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Producing games business, budgets, creativity, design


Producing Games
From Business and Budgets to
Creativity and Design

D.S. Cohen,
Sergio A. Bustamante II
Tech Editor: Tae Joon Park

Contributed by

Sheri Graner Ray and Michael McShaffry

AMSTERDAM • BOSTON • HEIDELBERG • LONDON • NEW YORK
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D.S.
To my sunshine Amanda, you make me everything that I am.
To my loving parents Steven and Carol Ann Cohen, for your belief in my dreams.
To Joan and Armando Reyes, you are forever eternal in the richness you granted
our souls.
In the loving memory of Genevieve McLane and Dianna Rohler whoes lives have
changed the world forever.
Please support the Fully Belly Project. (www.thefullbellyproject.org)

Sergio
With love to my beautiful wife Susie Sapardanis, and to our lovely daughters, Siara
Anastacia Bustamante and Zoe Marie Bustamante. Each day I’m grateful to have
you in my life.
To my parents Sergio A. Bustamante, Sr. and Maria Elena Bernal Garcia, and
step-mom Kathy Coffman. Your support and love keeps me going.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
About the Authors ...................................................................................................................... xvii
Acknowledgements.................................................................................................................... xix
Intro: So You Want to be a Video Game Producer........................................................... xxi

Section One What is a Video
Game Producer? ....... 1
1

Producer Primer ................................. 3
What a Producer Manages ........................................................................................................... 3
Why Become a Game Producer.................................................................................................. 3
How to Become a Producer ......................................................................................................... 4
Publishers and Developers........................................................................................................... 6
Internal and External Producer Roles ......................................................................................6

2

Producing at a Developer .................... 9
The Schedule .................................................................................................................................. 10
Dev Budget ...................................................................................................................................... 11
Pitching Ideas and Representing the Team ........................................................................ 11
Manage Milestone Submissions ............................................................................................. 12
Working With Your Publishing Counterpart....................................................................... 15

3

Producing at a Publisher ................... 19
Managing Schedules ................................................................................................................... 20
Managing the Budgets ............................................................................................................... 20
Reviewing Milestones ................................................................................................................. 21
Managing Approvals ................................................................................................................... 21
Managing Testing ......................................................................................................................... 21

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Support: Sales, Marketing, and PR .......................................................................................... 22
Working with Stakeholders....................................................................................................... 24
Supervising Audio Production ................................................................................................ 25
Voice-Over........................................................................................................................................ 26
Contractors ...................................................................................................................................... 27
Prep for First Party Submissions .............................................................................................. 28

4

Producer Roles ..................................31
Executive Producer ....................................................................................................................... 32
Senior Producer ............................................................................................................................. 33
Producer............................................................................................................................................ 34
Associate Producer ....................................................................................................................... 35
Production Coordinator/Assistant Producer ..................................................................... 36
Other Producer Roles .................................................................................................................. 38
Localization Producer .................................................................................................................. 39
Cinematics Producer.................................................................................................................... 40
Licensor Producer ......................................................................................................................... 40

5

Size and Scope: Large vs. Small,
Licensed vs. Original......................... 43
Team Sizes ........................................................................................................................................ 44
Larger vs. Smaller........................................................................................................................... 44
Big Budgets ..................................................................................................................................... 45
Small Budgets ................................................................................................................................. 46
Long vs. Short Schedules ........................................................................................................... 47
Licensed vs. Original IPs .............................................................................................................. 48
Sequels and Expansion Packs and Downloadable Content ........................................ 48

6

Producing Skills ............................... 49
Managing a Game ........................................................................................................................ 49
The Key Skills of a Producer (Hard Skills) ............................................................................. 50
Soft Skills (Or, What You Should Know, but Can Learn on the Curve) ...................54

7

Tools of the Trade ............................. 57
Software Solutions and Recommendations ...................................................................... 57
3-D Graphics and Modeling Packages.................................................................................. 60

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section Two The Process in
a Nutshell .............. 63
8 The History of Game Development .... 65
Case Study: The History of Game Development Through
the Evolution of Sierra ................................................................................................................. 66

