Callum Godfrey - podcast episode full transcript
For those of you who prefer to read, here's the podcast episode fully transcribed:
Game Production Interview: Callum Godfrey
Liam: Today, we are fortunate enough to have Callum Godfrey joining us from Oxford. Callum has been head of production at Boston studios for the last six months. You might know Bossa from surgeon simulator and I am bred before then he was working for Wargaming mobile as an exec producer. Then head of studio at wargaming Helsinki. Callum has worked at such esteem gaming companies as King EA, Microsoft, Playfish, Activision, and Codemasters. He has worked mainly, but not exclusively within the mobile gaming space for the last decade. I met Callum at Wargaming and he was a rock-solid bullshit, free, highly passionate and talented producer. I'm very excited and deeply honored to be able to talk to him today and share his insights and passions with you all. Good afternoon, Mr. Callum Godfrey.
Callum: Good afternoon Liam it's a pleasure to speak to you.
Liam: It's a pleasure to speak to you again, after all this time. I've just given a brief summary of somebody else's life, but do you want to have a go at it? Tell us a little bit of potted history and what you're up to at the moment.
Callum: Yeah. By all means I mean, as you pointed out, I've worked for a bunch of different places for quite a number of years. Now it will be, in September it will be my 21st year in the industry. So, it's almost old enough to legally drink in the United States now my career. I think I've seen most, if not all the different avenues and aspects of production over that time, you know, console tipple A. PCD, indie studio, mobile in both big and small studios worked on titles that have made negative revenue. Worked titles that have made billion dollars in revenue. Right? So quite quickly realized that there is a lot of industry to see. It's a wonderful rainbow diverse, different places, different experiences for producers to gather. And honestly, I see this being the thing that I'm going to do until the day I die, which at this point in time feels like it might be any minute now. Let's not template.
Liam: So that's interesting that what you said, not about dying God bless you. But about the fact you've been in the games for 21 years. And I was, I got us a couple of questions listed down here, but just to sort of jump around a little bit, I'm really interested for people who have used the industry or who want to get into the industry. I don't think there's a great clear path to be a producer. When I look back at your background, it seems like you came in as a producer. How did you manage that?
Callum: Well, I got into production very early in my career, but I started actually in the traditional old school way back when you could apply to a games company that was near your house and become a game tester for the summer. I actually go into the industry sort of by accident. I think you and I have talked with him about my old love of rugby. I was on rugby scholarship back in the day. But I got an injury. That's a little bit of time to heal and I couldn't get insurance to play after that. So, I ended up applying to -- applying to Codemaster's basically for a summer job back in the summer of '99. Go to the door there and never really looked back. I stayed in the testing department for less than 18 months in total and kind of moved on to a little bit of level design, which then quickly led them to leading a level design team for an expansion for a PC project. And then realize that leading teams is kind of where my strengths are. I'm one of those guys who's not good at doing anything, but I can tell the people to do it pretty well. So, I became a producer.
Liam: Sums you up nicely mate. I agree with you. I think that your leadership skills when I saw them at Wargaming I was very impressed. And I wonder looking at just years and years of experience it seems to be most of us who are leaders of teams and of groups and of visions and ideas. And he tried to lead with motivation and give them a momentum to teams and try and get us all somewhere. And with morale high, et cetera, it seems to me like that does come particularly within the games industry from experience alone, without any real training or backing. Would you agree with that? Or who would you say otherwise?
Callum: No, I think so. I mean, I can't speak for everyone who's a producer in general, but I do know that for myself, the kind of people I work with have been producers they're natural problem solvers, right? They don't like seeing people's time and talent, energy go to waste. And that for me is one of my biggest drivers why I've been in production so long is just wanting to see people get the most out of themselves, right? Like I've always had a deep love of video games. `They go a long way back in my childhood and I'm sure every producer you say, well, [inaudible 04:43] I love games kind of thing. And for me, they literally saved my life. I flew out them, I would not be here because my dad was a horrible, abusive alcoholic and a bitch and they were my escape.
So, for me, being in games is wanting to give back as part of that. And I've always seen the way we make video games in this horrible, like stark contrast, really passionate, talented people frustrated and held back by their lack of ability to kind of collaborate, to get things done together under a singular vision and move forward against that. And production kind of comes in and yes, it's a bit of a blunt instrument. Sometimes it gives them that single vision to go behind it. Isn't that kind of unified voice with which to talk with which to think. And it really is. I know it's a horrible, old metaphor, but it is that kind of that's that hub at the center of the wheel, around which all the spokes kind of are built. We are the, for good or bad, the center of everything and ultimately responsible for everything. And honestly, I've seen games and teams try and run without production before because they see it as an unnecessary overhead or all the kind of governance that are necessarily need. And it doesn't really go as well. Like it doesn't work well. You need producers in place to make sure that teams are cohesive are working efficiently working effectively and ultimately to measure the progress that they're making.
Liam: I suppose that's particularly true with the larger teams. You said you had experience with billion, billion, billion-dollar games as well as tiny ones. And I wonder, do you think that's true of the smaller Indies who may say, be finding funding from a publisher and have an external producer looking after them? Do you think they still need that producer role supporting them? This is only a couple of people I presume not.
Callum: I don't think they need it for when it's a smaller number of people, right? When there's a smaller team, it's much easier to stay true to what the vision of the game is. That's a really agree between yourselves, what you're supposed to be doing, making sure it gets done. But I do think if they're working with a publisher, they do need an external publishing producer who's working with them to make sure that the business interests of the publishing company represented especially in smaller indie depths, where for good reasons, you'll have one view of what the game could or should be. But you probably wouldn't be that market aware that re that really kind of clued in on what the public are looking for. And that's publishing producer really brings in that mix. So, they bring that market expectation with them.
Liam: Yeah, that's a good point. Isn't it? They've got the, it's not just about the due diligence is about telling you that during the history of making your game, you have to consider how it's going to be marketed, where it's going to get promoted, et cetera. And the hooks you need to be prepared for and the milestones that need to be in place that you need to meet in order to get your game out there and people talking about it before it's ready. That's a good point rather than the leadership. And I guess just moving on from there when I think about what you've said, the levels of production -- so you started off in -- it's amazing how many people started off in Cody's isn't it.
Callum: I know, right back in the late nineties, it was a real breeding ground for a lot of heads and leadership. And then people we see kind of forging a path in the industry now.
Liam: Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. And so, so you've moved up the chain, so to speak hierarchy and I'm really very interested in this. The difference the upper juice are coming into the industry, or somebody who's come in at the bottom, shall we say, as something like an associate producer, maybe they come in from QA and they then are an associate or junior producer, and they're looking at the career path ahead of them. And I feel quite sorry for them. Because I look at it and go, it's a bit of a, it's a, it's kind of like you're going out into a very launch world in which you have to learn a lot in a lot of different areas because the role of production is so broad. But, stepping back from there, looking at levels of seniority, I don't think that people are given necessarily a really good view of the different...what the different hierarchy might be. And of course it changes the different companies, but what's your experience been of the leap from say production when you first started to when you really had quite a few senior roles, what would you say are the big differences in what you are expected to perform?
Callum: Yeah, I mean, you're right. It's a very confusing time for anyone who gets into production as a career path these days back when I started the first step out of QA was kind of the design routes or level design route into being an associate producer. But even now, right, if I look at my current expectations around into production it’s kind of starts much more junior even an associate producer. We have roles now like production testers, people who are QA people who graduate into production purely to test or evaluate milestone. So, they come in for external parties or to be that person who's playing the bill, because the other parts of the production team can't spend eight hours a day, four working days in the game, keeping an eye on everything. And you kind of graduate into a production coordinator role. You sort of put the testing to one side a little bit and you start helping more with some of the facilitation of making sure things like release management or communication with other stakeholders, the marketing department the PR department. So, they start to become the production coordinator... coordinate the techniques. By the time you move into an associate producer role I'm expecting for that role, those peoples have a lot more kind of self-ability, self-awareness not moral autonomy to be able to do things themselves aren't needing as much oversight or guidance. And Codemasters, you mentioned before, so as a place to start, it was kind of a great size and scale of company in that it was big enough that you had some security blanket and some sort of safety around you in terms of other people with more experience, but also small enough that you kind of had to get your hands dirty on everything as an associate producer.
You quickly learned a little bit of everything enough to be dangerous, not enough to be proficient. And I think that's how I'd like the associate producer or to kind of be defined by you have to know just enough about every bit of GameDev and about how it works how tech works and how design works. You got to kind of bring those people together and start really honing that skill set of being a collaborator, a facilitator and essentially someone that the team trusts and looks up to, to kind of have their best interests at heart. And honestly, different stuff between associate producer, producer, and senior and executive and head off is really just time experience and understanding when to apply different tricks and techniques in your toolkit to defeat whatever certain scenarios or challenges that your production team faces. That was beautifully put. I don't want to give you a hug right now. I think that was a lovely way of expressing it. Thank you. Just to follow through on a couple of things that you said it's interesting looking at career paths, essentially, that you just said associate to producer, to senior, to exec, to head off. And I've been thinking a lot about that. Recently. I've been thinking about career paths for producers, and I've been thinking about the advice that we can give producers. And when I look at the profiles of people that I'm going to be doing podcast interviews of. And I just think generally about my experience with producers, it seems to me that like there's the good old, hello I came from QA and I knew everything about a game.
