Ten starter tips for game producers

Ten starter tips for game producers
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

July 19th 2012 at 10:00AM

It's about empowerment, engagement, and doing tasks early, says producer Caspar Field

A good producer will deliver their game on time, on budget and ensure that their team is delivering the best game possible. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Caspar Field has been a producer for over a decade, having worked for Relentless, Eidos and Argonaut. He learnt some tough lessons while taking Xbox launch title, Carve, from concept right through to completion.

He’s taken those lessons and turned them into ten tips, which he describes as “practical things producers can use with their team day-in, day-out”.

Field’s tips for producers:

1. Get to the fun of your game as quickly as possible
Make it playable as soon as possible and start trying new things. “It will make your life a hell of lot easier,” says Field.

2. Make it look like a game early on
Even at this early stage, presentation matters. Adding a GUI or HUD changes how people think about what they’re seeing. It immediately starts to look more like a game than a tech demo.

Similarly, adding touches like publisher or developer logo screens and a front-end shows you’re already thinking about those all-important milestones.

3. Power of mini-teams
Rather than lump together teams by discipline – artists, programmers and so on – form mini-teams combining members from different disciplines. This empowers the teams and makes for better communication and direction.

“What I did on Carve is organise people cross-discipline. They immediately felt empowered to own the feature they’d come up with. It became more about direction,” says Field.

4. Empower content creators
Give content creators the means to edit and revise the game in a straightforward way, such as putting variables in XML or text files. By putting game elements in easily accessible files, producers and content creators can make frequent changes themselves and see the results the very next day.

5. Beware of special cases
Always keep in mind “what and why you’re doing things”. On Carve, Field’s team spent weeks agonising over a level that involved sprinting down the Grand Canyon. As well as being a technical burden from day one, this was the only point-to-point race in the entire game and was only seen by players who made it to the game’s final stages.

6. Make the most of what you’ve got
Use the time and content you have to experiment. And be clever with the content that you have. Instead of that time-consuming level, Field says he would have liked to implement more modes and cut down on the tournaments.

7. Engage with everyone, early
Engage with all the parties involved early – especially your publisher. Show them your enthusiasm for what you’re doing. For Buzz! Quiz TV, SCEE’s marketing department created a campaign around the game’s camera functionality.

Field and his team then incorporated the ideas back into Quiz TV, to the delight of the marketing team, which made the game itself feel more unified. “Don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s worth it,” he says.

8. Data = Power
Make use of data whenever possible. On Carve, Field used a stopwatch to accurately work out how long races took to complete, which cut down on baseless debates about race length.

And on Buzz! Quiz World, he used telemetry to track stats by region, question and quiz, which gave them a wealth of data to balance and localise the gameplay. “We made a much more fun game as a result of having good data to work with,” he says.

9. Contacts are critical
Hold onto your contacts, because you never know when they’re going to come in handy. After Carve’s original publishing deal fell through, Field convinced Global Star games to pick up the game at E3 – a meeting which took place thanks to a referral from Rockstar’s Sam Houser.

10. It’s okay not to know the answer
Put your trust in your team. Make use of their combined knowledge and experience, rather than trying to tackle every issue alone or with senior members.

“Use this experience to get the job done and solve problems,” says Field. “It will make them a lot happier and they’ll feel like they’re more involved.”