9 Game Project Lifecycle Overview ....... 69
Concept Phase................................................................................................................................ 69
Pre-Production Phase .................................................................................................................. 72
Production Phase .......................................................................................................................... 74
The Crunch: From Pre-Alpha to Release Candidate ....................................................... 75

10 The Development Team .................... 79
Technical Director ......................................................................................................................... 80
Programmers and Engineers.................................................................................................... 80
Creative Director............................................................................................................................ 81
Designers.......................................................................................................................................... 81
Art Director ...................................................................................................................................... 81
Artists ................................................................................................................................................. 82
Animators ......................................................................................................................................... 83
Audio Director and Engineer.................................................................................................... 83
Writers................................................................................................................................................ 83
QA/Compliance ............................................................................................................................. 83

11

The Publishing Team ........................ 85
The Producer ................................................................................................................................... 85
Operations, a.k.a. Ops................................................................................................................... 86
Tech Director ................................................................................................................................... 87
Art Director ...................................................................................................................................... 87
QA Team ............................................................................................................................................ 89
Creative Director............................................................................................................................ 90

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12 Publishers Selecting Developers .........91
Projects That Start With the Publisher (The Dog Wagging the Tail) ......................... 91
Finding the Developer ................................................................................................................ 92
Projects That Start With the Publisher (The Tail Wagging the Dog) ......................... 93

Section Three Scheduling and
Structure ............. 95
13 Scheduling and Structure .................. 97
The Producer’s Role in Scheduling......................................................................................... 98
Why Schedule? Heavy Scheduling vs. No Scheduling ................................................... 98
Who Owns the Schedules?........................................................................................................ 99
Man-Month Schedule ................................................................................................................. 99
Milestones: How They Affect Everything ............................................................................. 99
Scrum, Waterfall, Agile, and Cowboy Coding ...................................................................100
Elements of a Schedule ...........................................................................................................101
Troubleshooting ..........................................................................................................................102
Other Teams’ Needs and Schedules.....................................................................................103
Hardware ........................................................................................................................................103
DLC, Expansion Packs, and Sequels......................................................................................103
Marketing, PR, and Sales Needs .............................................................................................104
Screenshots and PR/Marketing Materials .........................................................................105
Holidays and Vacation ..............................................................................................................106

14 Development Plan Management
(Scheduling to Production) .............. 107
Tasking the Project .....................................................................................................................108
Delegating Tasks..........................................................................................................................109
Monitoring Tasks and Tracking Changes ...........................................................................109
Task Management Software ...................................................................................................109

15 Budget Management .........................111
Creating a Project Budget: Man Months and the P&L..................................................112
The P&L............................................................................................................................................114
Where to Cut Corners ................................................................................................................114

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Quality Check................................................................................................................................116
Ethics ................................................................................................................................................116

16 The Milestone Schedule ................... 119
Creating a Milestone Schedule..............................................................................................119
Managing the Milestone Schedule......................................................................................120
Preparing a Milestone for Submission and Review.......................................................121
Items to Expect in a Milestone Deliverable ......................................................................122
What Shouldn’t Be Included as a Milestone Deliverable ............................................122

17 Pipelines .........................................123
An Example of a Pipeline: The Character Model ............................................................123
Pods and Cross-Disciplinary Teams .....................................................................................127
Creating a Pipeline......................................................................................................................127

Section Four Managing Your
Project, Your Team,
Your Time, and
Yourself .............. 129
18 Being an Organized Producer ........... 131
How to Be Organized.................................................................................................................132
Tools of Organization ................................................................................................................133
Don’t Procrastinate .....................................................................................................................133
Take a Class in Organization and Time Management ..................................................133
Communication ..........................................................................................................................134
Communicating Outside of the Team and Back Again................................................134
Managing Information Flow ...................................................................................................135

19 Reviews and Approvals ....................137
Approval Pipeline ........................................................................................................................137
Approval Forms............................................................................................................................139
Managing Feedback ..................................................................................................................140

