Making sure video games are fun is the envious job of a producer. But to get to that point, the producer must oversee the studio’s various departments, acting as a liaison between the artists, programmers, testers and so forth. That being said, the exact day-to-day work can vary from company to company, as the title of “video game producer” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more than tightening up the graphics on level 3.
“The producer’s job,” explains Universal Interactive Executive Producer Pete Wanat, “is to shepherd a product from the conceptual stage until the game code ships to the manufacturer (or is uploaded digitally). The position is about anything you need to do to get the game made - so if you have to clean the office or move boxes or spend 12 hours on the phone working something out, you do what you need to do.”
When production is on time and up to par, the producer is doing his or her job. Conversely, sacrificing quality, risking delay, or going over budget is on the watch of a video game producer. The job essentially translates to “team lead.” It can also translate into a bigger salary compared to most of the individual creative and technical departments, ranging from $49,673 - $134,502 according to PayScale.com. With great power comes a greater paycheck.
So how do you land a job as a video game producer? The answer is just as imprecise as the name. Wanat landed the role of Associate Producer at the now-defunct Acclaim Entertainment because he had worked at ESPN’s Baseball Tonight as a Production Assistant and then at MLB Remote Operations. When players went on strike in 1994, he sent Acclaim his resume. “They were looking for an Associate Producer with a good knowledge of the sport,” he recalls. “Acclaim was a great place to work with tons of really talented people. I learned so much from working there - both things you should and should not do when making games.”
Having expertise in a niche area is one way to get noticed. However, since Wanat’s days with Acclaim, the video game industry has expanded and now offers other opportunities for entry.
“The lesson of the last few years is that large console games are not the only game in town,” he said. “And that's a very good thing for people who want to get into gaming - the rule of ‘get a job in QA’ and work your way up certainly isn’t the only option. The abundance of game developers of all sizes gives you more chances to break in.”
There are few college courses that prepare you for the day-to-day work of a producer, but Wanat suggests searching for other video game courses to get your start. “If you’re of age, go find a game program - there are several great ones around the country,” he said. “Google ‘Top Video Game Schools.’ There are tons of colleges that offer courses structured in all aspects of game making.”
Even with proper education, recent graduates don’t end up becoming a team lead out of the gate. Most producers are hired from within the industry. You’ll notice that job postings require a minimum of 2-3 years of production-related experience and a deep understanding of how video game development works. This is why many producers are former artists and programmers. When they are promoted, they’ll have learned from their former bosses. They'll also know what their team is going through, having had hands-on experience in either a creative or technical department.
Wanat’s final piece of advice is to adapt. “Every company, publisher, developer and funding agent sees the roles of a producer in a myriad of different ways. The key is to adapt to what is expected of you, figure out what works to get the job done and don’t ever forget it’s the game that matters. That is, after all, why most of us get into this business - the love of games.”
Matt Swider has been writing about video games for 12 years and received his degree is journalism from Pennsylvania State University. Now based in Los Angeles, he is actively expanding GamingTarget.com and his freelance opportunities.
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