The most common Job Titles in Production
Video Game Production used to be a 1 size fits job family where you were the defacto owner of the "holy trinity" of the Time, Quality and Budget for a game. While this was, and to an extent still is, largely true; over time the role has grown and evolved now to allow for more nuance in the role and to accept more different types of people into roles as Producers.
Back in the late 90's a Producer was often the only person on a team whose job was to try and bring the full project vision and delivery together and back then it could be done by one person, or a small number of producers, because the game teams were themselves smaller and more easy to manage. There have been different levels of Producer for as long as there has been Game Production, and I want to touch on these as some of this still holds true and helps provide some usefu context for where the more specialist Production roles come into play.
The first official step on the Production path. The place where a future producer learns the skills needed to run development projects by typically taking on entire areas of a bigger game development project or running smaller development projects themselves. Typically I have seen them take on the following types of work as they learn their skills:
Porting / additional platform ownership. For example, taking a console game onto a PC or a different console platform.
Owning pieces of the game delivery that are demanding and time consuming, areas such as Localisation, QA, Marketing support and so on.
Owning "sister SKU's" like doing a Nintendo DS game alongside the console or PC main releases.
Typical day to day responsibilities for an Associate Producer will vary greatly from company to company, but the list below should be consistent for most places.
Coordinate the work the team is doing.
Schedule and track work using project management tools
Help perform Agile ceremonies such as sprint planning, stand-ups, reviews, and retrospectives.
Supporting QA, playtesting, and maintenance of bug databases.
Reporting to stakeholders on the progress of a project.
Managing risks to the delivery budget, time or quality.
In all my career and that of my peers I can see how the skills you learn here really set a Producer up for the future and I often see some look upon the role as a junior one, which I feel is a mistake - this role carries a lot of weight and isn't something people should be keen to skip. It's like skipping leg day at the gym if you strive to rush past being an Associate Producer... you might look good, but wait until someone asks you to carry something really heavy!
The most ambiguous title of them all, but it used to be simpler! At its core, this role is always about making sure something that needs to get done, gets done and that it does what it needs to do.
It's fair to say that in all the companies I have worked for during my career there is no single universal truth for what a typical producer role really covers. That said, I do feel like the list below is a pretty balanced view of the most likely responsibilities for a Producer:
Keeping the game development, design and publishing teams working collaboratively and sticking to the same objectives - the creative vision, technical constraints and the cost to complete the game.
Project management backgrounds will always be useful, as you'll almost always be expected to deliver projects on time and in turn this means structuring them the right way to be successful.
Typically the above will involve finding ways to measure the teams progress - milestones, sprints, etc
And last of the core skills is the ability to hold the team accountable to their commitments. I think this is an area where Producers either make or break their careers - if you can show the team what good looks like and hold them accountable for delivering against that, the world is your proverbial oyster.
While there is no official training program or set of skills that are a hard requirement to become a Producer, there are also some universal truths that I have observed over the years here too:
The more you know about the other disciplines that go into making and publishing a game, the better you'll fare. Take the time to invest in understanding what your team actually does and how they do it - it will pay off in the long run.
Some formal project management training can be advantageous. Now when I say this, I also have to caveat it and say that most training tends to deal with theoretical ideal scenarios and we don't often get that luxury in the games industry... however as a way of evaluating and managing projects, the theory is useful to know.
There are also a suite of what I call the "catch all" skills that a Producer should exhibit - a passion for games, problem solving skills, team collaboration and a great communicator.
It's typical for Producers to be solid project managers and that they have some skill in schedule building and reporting progress against it, for them to be financially aware of the cost to make the game and making sure it doesn't get out of controls and making sure that the game is good enough in terms of the gameplay and that its bug free.
This role is often talked about as being the "hub" at the center of the wheel, a role that should know everything that is happening at any given time on the game and for a long time it was expected that Producers are the default leaders of their projects.
