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8 Oct 2013

Mistakes to Avoid as an Indie Game Producer

Are you the producer of a small team? Perhaps you are a producer of a dozen team members, two dozen, and perhaps even more. Regardless of the amount of people that reside on your team, as a producer, one thing is certain: you are responsible for the team’s day-to-day activities, keeps the project on time, and ensuring that the entire process flows smoothly. Thus, to do your job correctly, you need to learn how to manage people properly.

Yet, this is easier said than done due to one simple fact: managing people is incredibly hard. You need to be able to see them as just that: people. Unfortunately, when you need to complete tasks in a timely manner, it’s easy to view people as simply cogs in the projects’ machine. You need to avoid this, and the best way to do so is to take into account the mistakes made by not only some indie game producers, but producers of anything period. Learn how to be the best indie game producer you can be by avoiding the following mistakes.


‘People are Resources’

No they’re not; yet, you can begin to see them as resources without even knowing it. We’ve all witnessed this type of person in action, too: the individual that is tasked with spearheading a project, and all of a sudden, they believe they can use each individual as a ‘puzzle piece’ to finish the project optimally. To them, they become the true brainchild of the project, to which everyone below them is simply cogs connected in a series of tasks, and they’re attitude becomes unpleasant to say the least.

This approach to viewing ‘people as resources’ is dangerous. No one enjoys being dehumanized, and by doing so, producers will fail to get the absolute best out of their team members. Morale falls, people begin dreading working on the project day-to-day, and the chances of team members making mistakes and/or turning in sloppy work increases, which only adds additional problems for the producer. Delays occur, problems arise; the entire production becomes a giant mess solely because the producer doesn’t know how to manage people appropriately.

This scenario reminds me of a time in which I was on the yearbook staff in high school. I had a teacher that had one of the worst attitudes I have ever seen, and to make matters worse, she was the producer of the yearbook. Immediately, she viewed everyone in the classroom as ‘resources;’ a means to an end. Despite how awesome our yearbook was looking, she would constantly insult the class and tell us we were behind, we were doing a poor job, etc. Very quickly, it became apparent that the problem with our team being behind was because of her constant berating, so what happened to the morale? It not only dropped, but it jumped off the cliff and dove into the deep, dark waters below. Everyone stopped listening to her, designed the yearbook how they thought was best, and guess what? The yearbook was finished with plenty of time to spare and it was awesome. The moral of the story? View your people are ‘people’ and treat them with respect, because if you don’t, you will quickly become the problem rather than the solution.


‘Why? Because I said so’

How many times have you heard this when working on a project? Whether it is on a project in grade school or the development of an indie game recently, we’ve heard the following:

“Why are we doing it this way?”


“Because why?”

“Because that’s the way it is.”

Here’s a secret: the producers that cannot explain in full why you are being tasked with doing something are likely as clueless about ‘why’ you are working on a task as you are. Going back to the scenario of the yearbook producer, this always happened. The producer would never explain the reasoning for doing a certain task, and as a result, it was hard to put any effort into the task.

And that’s really the trick. As a producer, you need to be able to explain the reasoning behind every task. ‘Because I said so,’ doesn’t cut it: if a worker does not know why they are working on a task, don’t expect them to put 110% into it.

We have also met individuals that get irritated when you ask a question regarding the task, as if the worker is questioning the producer’s competence. Never allow this to happen! No matter how busy you may be, if a worker comes to you and is asking a question regarding a task on an indie game, talk to them privately about the why. They are coming to you for answers, not to challenge your qualification as ‘producer.’ Once they know the why of their task, they are going to be willing to put their entire effort into the task, and equally as important? They are going to know that you do not see them as mistake #1: a ‘resource.’


‘Great, we reached a milestone, now get back to work.’

This seems like a small touch, but it works: celebrate certain milestones you achieve in the project. Were you able to play the first level of your game to completion without hitting any bugs? Then it’s time to celebrate! Did you launch the alpha version of the game? Celebrate with your team members! Your team members need to feel as if the progress they are making is not only appreciated, but is simply that: progress. Hitting milestones without a celebration will quickly turn the project into a dull, monotonous job for your team members, and will make them feel as if they are about as special as the computers and/or devices they are working on. Again, they are going to feel like cogs (i.e. not like people), and you want to avoid this at all costs.


‘I can’t say no to you guys’

On the flipside, there are producers that attempt to be so courteous to everyone that they simply cannot say ‘no’ to anyone. They want to avoid conflict as much as possible, and be seen as an individual that is easy to get along with. Yet, when there is a publisher (if you have one) that is constantly breathing down your neck to launch your indie game or there are designers that continue to change their mind about what they want the game to focus on, there will come a point in which you have to be the bad guy and say, ‘enough.’


“No, we’re not shipping this month.”

“No, we do not have the time to focus on this aspect. We need to focus on this instead.”

“No, you cannot use this style of music in-game. We are only using this style.”

“No, the graphics style need to look like this, not that.”


Sometimes, you have to be the bad guy. You have to be seen as the individual that is pushy, that is ‘bossing’ everyone around. The life of an indie game producer isn’t easy – in fact, it’s difficult. Balancing viewing members of the team as ‘resources,’ versus seeing them as real people, all the while pushing everyone to greatness while keeping the project’s  goals realistic is extremely difficult to say the least, yet the best producers are able to do this. It takes practice, and you will not become a great producer overnight. Yet, by treating your team members as people and taking the time to explain certain tasks with them, in the end, they won’t mind if you say ‘no,once in a while. Sure, they may not enjoy hearing ‘no,’ yet in the end, they are going to be pleased with your work.

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