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

20 Meetings .........................................143
Running Meetings: Short and Sweet...................................................................................143
Planning Meetings......................................................................................................................144
How Many and How Often......................................................................................................144
Software and Tools .....................................................................................................................144
Location, Location, Location ...................................................................................................145
The Meeting Agenda .................................................................................................................145
Structuring a Meeting ...............................................................................................................145
Keep Your Meeting Moving ....................................................................................................146
Notes and Reports ......................................................................................................................146
Some Meeting Etiquette ..........................................................................................................146
Regularly Scheduled Meetings..............................................................................................147

21 Managing and Supporting
Multiple Projects .............................149
Juggling: How to Keep Your Balls in the Air .....................................................................150
Scheduling and Resource Allocation ..................................................................................151

22 Staffing ...........................................153
The Producer’s Role in Staffing ..............................................................................................153
Start with the Core and Expand ............................................................................................153
Conducting Interviews .............................................................................................................156
Cutting the Fat..............................................................................................................................156
Hiring Outside the Team ..........................................................................................................157
Where to Find Candidates .......................................................................................................158

23 Technology: What Every
Producer Should Know .................... 161
How Game Builds Are Created ..............................................................................................162
The Game Engine ........................................................................................................................162
A Little About Licensed vs. Proprietary Engines .............................................................163
Middleware....................................................................................................................................164
Console Systems..........................................................................................................................165
Requirements and Compliance or TRC/TCR/LotCheck ...............................................165

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

24 External Management (Publisher) ....167
Managing Management ..........................................................................................................168
Presenting the Vision .................................................................................................................168
Managing Other Departments: PR, Marketing, and Sales ..........................................169
Managing Licensors ...................................................................................................................170

Section Five Concept Phase ......171
25 What You Hope to Achieve
at Concept .......................................173
Vision Statement and Game Overview ..............................................................................173
Project Design Requirements ................................................................................................174
Design Feature Checklist..........................................................................................................176

26 The Producer’s Role at the
Concept Stage ..................................177
Process .............................................................................................................................................178
Meetings at Concept .................................................................................................................178
Where You Are in the Schedule, Budget, and Team.......................................................180

27 The Creative at the Concept
Stage: The Evolution ........................183
Brainstorming and Collaboration .........................................................................................185

28 Concept Risk Management ...............189
Look Ahead....................................................................................................................................189
Stakeholder Approvals..............................................................................................................190
Looping in the Tech Director ..................................................................................................190

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section Six Pre-Production ........191
29 Looking Ahead ................................193
The Planning Stages ..................................................................................................................193
The Design Phase ........................................................................................................................193
Prototype Phase ..........................................................................................................................194

30 What You Hope to Achieve at
Pre-Production.................................195
The Production Plan...................................................................................................................195
Finalizing the Budget and Headcount ...............................................................................197
Building the Team .......................................................................................................................198
Proof of Concept/Vertical Slice ..............................................................................................198

31 The Producer’s Role at
Pre-Production.................................199
The Team ........................................................................................................................................199
Scheduling Best Practices for Pre-Production .................................................................200
Creating the Task Inventory ....................................................................................................200
Organize Dependencies...........................................................................................................201
Expanding in Pre-Pro .................................................................................................................201

32 The Game Design Doc .....................203
The Various Formats of the GDD...........................................................................................204
Not Just What, but How! ...........................................................................................................205
The Elements of a GDD .............................................................................................................206

33 Tech, Art, and Sound Design Docs ....209
The Art Design Doc (ADD).......................................................................................................209
The Sound Design Doc (SDD) ...............................................................................................210
The Tech Design Doc (TDD). ...................................................................................................211

34 The Tech Side at Pre-Production ....... 217
Evaluating Tech Needs ..............................................................................................................217
The Tech Design Docs (TDD) .................................................................................................218
Proving the Tech Works ............................................................................................................218
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Automated Build Process.........................................................................................................218
Dev and Test Kits .........................................................................................................................219

