Category Archives: Producers of The Round Table

Producers Roundtable – Questions and Answers

In this roundtable session, we’ve picked questions posed by you readers. The questions vary from game design to game producer salaries. Seven questions were presented, and the following professionals gave answers to these questions:

Harvard Bonin, Senior Producer at Sony
Hendrik Lesser, Managing Director and Executive Producer, Remote Control Productions
Jeremy Lee, Development Director, Double Helix (formerly the Collective and Shiny Entertainment)
Robbie Edwards, Senior Producer Red Storm Entertainment / Ubisoft.
Frank Rogan, Producer, Realnetworks

Here are the questions and answers.

Sargon asks: How do you know that your game is fun?

Harvard Bonin:
Rabbit Hole question! This might be the hardest of the seven. Its kind of like “How do you know a joke is funny?”

Webster’s defines “fun” as “what provides amusement or enjoyment.” The trouble is that fun is subjective and what’s fun for some people is not fun for others. The easy answer is that there is an inherent ability in people of make this judgement.

For me, I believe that the judgement of fun is a personal choice – voluntary or otherwise. It stems from a person’s life experiences and emotional mechanisms that have been reinforced over time. Also, fun is a product of social mores in the society you reside. We can only judge if our game is fun by 1) relying on our own game playing judgement and 2) observing other players and their reactions. You think your game is fun based on your own judgement but you know your game is fun by watching others play it.

Hendrik:

We play the game a lot internally and discuss the fun level.

Of course we also ask family and friends what they think.

Later in development we start doing focus group tests to refine the fun factor.

Frank:
You should be checking on the fun factor at every stage of development, and several times before you even start really working on it.

If you don’t think your game is fun from the initial whiteboard, brainstorming session, you’re in trouble. If you don’t think your game is fun after you’ve playtested with pen-and-paper, Lego blocks, sand tables, prototype code, using free tools (e.g. Source engine, Torque engine, etc), you’re in trouble. If you don’t think your game is fun after you’ve prototyped a level or two in pre-production, you’re in trouble. If you don’t think your game is fun after play-testing, usability testing and focus testing, you’re in trouble.

So, how do you *know* it’s fun? That’s a difficult question to answer. But the path to answering it can be found all this testing and all this iteration.

Jeremy Lee: You never know if your game is fun – you can never be certain I don’t think anyway.

You’re can get glimpses of fun throughout production, but it’s particularly difficult to separate “fun” from “done” at the start. When something is grey and blocky and has no audio, it’s hard to have fun with it unless you can anticipate the result when it’s finished.

The best way you can tell if parts of the game are fun, is to put it into your audience hands as soon as possible and watch the reaction. If they look engaged, excited, and involved you know you’re on the right track.

Ricardo asks: When the producers or game designers start thinking in a new game/IP in what area he or she usually starts planning?

Harvard: When creating a new IP it usually depends on the strengths of the team and technology that I have at hand. If there is an existing, quality game tech I look for ways to leverage it. If there is a great team with a specific expertise I do the same. From there its about working with a great game director/lead designer to allow them to find their inspiration. I provide them with the box and they can pretty much explore all the directions they want. My only concern is that the game is marketable in the key Sony territories and that it fits within the basic criteria established (specific genre, use of technology, etc). Those criteria usually point that creative leader down a certain path…but its one in which they have a lot of freedom. Here at Sony its important that team members realize that its the creativeness of the team that strengthens the game.

Hendrik: It could be different things depending on the scope for the next project. If the scope is not really limited, the game designer starts with some core mechanics mostly and a rough layout of the game system. Some suggestions for style and setting are there too.

We meet then and discuss the different ideas to find out which we proceed with.

Mostly the story for example is talked about briefly but not in detail for some time.

Frank: A creative manager I once worked with had a funny story, about meeting a budding game developer who asked if he could pitch him a game.

“OK,” said the creative manager, “let’s hear it.”

The young designer straightened up and launched into his pitch.

“In the early days of the 32nd century…”

“Stop,” said the creative manager. “Your game idea sucks.”

The point being, if you’re starting with some deeply worked out, personally fulfilling, epic story, with your sweat stains and your little nerd footprints all over it, you’re on the wrong track.

Now, you may be on the right track for writing a novel or a screenplay, which is fine. But it’s probably not a video game.

Start with the gameplay. Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay. Take Portal, for instance. Everyone loves the story, such as it is, but it’s all about the gameplay that starts with a simple premise: “I can open a door here, that opens up over there.” Then move quickly into the visuals.

Jeremy: For us at Double Helix, it almost always starts with the gameplay. What will deliver a good experience when the player interacts with the game. But in reality all those things have to start “first” too – you can’t design in a vacuum but I would always prefer to weave a story around a great piece of gameplay than the opposite. I know many would disagree with that, but stories are usually easier to revise and reshape during production than core gameplay.

