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Producing a Videogame: Products, People, And Processes

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Producing a Videogame: Products, People, And Processes

Mensagem por IuriMonteiro em Ter Nov 08, 2011 2:58 pm

Dennis Rohlfing (pictured) of social developer InnoGames dives into what it takes to be a good video game producer, outlining the responsibilities and hardships anyone entering into the profession should prepare to face.]

Producers often discuss topics such as budget, quality, time and scope to define a project, as well as its variables or constants influencing a project's success. Additionally, to sound really important, they may use terms like agile, SCRUM, Kanban, Lean Development, stage gates, milestones, risk matrix, business planning, business cases, resources and revenue. Producers for browser games add words like ARPU, ARPPU, Retention, DAU, MAU, TAU, and CTR.

If you're interested in those exotic things, buy some books, sit down and relax. But, if you want your team to reach its highest level of productivity, you will need more than just tools and an understanding of some basic words. You need to be good! Good at being a leader, motivating people, understanding people's habits and moods, communicating and excellent at offering fruits and candy to your crew.

Unfortunately, this article is way too long to include tips on chopping fruit. Instead, it will focus on those soft skills a producer should carry into a project for maximum quality results.

Producing

The only way to produce an excellent game is to turn it into an excellent project within the shortest time frame possible. Insomnia and burnout are not necessarily indicators for having pushed the project productivity and the product quality to their maximum potential.

The producer's main task is to keep control of all aspects of the development (without exception). In parallel, the producer needs to be able to answer all questions regarding the quality, budget and release date of the product at any moment.



That is an illusion, of course! Never forget that a producer cannot possibly keep full control of the project's evolution in every area of the development cycle. Instead, one needs to be sure to take an influential role in evolving a project's habits without limiting the team's self-determination. Especially in bigger projects, (more than 15-20 people) a producer needs to ensure that he or she has motivated, capable leads for each competence area (creative direction, art direction and technical direction) in place to be able to delegate crucial tasks with confidence. The producer should cultivate a relationship of trust with those leads to be able to receive honest and useful information on a close-to-daily basis.

The producer's voice is mightier than his sword. As a producer, you should never underestimate the words you use in any conversation with any person involved in the project, in or out of the office. An example of this: a couple of weeks ago, I told one programmer at a pub that I would love to have a tiny button implemented, providing me the possibility to start all my defined productions with just one click. Surprisingly, two weeks later the team presented me and the leads with a version including this feature... Right after the meeting, the game designer came to me upset that I would have destroyed the complete design with my "tiny, top secret, undercover and non-reflected feature request," because planning one's production separately is a clearly defined gameplay element. Oops! I only meant to discuss this with the previously mentioned programmer from a player's perspective and not as a producer.

Besides all the management theories out there in countless books, there is one very important message I would like impart on all future producers: Don't assume anything! I remember the days when my prior boss-man, Benedikt Grindel, wisely said this. Back in those days, I didn't realize the importance of this sentence. Today, however - four years later - I know exactly what he was talking about. I promise that soon you will too.

Project Characteristics and Control Quantities

A video game project is nearly like any other production characterized by three important aspects: the product, the people, and the processes. . In my experience, producers directly influence these three important aspects because they are more or less responsible for:

Ensuring the availability, accessibility and "up-to-date-ness" of the product vision and definition
Gathering or recruiting the team and channeling the communication between various stakeholders and the team
Defining, evaluating and changing the way requirements are handled

Consequently, being responsible for a project means also being responsible for the product, the people and the processes.

To be able to understand what kind of skills (particularly soft skills) a producer needs, one must have a clear picture of the aspects pertaining to those three areas most influencing the project quality. The following topics discuss important buzzwords that should always be kept in a producers mind. Each of them is worth a master thesis, and therefore I will provide only a summary:

The Product

The product is the final outcome of all the customer's requirements being fulfilled. For a game, this means the version intended to be released, or "the gold master." At the beginning of the development, the game is only described roughly and it should be perfectly clear that initial requirements may change due to user tests, market evolution or budget constraints during the development cycle. Keeping the following actions in mind should help to stay quality-focused instead of being requirement-focused:

Have a vision: It's absolutely necessary to have a documented vision statement which reflects the valid game vision at all times. This should be communicated well to all team members and stakeholders. The vision may be defined and maintained by the game designer in collaboration with the publisher, and might additionally be based on brand-constraints. The vision document defines things such as target audience, target age rating, target platform, main feature set, unique selling propositions, main competitors and an elevator pitch describing the game's content.
Have defined requirements: In parallel to the vision document, you need detailed design documentations for those features that should go into production next. Never start a feature without a detailed design for it. Additionally, a producer should make sure that the team has the opportunity to communicate with the decision maker in regards to the design as often as necessary. Never implement uncertainty!
Measure: Use focus groups to get feedback on the quality of various design aspects. Also, gather feedback from stakeholders to insure the direction of the development is always in harmony with their expectations. Gather as much feedback as possible and begin as soon as possible.
Change: Be willing to make changes and be able to convince others to do so as well. As a producer, you should be able to explain the benefit of all changes in regards to the budget, the quality of the game or the expected revenue growth.

The producer should always care about the product's quality. But additionally, he or she needs to keep the budget in good relation to the potential revenue. Finding a good balance is only possible when the vision is clearly defined and accepted by all stakeholders and nearly all design decisions are evaluated by potential players reflecting the target group.

