Video game producers are the liaison between the creative side of video game development, and the business side of marketing and selling the final product. They oversee all steps and processes needed in the creation of a video game, including the hiring, training, and management of staff, checking to see that progress is proceeding according to plan, making sure that the project stays within its budget, and finally, shopping around the final product to potential game distributors.
History of Video Game Producer Career
Much has happened in the gaming industry since Atari introduced Pong in the early 1970s. Since then, new consoles have come out, including some forgotten hits, such as Intellivision and Colecovision; to more recent names, such as Nintendo, Sega, Sony PlayStation, and Microsoft Xbox. The industry has become a billion-dollar venture, with much to win in the case of a hot game (think of Super Mario Brothers in its heyday), but also much to lose in the case of a financial sinker (think of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial—a game so unpopular it actually ended the life of the Atari 2600 console). Because of this financial risk, the job of producer was born, to oversee the creative people working away on the details of the game, while making sure the client and consumer interest would ensure a project was financially viable from the start and would be marketable in the future.
The Job of Video Game Producers
Producers are responsible for overseeing and managing the development of video games and computer games. While they do not generally handle the technical aspects of projects, they are responsible for coordination, management, and overall quality of the final product. At some companies, however, the producer will take on more technical duties, including serving as the lead designer. Most often, the producer is the liaison or “middle man” between the publisher and the game-development team.
Producers must have widely varied knowledge of all aspects of the computer and video game industry. Whether their background is in computers, business, or art, producers must efficiently manage all steps of the development process. They assist the game development staff in the licensing of software, artwork, sound, and other intellectual properties.
Producers have many administrative duties, including scheduling meetings and managing documentation. They are also responsible for general business management duties, including hiring and firing of staff. It is essential that producers are excellent communicators, as they work with and manage all different types of personalities. There are two very different sides to the video game industry—the business side and the creative side. Both executive, financial-minded professionals and creative, art-minded professionals must communicate their ideas to the producer, who is then responsible for collaborating these ideas effectively.
The highest-level producing job is that of the executive producer, or senior producer. This individual trains, mentors, and manages other producers. The executive producer resolves project conflicts, and may have extended contact with clients. In addition to overseeing all other producers and workers on a project, the executive producer is responsible for obtaining funding, updating clients on the progress of projects, and eventually, finally submitting the final work to the client for approval.
Directly under the executive producer are lead producers. These professionals have nontechnical duties, but still work closely with the development team. Lead producers oversee tasks including voiceovers, music, effects, and casting.
Associate producers’ main responsibilities are overseeing research and product testing. They hunt and gather information for the development team, as well as oversee video game testers. Associate producers also do more “busy work” such as making client deliveries and taking meeting notes. This may be an entry-level position. Associate producers may have authority over testers, but usually not over any other employees.
Assistant producers, which are also known as production assistants, serve as aides to higher-level producers. This occupation is a step toward becoming a producer, but assistants do not usually have much, if any, decision-making authority.
Video Game Producer Career Requirements
While an interest in playing video games is obviously a requirement, as a producer you will need to know a lot more about the technical side of game development and testing. For this reason, make sure you create a good foundation by taking math and computer science classes while in high school. Art classes are also useful to stimulate and develop your creative sensibilities, such as illustration—both by hand and with computer drawing tools.
Most larger game developers will require not only its producers, but also its programmers, testers, and other entry-level positions to have a college degree. Bachelor’s degrees in computer science with an emphasis in programming or Web design are preferred, though many enter the industry with business degrees that can come in handy when dealing with clients, balancing the budget, and developing a strong business plan.
While degrees can help get you in the door of the larger companies, experience is what really counts in the gaming industry. If you are a high school graduate with years under your belt as a game tester, programmer, or production assistant, you might just get the job over a recent college graduate with no industry experience.
Because the job of producer includes much administrative work, producers should have working knowledge of basic commercial software, such as Microsoft Office programs and FileMaker Pro. Familiarity with industry software used in game development is also often a requirement, since producers are heavily in the mix of designers, programmers, and testers.
Higher-level producers such as executive producers will need many years of experience managing teams of workers. Communication and mediating skills is a must in this job, since producers are often forced to solve problems among staff members and make decisions based on varying opinions and priorities, such as those of the developer and those of the client.
Exploring Video Game Producer Career
To explore this career, make sure to cultivate your love of video games and technology in general. To be able to manage game workers, sell an idea to a client, and make sure all parties are happy while the game is in the works, you had better love the product. But to cultivate this interest in video games doesn’t necessarily mean you have to become a hermit with your PlayStation. Many schools and communities host computer science clubs that have special chapters catering to avid gamers. If you cannot find such a club, start one with your friends. Schedule tournaments, discuss the best and worst games you’ve discovered, and think about what makes a game fly off the shelves. This is what a producer has to worry about every day at the office, while still maintaining a passion for playing.
To learn more about the industry and its employers, visit the Web site of E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (http://www.e3insider.com/), an annual trade show composed of computer and video game manufacturers from around the world. While the show is closed to the public, the site will give you an idea of what companies are out there.
Producers work for game developers of all sizes. While the largest companies are located on the East and West Coasts and in Texas, Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts, smaller employers can be found almost anywhere in the country.
Because work experience is valued so highly in this industry, your best bet for landing your first job is with a small, start-up developer. These companies may be more willing to hire less experienced workers in the hopes that they will stay on staff longer than an experienced (and more sought after) producer.
Jobs are easy to find online; most employers post job openings on their company Web sites or with large job search engines. However, because of the industry’s popularity, many open positions do not remain open for long. Jobs often are filled internally or through connections before there ever is a need to post a job classified.
The jobs of assistant producer or associate producer are entry-level positions, especially if one has worked previously as a game tester or programmer. Advancement comes in the form of higher-level producing jobs—the top position being that of the executive producer, who is responsible for the entire project, beginning to end.
Associate producers can earn a starting salary of approximately $35,000 to $40,000 a year. Lead producers can earn from $60,000 to $75,000 a year. Executive producers have the highest earning potential, with salaries of $100,000 or more. Earnings vary based on skill, experience, and ability to produce high-quality, top-selling games on time and within budget.
Producers work in bustling, hectic environments that may be viewed as exciting to some, but stressful to others. To succeed at this job, producers need to be able to juggle many tasks at once and work with varying personalities, from game developers and testers who want to make the game as innovative as possible, to the client whose only interest may be the bottom line. Balancing these (often opposing) priorities can make for a trying, but also exciting, work environment.
Video Game Producer Career Outlook
According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Entertainment Software Association, 53 percent of game players interviewed predicted that in 10 years they would play video games as much or even more than they do now. This increasing demand for challenging and entertaining games creates a steady job market for computer and video game producers. Overall, employment in this job should grow at a faster than average rate through the coming decade.
One caveat: This is a very popular industry. Talented, artistic, business-minded individuals will be drawn to the business of making and selling computer and video games, causing an influx of applicants for limited numbers of jobs. Individuals with more experience will find it the easiest to find jobs. However, with the industry’s growth, individuals who are hard working, flexible, and passionate about gaming should be able to find entry-level jobs in computer and video game production.