Sean asks: I would still love to know why dedicated server files are not a priority in online gaming. Aside from iD Software, Epic, DICE and Valve everyone fails terribly in this dept, and it seems that dedicated servers are afterthoughts to most companies.

Frank: The flip answer is that setting up and maintaining dedicated servers costs real money, and unless you’re an MMO, there’s no ready way to monetize that outlay. The game developers you mention have developed games for which there are usually strong communities that set up their own server playgrounds at no or low cost to the developers. Some of these developers you mention have also branched out to offer their engine technologies as licensable software products, which is a business in its own right, and further defrays and justifies development costs.

Hendrik: For most “normal” multiplayer games you don’t need dedicated servers. A simple matchmaking is enough. It is the same in more detail then with spectator mode etc.

Harvard: I agree with Sean and that’s why we have dedicated servers for Warhawk and/or any project I work on. I suspect it has mostly to do with the expense of setting up servers, maintaining them, etc. There are a lot of costs involved and services behind the scenes to accommodate the player base. Consider the servers, the maintenance personnel, bandwidth, etc. Personally, I prefer a hybrid model where there are dedicated servers and also player servers. That way the game can keep on keeping on long after the publisher and game team have moved to another title. Servers are only the tip of community support. For Warhawk we have released 5 content updates and 3 expansion packs since Fall 2007. Its very important to work with the community after release in order to maintain consumer loyalty.

khanstruct asks:

I wanted to pose this question to the AAA guys out there to get a broad and more real-industry opinion. Now personally, I’m a firm believer in Howard Aiken’s quote, “Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.”

I’ve heard a lot of “would-be” developers saying “Protect your ideas! Make everyone sign an NDA! Post armed guards around your laptop!” (ok, the last one was an exageration). Then I’ve heard a lot of actual developers saying “Don’t worry about it. No one is actually interested in stealing your idea, if for no other reason than they have far more to lose in a law suit than you do.”

I’ve personally been blatantly robbed of a few ideas (none related to gaming however) and have seen it happen to others, but never on a life altering scale. So my question is this; how closely do we (indie-developers) need to protect our IP? Being unfunded and small scale, we obviously need more exposure during the development phase than the big companies (searching for investors, developing an initial fan-base and even securing a solid team), but are we setting ourselves up for disaster?

Harvard: Any major, reputable company will have you sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or a Submission & Confidentiality Agreement (S&C) before viewing your title or idea. Most will not take unsolicited ideas unless they are legally protected. If you are showing your ideas without either of these agreements then you are at risk. These agreements are offered by companies not to protect you, but to protect them. Most will not sign one from you…only theirs. Plenty of developers have ended up suing large companies as no S&C was filed. They are at much more risk than you…after all, the publishers have the deep pockets and usually the garage developers don’t. Do yourself a favor, just make sure these two documents are signed before showing your idea. It will protect both parties from unscrupulous tactics and is really no big deal to do.

Hendrik: “It is all about execution” is a well known quote from a lot of people. I tend to agree. Having a background as a business development guy with a major publisher I know that it does not really make sense to steal an idea. You need the expertise and the motivation of a team.

I have some many ideas in my notebook, why would I steal someone else?

But besides these abstract thoughts it is good to protect your IP. So if you talk to well known publishers tell them you talk to all of them. If you talk to small, sometimes mostly unknown publishers have them sign NDAs.

In the end to keep an IP is much more important than to protect it before execution. If someone steals it, have another one.

Frank: There’s a few different points to make here.

You should take reasonable steps to protect your IP – proper use of copyright marks, NDAs when you’re asked to submit demo code and so forth. I wouldn’t let that get in the way of you developing a personal relationship with a publisher, though. If you’ve documented your copyrights, you can always enforce them after the fact, if it comes to it.

Most publishers don’t want unsolicited submissions, because of rights issues, but the real reason is that most publishers/developers already have more workable ideas than they can use at any given point.

Don’t underestimate the power of parallel thinking. It’s likely that your brilliant flash of creative insight has happened before to other people. Blizzard wasn’t the first group to think, “Hey, a fantasy MMO might be a good idea.” The key is execution on good ideas, not the idea all by itself.

You can’t copyright an idea. You can copyright the expression of an idea. It’s a key legal and logical difference.

Jeremy: You need to protect yourself, not just because somebody may steal your ideas, but to instill confidence in the future investment you and your investors will eventually make.

Publishers and investors won’t want to fund a game that’s going to get leaked on the internet or wind up so accessible to the outside that people are no longer interested in it. I wouldn’t worry as much about the impact of a potential theft as much as the impact of not effectively demonstrating your ability to ensure confidentially.

Robbie: For me, there are 2 parts of a successful product. There is the creation of the idea, which is certainly important, but even more important is the execution of that idea. I think every successful game clone shows that the idea alone is not enough to create a successful title. Ideas, even good or great, are pretty easy to create. What sets Diablo apart from all the clones? It’s certainly not the idea, but clearly the quality of the game and the execution of that idea. So, having a great idea is a good start, but without the ability to realize it fully, it will remain just a great idea.

Emmanuel asks:

We’re currently implementing Scrum, and it’s looking very promising. I think the method will work wonders to implement features incrementally.

Where we are more uncertain is how to handle things like:

  • designing missions for a solo campaign: can you really build and tune a campaign through a series of user stories?
  • tool building: there’s a lot of work going on to build tools for level designers and developers, how can we account for that? can you take a scrum approach?
  • performance tuning: this is an ongoing concern, and we struggle to build that as part of the “potentially shippable” in small iterations.
  • fragmentation vs aggregation: we’ve had a lot of pushback in some cases where the developers believed that by building incrementally certain features, we would end up paying a higher cost in the long run (either in dollars or performance). But taking a more aggregated approach would make it impossible to deliver anything in a sprint (we run 2-week sprints), which kind of defeats the purpose of Scrum.

So it would be great to hear of the producer’s experiences in dealing with that.

Harvard: SCRUM in the words of a respected colleague of mine is like many other methods. Its kind of “new agey”. Its a little hand wavy, a little unpredictable and professes to be the savior for game development. I believe that any methodology needs to be tempered with the judgement of the implementers. Wholly hanging your hat on one method is naive. The participants in the process need to evaluate what works and what doesn’t for their particular project and team. In my experience SCRUM works well if there are real, tangible features that are reasonably known and can be evaluated in a hands on way in a collaborative environment. It seems to work better in focused, small pods but gets too laborious on a very large team. It can work well with prototyping but not as well in major cycles when the team is deep in production and execution. Used intelligently it can work but not for every case imaginable.

Hendrik: All questions regarding scrum have to be decided and sorted out by either yourself or a scrum trainer who knows you, your team and your processes well.

Scrum is no silver bullet with a specific rule set to follow. It is a philosophy which you have to adopt to your situation.

If your sprint length is not enough for some things expand it, of course you can develop tools with scrum etc.

Sebastian asks:

Unlike most of the indies, the AAA game producers are able to survive and earn a living from their games. They pay well their employees and continue to develop new titles from the money their games generate, but it is still tough for many of them. However they have the advantage of having publishers and a distribution network. They have more visibility than indies. In surface, they seem to succeed more easily than indies.

How can indies develop great selling strategies like AAA game producers without a marketing department of many people?

Harvard: Without a top marketing, QA, Customer Service and Distribution partner you are really putting yourself behind the eight ball. Don’t forget, financed development teams usually have a lot more $$$. That said, creativity can suffer – which is where the indie devs can shine. Consider other distribution sources like the Playstation Network. Most games there are a fraction of the cost and see sizable units sold. At this point, on-line distribution is the way to go.

Practically, find an MBA school, talk to their dean and offer your game up as a project for their business students. Often they love to work on real world problems and I’ve seen many students help struggling small businesses.

Jeremy: I don’t know if this is a surprise to anyone or not, but it’s rarely the game producer who lands a project. AAA game deals are generally born from business development teams that go from publisher meeting to publisher meeting.

They usually come armed with a few game pitches that are unique IPs and then the publisher will view those and say something like “Those are cool, but we have a big movie coming out next year, how about making that game instead?”.

So much of the business is relationship-driven and getting an original IP signed is never, ever easy because there’s more risk involved. If you can find ways to minimize the risk for the buyer that will help.

Robbie: I personally feel that a great product will sell itself, especially in the internet age. The internet makes it so easy to promote your product with small budget if you are willing to put in effort.

Word of mouth is really the best type of advertising, the challenge is to get people to talk about your game. That’s where sites like Facebook or Digg provide you with an easy avenue to get eyes on your product. Also, have the developers blog about your game.

I have wanted to do this for about 4 years now, but unfortunately, I’m pretty boring. I have always thought it would be a great way to create a connection with your consumers and generate a great deal of buzz. I mean what is more exciting in game development than working in a small indie development house where every day is a fight to survive. That’s great drama.

Frank: This is a tough one.

It’s one of those questions where the answer is, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

I will point out three areas that I think are underserved by independent game developers:

  • Your Web site must be professional, easy to use, up-to-date and provide me with all the information I might ever want about your company. It costs next-to-nothing to maintain, and speaks volumes about your ability to execute.
  • Your projects must have consistent production values. Pay attention to all the little details — UI, installation procedures, audio. Don’t just throw your material out there and hope it makes an impression. Make it look as slick and as polished as possible.
  • Respect the power of personal connections. Recognize both the macro-goal of a publisher (i.e. make money, manage risk), but also the micro-goals of the personalities that comprise the publisher (i.e. locate and nourish partners that can execute on projects with little help, direction and attention). You need to make it as easy as possible for people to say “yes” to your proposals.