Its also worth noting that increasingly in the role of Producer as we see Games As A Service become more adopted that there is an expectation that we'll be much more KPI aware at the very least and in some companies actually this role duplicates or doubles up with that of a Product Manager as someone who is driven by making the game KPI's look as good as they can.
I've always thought of this as Producer Plus, as most often in my experience the role is very similar to a Producer but likely to be on bigger or more commercially important projects for companies, or possibly leading a small team of other production employees to still achieve the same end result.
This is the step many Producers get to at the point where they have fine tuned their skills as a project manager and people leader in development teams, someone who understands how to build projects successfully and run them with fewer issues throughout the development, and is capable of managing more of the external stakeholders such as Brand, PR, Community and other teams crucial to the commercial success of the game.
Typically at this point in a Producer's career path, they are now leading teams of production professionals and trusting in them to take more of the delivery piece out of their hands. The EP works much more on the commercial success for the project ensuring that the game's external communications, partner relationships, franchise considerations or other such lofty sounding pieces are carried out successfully.
This doesn't mean they aren't accountable for the project delivery, but it does mean they will spend less time hands on with the development team directly and as mentioned above this responsibility is delegated to others in the team.
In addition to the full suite of the above skills I've also collected a few examples of things that typically seem to fall on the shoulders of an EP exclusively:
Contract negotiations with publishers or 3rd parties where it has significant impact on the bottom line.
Talent and hiring plans for projects. People are your best investment so a good EP works to manage the people on the team.
What about all the other Production Roles I have seen?
The above represents the "traditional" progression of a Producer, however its a job family where new roles have sprung up over time and I'll briefly cover one or two of them here as they were mentioned during my podcast with Liam. Not all of these may be applicable
This is a role where similar types and titles exist in other companies, but its often a great foot in the door type role for those moving from QA into Production where the role is still primarily around testing the game, but this time rather than looking for defects or verifying that a feature is working you have a different testing criteria. You might be testing to see if features from a Milestone meet the agreed deliverable spec, or if a new character in a game feels fun to use, or if weapon balance gives an unfair advantage to certain strategies... the list is basically as long as you want it to be and shows you moving from QA style testing into a Production headspace where you think bigger picture.
This role I have most commonly seen in the biggest of organizations where even within game production we need support in keeping people on track. This can be by taking sections of the project that require execution and labour investment to complete away from others in the Production team, by being the one who keeps notes on the whole teams activities and tracks them or by being assigned as a liaison to key depts that aren't day to day involved in the game development but ones that have a big impact on the potential success of the project.
Increasingly we're seeing Production roles start to specialize in certain areas and the most common of these is the Creative Producer or the Technical Producer, where as the name implies you end up focusing more on either the creative direction or the technical execution.
The Creative Producer role tries to recognize that a one size fits all approach to managing projects doesn't work and that in particular project managing creativity or early phase projects in prototyping or pre-production phases requires an emphasis more on exploration and experimentation. These Producers will be more likely to be ones with a background in design or product roles or who have been more closely tied to the game creative in the past.
And of course, nothing in video game would ever make its way into the hands of a user if we didn't have some technology in there! Technical Producers are a much more common role these days where they might be running pure tech teams who are less tied into the game itself, so things like a Central Tech team who maintains the core technology a game is built with or a team that is developing crucial things like tools, or communication platforms like game websites.
Many of these Producers will have a more engineering background and increasingly its becoming a way into the industry for people from more traditional tech companies. This background lets them be part of defining the solutions we use for technical problems and work much more closely with technical members of the team to be an effective facilitator between them and other parts of the project.
Wow, that's a lot... but what about...?
Now assuming you have read this far, then I hope that at the very least I have shown that Production is diverse and that its growing ever more so and allows for a wide variety of skills and attitudes.
This is before we even get onto the overlap between Production and other functions like Product or Design, and that is something I would love to discuss in more detail in another post in the future as its a complex set of skills to unpick to see how they support each other and in some cases can even be undertaken by one function with the right studio or Producers.
Callum's podcast episode is available to listen to here:
You can also read the full transcript here: