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About Entry-level Producer Positions...
by Kain Shin on 03/28/10 07:18:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I sense a disturbing trend amongst some of the fresh graduates lately.  A lot of kids are coming my way that fit a specific archetype: nice, smart, passionate, and utterly screwed by the false expectations fed to them by their educational institutions.  They have spent at least four years and their reserve of educational funds following a producer track at a school that offers a producer track for the video games industry.

When they graduate, they will be fighting for positions that make up the smallest ratio of head count on a development team when compared to programmers, artists, designers, audio engineers, and QA.  And within this ratio, they will be competing with an army of veteran experienced producers who are flooding the job market seeking to fill those low-ratio positions.

I feel for these kids who will be graduating this year with a "producer education", and I can't help but garner a growing disdain for the educational facilities that are empowering this mindset of entitlement to producer positions at some game company upon fresh graduation.

I would like to make the following potentially controversial assertion:

  • Getting a producer job upon graduation from college is currently an exception rather than the norm.

I am often approached by students asking for advice on getting their first job in the industry.  I typically respond by asking them what their skillsets are.  Sadly, I am finding more and more who would answer that their skillset lies in their management prowess as they proudly explain their past experiences managing group projects in the classroom.

I run into enough of these archetypes to the point where I am now developing a template response to those who ask me for advice on getting in.  Aside from pointing them to the excellent IGDA Breakin' in link, I will also offer these words to them:

"Management is a skill that is best cultivated with another skill that involves implementation. We don't necessarily seek out people with no experience who's only purpose on the team is to tell others what to do without having any skills to do anything themselves.

So that is my advice to you: Your producer education in the classroom does not entitle you to a job as a producer in an actual  game studio

Do NOT graduate with the intent to become an 'entry level producer'. Offer an implementation skill as your primary value to potential employers.  Enter a game company as an entry-level artist, level builder, systems designer, QA, audio engineer, or programmer. Work in the trenches for a few years. When you gain enough EXP with at least two finished products, then you may be qualified to become a deployer of tasks able to empathize with those who are walking paths that you have already taken.

It is never too late to learn an implementation skill.  The best way to get started is to pick up an existing tool set for making games (like UDK or Unity) and make a game all by yourself.  It does not have to be a great game.  It simply needs to be a thing that you made that involves bad art, bad scripting, and bad game design... the intent is not to make something great, it is simply to have the experience of making something that is YOURS."

You must become familiar with the skills from each of your cats if you are to lead them against the evil forces of Mumm-Raa.

  • Strength - Know more about animations/modeling than typical non-artists
  • Cunning - Know more about coding than typical non-coders
  • Illusion - Know more about level building/scripting/systems than typical non-designers
  • and Cheetah Speed! (understand the plight of QA, Audio, and Localization teams)

Master them all... to become Lion-O!

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ken sato
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You forgot learning to juggling (removing road blocks and making sure cross dependent tasks are handed off), tap dancing (confirming what you know and NOT confirming what you don't know!), lion taming (dealing with personnel issues), and cleaning out the elephant cage. (Making sure all the 101 things that haven't been done get done.)

The nitty gritty though is when you get, as a producer, something really really raw. When the risk is high, the schedule short, and the dependency high to the over all project. There is nothing more stressful than having as much information from top to bottom, an assessment of what needs to be done clearly blocked out, and STILL realizing that only one thing amongst many different moving pieces needs to fail for the entire thing to be delayed. If you've done your pre-production right, this rarely ever happens but new situations always come up if the project goes on long enough.

Sometimes, during a crunch, I wonder if it is worth it. So least from the people I've worked with through crunch, it seems like it has...

Kirk Williams
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Nice article, I have to admit, when I was in school I was taught that upon graduation becoming an Associate Producer was actually on par with coming out and working for QA - boy was I wrong. I do think however that schools are now doing a better job of teaching the realities of the gaming biz. They don't however teach enough about being an entrepreneur and the road to starting your own business. Also, PLEASE start teaching about social media gaming.

Daniel Martinez
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@ Kirk

Entrepreneurship is a whole other education track focused solely on business. You could double-major with that in mind.

David Marcum
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Kain -

Great Post!

Producing a school project compared to producing a commercial product. Is akin to helping plan a dinner party to opening a restaurant. Bad analogy but you know what I mean. It is very true that doing schedules and making sure everyone is on track et cetera is impossible if you don't know what it takes to do the job. Dependencies are impossible to gauge for example.

Thank you!

Chris Kaminari
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I hafta say, this article is dead on.

Becoming a producer out of college is a exception, instead of the norm. I actually just enrolled in college for video game design, and I do understand that if you do want to make your own business, no matter what it is, your gonna hafta take 4 years of schooling, majoring in video game design, and business. You can know everything in the world about video game designs, but if you cant uphold a business, then your gonna be stuck in a rut for a long time...its sad, but true.

Unless your a video game making prodigy who can make a wayyyyyyyy better World of Warcraft, overnight.

Ian Fisch
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I've held producer roles but I started as a designer. I graduated with a computer science degree from a non videogame college. I recommend this path as I think it gives you credibility with the higher ups at the studio - particularly the programming director who usually has a hand in picking a producer.

Christopher McLaren
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Don't knwo if I totally agree with the skillset of the Produce as it suggests a performer of all but master of none of the team skills.

Ideally someone who can perform all areas or has an understanding of them. Main attribute would be the ability to learn quickly and social skills (e.g. building teams and handling difficult situations). Also no Project Management in there (PRINCE2, SCRUM, etc)

Donald Harris
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This post really hits home for me even though I did not go to school at all for Production I did however jump straight to cutting my teeth on managing a team to build games. I am sure there are plenty of industry tips I may not know of but the real world experience is great to have in your back pocket.