Hendrik:
If you want to do a AAA first person shooter witch a small team and a small publisher, forget it basically.

Everything you do has to be related to the situation. If you have a nice indie developer at hand, do nice, smaller sized projects and check out alternative distribution and marketing channels like PC-online, PSN, XLBA, Wii ware or Steam or build up your own which most browser game developers do.

But beware, it is getting more and more difficult to do everything on your own. Better think about teaming up, create a joint venture etc.

If you want to do AAA games then you have to work a while and be damn lucky to reach the point were you can handle that with your team. If you as an individual want to work on AAA games work for bigger companies and try to climb the ladder.

Saad asks: What kind of salary game producers or executive game producers have?

Robbie: According to the Game Industry Salary Survey, producers average $78,716 annually.

Harvard: It really depends on the company. Here’s a helpful link.

Hendrik: Totally depends on the company and the territory you work in. the IDGA does regular market research on that. Overall it is in average 5-12k a month depending on your experience and your former success.

Frank: Some key points to make here is that titles and salaries can vary widely from studio to studio. But I think Gamasutra’s salary surveys are fairly accurate.

Jeremy: It’s a huge range, depending where you are and what you work on. The last salary survey I have handy is from 2007, but it puts the average salary for producers at $78,716.

Thanks everybody!

This concludes the Round Table session. If you are a producer in a major studio (doing AAA games with a budget over one million), feel free to contact me and tell your interest in contributing to these sessions.

Thanks Robbie, Jeremy, Frank, Hendrik and Harvard for your contribution – I really appreciate you taking time to answer these questions, and I’m sure the readers feel the same!

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

Ask Your Questions From the AAA Game Producers (This Chance Ends In 6 Days)

After a long pause, I’m preparing the next producer roundtable session and this time I wanted to get you guys and girls to participate in the process.

If you have a question to these producer, bring it on
Earlier we have got answers from the producers of EA, Sony, Bizarre Games, Stainless Games, Gas Powered Games, Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft, Relic Entertainment to name some of them. (And our doors are open to get more producers to join us)

If you have a question, simply throw a comment or email me your question. We’ll try to cover as many questions as possible.

The chance to ask questions ends within 6 days, so bring in the questions.

P.S. If you are a producer, and working on a gaming company, email me and we’ll get you in.

Censorship in Games – Producers Roundtable (Part 2/2)

This article is the part two of censorship in games. We recommend that you read the part one before proceeding, in case you haven’t checked it already.

Censorship in games is a topic that’s been debated for long. What wasn’t accepted years ago might be common place today. We asked who should take responsibility in video games censorship. Should studios be more responsible for what kind of games they do? Is it right for government ban games? What about freedom of expression? If governments can ban games, shouldn’t they also ban some movies? Are “Adults Only” ratings enough? Shouldn’t parents watch what their kids play?

The following producers give answers to these questions:

Harvard Bonin, Producer at Sony
Peter O’Brien, Bizarre Creations
Ben Gunstone, Production Director at Stainless Games
Frank Rogan, Producer at Gas Powered Games

Harvard:

Let’s get real. Is this not about the almighty dollar? Or pound? Or yen?

Seriously, game companies are just that…companies. They are in business to provide $$$ to shareholders or owners.

If racy, sadistic, murderous games make money then they will continue to be made. Game companies (or any media company) will make them until they don’t. They…err…”we“…will push the boundaries if there is a niche that will pay cash money for our work. If the games didn’t make money, we wouldn’t make them.

So the real question is “Who leads society”? Do we as entertainment makers lead them – or do the consumers that buy them? Is this a chicken or the egg issue?

Apparently we, as game makers, need external governing bodies to regulate us. Or do gamers need to regulate themselves? Yes, gamers need to have personal responsibility to make proper choices on what they do and do not buy. Still, does that remove our own responsibility?

Or, is it our responsibility to push the boundaries?

Peter:
The dollar/pond question is an interesting one from the POV that the most common motivation for any entertainment is to earn money. This leads to common production content which is why when wizards are cool everyone makes a wizard movie/show; when global disaster is cool, everyone makes a disaster movie. Even Heroes was created to compete with Lost… a lot of character, a little sci-fi… shake and stir.

Its no coincidence that documentaries are popular again because they have become sensational as well as meaningful; its also no coincidence that political movies from Hollywood starring George Clooney or Brad Pitt are heralded way above their merit.

And so we, as an industry are the same. BMXXX proves sex doesn’t sell in games (if at all) if its gratuitous and patronising. And violence doesn’t sell unless there is some new mechanic or story that warrants and informed audiences attention. Think about GTA; forget the over zealous content for a second and think of the fact that Rockstar where the first company to deliver popular genre culture (gangsters) to a 3D game, in a sandbox environment which that was familiar to all (city) to a common audience (Playstation generation).

There are leaders of society, but this lead is more of a Black Swan; at which point society sets the trend; media and government then follows until the next Black Swan.

What society allows is a story to be told where previously it was too sensitive an issue. Black Swans result in tolerance and knowledge. Its important to understand where we are going, not where we have been.

Frank

Well, this may be a day late and dollar short (milestones, ya’ know), but I’ll toss my opinions out.

The important first step is to define some terms.

Censorship isn’t always censorship, if you catch my drift. I think this is particularly important, because many Americans casually use the term “censorship” to refer to *any* restriction that limits, or even appears to limit, speech, whether federal, state or local laws, or commercial practices. John Q. Public levels the “censorship” claim right and left, whether or not it’s correct or even warranted. Moreover, there’s a perception among the creators of media — filmmakers, musicians, game developers — that if for any reason, you are unable to market your wares in the manner you desire, you are being “censored.” Censored by … who? Doesn’t matter. “They” won’t let me sell my movie/album/game. The result of such a diluted meaning is predictable — misunderstandings and misplaced anger.

Apart from a few common-sense restrictions (the common “yelling fire in the movie theater” example, and various libel/slander laws), there is no censorship in the United States. I like that last part so much, I’ll repeat it — there is no censorship in the United States.

* Movie ratings? The MPAA is an independent trade association funded (voluntarily!) by major film distributors.

* Game ratings? The ESRB is an independent trade association funded (voluntarily!) by major game publishers.

* “This album contains explicit lyrics?” Those stickers come courtesy of the music labels, not “The Man.”

* How about porn? Besides kiddie porn laws, there are no restrictions on the creation of porn, but there are various local restrictions on the display of obscenity, which is not considered protected speech (placing it essentially in the same legal square as yelling fire in a movie theater). This probably comes closest to a definition of censorship, but the laws are so loosely structured, and not globally defined, that there’s no effective restriction. Even the Supreme Court famously decided NOT to attempt to define obscenity, and instead left it up to “reasonable man” standards at the local level.

* The FCC fines Howard Stern? Until he moved to Sirius, Stern’s show was broadcast over the licensed airwave spectrum. Licensed from whom, you ask? From you and me. The broadcast spectrum is considered to be owned by the federal government, and the FCC is a government agency that reports to the president. Occasionally, we, the people, get to elect a president and a Congress to (ahem) represent our best interests, so at least in theory, the FCC is beholden to the will of the people. But aren’t the fines for Howard Stern and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction really a form of censorship? Not really. It’s largely a breach of contract issue — the FCC awards a license to monopolize a portion of the broadcast spectrum in exchange for broadcasters meeting certain criteria. No one is being *forced* into the radio and television business, just as you are not forced to rent a crappy office space to run your business. That’s really it, actually — the FCC is essentially a glorified landlord.

Mind you, in the UK, there really IS censorship. Just as the Sex Pistols ran afoul of the BBC (a state-owned monopoly), Manhunt was nailed by the Obscene Publications Act. God save the Queen. We mean it, man. And there’s no future in England’s dreaming. No future, nooooo fuuuuuture…

Sorry. I digress.

So, if we’re not talking about censorship in the U.S., what the hell *are* we talking about?

Essentially, we’re living with a system created as a response to a threat, that has morphed into a situation where uptight buyers are afraid of an uptight audience.

The threat: Before 1968, there were no film ratings. There was an unwritten code among film producers about the appropriateness of imagery. But you didn’t shop for a weekend flick for the kids by looking for a G-rating. Jack Valenti, the press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson, and Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal Studios, set up the MPAA as a means for Hollywood to self-regulate with a defined ratings system. The threat was, if Hollywood didn’t start rating itself, Congress would. And nobody wanted that. To Valenti and the MPAA, the threat that Congress or state/local governments might feel obliged to step in and attempt to regulate movies was the sword of Damocles perpetually hanging over everyone’s head.

It wasn’t long before the MPAA turned its lobbying attention to theater owners, which knuckled under the pressure to accept and enforce the rating systems. With the advent of VHS and DVD sales, retailers also accepted the ratings system — Target and Wal-Mart won’t stock film products rated NC-17, out of a desire to maintain their perception as a wholesome retailer of quality product. In the minds of Target and Wal-Mart buyers, they aren’t censoring anyone or limiting anyone’s artistic freedom. They just don’t want the bad stuff on their shelves, so Mom doesn’t get flustered. Retailers have decided that, in their stores, Mom would simply prefer not having to explain to her 8-year-old what XXX stands for while she’s shopping for diapers and shampoo.

In the game business, the ESRB is nearly an exact duplicate of the MPAA, in terms of its mission and its effect on the games business. Under the same pressure as the film studios in the 60s, game publishers in the 90s crafted essentially an identical response. And retailers reacted in turn exactly the same way as they did for films. No game is sold without a rating, and AO = NC-17.

