Last entry in the list of game developer team positions.
This time we’ll cover production, QA, Audio, Localization and everything else.
1) Exec Producer
The Big Kahuna. This is the guy who is ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING on this project. Depending on the studio, he may have one project, or several he is responsible for. EA, for example, has one EP per project, whereas other publishers have one for several. This is where the buck stops, and this is the person who make the ultimate decisions on what the game is going to be, who it’s targeted at, what the platforms are going to be, budget and so on. He hires the Producers, leads and gets the ball rolling.
NOTE – while the EP defines what the game ‘is’, per-se, he is not the one carrying The Vision. That’s the lead designer. The EP says “This game is an fps, with a budget of $20m, and will take two years, with a team of 30. We will be targeting teenage boys, have semi-realistic graphics, no gore, be a sci-fi story, and have a space combat component. We will store back end player details in the cloud and we will have a small IOS app that precedes us.” Every decision that is made on the game going forward is measured against that criteria.
There are usually multiples of these guys on the project. He’s the guy who is keeper of the task list, the go to guy to provide whatever the leads deem are necessary to move the project forward. He knows how much is done, what is yet to be done and is often the final authority in terms of break deadlocks between the leads. What he is NOT is a designer, art director, programmer or anything else. The producer exists to ensure progress is made, and to cut that which is not working. He’s also a leader and needs to cajole, threaten, embarrass and compliment the team into great achievements.
3) Associate Producer
An AP is basically a producer-in-training. They are often the ones doing the tedious things, like updating exec spread sheets, checking in with developers to see how they are doing, taking notes in meetings, generating posters that indicate progress and so on. Think Intern, and you’ll be close.
4) Audio Lead
The Audio lead is responsible for all audio going into the game. Now, this doesn’t sound like much for your average game. A bit of music, some sound samples. Done. But we aren’t in 1995 any more, and that’s insufficient to the task. These days we have full on orchestrated music (Hans Zimmerman wrote some of the score for Call of Duty, for example), voice recording, foley effects (IE the sound effects of object use in game), and then straight forward effects. This is not an insignificant set of tasks, and it can be argued that audio in games has never had the attention to detail of priority that it should do.
5) QA Lead
QA. Quality Assurance. Testing. Man, this tends to get ignored as “The sweaty guys over there, in the basement”, but really is so massively important to building a big AAA game these days. While QA is often a different department, for the best results, they have to feel like they are part of the team. Invited to meetings, their opinion asked. The more integrated they feel, the more effort they’ll put into what they are doing.
QA has a huge job at the end of the project, dealing with iteratively playing your game to see what might have broken recently. Automatic testing of your game is a must, but automatic tests only tests that which you tell it to. Human testing tests So Much More.
6) Music lead
Fairly obvious. Often this guy is the main composer too. Bungie had one for the longest time, till there was quite a falling out and lawsuits occurred. However, most studios has someone that creates everything, from small rifs and stings, to someone who can compose something for a complete orchestra. There’s even a group of studios who use midi, and need compositions in that (so they can control tempo and pitch). There is an extra dimension when games require seamless audio track switching – so when the player goes from walking to combat, the music changes and gets up tempo and more pulse pounding. Creating music that can do that, easily, is a tough ask.
7) Sound effect lead
This is your more traditional audio designer on a video game. He that makes all the blips and bloops. However, these days he’s usually creating sound samples, rather than programming an on chip sound device, like in the days of the Commodore 64. There is more to the job though – creating echo effects, atmospheric effects, and effects that may be modified programmatically dynamically, like changing the pitch and timbre of foot steps or combat noises.
This one seems obvious, but it’s actually a much harder gig than you might think. In the same way that novelists aren’t always good screen writers, traditional fiction writers aren’t always good video game writers. A good video game story introduces the next bit of gameplay, in a way that isn’t forced, and makes it matter; it gives the player a compelling reason to play and to win. The problem is that all too often, the story is pulled in late to basically tie together whatever the developer has already completed. And you end up with a convoluted mess. Video game writing is also hard because narrative is the enemy of interaction. It’s a toughie, this job.
9) Voice over producer
This is an offshoot of the newer, large narrative based games. Even back on Soldier of Fortune, we had a separate producer who held the voice recording sessions with the talent, who knew how to direct them and get what we needed. This is a skill, and not one that people on a game development team normally have.
10) QA Tester
Well, this one is a very obvious one, enshrined in the movie “Grandma’s Boy”. This is actually critical for releasing a polished game, and the dev team core will love you for being good QA. It’s actually way harder than you think as a job – playing the same game, over and over, and figuring out ways to play it that aren’t the obvious ways, looking for bugs and crashes – it’s actually a skill. Most QA testers get VERY bored of the game they test, and never want to see it again once it’s released.
11) Localization Team
This one is somewhat self explanatory. There is usually someone on the team tasked with managing external localization companies. Sometimes they hire people in house to do conversions of text / speech, but mostly it’s handed to external companies that specialize in this. What’s interesting is that this is way more of an art than you think – text (particularly UI text) needs to be roughly the same length in characters, so it doesn’t disturb how the screen is formatted, and that’s often hard to do (particularly in German, for some reason).
12) Community manager
Another fairly obvious position. The community manager manages, guess what? The Community! She usually runs the forums, patrols to ensure nothing outrageous is being said, and is also often the front face of the team to the community, relaying messages, interviews and sometimes even asking what the community thinks. This job needs a thick skin, a delicate touch and a ton of patience.
13) Mainline Ops
This is an interesting position, and it’s got more to do with games that use a lot of servers. Bungie’s Destiny, for example, is server based and as such Bungie will have an online team, maintaining those servers, ensuring they aren’t going down, analyzing data throughput, watching the database servers that contain persistent data and so on. These positions are becoming more and more important as time goes on – having a great game you can’t play because the servers are down just sucks.
That’s about it for general purpose positions. Some places have other, more exotic positions – Valve had an economist, for example, analyzing steam purchasing trends. Linden Labs has a full time economy balancer. Every studio / publisher / developer / genre has their own specific positions they fill – it’s just not the norm across lots of developers.
If I’ve missed anything obvious, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line – firstname.lastname@example.org