Career Guide: Becoming A Game Producer
This week in our series of articles looking at building careers in the roles commonly found within a game development team, we’re exploring one of the hardest to define; the game producer.
Just as in the worlds of film, television, music and even things like events, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the producer role with regard to games. It is, however, an exciting, often creative role than can see you get involved with many aspects of a game’s development, rather than limiting you to a single specialty.
Put very simply, a game producer makes sure the process and progress of a game’s design, development and release actually happen. Producers keep game develop and design teams moving towards deadlines, working collaboratively and sticking to the same creative and technical vision.
It’s a role that’s different at every studio. Sometimes a producer will work very closely with the director and lead designer, and have a great deal of creative input and control themselves. In other cases their role may be a little more purely organisational, or they may be contracted in as a freelancer late in a project to help bring it under control and steer it over the finish line.
On projects with very small teams – say four or five people – you might not find a producer, or the producer role might be taken by somebody sharing several other roles. At projects with dozens of even hundreds of staff, there might be several producers.
Producers really make a project happen, and work to be sure ideas and concepts become realities, so the role can be very rewarding. Producers are involved across the team making a game, and so the role is one that is social, organisational and ever-changing. The role can demand a cool head and ability to make decisions when things are tough, which can let you make a significant impact on a game. Producers are problem solvers, collaborators, leaders and communicators, and can experience the full diversity of a game’s development process.
Producers are also reasonably well paid, though it is worth remembering it is rarely a junior role, and one that requires some climb up the career ladder. According to the 2016 Develop Salary Survey, in 2016 a producer – rather than lead producer – working in the UK earned a respectable £33,123 a year. A more senior ‘production director’, meanwhile, earned a very decent £86,508 a year as a global average.
The role of producer is so varied – and so different from many more established game development roles – that there is less of a clear route to securing a career as a producer. And once you are there, there is a lot of competition from people with other roles in games that are moving sideways to become producers. You may also see experienced producers from film, TV and elsewhere making the move to games.
The more you know about the full spectrum of making a game – design, art, audio, coding, engineering, tools, pipelines and more – the better, as the best producers are familiar the entire development process so that they know how to keep it working. That does make a generalist game development or game design degree level qualification relevant; getting on one of those courses will require good grades in both the creative and scientific subject matters at lower levels. However, you may find it is as helpful to have some management or production experience in any industry or sector. Finally, many game producers start in a role like QA (testing) or as a junior game designer, and work their way up through a company, eventually moving over into producing, perhaps having expressed an interest in that career path to their employer. And if you do find yourself at a small or new team, taking on managerial and organisation roles within that outfit could prepare you well for becoming a game producer at a larger studio.
It’s also really important to prove you can see project through to completion. If you have even made a game on your own as a hobby project, having completed it with good planning and thorough documentation, than that could become something of portfolio piece for applying for a junior production role.
To learn more about the game producer role, listen to this special BAFTA podcast, where Ask AboutGames editor Will Freeman interviewed several game producers on stage at a special ‘BAFTA Guru’ event in 2017.
IMAGE CREDIT: PlayWest Games