In other words, no one’s stopping you from making the game you want to make. But the customers — the retailers — aren’t always buying what you’re selling.

This isn’t censorship. This is merely a commonly accepted business practice.

Imagine all the coffee houses in the country set up an independent roasting board that placed a specific rating on each type of coffee. “This cup rated MJ for Mocha Java.” Now imagine all the coffee houses independently decided that French Roast was too dark and spicy for most people, so they all stopped buying French Roast altogether. French Roast isn’t illegal. It’s just that Starbucks doesn’t choose to carry it. Keep rolling with the coffee analogy — imagine that angry Roastmasters started bickering that Starbucks’ decision “limits their artistic freedom” as roasters of coffee beans. And another group started shouting about how “Starbucks is just a tool of the Man.”

Asinine, right?

It isn’t censorship. It’s just a bad business model. We need to stop using the C-word before it loses all meaning in the discussion, and focus energies on crafting an effective business model that works for all parties.

GameProducer.net
We asked if there any more comments from the producers, and closing the discussion turned out to be really difficult – there were more new questions than answers. Ben continued by saying about the bottom line:

Ben:

Is the world a better place with [AO rated] Manhunt 2 unable to be played by the public….no idea really.

I’d like to think so but hey thats rather subjective isnt it…

Hmmm isn’t that part of the issue anyway?

GameProducer.net What do you readers think?

The discussion continues at the GameProducer.net forums – feel free to share your view on this matter, and read more comments from other developers and readers.

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.

Censorship in Games – Producers Roundtable (Part 1/2)

Censorship in games is a difficult topic. In some countries, the governments ban games. In some countries red blood must be changed to green or the game won’t be accepted to the markets. The freedom of speech, freedom for artistic expression and the need to take responsibility are to be discussed. Manhunt 2 got an “Adults Only” rating and was recently banned in some countries (although the rating was lowered after the developers made changes to the game).

Who is there to blame? Should studios be more responsible for what kind of games they do? Is it right for government ban games? What about freedom of expression? If governments can ban games, shouldn’t they also ban some movies? Are “Adults Only” ratings enough? Shouldn’t parents watch what their kids play?

Who should take responsibility in this matter?

The following producers give answers to these questions:

Harvard Bonin, Producer at Sony
Peter O’Brien, Bizarre Creations
Ben Gunstone, Production Director at Stainless Games
Frank Rogan, Producer at Gas Powered Games

Harvard:
This particular topic is very timely…and also very, very complicated. As the publishing producer of a notable fighting game that was cancelled years ago I believe I have unique insight. Unlike the recent Manhunt saga it was a business and ethical decision – not a governmental censorship issue.

Even with my personal experience I still can’t make up my mind on this issue. Don’t expect an answer below. I hope, however, I’ve outlined some general issues others can respond to.

Video games are typically viewed as a “kids” hobby. In reality the average age of today’s consumer hovers around 30. While once a teenager pastime it has grown into a much more mainstream activity. Years ago Mortal Kombat went through similar scrutiny but was never banned in the United States. At that time there was no ESRB that rated games and the demand was such that Mortal Kombat made it from the arcade to retail stores with substantial hype. The sales were extremely large. Mortal Kombat also brought congressional investigations from Senator Joseph Lieberman and was likely the first time the US government took notice of the content in games.

So should the government be in the business of regulating games? On the one hand the government regulates many things. Hell, the tax code is based on collecting revenue and incentivizing certain types of behavior…like encouraging people to buy a house. We are regulated everywhere we go through laws – and in many ways we welcome this intrusion to ensure our country is stable and peaceful. Would you like it if the FDA didn’t have food standards or building codes were not enforced? We trust our government to have expertise in the areas noted to create a fair, equitable and safe republic. Many video game advocates point to the always useful “free speech” argument. Specifically to the United States per Wikipedia:

First Amendment – Freedom of religion, speech, press, and peaceable assembly as well as the right to petition the government. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

As Wikipedia also explains:

Freedom of speech is the concept of being able to speak freely without censorship. It is often regarded as an integral concept in modern liberal democracies. The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under international law through numerous human rights instruments, notably under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, although implementation remains lacking in many countries. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes preferred, since the right is not confined to verbal speech but is understood to protect any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.

There have been many, many first amendment court cases and often they revolve around the definition of obscenity. The Supreme Court has never been extremely specific on this definition.

However, there is a key difference in most of the regulatory efforts of our government. The majority of the things the US government regulates simply can’t be done by a reasonable person. I could not evaluate if my hamburger was up to health standards. I could not tell you how to earthquake proof the structure of my house. I depend on the government to do these things. I CAN however, judge if media content is suitable for someone under 18. Any reasonably informed, responsible adult can.