And then I asked if I could be a producer. And then I was one, and then I became a scrum master. I got scrum master training, and everybody told me to teach them how to do agile. And I was looking after teams. And then I was looking after more teams. And then I was looking after a whole game. And then I was scared shitless because I had to put the schedule together to make a game. I didn't really know how to. And then 10 years later, I'm running my own studio. And it seems to me like the production path is quite terrifying, but at the top, it's where... now let me rephrase that, to get to the very top of the games industry. And when I say the top, I suppose what I really mean is to run your own company or to be like you with head of production is an obvious one as a producer. But, you know, you can see producers who have gone on to be say, senior dev directors and move up from exec producer to be handed a studio, to look after. And, then go on to form their own studio.
And I wonder if there are many other roles in the games, industry, or many other disciplines in the games industry that gives you the opportunity. What do you think? Not as many, I don't know. I mean, production is becoming an increasingly nuanced thing over the years. As you'll know, Liam from your career back in the day, back in the day when jumpers were goalposts. Kind of like one size fits all thing you were producer; therefore, you did the schedule, you did the budgets, you did the team line management in some cases. You did all these different things and over time [inaudible 12:51] many roles in the industry actually it's become a little bit more nuanced and more specialized. Nowadays you have producers who have product management, skill background, people who are much more driven by the KPIs and the [inaudible 13:03] performance of their titles. You have some producers who are so specialists, they are just focused on particular areas of game development. You have localization producers; you have content producers I've worked with people who are - [inaudible 13:14] producers. A perfectly valid role, full time, hard piece of work.
Liam: Absolutely and you mentioned delivery managers and the like as well.
Callum: Exactly. Right. You know, there's all these different areas. I think for anyone who's getting into production as a career path right now, in fact I'm going through some reviews with some of my producers in my current job at the moment where I can tell them this about the kind of production path you want to be on. Like what are your key skills? What really motivates you in production? Is it working with a team as someone who drives the schedule forward? If so, maybe you're more of a development manager sort of producer in that sense, if you're more of a, kind of a team leader the Bishop holder, the charismatic cheerleader for the team, maybe you are more of that kind of executive producer in that mold. And again, if you're more focused by the business results, making sure the game is maximizing its revenue, making sure it's being super-efficient with its expenditure. Maybe you're more of a product manager, project manager producer in that sense, right? Finding what you really, really enjoy out there. The very broad church that is production and double down on it, or conversely take the odd career path that I've done, where you kind of flip flop back and forth between things. Trying to get a three 60 rounded skillset takes you longer. But in some ways, it's a better path. I think.
Liam: Yeah. I mean, I think we both flip flopped. I mean I flipped and flopped outside and back into the industry a number of times, as you know. And when I look at this nuance that you're talking about. I've been thinking a lot as well recently about the, if you look at it as the spokes of a wheel and in the middle, you have the word producer. At least different spokes, if you look at where you have strengths and weaknesses, it is things like, well, okay, so project management and areas within project management, it's about it's things like delivery of the product, possibly, especially in mobile and your skills around that. It's about, like you said about understanding how to run, say maybe scrum teams, if that's the thing that you've running with, or again, oh, you good at holding a vision or are you good at -- or you may end up being the vision holder of the game. And I think it's interesting because as a producer, you get that choice.
I think leading forward, if you're any good at the general role of a producer, then you get the choice to specialize, which is great, right? I mean much like a programmer who who's specializing in, say AI or a tech artist or something like that who can specialize. And I think that's great, but I still see them because it's quite ambiguous. You may not know as a producer starting off what those different spokes actually even are and how broad it is. And what the basic knowledge you should hold is. And I think the imposter syndrome that I like going on about whenever anybody listen to me. Imposter syndrome is strong in the production world because it's never really been defined. And the games industry is not one which says let's have some professional tracks where we write down exactly what is expected of producers, et cetera. I remember when I was at PlayStation and they had started trying that they had started saying, well, if you're a coder you actually don't have to become an engineer, you don't actually have to become a team lead in order for us to promote you and pay you more money. You can actually become a more specialized coder. You can become just better at what you're doing.
Callum: Yeah. [inaudible 16:33].
Liam: Yeah, but it was quite a new thing. Because back then it was all about -- it was the very traditional management of promote somebody to be a team lead, promote somebody to then look after their department or, or they couldn't get anywhere. And I think we're kind of going through that in production a little bit where it can be fractured into so many different roles that you can't possibly cover it all as the gaming industry becomes more mature and more complicated. So, I agree with what you were saying, but we're supposed to be talking to you and I find myself talking too much, so apologies.
Callum: Right. I can listen to you talk for hours friend.
Liam: It's something I'm very interested in passionate about like, I know you are. We both feel like people need more help and support. Right.
Callum: Agreed. And I think both you and I, we got in at such a point where production wasn't as nuance, right? It wasn't as much of a different divergent skillset or path you can take. So, we've had the luxury of kind of learning all this organically as we see the industry grow and evolve around us for anybody coming in now who has different parts or any kind of set out. It becomes much more difficult to have an opportunity to tread each of those parts and naturally learn that skillset. I honestly, I think it's a very confusing right now for anybody who comes into production, cold thinking they want to get into this. Because it's so incredibly diversified now. It's [inaudible] rose tinted glasses. Right. But I do think that the late nineties, early two thousand before we started getting to the point where all games had online components games, and it became a massive complex beast. We had hundreds of people on outsourcing teams doing bits of actual work for you when it was really kind of self-contained. When you can make an extra plate game, it's 35, 40 people manageable team sizes inside companies. That was probably the best time to learn production overall as a craft. But I do think now the specialist opportunities just really give a fantastic range of different skill sets, a chance to be producers. It's no longer this one mentality of keep the team going, drive across the line, push, push, push the old school brute-force producer. That used to be the kind of prevalent back in the day. Now you do have opportunities who are maybe more statistically or numerically minded or more emotionally sensitive and aware producers to kind of come to the forefront because the industry has evolved and changed beyond that old thing of producer is the person at the back of a team cracking the whip, you know?
Liam: Yeah. That' absolutely -- you're a very wise young man and it reminds me of this all the, the last 10 years, there's been a lot of push in the industry about agile. And when you think about agile, you think about the servant leadership role and the producers have kind of adopted that role. As, I said earlier, there are lots of junior producers are just being given scrum master training and told to get on with it. Which is both good and bad, but, within that agile philosophy is that term servant leader where which I like, because I come from a teaching background and I like the idea that you are guiding people to improve. And it's something that you said earlier as part of your head of production job now that you enjoy, right. Is that mentoring and the coaching and the, you know, that you're trying to make something happen. And I was very moved by what you said about your dad, and I'm sorry that happened to you. But to have that as like a stepping stone to be in a position where you're helping people so much now. I do think that's in a lot of people I meet who are producers. They, they sincerely want everybody to make the best game possible and all to a lesser or greater extent, obsessed about waste and eradicating it. Because, you know, when people are working on a game, how much contents can get thrown out because producers haven't been planning things properly, or because an idea that wasn't fund gets destroyed,
Callum: Or because an idea that wasn't fund didn't have the right planning up front or fully realize fruition and it gets cut because it was only 90% complete. You know, you have those Hodgkins to make something which is super wasteful. In fact, those ones are the most, I think, demoralizing for the entire team at large. Everyone knows when something is fun. You've already got sit down and play it. Because we're all passionate people who like making and playing video games when something's tantalizingly close to being really, really good. And you have to cut it because schedule a budget tells you haven't got time to just develop it a little bit further, but it was the most heartbreaking moments. I think for me as a producer. The bits that could have been some should have been.
Liam: Yeah. Absolutely. And, I guess you've experienced quite a few of those because you've been around a while and I'm really interested in how things are different with what you've been saying, how things differ between the mobile gaming industry and the video and PC. And it's something I'm a little bit obsessed about, because again, when you think about production and you've talked to producers, producers in... I could be wrong. Right. But in my experience producers NPC console kind of go, yeah, mobile gaming, whatever. And, it's a different world, isn't it? My ball gaming is more about the product. And we know from what I know from war gaming and, you know, from lots of other experience, like say King, there's so much money swishing around. I just saw things like user acquisition, forget about making the game just -- you're going to make a profitable product. Right. So, can you talk a little bit about that? Because you've been in the mobile industry since there was one really. It's called polarities and differences between console, triple A, PC, the kind of big budget productions and the sort of smaller mobile space. And you're right.