I also love the point about having an implementation skill. I have worked for managers before that could not do what they hired me to do and I found it extremely frustrating trying to explain to them what I was doing...even though it was what they hired me to do. So yes please get an implementation skill it makes it look like you at least know the hardships of your team before assigning them an endless array of task.

Craig Stewart
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I wish more producers had a formal education in production. That being said, I have to agree, these schools are selling illusions of grandeur. How many more producers and designers do we really need?

Mark Harris
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Great managers can come from anywhere at any time. Management itself is a skillset effected by talent, education, and experience; just like programming or art.

It can only help to have experience in the discipline you're managing, but it's not a requirement. In the end, management is about people, not tasks. You don't really ever say, "I manage 8 tasks", you say, "I manage 4 people". Management is about removing the obstacles to efficient production, period, regardless of industry.

You don't manage class libraries, you manage programmers. They know the libraries, you know what they're supposed to do with them, how long they think it will take, and how that fits into the bigger picture. You spend 4 hours putting together a schedule so they can spend 4 hours writing code. You update the spreadsheet, you refine meetings to bullet points for distribution, you run interference on scope changes. You put up the biggest, baddest shield you possibly can and deflect distraction away from the guys in the trenches pounding away at the keyboard. Do you need to know C++ for that? Nope.... couldn't hurt, though. :-p

*edit* Atrocious spacing.

Kain Shin
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For the record,I strongly feel that an innate knowledge of production methodologies such as Scrum, PRINCE2, and whatnot are absolutely no substitute for development experience. It is good to know the methodologies out there, but the methodology is merely a weapon... and the wielder of any weapon still begins at level 0 when they enter the games industry no matter how valid that weapon may be.

Kevin Maloney
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As a recent grad rocking my first real gig in QA at a real honest to goodness AAA studio with an eye on level (#1) and system design (#2) this reflects my reality of "breaking in" and those who I know who have had success.

Have a skill set and be able to implement, this goes for kids with their eye on design too. Some junior design positions are just docs, white boards and meetings (and I know some recent grads to have rocked this path) but if you can script and have proven game play that you have built in Unreal , Unity, Source or even Flash your cred and chances greatly increase.

bDon'tStopBelivin'=TRUE; //You can do it!

Patrick Coan
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So there's hope...

Justin Nearing
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Two years ago I was the exact person described in this article. And my hopes of production turned to the reality of QA.

Now I just do the work of a producer at the wage of QA.

Mark Harris
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I find it interesting that you don't view the role of producer as an independent discipline the way you view art, programming, QA, or audio. Pure academic knowledge in any discipline is not a substitute for experience, it doesn't matter if some kid is coming out of college with a CS degree or a game production degree, he still doesn't have formal industry experience (unless he's interned, which in either case gives him experience). So, can you not hire entry level programmers right out of college because knowledge of C++ or Python or whatever isn't a substitute for development experience? If you can't hire anyone who doesn't have industry experience it's going to be a lonely industry very soon.

I think you're really cutting yourself off at the knees if you'll overlook talented young people who have a knack for project management just because they aren't as talented in the other disciplines you employ.

Kain Shin
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Mark, Production is one of the most important disciplines in a studio. That is why I wrote this:

One person in that role can make or break the culture of the company for everyone.

That being said, the skills required to be a successful producer come from hands-on field experience more than the classroom. This is highly unique to production because the variables they work with are living breathing people working with limited resources, not code or models. At the end of the day, the people factor can't be properly simulated in a classroom environment.

In the absence of a producer, it is not uncommon for people from other disciplines to take on producer functions just to get things done... but if your only output is decisions and there is a deficit of implementation bandwidth, then no amount of your producer output will alleviate the situation... and your team will eventually suffer from "decision surplus".

Chris Proctor
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Agreed, being able to estimate accurately, or sanity-check estimates requires a decent knowledge of the disciplines, and estimating tasks may have the largest chance of failure of anything a producer will do.

Mark Harris
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Decision surplus is not unique to the game industry, and is not really what I was talking about. If you have 15 foreman and 10 construction workers you're screwed, period. No sane person would ever argue against that.

Management is extremely important, again, in any business. That's why it's important to find great leaders and managers anywhere you can find them, even if they're competent and dynamic college grads.

Relevant to your point, many small shops don't really even need producers since the complexity of the project doesn't require them. Someone with a spreadsheet is often enough to keep everything straight. As Mac commented in your other article, in the early days of gaming when you only had a couple of people working on a game there really was no such thing as a producer. I'm not surprised EA looked at him askance when he described it.

Stumble on a couple decades and teams can involve hundreds of people, and the added complexity needs organization. Many teams these days are large enough that they require several producers/project managers and some associate/assistant producers. Projects of that scale require a producer to have more highly developed project management skills. In fact, those PM skills are more important than whatever other skills they might have (art, programming, whatever). Sure, you're not going to throw a college grad into an exec prod role with final decision authority, but when you're looking for those associate/assistant producers I think it is just as valid to look for someone with solid PM knowledge and talent that can learn the business as it is to promote someone who knows the business but needs to learn PM skills and management practices.

Honestly, I agree with much of what you said in your article and I think your advice is sound, but I really don't want this industry getting into a mindset that we can't be looking for young talent everywhere possible for any discipline, including production.

Anywho, that's the last I have to say on this topic. I'm willing to agree to disagree (if we even disagree), and I'll give you the final word, ya know, since it's your blog and all.

*edit* thought clarification