starcraft 2 (check out more videos and images on their website).

Blizzard announced that Starcraft 2 won’t be published in 2007. It’s nice to see that they still hold the policy they had 10 years ago when first Starcraft was done. A quote from the past:

December 9, 1997 Bob McKenzie, Divisional Merchandise Manager, Babbages Etc., “Missing Christmas will not negatively affect a AAA title like Starcraft. The software industry needs to become a year-round business, instead of only focusing on the holiday-selling season. We are excited about starting off the new year with such an anticipated title on store shelves.”

And a quote from their website FAQ about the release date of Starcraft 2:

May 1, 2007 At this point, it’s too early to provide an initial estimate on the release date. As with all Blizzard games, we will take as much time as needed to ensure the game is as fun, balanced, and polished as possible.

We’ll wait to see when they get the game out, and we wait when they announce the World of Starcraft