There are a bunch of people who in console, triple A look at mobile as being sort of an inferior platform, or the games are somehow lesser products. But actually, I find the opposite to be true as, as part of doing mobile for the last eight, nine years of my career, I think I've become a much better, more rounded producer than I ever was in console and triple A space. Because I have to think more about the end result. Like the games we put out essentially are free. So when you're asking players to go into those games and spend money, you're asking to make a value judgment based on the product you've made, whereas with console and triple A, you're asking them to make a value proposition based on some cool, fancy marketing assets they've seen, right? You can really oversell that because the upfront transaction is where the costs happen. I actually really liked the honesty you get in mobile games where it's, because you have to essentially convince you just to play the game and open their wallets afterwards, after you've shown them enough of a good time that they're willing to spend. There is a wonderful honesty to that. And I think that forces us as producers to really figure out how do we make the best possible game in the timeframe we have to try and appeal to those users rather than on console and PC, where you're often thinking about, how do we make a game that looks the flashiest, or it kind of can be, can we send you the coolest looking trailer? It's a bit less genuine for me, at least
Liam: You're not going to spend six months or a year writing your own piece of middleware in mobile, are you? Just, because you thought you could do an engine better, a video engine better, or something like that? You just got to get on with it.
Callum: Yeah, exactly. And I think mobile gaming actually is more about a truer user experience. Yeah. The apps themselves are so easy to get into these days, they're actually a cleaner experience. You can't design a game where you can spend, eight-hour sessions sitting down in front of a big screen with a surround sound, but the immersion factor is different, the engagement methodologies. And I think those constraints are actually where producers and designers and mentor that people in the industry we really should thrive. It's, it's the sort of console space where I think, yes, to follow properly by inefficiencies. We've kind of become incredibly inefficient in console and PC because the hardware is powerful now. And for the particularly successful triple A games the budgets are so ridiculous for making games. We're talking, development budgets in hundreds of millions some of the biggest games on that scale. Basically, means you've got time, freedom to do whatever you can or do whatever you like. Even if the intrinsic value adds to the game is, measurably almost zero ads, almost no quality, no discernible difference to the product. It can go in because there's a lot of inefficiency built in to try and help just overall make that quality level feel better.
Liam: I really agree with you. And, and I love the way you put that. I think, can you tell me more about say KPIs, measurable value, the data driven decision making that comes with mobile? Because I think people haven't experienced that. They don't understand what that's like how different that is for producers.
Callum: Sure. I mean, it is a very different mindset. Back when I first started in production, I don't think anybody would know what a KPI was in the video games industry. There was certainly no objective or...
Liam: A kind of tricky --
Callum: ...measurable way. Yeah, exactly. You think if you can get [inaudible] at the club at three in the morning. I think it was... when was first time I saw KPI probably when I joined Playfish and they were just starting to capitalize on that whole Facebook canvas gaming. Games as a service and just really taking off on Facebook as a platform then. And when we say KPI's pretty much I've seen the canvas is kind of key performance indicator is what it stands for, which is a very fancy way of basically saying, is it a good number or a bad number based around a bunch of different things you want to measure in game [inaudible 26:00]. Things like how many players are playing, how much money they spending? How am I spending in the game, all those kinds of things? And as an industry, now we've gotten to a point where there are so many different KPIs that are kind of evolving or being added on a day by day basis. You almost need someone to be a centralized dictionary for these things. It might not be a bad thing for your side Liam. Keeping track of them, so first-time producers can come in and they've got a place to go where they can understand what these things mean and they're broken down in understandable comments and new faces.
Liam: I think there actually does exist one that I found, so I could point to that.
Callum: Good. I mean, even between companies’ standard acronyms that I've heard are not the same, even though the same letters like definitions between companies, right? So, there's some nuance in that, but it does change the way you think about building the games from the outset. You're very much aware when you're building a console PC product that you spend a little time kind of finding the fun and it's racing on that court experience because that very metagame might -- with the exception of some genres, which naturally lend themselves to like RPGs and so on. But the real fund from a console and PC experience comes from the fact that people will spend multiple hours sitting down with a controller or a mouse and keyboard in hand having a really sort of lean in kind of experience with that product. For mobile, a lot more of the design thinking and the kind of the stickiness, inherence sort of repeat replayability comes from the fact that you can dip in for five, 10 minutes to drop out. It's very much bite-size gaming. And I think actually, as we look at the landscape of how people are spending their time in the real world, we are much more fragmented these days. People spend a lot less time investing into one thing in particular, a lot more time diversifying into different interests and mobile gaming fits really nicely around that. We are there when they want us -- when a consumer wants us. They can put it in the pocket, leave it for an hour, come back for five minutes.
Never play again for three or four days, come back. And because the games are less complex, they don't have to spend [inaudible 27:55] just reminding themselves what the control scheme was or where the story was. But it's really easy to kind of put down and pick up again. And I think that is ultimately key to a lot of what mobile has been really successful about. Whether the producers and the designers and the game teams realize it, they are basically building apps that fits around people's lifestyles or the best games are certainly doing that. They're not trying to force or intrude their way into people's lives in a way that is disingenuous to the factor. Yeah, that's really... that's very interesting. Isn't it? I think if you look at the marketing that comes through... and the research from places like app Annie, and you see where mobile gaming is taking off, how long people spend playing a game and the whole chat around, like give him 20 minutes because that's what they've got. So, what can you give them in 20 minutes and et cetera? It's, it's interesting to me you're talking about something that's out there live and almost immediately that a mobile game out live you are in a position... Well, pre-life where you can just be responding to data, right? You can be responding to the audience; you can be responding in changing things. And it's like... just getting it out there live is the position where you go. Good. Not right now. We can actually put some real effort into...
Callum: ...whereas. Sorry mate. Go for it.
Liam: No, you're totally right. I mean, that is, I think again, part of the honesty of mobile people look down on it as an inferior platform, but I think the relationship we have with our customers on mobile is inherently much more honest than it is in console. Because you are there using user feedback to make the game better for them. And yes, console and PC games are on beta tests and now there'll be open to sort of close access for a little while. So, people can kind of come in and help be part of a community, which is wonderful and great. But I think it's really concert it's really good that the mobile games are leading the way on that. They're leading the way on understanding data, gathering it, using it in a way that is sort of self-serving and that it ultimately makes a product that will ultimately make people more likely to spend within that product. But I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to make a better game for whatever reason, whether it's to be better for its own sake or to make it more monetizing opportunity. The end result is that we get a better game and that means people will have a better time doing something,
Callum: But to play devil's advocate then I remember hating mobile games and thinking they were just a complete waste of time. And the people who worked on mobile games obviously just didn't really understand about games making. They just wanted to do habit forming and addiction. And that was all based upon -- I don't think that anymore, by the way -- but that was all based upon having worked in the online gambling industry. And I was in there for a while. I was like a general manager and an operations manager setting up the marketing side of things for a company that was based in Australia. And I got to know there how astute the gambling industry is making you addicted. Right. And it was around the same time where you could go to an Amazon and you could start buying books, which told you how to do habit forming and addiction, forming behavior within video games. And of course, that... when you have a way of just gambling online and you know, that the people designing these games have made them as addictive as possible, using all the latest cognitive theories, et cetera. They know exactly how to addict you. And I remember when I was working wargaming and seeing some of the games there that were being developed for mobile and thinking you're doing the same thing, these big games, not just at wargaming sorry, but just the big, big top 10, top 20, whatever, they are so clever at addicting you. And I think I had a bit of a problem, a bit of an issue around it. And I think maybe if you look at how your -- the person who is say doing some animations or doing some art or do some code for a really big tipple A video game, it's just a game, right? It's like, you're not trying to get people addicted, Read Dead Redemption. You're not trying to get people addicted. You're trying to give them an amazing experience and so on and so forth. So, I think there is that prejudice there. What do you think about that?
Liam: I mean, I think there's definitely an element to that, which is very true. And to your example, with Red Dead, right? That's the game where you kind of get into that knowing what to expect the marketing talks about it being this big Epic sporting experience. Storyline is very key parts of that, so once you got your core pillars identified it's again a great production time kind of cold pillows are. Essentially the things that you measure the game at a root -- at a very core level to the game itself the Red Dead Redemption, I'd argue, it's [inaudible] other things like the story is a big part of it. The big expansive world right there, they're kind of the key pillars the whole... everything else the game is about. I know triple A and [inaudible] get into the [inaudible] very, very early because they're essentially what you build the entire vision and the brand around. I do like that with the kind of upfront transaction model you have to sell those pillars to people. Players are going to be making a value choice on, well, this game has these kinds of things I might be interested in the genre, the setting, the game mechanics and so on. Do I think that's worth me dropping my 50, 60 pounds in the store to buy? And it's a very honest transaction in that sense. Once it's done -- I can't say how many times I've bought a game where I feel like I've been cheated by them, I bought a game and I think we should play this. It feels like the marketing was disingenuous et cetera.
Liam: Or you could compare it to watching a film trailer and then going and seeing the film and going hang on. That's not what I thought I was going to see.
Liam: Too late.
Callum: Exactly, right exactly. And one you paid your money your kind of just sit there and you bear it right. A mobile free to play doesn't have that problem. But we do certainly see some of the same patterns now occurring, particularly as you say, around things like compulsion and creating those complex loops right. Where players are given that dopamine hit every so often and keep them coming back and doing things. And I think we can actually look back over history of console and PC games and see the modern ones have taken cues from that. If I think about the sort of mission structure in say a game like a GTA back in the days of sort of PlayStation two, when that really took off. Those short five to 10-minute missions that you're playing in a GTA they're perfectly designed to be that kind of regular hit of dopamine, that regular hit of progression that regular, like, holy crap, I've done something good. Which does form psychological addiction plays.