In reality the government isn’t the actual entity that “banned” Manhunt 2. The ESRB, in accordance with its definition simply reviewed Manhunt 2 and gave it an “AO” or adults only rating. Effectively, this removes distribution channels like Best Buy, Wal Mart, etc. Thus, there is no reasonable distribution available to justify release. While the ESRB ratings board was originally created as a response to head off governmental regulatory pressure, the government didn’t direct the ESRB to give Manhunt 2 the rating it received.
In this case it is a victim of “the times”. The media sensationalizes school shootings, child predators and MySpace. I’ve heard many doctors even refer to video games as an addiction. Last time I checked addiction was defined as:

A compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.

Video games are not addictions any more than excessive reading of books is. At any rate this view that video games disable a person’s cognitive abilities to make reasonable personal welfare choices is simply incorrect. Regardless, the media continues to push video games as a vice and the general uneducated public has bought in. Manhunt 2, while certainly a nasty gore-fest, should be comparably compared to a movie like Hostel…which never received this sort of reaction.

People also point to video games being an active rather than passive activity. The user is killing the person, not the character on screen. I also don’t buy this as all games have characters – often as developed as books or movies.

Finally, the ever present “parents should know what their kids are doing” is really the end all argument against censorship. Parents MUST be familiar with what kids are playing, drinking, smoking, speaking, etc. After all, the parents are legally responsible for their kids breaking the law or committing malicious acts. Unfortunately, many parents are not responsible and do not regulate their children’s activities. Many can’t even self regulate. So should the government step in? If a child is endangered by their family environment the government has the ability to take the child away. So what constitutes a dangerous environment? Smoking? Drinking? Games? It seems to be the whim of the generation as to what constitutes an environment not suitable for children.

There is simply no clear answer to this. The simple legal answer is to classify video games as an “art form” – thus protected by freedom of speech. The general public and media does not seem to classify them under these terms and it will likely be a long time before they do so. Rockstar knew the gamble they were taking with Manhunt 2 and the hot coffee incident probably didn’t help their image. Thus, they did not get the benefit of the doubt when Manhunt 2 came along.

And after all this, I still don’t know what I think.

Peter O’Brien:

I’m likely going to have to keep adding to this so in the endeavour that I am still contributing here are some bite size thoughts:

Who there is to blame? Should studios be more responsible for what kind of games they do?

What we are really talking about here is how sex and violence is portrayed in videogames. You could add religion to that depending on what’s going on in the world at any given time – see Resistance: Fall of Man issue.

Censorship is commonly a product of the times. Look at what was banned yesterday compared to what is considered acceptable today.

I’m no expert on the subject but violence is possibly one of the most common themes in modern entertainment.

Is it right for government ban games? What about freedom of expression? If governments can ban games, shouldn’t they also ban some movies? Are “Adults Only” ratings enough? Shouldn’t parents watch what their kids play? Who should take responsibility in this matter?

Only at the moment self regulatory bodies such as BBFC, ESRB, ELSPA fail to act on the content they review should the governments of the world act. I don’t believe there have been enough serious regulatory malpractices for the government to step in and create an act which unjustly targets our industry.

If the government must act, it must act against the media who sensationalize such issues to the point they create a ‘must have’ vacuum amongst consumers.

Game companies must recognize that they hold ‘a level’ of social responsibility. We are in an age of media war and everyone has the tools to influence the tide.

Censorship is very subjective; this is best demonstrated by cross referencing a set of family values vs. that of social values; what is acceptable can vary greatly.

Parents should be responsible. Parents and guardians should use the systems around them to instil values which support regulation if those regulations are deemed to be for the common good. I’m not whiter than white; when I was a kid I was exposed to media beyond my age but it was more common for me to be exposed to media ‘right for me’. This produced a balanced outlook.

The question of responsibility used to be simpler. However, in an age of media where messages come to us via txt, email, blog, hyperlink, web, radio, phone, TV and targeted branding there is a greater reliance on the systems around a parent, guardian or employer. The problem is, the governments seek to devolve these systems regularly, thus making the challenge increasingly difficult. In an age where a government body deems it inappropriate for teachers to mark in red, because red is a ‘violent’ colour; where do parents and employers turn to for guidance? What messages can we trust?

Ben:

Who there is to blame? Should studios be more responsible for what kind of games they do? Is it right for government ban games? What about freedom of expression? If governments can ban games, shouldn’t they also ban some movies? Are “Adults Only” ratings enough? Shouldn’t parents watch what their kids play? Who should take responsibility in this matter?

It’s all relative. I was a tester on the original Carmageddon game and that was the last game to get banned by the BBFC. If Carmageddon were released now I think it really would be unlikely to banned.