The People

People are the biggest challenge for a producer to master. Each has his or her own goals, moods, personalities and skills. At the end of the day, it is at the discretion of the producer to praise and punish team members as necessary. It is important that a producer's mood never becomes the reasoning for punishing others. In the end, there is really only one goal for the producer to focus on: Pushing the project's productivity to the max without endangering the products quality and the health of any team member or stakeholder. To fulfill this goal, the producer has to keep the team motivated, the stakeholders informed, the development structured and the vision in mind. The following tasks should be incorporated by every producer daily to insure he or she knows the current attitude of all team members and stakeholders, and understand possible issues hindering the development from progressing.

Control pressure: A certain amount of pressure is necessary to stay focused and keep the productivity at a good level. But be careful! There might be a day, a week or a month where the producer needs to increase productivity to be able to fulfill the requirements of a specific milestone. If the producer keeps the team under high pressure throughout the entire development cycle, he or she will risk team burnout and lessen the chance of improving productivity in times when it is really necessary. It makes no sense to stay in constant crunch-mode
Channel feedback: The communication between the stakeholders and the team should always be managed by the producer; otherwise the producer has no chance to channel external influences and to make sure the team stays focused. It might be necessary to comply with the wish of a managing director to react on structural company changes, etc. Be sure that those changes are always discussed with the producer to insure alignment that with the planning, especially of the milestones and budget. A discussion between the managing director and a developer should never go this way: Managing Director: "Oh, I just need that tiny, little, small, mini feature in the version for my trip to the E3 next Monday." Developer: "Yes, sir!" The producer needs to jump into a discussion like this to ensure he always keeps control of the development. A producer needs to make clear to all involved that such a communication will not lead to success.
Motivate: It is the job of the producer to motivate the team. Additionally, it is the job of the producer to point out mistakes. It is up to the social skills of the producer to turn frustration into motivation. Choosing words wisely and controlling personal emotions guarantees gain will be much higher than loss at the end of the day.
Listen: The producer should be able to listen to all team members and stakeholders carefully. It often happens that the producer talks more than listens. To receive real information about the team´s mood or the real wishes of the stakeholders, make sure you are able to be an active listener!
Understand: As a producer, it is important to understand the reasons why specific things happen. When, for example, a team member becomes less productive than usual, do not automatically assume that he or she is only being lazy. It might be possible that his wife told him that she would have baked a cake yesterday, but as soon as he arrived home he recognized that "the cake was a lie". This could mean that his productivity will be back on a normal level pretty soon without any need for intervention.
Educate: Always stay in touch with the team or the leads to be able to support the professional development of all team members. Professional trainings are important to motivate the team members and to create better products.

So if you want to become a producer be warned that it is more about coordinating crazy individuals and less about designing a game!

The Processes

It is not important what kind of processes a producer implements into the development. It is of higher importance how those processes are defined, communicated, evaluated and improved. Nobody cares if a producer uses SCRUM, Kanban, RUP or any other process model if the project's progress is not measurable, milestones not predictable and the team isn't happy with the way the development is structured Using SCRUM by the book might be the right approach, but there might also be better ways to organize a project. Defining good processes is always a compromise between all involved parties. Stakeholders want to have full control and prediction. The team wants self-expression, the chance to fulfill goals based on realistic planning and the least amount of pressure possible. To initiate a process that fits the needs of most, be sure you incorporate the following actions in your process model:

Define: The process must be defined in an easy to read and easy to understand manner. Without any documentation of the process, you cannot assure that everybody involved in the production process will have the same understanding of the different process items.
Involve: Never use a defined process without discussing it constructively with the people using it. The producer does not need to work based on the determined process, as others involved...
Teach: Make absolutely sure that everybody involved in the development knows exactly how the process works and why specific items, like meetings or documentations, are necessary and not a waste of time. In my experiences, the biggest challenge for a producer is to make artists understand the needs for well-structured development.
Report: The process must include a clearly organized reporting structure. It might be a good idea to conduct a presentation of the results at the end of any iteration where all stakeholders are invited. This way, the producer can make sure that all involved can give feedback and are not surprised by the results achieved at that point.
Ponder: A producer is forced to make extensive decisions every day. Gut decisions are like a coin flip at best, and my guess is one would not use the flip of a coin to decide if a release date should be in July or December. For that reason, never answer a stakeholder's question without first pondering the possible impact!
Evaluate: As a producer, it is necessary to implement mechanisms which allow you to judge the process' quality. Additionally, you need to make sure that the team and the stakeholders have the chance to raise their voice as soon as they feel handicapped by the current process. Retrospective meetings at fixed intervals, or daily meetings, might be a first step to obtaining information directly from the aggrieved party.
Change: Do not be cowardly when the process' evaluation results in a need for change. To be able to implement those changes smoothly, ensure the disposition of the stakeholders to support them. If this is not granted, convince them with measurable arguments.

Process Management is one of the key factors to success. If everyone involved into the production loves the product and the project, but the processes in place are not clearly defined and evaluated in a scientific manner, the ship might sink without recognizing until it is way too late to pump it dry.

Fonte: gamecareerguide
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Re: Producing a Videogame: Products, People, And Processes

Mensagem por DropDEV em Ter Nov 22, 2011 6:26 pm

Também já tinha lido no Game Career Guide. É um bom artigo mas é realmente como ele diz, têm de se ler alguns livros e de ser bom para levar uma team ao sucesso.
Eu não tenho grande perspectiva nisso mas imagino que seja ainda mais complicado do que ele diz =x

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