It does keep them coming back. Yeah, I think we discount how much those things kind of subtly affected, not just mobile games, where it is much more of a totally brought you. But it crept into all parts of the video games industry now. And I think actually mobile gaming now is the one where I see the push back against that. Certainly, maybe not in terms of the big companies, they're kind of the ones who are making the match three games that have a great... almost fruit machine adds fuel to them. But I think for some of the ones now who are looking to get into the industry, or are starting to sort of see some successes. They're looking at giving players more of a long-term feeling, more of an investment, they can kind of hold on to less about that short-term immediate gambling fix, I guess. And moving more into being somewhere in between the mobile games of old and the console games of today. I actually think as a sort of exercise in theory, if you'll indulge me for a second, is that in maybe 10, 15 years players won't actually recognize the difference between console and mobile games anyway. The hardware or mobile is getting so much better all the time. The internet technology is not allowed for streaming to become a really regular occurrence. I don't see any reason why players won't in a decade, decade and a half basically have a number of different devices where they play the same comparable gameplay experience. And the onus is on us as game makers to figure out how we tailor that experience, depending on which screen version of the same game they're playing, whether they're playing on the console version, where it can be much more story driven, much more engaging controls. They take their phone out when they go for dinner with friends or going to see a film and they're playing the phone version of the game, which is a slightly lightweight or different interaction model entirely, but it's doing the same game ecosystem. I think I see that being where the industry and production is.
Liam: Yeah. They tried it a few times where the mobile tends to give you the view of the metagame and to actually see what's going on in the ground, the console or something like that. Yeah. And it has been very interesting. No, I agree with you. I think the crossover is great. Well, I don't think the crossover is great. I think the crossover is very interesting and I think all across the games industry as you are implying, and going back to your point about production needing to become specialized at some point, or you as a producer, need to become specialized. The games industry is becoming so complex and complicated and huge. I think you can still be your indie, team's making small gains, et cetera. But as soon as you get above a certain size, you've entered a whole new world. And I think when we were making games out of coal and all that, you could make a game, you could ship it off it went and you would sell it and people would buy it. Great. Then now it's almost ambiguous what going live can mean in some cases. For games, from whatever platform be they mobile, be they console PC, et cetera, because the game it grows, it becomes alive like a baby becoming a child and more... and you sort of grow an alpha audience, don't you? You may be used as new steam, for example, to get some people backing you and trying your game out, and then you become bigger and bigger. And you go through the different phases now until you're handing over to live ops, but it seems to me like more and more games are going to be putting this sort of almost like a lean startup version of a game up. Or maybe they should, where they Chuck a game in front of people, as soon as they can. And then from there, they build it up into what it could be. And I think mobile has championed that. And I think people are trying to get their heads around that with some of game development elsewhere.
Callum: Yeah. I mean, you'll know that the term MVP, right. It's, I'd say it's a fairly common one that people in production throw around all the time. But I think mobile is definitely more of a champion of that. I think in console, we kind of, we have had a history of looking at projects and going, oh, well, it can't ship without all 50 features on this thick list. Whereas actually it could probably ship with 10 of those and five of them half done, three of them not even considered yet. And just to start getting some early feedback around things, we have a tendency to not want to... I guess, reveal things too early for fear of the whole package being so intrinsically interwoven. Design feature A needs, 15 other features to support it, or it doesn't meet design ambition. And I think the games have become a little bit overly complex in times. Some of the best games out there I think could be done in a much more simple way. And this is where I think mobile really shines. The ability to get products into the hands of the customers much, much sooner than you can on a console or PC. In a way that is more just inherently part of their lifestyle, right? It's more easy for them to accept into their lives.
Liam: I think we could talk about that particular topic for a very long time. I mean, as soon as you start talking about, because what you really talking about there is agile product development, right? Where you're looking at maybe a short discovery phase, but basically trying to get a working piece of software in this case of getting product out in front of people, as soon as possible to get their feedback. And of course, that...
Callum: And then actually allowing feedback to be fed back into the backlog, of course, having feedback and not auctioning it is a waste of everybody's time.
Liam: And it's the biggest crime across not just the games industry, but everywhere else, too. How to handle your feature requests that come in and how you value things. And it's quite stunning how difficult it is to convince people they should be putting value to feedback and they should be putting value to what they're working on. And then they should be using some pretty standard development methods to order the work they're doing, et cetera. But this agile development, this idea that you get something out in front of people as soon as possible. I think mobile's nailed that. And I think really you can get into mobile gaming from standard mobile software development. You can move across a fewer developer and you won't really notice much changing. Right. But I think for a producer, like if I was to step across from game production as a normal say, console producer and I stepped across into the world of mobile, I think I would be pretty terrified because suddenly I become a product owner, I've become a product manager. And, and can you tell us a little bit about what's different?
Callum: Yeah, I'm really glad to hear you say that. Actually, we've kind of alluded a couple of times to scrum and agile best practices and that being a framework, which to work with them. And I do think good producers should have a real understanding of how things like the scrum master role work and in fact are often required to be the scrum master on their teams. I think I look at the producer role generally as more aligned to a product owner role or sort of that product owner function in the scrum [inaudible 41:20]. Well they kind of are the person who's bringing it all together, it has to understand at a fundamental level, everything that is going into making up the bigger picture product at the end of the day. Yeah, for the teams I'm coaching and mentoring at the moment we're looking to bring product owner training. And by default, actually quite astounding to me, how often I speak to producers or I work with producers where the formalized investment in kind of the craft or hard skills of production has kind of drifted away now. Yeah, I don't see many producers organically thinking, I am a product owner, I do own products because they do, they are responsible for its success they fully own that thing. And I would love more of a shift towards that as a thinking point for production in general. The product owner skill says he doesn't... I think there's kind of confusion where we look at product owner and because we have roles to have product in the title, we kind of assume, oh that's product manager or head of product is the product owner. No, not at all. I mean sometimes yes it will be. But I think having the skills that our product owner role brings, I use someone who can look at the big picture, can hold the vision can bring the different stakeholders to talk about the products. Can help prioritize a backlog and find that thing that really matters to the customer as early as possible, get that in front of them, listen to feedback and take that feedback back into the backlog. That for me is really what the producer and product owner or producer as a product owner is really exempt.
Liam: I couldn't agree with you more. And I think, unfortunately, there's going to be some people listening to this who go, what the hell are they talking about? Because if you come from the other world, if you will, of being a producer on a game, you’re exposed to project management. And you're exposed to stakeholder management and you're exposed to say some risk management, but basically what you're doing is quite different to treating that game as a product. And in mobile, it's big data, it's measurable, as we're saying, it's getting in front of the customer, et cetera. These are all agile based philosophies. They might not be agile in total, but the philosophy is agile, that philosophy of a product owner and a product manager, right. Which kind of interrelated titles, it depends upon how they're interpreted. But these are jobs in which is the three of these of vision value and validation where you go in and you go, okay, so what's the vision for this game. Okay. So how are we going to bring value fastest? Okay. How are we going to validate that what we've done brings value? And those principles, that way of thinking that philosophy, that's not something that most game producers outside of mobile are going to be really familiar with. And I think it's a bit of a shock when you meet a product manager and go, holy shit, that's speaking in a different language. And I think crossing those boundaries is difficult in both directions. Sorry, mate.
Callum: Yeah. And, I can't I actually keep track of how many times on console and PC. It's not very many actually. The number of times where there was an upfront attempt to try and validate that approach type, we built was good, with a non-biased audience, IC customers. Yeah. The number of Greenlight meetings, I sat in for some of the biggest companies in the world, in our industry. Where, whether their game got moved forwards or didn't get moved forward, just basically a collection of four or five people who, with the greatest respect them, aren't really that savvy of how to make games. It's a lot of business people making decisions around whether a game should get the next 10, 15 million dollars of funding to go to the next stage. Whereas, the whole MVP getting out into the hands of public process is again, much more honest than the consultant PC traditional processes where it is about letting the users tell you if you've got something that's worth considering or continuing with. And I think this comes back again to a point you made earlier, Liam, which is on console and PC games. As much as I love them, you can sell people a bit of bit of a lie with, through the marketing, through making glitzy trailers, through making really glamorous development, diaries, and so on. Because you're letting people make that initial transaction based on, I think they haven't actually held in their hands yet based on a promise that you're making with them. Mobile they don't spend until you've delivered on the promise. And I love that relationship.
Liam: It's probably very... it's an interesting contemplation that a mobile, an enormous amount of money goes on user acquisition on discovery, right?
Callum: In order of magnitude greater than the amount you spend on making the game with or without.
Liam: We know that for a while now, there's been a hundred-million-dollar marketing campaigns for big games on console, for example, in PC, but still the discussion around spending money budgets, et cetera, within PC console will remain around wages and that sort of stuff. Right. Whereas in mobile, it's like your teams just aren't that huge compared to the volume of products that you can get out in a short amount of time. Right?
