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Career Path for a Game Producer/Project Manager

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SoGrangerous polycounter lvl 3
I just graduated from college with a degree in animation and game design. During my time there, I ended up managing and organizing projects for games and assignments, and I focused a lot of effort in building up skills for project management. Now that I am out of college, I'm finding it difficult to find jobs that don't require a lot of experience. 

As someone who can manage projects, what do I need to focus on to build my skills to get hired? What types of jobs should I apply for to get into the industry? What needs to be in my portfolio to show I can do the job?

Thank you for all your help!

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  • Biomag
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    Biomag polycounter
    Well your portfolio will not help you much. People looking for project managers/producers are not looking for artists. It might be a bonus to have, if you already prove that you are a competent PM and also have an deeper understanding of art than your competition, but your portfolio won't say anything about your organization skills. Rather look for huge mods and help out planning and organizing them. Anybody can organize his own projects, but dealing with whole teams is a different beast.

    Project management skills are related to business economics, not art. Depending on the size of the team/studio you might end up dealing with product managent tasks, since project managemeners, product managemeners and producers tend to have intersecting fields in smaller companies.

    If you are interested in project management an excellent starting point uses to be QA. Some of the better project managers I've met started out as QAs. It's quite logical as you become the counterpart to the project manager - you check the stuff he/she planned if it was delivered properly. This gives you a great view of all happening during production, a good sense of what works and what doesn't when it comes to planning, a feeling for estimations and practise in dealing with people. Career tends to be QA -> QA Lead -> jr project manager.

    You can also try to get a job as project manager anywhere outside of game dev. The work is not really different. A good project manager can adjust to the project and teams he/she is working with. His own tasks don't change, just the topics he/she will be dealing with. But this will be difficult to get as an art background won't open many doors.

    You can always end up snatching a intern or jr position as project manager with a studio. They might be open to it and they have tests as well, so be prepared for that.

    Last advice, as much as I personally call it rather a religion than a proven organizational structure, Scrum is something that you should learn. Some companies even ask for certificates - like any well established cult :P
  • SoGrangerous
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    SoGrangerous polycounter lvl 3
    Thank you so much for your advice! It gives me more of a direction to go moving forward. Luckily, I have had some experience with scrum and would love to get certified once I can afford it. 
  • Neox
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    Neox ngon master
    well artists who could do it, but are willing not to, are usually very welcome on both ends of outsourcing
  • Biomag
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    Biomag polycounter
    I have had some experience with scrum and would love to get certified once I can afford it. 
    Honestly if you can avoid it, skip that stuff. I've been doing the planning for most teams I was on and so far those teams met every deadline and overachieved in the process. Also my girlfriend is has been successfully working in project management/product manager roles for nearly a decade and we both have no respect for the whole Scrum nonsense. Its has become a narcissistic and bloated system, with completely pointless certificates that usually become hip when a company is struggling and starts looking for outside consulter and ends up hooked by a Scrum-master that wants to sell courses.

    Please never become a 'by the book' type leader/planner. There is 'no right way' that works in every situation. Everything depends on the team you are working with and while Scrum-followers want you to beleave that the team has to serve their methods, the truth is whatever method you pick has to be serving the team best. Broaden your horizion by learning scrum, but also waterfall or whatever other system/strategy and then adapt it to the situational needs, but don't waste your money on some completely pointless certificates if you don't have to.

  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor insane polycounter
    Biomag said:

    If you are interested in project management an excellent starting point uses to be QA.

    I don't have game dev experience here, but I'd second this advice. You'll be the best leader when you understand the organization from the roots up. It's not about being mister nice guy who feels for the plight of the grunts, but it is important to understand every moving part of the team so you can maximize efficiency. The humans are the tool you have to understand -- everything else is just there to support them.
  • Ex-Ray
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    Ex-Ray polycounter lvl 9
    This should be a good listen, recent episode of the 'Game Artist Podcast' interviewed a games producer:
    https://anchor.fm/game-artist/episodes/Amirhossein-Erfani--Game-Producer--Webble-Games-eafhu8
  • defragger
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    defragger sublime tool
    I think the whole producer thing doesn't work very well in game dev. It's a creative industry. It works better when the leads of each field do the planning. They know what they are talking about and they know what junior artists etc. can do or can't do and roughly how much time stuff takes.