1. Should studios be more responsible for what kind of games they do?

Every Studio should be responsible for outputting games they think can sell! Should studios feel more or less morally responsible than they do already…probably not. If you are trying to push the boundaries of what can and can’t be seen by games players of the world then you need to be prepared to take the back-lash when that happens

2. Should Governments have the right to ban games?

Basically yes…the banning is done publicly and we as the general public are allowed to publicly debate the issue – it’s not done in secret. Our Society is setup so that the government is responsible for drawing moral lines in the sand. Some of those lines are covered explicitly by the legal system and laid out firmly in law and others by more flexible means like the BBFC. If we as a democratic whole don’t like the decisions then we vote in a government that will change the laws appropriately. That is a bit naive I know but it’s not like this is really that important! It’s not like Rockstar are having their game banned because it criticises the government or tells us any great secret the government don’t want us to hear. It’s banned because it pushes the current boundary of moral and acceptable standards in games today. (Like Carmageddon did 10 years ago and Like Lady Chatterley’s Lover did 47 years ago)

3. What about freedom of expression?

LOL – what about it! I doubt very much indeed that Rockstar are pushing the boundaries on freedom of expression on an intellectual level – they wanted to push the boundaries, create hype and ultimate sell more games. Again I refer back to Carmageddon – yes it was a great game but would it have been so successful if it hadn’t been banned in the first place? Remember Rockstar are past masters at this with Manhunt 1 and the GTA series all pushing the same envelope

4. If governments can ban games, shouldn’t they also ban some movies?

I believe they do? They also advise movie makers what scenes to chop out of films to make them hit certain age ratings (something that is a lot easier to do in a film than a game). As far as I can tell chopping the game wasn’t even an option for Rockstar as the BBFC said one of its key reasons for banning it was:
“Unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing”
And the BBFC could not find single incidents within the game to remove that could alleviate that central issue

5. Are “Adults Only” ratings enough?

They certainly work to a certain extent but again sometimes it’s just not enough. Where does it stop? If its ok to play the part of a sadistic murderer could he also be a rapist? Neither of these things are legal to do in person but under an AO only ratings system both would be ok to sell. It’s all about drawing lines in the sand and defining currently what acceptable standards are.

6. Shouldn’t parents watch what their kids play?

Of course they should!! But do all parent know what games their kids are playing – of course not. What is acceptable standards of parenting vary wildly from family to family – what is normal to your family could be seen as very wrong by another. If you let your 10 year old watch 18 rated violent films you’re not going to worry about the games they play.

The age ratings are there to provide a system by which parents can control the types of games their kids can play. I know as a parent that I take this very firmly on board and work out what I let my kids play. I have no problems letting my 6 year old son play a 12 rated star wars game on his DS as I can’t really see any things in it that he doesn’t come across in either normal kids TV on Jetix or in the school playground. But he wont play a 15 rated game never mind an 18 rated game.

7. Who should take responsibility in this matter?

We all should…and are doing so. A line has been drawn in the sand and now we debate to see if it is acceptable or not. To be really honest I hope that the society we live in today doesn’t find the imagery and gameplay in Manhunt 2 to be acceptable. There is enough blood and violence out there in the real world without actually inviting it into our living room

On an aside I’m not sure if this end of the ratings scale is what’s important. It needs to be kept real and relevant unlike maybe the recent ESRB rating we received for Centipede and Millipede on XBLA where it got an “Animated blood” tag. Yeah it sort of animates but heck its yellow and purple and its from bugs!!! You see this everyday on your windshield! Surely this sort of adherence to rules to the point of stupidity (or maybe point of pointlessness!!) just diminishes the value of the rating system as a whole?

End of part 1
Proceed to read Part 2/2.

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.

More Producers Join the Round Table

The first and the second producer roundtables were very popular and there has been several new producers who have joined our ranks. Here’s the current list of producers who are contributing to these Q&A roundtables:

  • Harvard Bonin – recently left EA
  • Adrian Crook – Relic Entertainment
  • Craig Derrick – Lucas Arts
  • Robbie Edwards – Red Storm Entertainment / Ubisoft
  • Ben Gunstone – Stainless Games
  • Jeremy Lee – The Collective
  • Hendrik Lesser – ML Enterprises
  • Peter O’Brien – Bizarre Creations
  • Stuart Roch – Treyarch
  • Frank Rogan – Gas Powered Games

The next roundtable session will deal about censorship in games and is to be published in July.

Producers of the Round Table – Scheduling (on GamaSutra)

The first Producer Roundtable session got thousands of reads, and now the second roundtable session is appearing on GamaSutra. In this second installment, which deals with scheduling issues in game development, participants include Robbie Edwards, Senior Producer at Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft, Peter O’Brien, Producer at Bizarre Creations, Harvard Bonin, Senior Producer last at Electronic Arts, Adrian Crook, Producer at Relic Entertainment, and Frank Rogan, Producer at Gas Powered Games.

Check it out, and feel free to comment here.

The upcoming third session will be about censorship in games.

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.