Callum: Yeah, I totally, totally great. And for all people who are in console and PC space, and they think about innovation on platforms. They probably think that they're where innovation happens because they're pushing, they're rendering technology or there's amazing new bit of like incredible AI software in Britain that makes blinking of an eye when the AI sees a flash of light these kinds of subtle, subtle things. But actually, I look at innovation very differently. I look at it in terms of ways to appeal to users, innovation in terms of finding entirely new ways to use the piece of hardware, Pokémon GO being a great example is those innovations that make the game instantly a thing that players can go, oh, that's cool. That's different. You haven't got to like play the game to experience it. Those drive UA costs down. They make the game acquisition of users much cheaper because organic word of mouth is much more of a thing. And that's really important on mobile because as you say, the spiraling UA costs mean that it's incredibly difficult for a good game sometimes to get the kind of coverage and traction it deserves because you have to spend to be front of mind and make sure that people understand what your product is and that it's there. But I think with mobile as well, now we are starting to see perhaps some green shoots or signs that the audience is getting a little bit more aware of some of the dirty UA tactics that have been pervading for the last two to three years with UA adverts on things like Facebook or Instagram or other social media platforms, where the advert you look and you go that's kind of interesting. Then you get to the app store and go, that's not the game you're selling me. Those clickthrough rates, again, another key [inaudible 46:53] measure are now starting to drop down and we're starting to see players resisting the kind of the false advertising that has crept into mobile a little bit as well. Because honestly isn't there, that transactional relationship with the user has become a distant...
Liam: But I think to flip this on its head, I suppose, when you are so data driven when you are so much of product management, when you are in terms of a methodology and approach, I think the games can reflect that as well. And I think a lot of the big games are about the data. And they were about the grind and there you're just buying to get past grind. And I think, I don't play mobile games. I don't like them. I haven't found ones. Now, I'm talking about the big games. I haven't really found any of those that I like, because they just annoying me. After a couple of days of being told to do something I'm like, fuck off. I don't want to do it. I don't, why should I? I want to do something interesting, but by that time I've been trounced because I've gone... my empire has gone public or something, and I've suddenly found myself destroyed by the next-door neighbor who's spending 12 hours a day on it. And I'm like, this isn't really fun, is it? Now, okay, I know that that's an exaggerated example, but the same was true with some of the Facebook games. When you've got a lot of data, when you've got audiences of millions available and you can trial AB testing and this sort of thing, I think you have to be careful that your game doesn't become about math’s. And I suppose that's something where when you play God of war, you're not really thinking about the math’s. I know you, you can't be with a lot of RPGs these days, but, you know, I mean, right? And strategy games, but I think that's something which I personally don't really like, and I suppose that's possibly because of that data driven approach. Right?
Callum: For sure, man. And, you'll hear a lot of product managers and heads of product functions talk about optimizing the game economy and optimizing socio-economy of the player base as well trying to find that sweet spot between players being just frustrated enough that they'll spend some money; versus too frustrated that they won't spend some money. Or finding ways for encouraging the place to stay in the game longer so they can kind of keep the liquidity of the matchmaking pull-ups that you got more players to beat up, like your example of the game where your empire went public and people could then come and invade you. The game economy needs people who are not going to play anymore because they just had to get beaten up by others. Right. But otherwise, people who are spending money have nobody to go to over with their financial investment. You start off, you start building up these incredibly complex socio-demographic kinds of ecosystems where you categorize players based on their play type, their play behavior, their spending time. And I think the best games commercially have found ways to appeal to a very broad and very, I guess, compounded in some senses of those players. Like King's Candy Crush game, for example, it's a really good one where it has hundreds of millions of monthly active users. MAU, another good KPI.
So yeah, I think when I was working at King, we peaked it around 370 million monthly active users playing. That's bigger than the population of the United States of America was if I remember correctly. And you know, only two or 3 percent of those players would actually spend money in the game. But even because it's such a big scale of the game, 300 million plus monthly active users, you get two or 3 percent of them spending, that's still millions of players who are opening their wallets every month and spending upwards of five, ten, fifteen dollars here or there. And you quite quickly get to a point with that soon, that's something Candy Crush is a multibillion-dollar franchise. And it's, yeah, it just baffles me that you can have 97 percent of the playing base, probably enjoying the game more than the two or 3 percent who's spent that money playing for free would it being supported by the two or 3 percent who are willing to pay. And honestly, I do think there is going to be a shift in the industry towards more of a sort of evening out in terms of that payer or non-payer mechanic, where finding ways, not just to encourage non-payers to what we call convert into being payers, but finding ways for the people who have paid to get more than just that kind of, that sheep thrill value out of having spent money in the game, that silly cosmetic thing, there's got to be a deeper connection with the players who are willing to spend money, which goes beyond just the superficial stuff that we've done in games so far.
Liam: It's really interesting, isn't it? Because the more you talk, the more, I think, mobile gaming it's... people who work in mobile gaming can find a job in software development, making mobile apps, right?
Liam: You can skip straight across and you can't do that as a producer for PC and console. You just can't whether an internal or external producer, you can't just skip over to say, hey, I'm going to be a producer in because that role doesn't exist. However, in mobile, it does exist, now this isn't a complete tangent from what you were saying. What I was thinking is of something like the mobile games themselves and what they're using this big data and what you've just described in terms of the whales, et cetera, and those terms are not supposed to use anymore of how the few fund the many. That's something, which even I remember getting an email yesterday from Strava, the fitness tracking app, and it was the co-founders were emailing out and saying, we've decided to put some of our features behind the paywall to reward people who are paying us and to move some of them out of the free, but don't worry. The free offering will still be great. And you can see that tendency now towards people who are paying, going well, hang on. Can we get more please? And I think we both grew up around the internet in which you used to have to pay for things.
Liam: And then everything became the free model. It was freemium. Right. And I think... well, not that I think, but you can see it now that change that you're describing. I think that that will become a broader change. However, I do think with mobile, there are so many new audience areas, demographically to still tap, tap geographically to still tap like the Indian audience, for example. That you can go through the same thing. The African audience, the people who haven't... what's the word? Haven't got fatigue.
Liam: And that's the same as any multinational going, going across different countries, creaming the profit off of people until I realized it was going on.
Callum: Agreed. And actually, there's an area of monetization we haven't even touched upon, which is very much a mobile flavor of the month, which is advertising. Advertising spaces these selling game where you basically have a bit of UI that you can put an advert inside. And then every time that, that appears on the screen and impression is trapped and some lucky company, the backend goes cool, 10 million people. So, my tee shirt adds got running in GameX. We can generate decent sums of revenue that way. Some of the biggest mobile games out there, King being a good example. There's no reason why they can't be a billion-dollar advertising platform, the network size that they have. I think that, again, there's another interesting and potentially very lucrative avenue that we can go to start offsetting some of these costs that we've talked about, whether we kind of maximize the spend against those. I see that as potentially a way to try and even out the distribution of the financial burden to keeping the games going on a small percentage of the users and having everybody pick up some of that financial strain through being essentially sponsored content.
Liam: Do you think that the mobile gaming industry is simply going to get bigger and bigger and bigger almost logarithmically? Or do you think it's already plateaued to the top few making the most money?
Callum: Good question. I mean, I kind of see -- I see the industry always getting bigger because phones are getting better all the time. People have more access to them. Human population is increasing for another thing. Every year there's another, how many hundred million population growth. And, people will pick up my mobile phones they are an essential part of modern day to day life. So, I see that industry growing certainly at a much faster pace than say console and PC does because the barrier to entry is much lower. That said, I don't see it growing at the same explosive pace that it has done. I think it is going to keep growing at pace because of the sheer scale of the industry and the number of people coming into it. But I don't think that it's going to see the same sort of correlated effect for the games industry. In fact, I think if anything, the big games now have proven over having to work harder and harder and harder to say the big games. Some good examples being machine zone, and forex games, the game of Wars and so on. When they decided to stop pumping billions of dollars into UA, despite being known as the best in their field, they kind of fell out of the top 50 grossing. In fact, I don't think they're even inside the top a hundred grossing games anymore.
Liam: UA being used for acquisition, right?
Callum: Acquisition, exactly so. Well, once you stop spending to bring those users in people didn't want to play the product. And I think that's kind of an interesting inflection, big [inaudible 52:13], big kind of... billion-dollar franchises like this stop investing in that kind of money to keep topping up the funnel. The game kind of fell apart. They had a tight ecosystem for the users fell apart, which is very interesting as a, I guess, a case study. And I think that we as a broader industry could and should be learning from around how we have to try and treat our users, not just as this kind of capital that we can bring into financial slaughter, but actually trying to keep them in the game longer and making sure that there's actually a real, tangible, meaningful reason to stick around and play the game beyond just the sort of the financial transaction interactions we as game businesses wanting to have.
Liam: I think that's a great example of why some people don't want to become gaming professionals in the mobile gaming industry because they want to make what they would consider more pure games that aren't just about making cash every hour. Or about making a game, getting out there, maybe doing DLC, but basically yeah, seeing it packaged and seeing it being played and seeing people going wow. As opposed to excuse me, I'm just going to, I just need to log in and build another farm and to be facetious. But it's interesting. Isn't it? It's interesting because it is you, of course, especially have you... you've been able to see, probably a helicopter view of all of this because of your positions. And I noted that you were, I mean, you've been head of studio, head of production. You've been program manager. What does a program manager do by the way?