35 Proof of Concepts, Target Renders,
and Prototypes ................................ 221
Proof of Concept or Tech Demo ............................................................................................221
Target Renders (Tone Video) ..................................................................................................221
Prototypes......................................................................................................................................222
Types of Game Prototypes ......................................................................................................225
Building the Prototype into a Demo ...................................................................................226
Transitioning from Prototype to Full Production ...........................................................226

36 Risk Management: What Can
Go Wrong at Pre-Production .............227
Technology ....................................................................................................................................227
Approvals .......................................................................................................................................228
Vision................................................................................................................................................228
Schedule Locked .........................................................................................................................228
Pipelines Established .................................................................................................................229
Be Fully Staffed .............................................................................................................................229
Outsourcing .................................................................................................................................229

Section Seven The Production
Phase ................231
37 What Are Your Goals for the
Production Phase .............................233
38 Builds and the Build Process ............237
39 The Quality Assurance (QA)
Process ............................................239
40 Localization.....................................241
Steps in Localization ..................................................................................................................242
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

41 Risk Management During
Production ......................................243
Time ..................................................................................................................................................243
Scheduling Issues........................................................................................................................243
Unexpected Delays ....................................................................................................................243
Date Changes ...............................................................................................................................244
Technology ....................................................................................................................................244
Changes in Direction .................................................................................................................246
Critical Stage Analysis................................................................................................................247

Section Eight Crunch Mode ..... 249
42 What Is the Goal at the End
of Production? ................................. 251
Pre-Alpha ........................................................................................................................................252
Alpha ................................................................................................................................................252
Beta ...................................................................................................................................................252
A Word on Zero Bugs .................................................................................................................254
GMC and Release Candidate ..................................................................................................254

43 Game Ratings: The ESRB and You

255

ESRB Rating Guide ......................................................................................................................258
Submitting for Approval ..........................................................................................................258
How Can Your Game Get Rejected? ....................................................................................259
Resubmitting ................................................................................................................................259

44 First-Party Submissions .................... 261
First Submission...........................................................................................................................262
Second Submission ....................................................................................................................263
Gold Master Candidate Certification (Third Submission) ...........................................263

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section Nine Post-Production .... 267
45 Producer Role During
Post-Production Phase......................269
46 Archiving ........................................271
47 Postmortem .....................................273
Index ..............................................275

xv


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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
D.S. Cohen
With close to 10 years experience as an industry pro, D.S. has been credited with
over 50 current and Next-Gen console and handheld games published by the industry
giants. Most recently he was the Producer and Co-Writer
of SAW: The Video Game, a project he conceived years
before it went into production, then spearheaded into a
reality. You can regularly find his writings about the retro
history of video games on The New York Times’ website
About (classicgames.about.com). U.K. readers will find
his contributing column, Cyberdrams in Fantastique magazine. He also lets loose his personal ramblings on popculture and the games industry at VideoGameSexy.com
and his personal blog, WritingForTheTrade.com.
Photo by: Graham
Millington

Serigo A. Bustamante II
Leading the charge and coming up with better, and innovative processes, has always been the goal of Serigo A.
Bustamante II. A 16 year game industry veteran, Sergio
has had a major influence and impact in developing and
designing games for premier publishers. His career spans
tenures at Activision/Treyarch, EA/Tiburon, and Brash
Entertainment. His motto: “Just play!”

Companion Website
Visit http://www.ProducingGames.com for sample forms, bonus chapters, and
more!