    Why have a manager who (in most cases) doesn't know what he is talking about to make some artificial planning. You will lose lots of great ideas and creativity.

    Just because some bigger studios are managed like a traditional corporation doesn't mean it's a good thing.

    also, avoid scrum like the plague

    If I would hire a producer it would be sort of a communications manager. The role would be mostly networking and motivational. Making sure everyone is comfortable and concerns and ideas are heard and talked about. He should know the industry, the studios, the people, but also the trends.
  • SoGrangerous
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    SoGrangerous polycounter lvl 3
    Biomag said:
    Honestly if you can avoid it, skip that stuff....with completely pointless certificates that usually become hip when a company is struggling and starts looking for outside consulter and ends up hooked by a Scrum-master that wants to sell courses....don't waste your money on some completely pointless certificates if you don't have to.
    That makes sense. I've read the books, and the most useful part of scrum is "What have you done, what are you doing, and what obstacles are you facing?" as a method of communication among the team. I know there's extra stuff in there, but nothing that isn't echoed in most other agile frameworks. 

    Biomag said:
    Please never become a 'by the book' type leader/planner. There is 'no right way' that works in every situation. Everything depends on the team you are working with... Broaden your horizion by learning scrum, but also waterfall or whatever other system/strategyand then adapt it to the situational needs.
    That will have to come with experience and practice. A lot of people (mostly on youtube and instagram) will tell you you have to live a certain way to be productive or to enter the flow state, and that might work for them, but it really only works if you disconnect from reality, which is messy and distracting.


    Alex Javor said:
    I don't have game dev experience here, but I'd second this advice. You'll be the best leader when you understand the organization from the roots up. It's not about being mister nice guy who feels for the plight of the grunts, but it is important to understand every moving part of the team so you can maximize efficiency. The humans are the tool you have to understand -- everything else is just there to support them.
    Thank you so much for your advice. I think it's good to understand what the team needs to do in order to break the work down into actionable tasks and to communicate with them during the production of the project. I want to be able to do things to help and support the team.


    Ex-Ray said:
    This should be a good listen, recent episode of the 'Game Artist Podcast' interviewed a games producer:
    https://anchor.fm/game-artist/episodes/Amirhossein-Erfani--Game-Producer--Webble-Games-eafhu8
    Thanks! I'll check it out!


    defragger said:
    I think the whole producer thing doesn't work very well in game dev. It's a creative industry. It works better when the leads of each field do the planning. They know what they are talking about and they know what junior artists etc. can do or can't do and roughly how much time stuff takes.

    Why have a manager who (in most cases) doesn't know what he is talking about to make some artificial planning. You will lose lots of great ideas and creativity.

    Doesn't that end up with too many cooks in the kitchen? I thought the purpose of a project manager was to be the one to keep track of the project as a whole and be a sort of middle man between the leads and the corporate to make sure that everybody is on the same page in terms of creative/mechanical direction.

    I agree that the leads should be the one to break down the tasks and know what each person on the team can do, but each lead also has other worries and tasks they need to work on. The project manager is the one looking at the task list and asking "We said we'd get this task done. Has it been done yet? does it need to be done? what can I do to support your job?"  The project manager is the one to look at the project from the top-down and organize the work in a way to improve cohesiveness between teams and reduce risks and bottlenecks.

    Projects are fluid and need to evolve over time. You can't always predict all of the steps that need to be taken at the beginning of the project. Sometimes, you start working and realize certain tasks don't need to be done, or certain tasks need way more attention than you thought. If that happens, that's ok, but someone needs to keep track of that process and revise the project during development.

    defragger said:

    also, avoid scrum like the plague

    What do you mean by this? You're the first person to suggest it.



    Thank you, everybody, for your advice! It's really helpful, informative, and constructive. I really appreciate this discussion! :)
  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR interpolator
    One thing that is important to note is that unless you are getting advice here from a person with project management experience specific to a particular company and methodology, you are essentially getting an artists perspective on the matter.

