Achieving critical success in game production

Kicking off the first talks at this year’s GDC Europe, Ubisoft’s Executive Producer Christopher Schmitz and BlueByte’s Senior Producer Benedikt Grindel offered their take on the critical success factors of game production.

“Wise men don’t need it, fools won’t heed it,” Schmitz uttered as he jumpstarted the talk on finding the magical ‘silver bullet’ to solve all of your game production issues in one shot.
The first piece of advice both speakers offered the packed hall of game professionals, was to not lose their common sense. A problem that, if overly executed by a producer, can quickly result to becoming the team’s ‘Captain Obvious’. This important reminder was followed by a list of helpful ‘obvious’ tips and tricks fuelled by the power of common sense.

“It’s never too late to change a decision, always be true to yourself and always plan to be iterative,” Schmitz suggested. “Make quality management a top priority. At Anno 1404, we had a very strong management principle. We knew from the get go what our players were expecting from us.”

Grindel offered some of his personal experience, telling the audience to “never underestimate the power of your words.” With the Settlers Online, Grindel once found himself reporting a small bug to one of the team’s programmers. “It was just a small reminder to work on the bug, but it wasn’t important. Because I was his boss, he perceived it as an order and completely dropped all his other tasks to work on that bug.”

Grindel also recommended never to work on anything without a clearly defined plan. “Game production is not only an engineering thing,” he argued. “It has a lot of creativity and art involved. When you work on something, things will change. But I’ve seen people work without any change. This means something is going wrong.”

The duo then went on to talk about integration management and the pivotal moments of cutting features, adding some or having to hack up quick solutions to keep a game working. “In the final Settlers 7, there are still areas of code with ‘Someone has to do this properly later’ several times,” Grindel admitted. ”You can do this in some situations, but be very very, very careful about it.”

Discussing multiple quotes and advice from colleagues and game professionals on other topics of management, Schmitz and Grindel also shared more of their own personal challenges, both having shared the experience of dealing with the ‘prima donna’ of the team. “Sometimes you have this prima donna, where someone has such a strong opinion that others are afraid to go against him,” Grindel explained. “If people lose their trust in you, you don’t have a team anymore. That’s integrity, very important.” Schmitz added.

Support from both top management and their own team were pivotal to both Schmitz and Grindel’s own success in game production. “Clear commitment, adequate funding and relevant goals. Top management needs to stand behind you, they should like what you’re doing and need what you’re doing. You need this support or your project will suffer a slow death,” Schmitz suggested. “You as a manager are nothing. Your team is everything. Always demand high quality standards from anyone and don’t allow any slackers around. Sustainable development of staff. Align the project’s objectives to their personal objectives. Avoid the kind of prima donnas.”

Though Schmitz and Grindel admitted that their talk would sound familiar to the seasoned producer, they also acknowledged a producer’s weakness to sometimes do too much project management simply for the sake of project management and not the progress of the project itself. An important reminder and a handy silver bullet for any producer to carry around.

[Photography by GDC Europe]

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