La Rana is a single person adventure game developed in Unreal 4 and released on Steam on January 1, 2019. A team of 17 students at SMU Guildhall developed the game over 6 months. I worked as the producer on the team and there were four important lessons I learned in my development as a producer.
Throughout my time studying and working as a producer, I have often heard that a producer’s job is to ship the game on time and on budget. While this is true, how a producer accomplishes this is different from project to project and team to team. On my last project, I helped in creating communication paths between teams and held people accountable to what they said they would deliver. On La Rana, I did these tasks, but my focus was on managing drama on the team and helping keep the team morale high. Resolving conflicts between team members was the best way for me to help keep team members focused on their tasks and ship the game on time and on budget.
When a group of passionate developers work on a project together, there is often disagreements on design decisions in the game. As the producer on the team, these issues were often brought to my attention. I would sit down with everyone to discuss the best way forward. The best way to do this is to keep the team focused on what is important: the game. This is a lesson I had learned on a previous project but it continued to be true during this one. No matter what you are evaluating (features, bugs, prioritization etc.) you must frame it in the context of the effect it will have on the game. At the end of the day, all of us on the team are working toward the same goal of making the best game possible. By creating an environment for everyone to speak openly to each other about the best way forward, we can agree on the next course of action that is best for the game.
This is something I did not do well on this project. I would often discuss with leads the need for pipelines and conditions of satisfaction to ensure team members were on the same page. The leads worked with the teams to create pipelines, but they were not fully fleshed out. As we moved into late Alpha, this caused confusions between our level designers and other members of the team. The expectations artists had of the rulesets of the game and the pipeline of how levels were created were different than the level designers’ expectations. Additionally while we had a quality control pipeline, it wasn’t communicated well, causing a gap in quality control which reduced the team’s efficiency in Alpha and Beta. I should have worked more with the team to ensure that these pipelines were understood and communicated well with the team. This was an important lesson for me to learn and remember for future projects.
As a result of disagreements about game design and unclear expectations, conflict often caused drama on the team. A significant part of my time during development was helping the team resolve drama. As a mediator between team members, it was important for me to remain neutral and remind team members of our common goal. This would have been significantly easier if the team had clear pipelines and expectations, as we could have objectively pointed back to these agreements to resolve the conflict. By not taking a side, I could help the team move past drama to focus on development.
If you wish to learn more or download La Rana, check it out on Steam here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/934860/La_Rana/