Callum: Oh, good question. So again, another one of those wonderful, like distinctions between different roles as production being a very broad umbrella. Program manager when I was working at Microsoft was kind of like project manager who managed multiple projects simultaneously. So, I was managing I think it was four out of the eight different development teams over at Microsoft studio. I want to say managing basically like sorting out their schedules, making sure that delivery was on time, making sure they were hitting quality. So again, in other companies that would be called a producer. The producers at this particular studio, their role was very different. They were more like designed to interface in the sense that they were trying to make sure that the game quality was really well understood. And we're working much more closely with the designers and so I was. But again, my teams know I was responsible for the quality. So, I happened to be working on teams that didn't have designers because it was making sure that the art was delivering, making sure the central technology team were delivering. So, didn't get a title producer, but in that company, but it was pretty much the production skill set. Schedule, team management, making sure things are delivered. And also, really, I think we haven't really talked about much actually Liam communication, making sure stakeholder management was well managed and maintained. And as soon as there were things going wrong, the right communication channels were used and people were informed of what this was and we kind of collectively then came together to fix those problems.
Liam: When you listen to any GDC talks from producers, talking about being a producer, when they break down the categories of what it means to be a producer, communication always comes out as the top one.
Liam: And I think that's, it's interesting, if I listen to you talk you know, I'm, I'm basking and you're golden words going, wow, this guy, he can really express himself beautifully. I'm sure the audience would agree. So, what do you -- can you imagine being a producer who can't communicate well? Because I can't, I can't imagine that.
Callum: I think inherently, if you can't communicate well, you're not well suited to be in game production. It is a natural facilitation role where sometimes you were required to stand in a room and be the person whose kind of championing something and standing up talking with fire and brimstone about why something's going to be awesome. Sometimes communication is the ability to just shut your mouth and listen, right? Communication's not all about expressing your own opinions. It's about taking feedback in. And so I think that product owner part of production kind of really kicks in when you're listening to either direct feedback from your customers in a play test session, or you're listening to them via a piece of data or a piece of analysis that has been done where they're saying they're voting with their actions in game essentially. Communication is, I think the... actually communication and commonsense are probably the two most useful skills for producers. And I sent you see common sense as the practical application of things you learned during communication.
Liam: That's interesting. I would see common sense as the ability to see obvious things that other people are too busy and blinkered therefore to see, but you've got the opportunity if you're good at listening. And you're good at watching. I think as a producer, you have that opportunity that others simply are too busy to have to go. Why on what do you mean you just so that thing over there was broken and those people over there were working on X and Y and you have that opportunity, right? And then it's your responsibility. You are accountable to say, I'm going to do something about that. And the way you do something about that, again, I think shines through if you're a good communicator.
Liam: Because then you're not going to just start yelling and shouting at people, the old-fashioned exec producers who had shut people in toilets or flushed their heads down them or something. But you're going to try and do something, far more mature hopefully.
Callum: One hopes. I mean, I think the dark days, certainly I haven't heard any stories about it for a long-time kind of the producers and executive producers who were those kinds of slightly terrifying, aggressive behemoths that would intimidate and get things done through fear. I think the days of our industry having those characters around are long gone. Although they still exist, those characters are kind of birds of a feather flop together. And they don't really have that much in the industry as you and I would know of it now.
Liam: Yeah, I think, I mean, that's one thing if you're, if you're listening to this thinking, Holy shit I was thinking maybe I should become a producer, but now I'm not so sure. One thing you should know is that I think the games industry has matured and because of money, frankly.
Liam: Because now you have to be more aware of things like law sorry, the employment law, you have to be more aware of what you can and can't do the behaviors that appropriate. Whereas previously 20 years ago, 10 years ago, it was much more of a cowboy, a white male cowboy state than it is now. And I think because we are seeing students graduating into the games industry. I think it comes with men, women, and just their knowledge, their experience, their passion. They've got a little bit of foundation background. They got little bit of confidence. And I think that's changed the games industry, enormously that people are coming in. I mean, I've worked with Sumo Digital who had graduated from universities in the Northern Viking lens. And they were exceptional because they had been taught very, very well. And it given them a lot of confidence to be able to express what they thought in things like game design. And they were really sharp. And I thought, this is great. This is the future. This is also bosses aren't going to be needed much anymore if they can do what it seems they can do. But I do think the world is changing in the games industry, but you have to be aware that you're coming into a place in which companies are going bust. You can get sacked; you'll probably end up having to move around a lot. And you may or may not get a bonus if your game get gets big, but really, it's all about the money. Isn't it?
Callum: Very much so. Very much so. And there are pros and cons to that. Of course. Yeah. I think that the pros that you you've stated very, very articulately there, that it is making us all grow up. It's making us behave like a regular industry. The cons are that it's making us all grow up. It's making... yeah, as much as it's become a much cleaner, safer, more sanitized place to work. I think some of the opportunity for us to be a bit more free form to figure out different ways of doing things. I think some of that's become a little bit too standardize to sanitize. There's almost by rote ways of learning and by making video games. Now you can almost consider an end to end process where you can apply 90 percent of the same methodologies to most projects and probably get a lot of the same end results. I think the real superstar producers that I've worked with over the last few years, they find ways to inject a bit of their own personality and their own kind of flavor into doing production rather than just being a temperature process. They bring everywhere, now. That really is that thing where you find the producers when the team looks and they go, I'd crawl through broken glass with my flying than for that person. Versus the I'll just come to work and do my job response.
Liam: That was a really extreme example by the way of what you would do for a person. Thank you for listening.
Callum: Yeah. I still got the scars by the way.
Liam: So, can I ask you, I want to just ask you some random questions now, right?
Callum: Yeah. Rapid fire round.
Liam: Rapid fire round. So, what did the head of studio in Helsinki job entail? A good question, actually. I mean, you talked a bit before about getting producers going on to becoming heads of studio and that's actually a very interesting and diverse role in its own right. What I was doing there was essentially, I'm doing a lot of the studio, facilitation and management I'm making sure we had the right people on the team.
Liam: Yeah. Actually, ordering the coffee sometimes as well. I'd say I actually made a big failing in that and not investing more in support structure around me to take care of some of the day to day stuff like bordering the coffee and making sure the lights and the bills got paid. I took a lot of that stuff on. But I think that the key role of what I was doing that really was trying to make sure that the interface between the Helsinki studio, which is a satellite studio for war gaming. And the bigger parent company war gaming was, well-maintained make sure that relationship was solid and strong. While being, a kind of executive producer on a couple of games in Helsinki studio, making sure that they were well understood. They had a really good product understanding and then trying to empower the design team and the co-team and the art team to deliver against those games. I mean, that was kind of the dream for the role. It didn't really manifest in that way sometimes because big companies and sort of the interesting challenge of making sure that your studio is profitable, but still the studios where the company could spend its money and so on. Can sometimes become a less than fun consideration for someone who's running their own studio.
Callum: Yeah. Where you running your own studio? Because just for people who don't know the Helsinki studio, Wargaming Helsinki pretty much, that was an independent studio that Wargaming had recently purchased, right?
Liam: Yeah, absolutely.
Callum: Wrapping you into their umbrella of [inaudible 01:02:48].
Liam: Yeah. In the video that was acquired as part of all giving mobile's growth and expansion strategy. And yeah, I'd say I was running my own studio that in so much as everything we did in the studio, I had had ultimate control over, well, not control because I may sound like a dictator. But I could say yes or no to it, but usually it would be more of a collaborative decision with the guys in the studio. And yeah, it was like being in an indie studio, but basically having the funding from Wargaming, where we chose the games we made, we chose how we make them. We had a lot of opportunity to try and do interesting, cool, challenging things for ourselves. But, at the end of the day we were, one of many satellites’ studios will get me hurt. And Helsinki was not a cheap place to cheap place to have a studio. And I totally agree with a decision they made to close that studio down end of last year, as much as it up to the time for myself and all my colleagues. Part of what my responsibility as a studio head was, was to make sure that we were working lean working in a smart way and could justify our costs. And compared to the other studios we were just more expensive and therefore, a bit of an outlier. I think that sounds [inaudible 1:03:56] one of the key things you have to do as a studio head is be willing sometimes to carry the can when the ship comes falling down.
Liam: Yeah. And as we said, it's about money. There are -- we're fortunate in the games industry that a bunch of people can just stay where they are having fun making games, hopefully, and just get on with it and go in and do their art, do their code, do their design, do their QA, do their audio, whatever. Some of us want, some of us have that need that drive to sort of go, nah, we're going to make this better. Right. I want to get promoted. I want to move up. And of course, you've moved up from senior to exec producer while you were at Wargaming. And to me that was I kind of semi external producer role in which you were trying to help other studios right? That we're purchasing, and you were also a producer amongst product managers, which was like a Hawk among dogs. And that part there, how did that work? And just be clear to people so Callum's title was I think, exact producer in the end, wasn't it?
Liam: You were working with people there on mobile gaming who were called product managers. So, what was the relationship like there?
