Show and Tell
By Daxter Crate
As a game designer, your job is to design games. As obvious as that sounds, it's easy to lose sight of and get sucked into having the wrong priorities.
You have to contend with company politics, unreasonable requests from publishers, the stroking of egos, and other baloney that has nothing to do with the game itself.
I recommend taking a vow to make the game the best game it can be, no matter what that means for all that other hogwash. Little Jimmy in Iowa who buys your game doesn't know or care about any of that other stuff, and neither do game reviewers. They judge the game you put in front of them, so put the best game in front of them you can.
On one project I worked on, an outside art contractor we were using created an elaborate standoff about fixing art bugs. My company wanted the contractor to fix all the art bugs on principle. Nice principle, but Little Jimmy and all the other Iowans only care if they are fixed, not which politics prevented them from being fixed. I personally fixed several and recruited an artist co-worker to fix more on his own time.
In a different situation, we wanted to add a set of sound effects but had no one allocated to do the sound processing. I downloaded free sound processing software and learned how to do it myself because I knew it would improve the product. These anecdotes aren't even about game design, but they help create a culture where "make the product good" is the highest priority. If you can get other team members to buy into this mindset, your team as a whole will be capable of making that much better of a game -- and that is how you'll be measured in this industry.
In addition to doing good work, try to let the general public know exactly what you're doing. As a designer, your decisions shape what the playerexperience is. Players will be very interested to hear why you made those decisions, and that raises your value in the industry outside the company.
The reality is you're probably not going to be at the same company your whole career. (Although if you do work at an awesome company, staying put could be great!) It's to your advantage to let the outside world know exactly what you did. Your company or publisher might not want to see you self-promote because they might see an advantage in preventing you from getting credit for your work. Fair is fair though, and what you have on your side is that the marketing and even the design of your game will benefit from keeping players in the loop. Make that argument if you get any resistance from within, and try to let the world know what it is you actually do.
The Unspoken Rules
By Tracky McProject
It might sound crazy, but sometimes, shipping something awesome on time and on budget isn't enough.
Don't forget that as a game producer, you are judged on not only the results you get, but also how you went about getting them. There are a lot of ways to interpret the job of a producer, and one thing you'll want to do early on is make sure you're doing things the way your boss imagines them being done. A pitfall for people in the production field is finding out after the fact that their production style or methods weren't what the powers that be actually wanted.
And don't expect them to tell you what they want right off the bat, either! I've seen them wait until the project is done and it's employee review time for it to finally come to light. So before you get in too deep, spend some time learning what the boss wants in terms of process. If she doesn't seem to care either way, don't believe her. It will come back to haunt you later.
Another thing to watch out for is unspoken rules. Unfortunately, nobody will tell you about these upfront. I once watched my boss in the production organization give some creative feedback on the game's story, and I naively assumed this was an acceptable practice. My own small attempt at creative feedback turned out to be a strike against me when it came time for a performance review! My boss explained that he had a rapport with the creative director that I didn't have. Okay then, lesson learned!
Most of the time, you find out that these rules exist only by breaking them, but sometimes you can spot them from someone else's turmoil, such as when the co-founders of a company are fighting. Be very careful when sending emails on sensitive topics like these. Everything, including your language and who is on the To and CC line, can turn into a landmine. When in doubt, talk to folks in person. If you break one of these unknown rules in conversation, well, at least there isn't a permanent record of it.
Finally, don't forget why you're putting up with all this crap to be a producer. For me, it's the guys on the team. One time, the company I worked for bought a limited number of new monitors and decided to dole them out based on tenure. It happened to be my turn to receive one.
As the IT guys installed this big, brand new screen at my workstation, I couldn't help but think about an animator we had just hired, fresh out of school. He was working hard and doing amazing things in Maya using small, crappy monitors. How could I look up from an Excel spreadsheet on my beautiful wide-screen display while this poor kid who actually made content was struggling with 15 meager inches of visual real estate? "Hey, give my new monitor to him,"
I told the IT guys, who were happy to comply. Pull for your guys like this, and pretty soon you'll have their trust. That might not get you a promotion immediately, but remember, these are the people who actually make the game.