    Now I don't have project management experience of the scale you likely aspire to work at, but I would definitely look at the market where you're applying.

    Some companies require certifications, others are able to take in a QA lead/manager and move them up to project management on a part of the pipeline, it varies.

    I'd say having the certifications is a safer bet, else best to look up adverts that list requirements for potential candidates.
    Considering this is game development and there is a ton of favoritism, I cannot really say that ever hire has met the listed requirements.
  • Biomag
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    Biomag polycounter
    When it comes to Scrum I always have to think of Sokrates opinion on democracy. Instead of having leads and project managers deal with the overhead they spill it over the whole team, instutionalizing communication in some artifical meetups and discussions (dailys, planning meetings, reviews,...) - all of this can be achieve by an open communication culture as well, without all that nonsense they claim is so important.

    Also scrum isn't any more agile than any good organizers, actually being so structured it can only adapt after sprints. Worst part - scrum doesn't consider group psychology and ignores that in any group people emerge as leaders, but also shy personalities might not speak up in planning and without anyone speaking up for them their opinion might end up not being considered. Also some people don't want to be bothered with planning or other overhead tasks that are put on the team as a whole as there are no project managers and leads in real scrum - while nobody really understands what the freaking fuck scrum masters are for besides preaching the holy book...

    To sum it up, scrum is incredibly inefficient compared to proper leads/project managers, but people burned by bad leads/project managers tend to run towards it buying into the propaganda - 'if your scrum failed, you actually failed as you didn't do enough scrum'.



    Planning is only part of the project managers tasks - and I have yet to meet a good one that didn't talk to leads and team members regarding tasks and planning and no - leads don't make the better planners just because they have a better knowledge of the tasks involved. Artists/programmers can also end up being too optimistic about what they can finish in given timeframe - that's when a neutral more distant perspective can come in handy ;). And there is so much more to it than simply planning the next month or so. If that would be all they have to do they would be done in a day or two and not sit for the rest of the month and work overtime. Also I really don't want leads to take over all the PM tasks - its a huge waste of their time. So much communication and overhead goes through PMs. Dealing with budgets, vacation planning, dealing with absenses, keeping other departments informed, organizing stuff so the team can work without delay,... - if all your project manager is doing is to plan your tasks and doesn't even involve the team into it, then he/she isn't doing his/her job. Good project managers are key facilitators that maintain the flow so artist/devs can focus on their actual work and being creative.

    Product managers on the other hand are a different thing - related, but different. They are not focused on the team, but on the product and its place on the market. Therefore working a lot more with data (some data anylist basic skills might be required), have to know the comepition in detail, also market and its requirements,... people often confuse these two roles, partially because they tend to be mix in smaller teams, but in bigger teams they tend to have next to nothing in common, although they work tightly together.
  • defragger
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    defragger sublime tool
    I have yet to see a project manager that works overtime ;) But I agree that they can be useful especially in bigger teams. My experience with a few project managers in the past were planning only and scrum .... so not the best impressions so far. But you are right. They can be very valuable.

    Makes sense when you look at certain companies that work better than others.
  • Biomag
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    Biomag polycounter
    defragger said:
    My experience with a few project managers in the past were planning only and scrum

    Yeah, another great thing about scrum it turns PMs into jira-ticket authors and meeting room bookers in an ill attempt to make them fit a system that suposedly doesn't need them :D

    But honestly, I usually tend to do the planning together with PMs. They basicially come up with all the things that other teams need as dependencies and leave it to me to make sure to make it fits the schedule without any micro management. Based on my estimations and planning they then also communicate with other teams, deal with 'book keeping' and other stuff that would just distract me :)
  • poopipe
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    poopipe hero character
    Scrum done well works,  as do any of the other agile methods but only if the project work suits it - which is when you don't know how to do the thing yet (Eg, level design, code or the game as a whole) 


    There is no point trying to force it onto prop production for example.  You know how long the props take and you know how many props you need (if you don't you've already failed) so the schedule part is extremely straightforward.

    In my experience, you need good full time producers or equivalent if you want any chance of getting a working game out of the door.
    They are there to facilitate communication at a project level and if you don't have that you're basically fucked. 
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