Callum: I mean, that's a really interesting one to try and address actually, because product managers they sort of really useful function in, especially mobile gaming, where you have data coming in and you're trying to make the right call based on the data you have. But also trying to build game design systems or build systems into games that, you know will get you better KPIs or metrics later on. A good example, being, if you're going to build a guilt system, you copy GameX because GameX has the best skills in the industry. And you kind of look at those things and you figure out the value those individual features out and try and find ways to make that fit inside your game. Working with product managers was kind of interesting in that a lot of product managers I find then those suspect them as a role, I think it's a vital role. Don't really know how to make games. It's quite a new role for our industry. And they're very used to working in sort of like operations or working in games that are in their beta stage. So, they're kind of essentially finished for fault products at that point where they can come in and they can make a tweak and change them. They didn't really have much of a clue how to take a game from a piece of paper concept through to actually being a thing you could then start to tweak. I think that's one of the key differences between production and producers and the product manager role is understanding of what it takes to build a product, not just to shape one after it's been built.
Liam: So, who builds it in the mobile gaming industry? Who build it from scratch?
Callum: Well, yeah, ultimately that's why producers still exist as you'll know, Liam from our time over and we're giving it, there was only one producer in the office and was me working on multiple titles that only really watch because the game producers in the studios themselves were all very talented and very competent and able to do a lot of the sort of production work autonomously. I honestly think if will get me mobile had invested in a couple more producers in this centralized publishing function. We would have been in a better place over we'd have got the better end results much, much sooner, just because there's more [inaudible 1:07:03] objectivity and we're not, we're not just putting the onus for the kind of games we make on product managers. You only care about the end result, bottom line KPIs. We've had more of a game development view in that mix as well, rather than just the sheer financials.
Liam: Yeah. I mean, from my experience of product managers, they're a bit like, it's a bit like they're on a chariot's whipping the horses, going, go, go, come on. Let's go. Let's go with any of the finish line, go, go, go. So, how was that different at King? Let's say, who is making the games who is creating? Who is doing that? King was actually similar and different. Similarities were very much that we have product managers or we call them business performance managers at King. And the game teams had a lot of autonomy to figure out the kind of games they wanted to make. But I think at King, I remember correctly the onus up front before you even agree it's a game, but there was a much stronger green-lighting process. You had to do a lot more market research to find an opportunity then we had to at Wargaming to get a game even started. And I think doing that the sort of the producers that I was working with at the time I was one of them at King trying to get games green, that we became almost the product managers for that initial post [inaudible 1:012:25] pre-production phase. And then when the game moved into the production phase, it became much more of a hand in hand relationship with traditional product management to make sure that that started happening influence of how the backdrop took shape.
Callum: Right. Okay. Another question since you're here. Well I'm really interested in... I've had, okay, so I've had some good and some bad experiences with project managers in the games industry. I find it a very difficult role to place because as a producer in say PC console, you are expected to know a lot about project management, but no one's going to teach you. Then in mobile, you have product managers who are whipping the horses going go, go, go, but they seem to be relying on someone like a project manager to keep it all together. Now, what's your opinion about having separate project managers?
Liam: I think it depends on the focus, the scale, like there's a bunch of different factors in this, right. For a big console triple, A type project, I've seen it and have worked in those situations where you have project managers who are in charge of delivery for things, those project managers are largely divorced from the water delivering. They're just focusing on the when and the how things gets delivered. It's become increasingly the case and these are my experience, that the what we deliver is influenced by product managers who don't really care about the how and anything else. They just care about the when. And so, they're like you say, they all whipping that whole new feature, the new amazing costume they're going to sell to make billions of dollars, et cetera. And they don't really care about the consequences in terms of the team and the human consequences of what it takes to deliver that. So, there is a natural tension between those two roles. For the project managers side, I think that all producers should have an awareness and a keen awareness, actually of project management. That doesn't mean they have to be the person managing the project, but I think they should be able to look at any project they're working on even if it's a sniff and see what stinks from a project management perspective. Purely because if we follow the logic that producers are the ones who are ultimately responsible for delivering a thing, they can't just point the finger at project manager, they're working with and be like, well, you didn't tell me the portrait was going on. Should have enough common sense and where with all to figure it out for themselves.
Liam: I think it's very difficult for a producer to be told, make sure you're doing project management because when you look up project management on the web and you go, well, what's project management then? Or if you look at your gaming production experience and you go, well, I guess it's tracking how work's going in JIRA or docking hand soft up and having a look in there, or it's walking around and making sure people are on track. So, project management, just like program management, project management is a really big deal. There's a lot to it. And I've just done some podcasts on risk management. Because I think it's interesting that people need to understand that it all kind of starts with risk management. You should be assessing your risk and your issues. And, as a producer working around risks and issues is a really big deal, real big part of your job. And that's a small part of project management. Now I think we, yeah, we were either lucky or we're not, we can maybe like me, you've worked outside the industry and you've worked as a project manager and as a program manager. And you've got some training and experience or like you you've just, busted your ass, self-Taught, correct me if I'm wrong. And you've got to where you are because you've put the work in and you've learned that stuff. But I find it very hard -- I would find it very difficult to tell a starting producer or a junior producer right now go off and do that course over there. And you'll learn how to be a project manager that works for the games industry. What about you? I mean, what are you...
Callum: I totally agree, man. I totally agree. There is no one size fits all producer. So therefore, there is no one course you can go on, which teaches you everything you need to do to be a project manager for these things, or to be a product manager. That's just isn't. This is why I look at production in some ways as the never ending dream of being great as a producer because there'd always be a new skill you can pick up that makes you better in some way, there'd always be a new technique or a new tool you can use, which can make you better in terms of what you do. I guess if anything, there are probably some norms or baseline level of skills I think people can invest in which help them get not necessarily like good at things, but that, that kind of common vocabulary or that baseline level of collective understanding about what we mean when we talk about certain things. So, things like the product owner training or the scrum master training while not essential, I think doing that is a massive leverage. And force multiplier for producers in terms of them understanding how to work with a team in a kind of proven way. That sets as I commented earlier, I think to an extent following things and processes too much by the book is a dangerous thing. And it doesn't give producers enough room to kind of put their own stamp on things as well.
The scrum master training in particular, I think was one when I did that for the first time, it was kind of a real eye opener for me. And I've actually done the scrum certification three times now through different companies actually. Well, the first time I did it, I was like, Holy cow, I didn't realize I was doing most of this stuff without realizing that it was a formal thing, right. When I first started doing it, agile was this kind of weird thing that people had talked about outside of the industry. It was starting to bleed its way into the games industry. And when I sat and did my first formal recognition of this through the training program, I was really shocked. Like, wait a minute, I'm using professional skills in the video game industry. This is weird. I didn't think I was a professional at anything. It felt very odd to have it codified and recognized as a formalized discipline, but also very freeing in a way it gave me that confidence that I wasn't just winging it or making it up. I was actually doing stuff that probably industry professionals at big technology companies were doing and using. And that was a wonderfully freeing experience to feel like I wasn't having this imposter syndrome you talk about all the time.
Liam: That's great. And the way you said that about the codification of the role, I think that's incredibly powerful. I remember going on a Prince two course, which is a council run projects that the UK government published and it's terrible. And done...
Callum: Honestly, I remember my old VP back at Code masters telling me there is a thing you have to do. He was ex MOD, Prince two certified, wonderful guy. I got my Prince two certification. I ended up finishing it thinking, but if I do all that, I'm not going to have any time to do the project management.
Liam: Yeah. I mean, for people who don't know and I'm sure most of you don't, why would you Prince two is really for how to project manage things like construction sites and local councils. And it's things like you must all have a risk register. You must keep a log of all incidents that happen on your site. And, and it's that foundation knowledge of project management. Yeah. 10 years ago, there wasn't really anything else available. And even now, if you try and look up project management qualifications, the most grueling part of it is they will tell you how to pass the project management exam. Unfortunately, some of the agile trainings like this and some of the lean training, they won't tell you what it means. So, I can sit there and which I've done. There's a video on game DASH production will come where I say, right, let's work through an actual risk register. Let's use -- let's put together a useful one. Let's actually show you how to do it. That's very rare because if you were to do a course, like the Prince two or the American version, which is the project management Institute, the PMI.
Liam: Which is a project management book of knowledge. If you had to do all of their exams, et cetera, it's just a pyramid scheme. It's just taking your money and making you be able to tell people why a risk register, for example, or change management or whatever is a good thing. And...
Callum: Yeah, [inaudible 1:20:21] for project managers. Yeah.
Liam: It's awful. But yeah, like you do them. And the nice thing is if you've been in the game industry to be as a producer for a couple of years, Callum's quite right. When you do those sorts of exams. When you do those sorts of studies, even if it's self-study, if you go to Udemy and try and do some project management courses, you'll go, oh, okay, so I wasn't far off then.
Liam: Because a lot of it is common sense.
Callum: Common sense, yeah.
Liam: [Inaudible 1:20:54] knowledge, right. But I'm absolutely desperate that this codification of being a producer that can happen, that people don't have to feel their way in the dark so much and wonder if they're doing it right. I'm desperate for us to just spread knowledge and have a place, like this place, but have a place where there's at least a foundation of knowledge where you can come and go, okay. So, if I want to be that kind of producer, I should be strong in these areas. Got it.