xvii


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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors would like to thank the following individuals without whom this book
would not be possible…
Tae Joon Park – Our brilliant and supportive tech editor.
Chris Simpson – Our brilliant and patient editor.
Chris Soares (SequentialPixel.com) – For the incredible cover design.
Matthew Krause (MatthewKrause.com) – For the kick-ass robot model.
Troy Dunniway – For asking us to take this on.
Sarika Chawla and Aaron Rigby for the advice and sanity check.
For the insightful quotes we thank…
John E. Williamson – President – Zombie Studios
Andy Kipling – Producer – Zombie Studios
Peter Akemann – President, The Workshop (theworkshop.us.com)
Nate Birkholz – Producer – BottleRocket Entertainment
Ben Hoyt – Sr. Producer, Games at Paramount Pictures
For the marvelous images in this book we thank…
Mark Long and Zombie Studios (zombie.com)
Joe Minton and Digital Development Management, Inc.
Jen Chong and Fortyseven Communications
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Capcom Entertainment, Inc.
Electronic Arts, Inc.
Hudsonsoft, Inc.
Also a big thank you to the following for all of their support...
Patrick Sweeney, Jonathan E. Eubanks, Randy Culley, Kevin Brown, Edan Patinka,
Maria Bustamante, Doug Patinka, Chris Sapardanis, Michelle Foote, Mike Foote,
Tammy Sapardanis, Jim Sapardanis, William Guerrero, Lindsey Kuna, Larry Shapiro,
Douglas Rappaport, Anais Wheeler, Doug Rukavina.
We would also like to thank The Calabasas Library without which we would
have never found a quiet and comfortable place to work.
And thank you to all of our friends and family for their love and support on this
epic journey.

xix


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Intro: So You Want
to be a Video Game
Producer
Building a Next-Gen console game requires numerous team members all working
in harmony, each with the same specific goals. These various artists, programmers,
designers, audio engineers, and others each have their own specialty that is essential
to creating a quality video game; but a successful game doesn’t simply hinge on these
team members all doing their respective jobs. It is making sure that each moving part
flows together in a smooth, even, and balanced process, with results championed,
political torpedoes dodged, and a single creative vision maintained throughout. The
one team member who is responsible for this; to keep the trains on the tracks, the
energy up, and the creative juices flowing, is the video game producer.
FIGURE

Producing a game can be a road filled with many hazards.
Image Courtesy of: “Tango Down” Zombie Studios

xxi

1


INTRO: SO YOU WANT TO BE A VIDEO GAME PRODUCER

The constantly shifting balance of video game development is so mind-boggling
that it’s amazing any project makes it from concept to launch, and many don’t. The
most streamlined and organized game can seem like complete chaos to an outsider,
but this is simply the nature of the beast. Games rarely get the time they need to
properly develop and outside influences like publishers, licensors, talent, developers, game engines, and first parties1 can shake up the most organized and streamlined process on a daily basis. At the eye of this hurricane it is the producer, the
one upon whom everything is riding, to keep the swirling wind of chaos, red flags,
and fires at bay with everyone and everything turning to them until that Release to
Manufacture Build (RTM) disc is burned.
For as many different types of games, there are also just as many types of producers, so it is hard to give just a simple job description. While job titles such as
artist, writer, and programmer are easy to define, the abstractness of what a producer does makes it difficult to pin down. Basically a producer does all of the duties
in the process of a video game, but none of them all at once. A good producer
needs to know how each duty and responsibility in the production process works,
with enough technical know-how to assist with each if any problem that arises,
and to understand the importance of its purpose, but not necessarily know how
to do any of those precise duties themselves. The producer needs to give everyone
what they need, as that is inevitably what the producer needs to get the mission
accomplished.
What you hold in your hands is a tool kit, survival guide, and start-up all in
one. You’ll learn the skills of being an organized, detailed, and strong leader; you’ll
get the tools of the trade with examples, templates, and diagrams, and you’ll also
get tips on how to deal with complex projects, and even more complicated people.
Everything a producer needs to get the job done.
There are numerous types of games out there. The most standard, lengthy, and
intricate production cycles are Next-Gen console games developed for Nintendo,
Sony, and Microsoft systems. Other types of games such as online causal, downloadable, mobile, MMOs, and those for hand-held devices may have differences in their
structure and schedules, but the processes for a console game are adaptable and can
be easily tweaked. With all game formats and platforms the process must be flexible
for the expected and unexpected because just like fingerprints, no two game productions are exactly alike—but don’t fret. With the help of this book, you’ll recognize the
pitfalls to avoid, and gain the knowledge you’ll need for a successful production.

1

Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft

xxii


ONE
SECTION
What is a Video
Game Producer?


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