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Opinion: Do Indie Developers Need A Producer?
Opinion: Do Indie Developers Need A Producer?
August 29, 2011 | By Amos Laber

August 29, 2011 | By Amos Laber

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, independent game programmer Amos Laber looks at whether indie developers need a producer, examining his own habits for an answer.]

During my career as a game coder, I have worked in large teams, small teams, and also as a sole developer on indie titles.

Working on my own personal projects, or any project small enough brings a challenge -- how to organize time efficiently. This is when I get to feel my own limitations.

Not everyone has the skill for organizing a project, and even a small one requires a decent amount of planning. For myself, I usually don't have a clear task list or a concrete schedule.

Keeping Momentum

For small teams (1-2 developers), or while working on a one-man project, I find myself losing momentum after a while.

Typically when there is no concrete timeline, once the code is halfway through, there are distractions: getting the art, modifying design, etc. These take me out of focus up to a point that the progress grinds to a halt, and the focus is lost.

Specially when working from home, it means the momentum is lost, and this can lead to a long term "writer's block." I find that I am not equipped to deal with this situation by myself. While I can handle any technical issue and code myself almost out of anything, this is completely out of my game.

Am I expected to code full time and handle this as well? It's not even clear what went wrong. We all have our limitations and this is clearly one of mine.

This is the point when I start wishing I had a producer.

Even in small teams, this is valuable. This can be a dedicated person, or one of the developers putting on a producer's hat. The role calls for a responsible, well-organized individual that would be in charge of keeping tabs on progress and creating, as well as maintaining, a momentum.

Getting Things Done

For indie projects where the developers are the stake holders, the most valuable resource is time. Using that time efficiently becomes a priority.

Getting things done is the main concern of a good producer, even if there is no official timeline. Also setting up internal milestones, coordinating between artists, designers and coders and worry about the big picture.

Oh, I am definitely going to want one on my next project.

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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kP09 HI19
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Noun: An independent person or body.

Adjective: Free from outside control; not depending on another's authority.

Todd Boyd
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If the producer doesn't work for a publisher or some other entity that has authoritative and/or financial control over the studio, then I think your snark falls apart.

kP09 HI19
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If and only if.

Glenn Storm
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"the most valuable resource is time" -qft

It's been said before, time boxing can help with momentum in situations where there isn't a dedicated individual filling the producer role.

Diego Leao
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First thing: I agree with you.

But... what happens when the producer finds that the game won't make the desired date and decides that the "thing that make your game fun" is expendable. What I mean is, your producer needs to be in "sinch" with your game, and that is hard suposing this producer you got is a part timer amateur (I guess you can't afford a full fledged one).

I wouldn't recomend a developer to be the producer, because other developers would hate him... seriously, developers are too smart for their own good, and when you push them a little, they push back hard. So I would recommend someone else, outside the team, which won't break the harmony of the work environment...

Maybe the solution is to have one good producer for many "indie" projects, in a company structured like Tim Schafer's Double Fine (who is making a lot of "Indiesque" games)...

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Maybe the solution is to have one good producer for many "indie" projects"

Not too crazy about this idea, in conjunction with the rest of what you are saying. For reasons I won't get into, "producers" have been elevated past schedulers in this industry into positions of near-absolute power. To then divide their attention among several different projects guarantees indifference toward these projects that is not their fault; they simply don't have the time to care as much about each project, and I have seen firsthand the negative consequences this can have. Now if a scheduler has very little power in these multiple projects and acts more like a secretary that helps the team stay on track without having dictatorial control, then dividing their attention will not be so harmful and I could get on board with that.

Which brings me to The Real Problem(tm) with our industry. The person at the top of the power pyramid should be a Lead Designer or Creative Director (whatever you want to call it, the person with the most power should be a Creative), not a Producer (or Executive or what have you). That person should care significantly about the game as a source of happiness and fulfillment for its audience but also be mature and experienced enough to know that it needs to get done in a reasonable amount of time. THEN underneath them somewhere there should be a Scheduler (let's stop calling them "producers", they don't produce anything and frankly as someone who does produce content for the game I find the title a bit offensive). This scheduler still has the responsibility of asking people on the team where they're at with their tasks, scheduling meetings with the publisher (or whoever), managing and handing out bugs, etc. But they should not have so much power that the highest creative person on the team bows down to them; it should be the other way around if anything. And since they don't have so much power, they also don't get full flak if the project bombs, which should relieve some stress for them.

I know this is never going to happen in the mainstream industry, but I promise you if independent developers started idolizing producers like the mainstream industry does there would be no real independent sector.