Liam: It doesn't seem to exist anywhere. So...
Callum: And that's a real shame, right? I mean, back when we started doing this as producers, there already was only one path. You were this kind of producer because that's all the industry had known now that the industry has grown and evolved and it's opened up so many different avenues. I think it's a real confusing shame for anybody who wants to become a game producer, that the only really have the producers they've worked with as role models. They don't really have an idea of what exists beyond that game, that project, that company. And every company does this very differently. Every company has a different view of what production is. How that career path grows. And it can be confusing with so much diversification out there to really understand, what are the core skills that are applicable to all of this? What are the specialist skills [inaudible 1:21:57] certain parts? And I, for one, I take my digital hats off to helium for trying to figure out a way of putting some of this down as a resource for people. But your digital hat was the only thing you were wearing.
Liam: Well, yeah. And I'll be glad that I'm, yeah. I'm not on webcam right now. So, are you bringing back Worlds Adrift?
Callum: I cannot comment on that.
Liam: Okay. I was told to ask you though.
Callum: I think if you look at boss’s various different social media channels, it's usually the first question that gets asked whenever we post anything. I would ask any of your listeners who are particularly interested in that to also do the same.
Liam: Very well said, sir. Head of production Boxer, what are your three biggest headaches and three biggest joys?
Callum: I'll start with the joys. Because I think as producers you sometimes have a tendency to focus on the negatives. Number one, it's the team I work with. The handful of producers, I have there which range from a senior producer regular tape producer an associate producer, a creative producer and a technical producer. So, there's just five examples, different titles for me. They're a wonderful mixture of people. All of them have incredibly different skillsets. My senior producer is, as I put it, one of the best people producers I've ever worked with, he can just lead a team. He can charismatically stand up in front of a room full of executives and kind of tell them why they're right or tell them why they're wrong sometimes. And just kind of sell things. My producer, she is one of the best, what I call project management producers. You throw her into a JIRA project and it's 30 minutes she'd have figured out 15 different ways that it's inefficient and fixed most of them already. And my associate producer I have is one of the I guess raw talents I've seen in a long time where he just has common sense in such abundance. I look at them and go, you're either like the smartest person in the room, or like the most switched on person there are. I'm not sure which it is, but you're just damn good at this. So, leading that team is an incredible honor for me to do so. Especially considering the... I talk about imposter syndrome, I look at them sometimes and I'm like, I can learn from you guys. And I love that two-way transactional work have in terms of information sharing with them. Other joys are, it is quite nice to get back into doing console and PC games back at Boxer.
On the flip side, that will bring me to one of my, one of my negatives, which is I have moved away from mobile, which is where I actually feel the industry at large is trending. My third joy would probably be its kind of a personal one actually, but it's nice to be back in the UK. I think there's something special about the UK games industry. This is no disrespect to the Helsinki studio. I love being there and it has its own very special flavor as well at the Helsinki game Dev studio is very, very close knit. But I guess, having started the industry in 1999 at Code masters, there is something about that kind of Brit soft developer that you'll see occasionally in game websites where we are often the plucky underdog of making video games, but he's not quite like that attitude. So, I owe you two more two more headaches, right? I think I'm working for a company right now. That's going through some interesting transitions. I'm trying to bring in a more standardized way of making video games for them, it's definitely a headache, not because they are sort of against this, but because companies get into a rhythm of their business, doing things a certain way and understanding how they operate. Me coming in as head of production saying, hey guys, you've been successful so far, but do you know if you completely change everything you do, you can be even more successful. It's yeah. It's an interesting message to sell into a company, trying to understand why not doing pre-production is a bad thing. Why doing pre-production is a good thing? It's a lot of education, which is kind of a slow and painful headache. I have to kind of work through.
Liam: And it constrains on transition is a slow and painful headache. I mean, you can hire people whose entire job is to try and change something in a big corporation. So, the fact you're trying to do that yourself, kudos to you, mate.
Callum: Thank you, sir. Thank you. It's been really fun, right. Never been one to shy away from a challenge, and this is actually another third time that I've designed and built a full end to end game development process or framework for the studio to follow. And it's been really interesting and actually...
Liam: But it's only got three steps, right?
Callum: Yeah. You know, make game, ship game, spend money. That's basically it. Actually, the third one despite everything we've talked about today, about product management the third one is actually not really having that product function. That's my headache. I've become very aware of how useful it is to think big picture product rather than just individual game features as part of a game. And now working in a company West through no fault of their own Boxer, hasn't really done this before in terms of being a game that is fully live operations or fully games as a service. It is definitely a different way of thinking, going back to an old school, box product one and done PC meant type of quality. Something that I'm both enjoying and not enjoying in equal measure.
Liam: Yeah. I mean, it's, agile I just want to throw in a random comment, now. Agile says, use agile, if your project is particularly complicated and I look up like making a mobile game and go, oh, this one's very complicated. I look at PC and console. I think you're entering the world of chaos because what you've done is you've said make a game, which you don't really have to tell anyone what it really is, do a little quick prototype. And then two years later, we'll see where we're at. And I know that's very flippant way of expressing it. And I apologize to everybody who doesn't actually do that because it's not really what happens. But someone from the outside world, especially from a product manager from the outside world, it can appear that way. Right. Because your, I mean, you've made this point earlier is that you can start off saying we're going to make this X and by the time it's shipped and gone three, three you're on wise ed and buying [inaudible 1:28:02] again. And I think, it's a very difficult...
Liam: It's a difficult world to be in, right? It's a difficult world that you need to take charge of that thing as a producer and you need to be able to say all those promises that we made, all that money that we've spent, all this pressure we're under, we need to get to the other side of this and be making something the people are hopefully going to like with. With the other way of doing it, where you're making something and you're getting it in front of people, as soon as possible, you don't have that terror because it's there. You're getting feedback straight away. I don't get why we don't do it that way.
Callum: For as is in sort of smaller, more bite sized chunks, right. You're not testing the entire game and going, holy crap. I hope they like this because it's been three years making it, you're testing a feature that you've worked on for a couple of months. And if they don't like it, sure it sucks to throw two months’ work away, I always have to go back and refine it or change it entirely. It's much, much easier to swallow for a small portion of the team to throw in a small piece of work, the entire game studio to throw a year of work.
Liam: Which is why, of course, so many people reduce the risk and make sequels. Because you got all new formula.
Callum: That's for all remasters now. You know it's the current trend.
Liam: Oh, yeah.
Callum: He's doing like the HD remaster of all their old IP classics.
Liam: Yeah. Well, I'm a sucker for a remaster, I must say,
Callum: Oh, let me tell you, I love playing the same game twice for three times the cost. Yeah.
Liam: Do you think a successful producer has to be obsessed with games in the games industry?
Callum: I don't think they have to. I actually have worked with some very good producers who are not fanatical about video games. However, the kind of work they do as producers is much more of a development director, the project manager type producer et cetera. And again, this comes back to the diversification of the role 15 years ago. My answer to that would have been emphatic it would have been yes, of course they do. They have to live and breathe video games. You have to know Mario's middle name and like how many cords are on the back of Sonic the hedgehog. They'll have to live and breathe this. Nowadays, you don't have to, there's a much more accommodating different range of options for you in production. That's it, I do live and breathe video games, so I will always have a personal bias towards answering that's the only way. But like I say, it's not a universal truth. You can find a home, which you're not a hardcore gamer these days.
Liam: I suppose, I agree with you. But I do think, yeah, the fact that we are saying right, that the production role is an umbrella term for a lot of other things. And I think probably some of those other things, you really do need to be gaming fanatic if you're going to get the respect of your teams. And if you want to go in a certain direction, like if you want any kind of creative vision you probably do need to be a bit of a fanatic. Right?
Callum: I think so. Yeah. I mean, you can look at it in the sense of if you are fanatic about games. You can learn project management skills, so you can learn some of the hard skills that other disciplines in production will need. You can't really teach a passion for something it's either that, or it isn't. I mean, yeah, you can get more climate types of something over the years. But yeah, I think truly passionate people for them it’s in their DNA, right. It's in the core of who they are. You can't really teach that. So not having it will limit some of the options available to you. Like, I can't imagine an executive producer who doesn't like video games, like they're only interested purely for the satisfaction of making great projects that doesn't strike me as a thing that should really exist. But yeah, like I say doesn't mean that you have to be a person who goes home after working on games for hours a day and spends eight hours a day playing video games in their evenings. That doesn't have to be.
Liam: Hmm. It is in your case obviously.
Callum: Yeah, basically. Yeah. As soon as I finish this. I'm going to go and play some video games.
Liam: What are you playing? I must ask.
Callum: You might remember from our time together at Wargaming, Liam, I'm a bit of a Warhammer, a fanatic. So, I'm currently working my way through a game called Warhammer: 40,000 Mechanicus. It's kind of a strategy-based game where you play as the Adeptus mechanicus against the necrons, two factions, they have a painted tabletop army to play with as well. So, I'm currently going through that because yesterday games, workshop announced a new version of Warha