The Gentle Art of Herding Cats
As an executive producer on the publishing side, I’m in charge of the Paradox Interactive’s 3rd party titles; that’s a fancy way of saying I work on all titles not made by the in-house team and the related Clausewitz engine license projects.
On the formal side I keep track of milestones and greenlight them so the developers get their hard-earned money. On the informal end, producers at Paradox work to give feedback to the devs about in-game stuff, organizing QA, betas, lunch and other important things. It's our job to work with the developers to make sure their game can be successful, and it really takes a lot of careful consideration and thought. When we get hands-on with games we mostly think about sales: what demographic does the game target, and what can we do more/less of to better appeal to that group's idea of having a good time? My fellow producer, Shams Jorjani, gave a good picture of this kind of meddling, with the example of designing and implementing achievements.
Clausewitz, the military theorist that gave name to the Paradox in-house engine, also summarizes the game publishing process fairly well, as “a dynamic, inherently unstable interaction of the forces of violent emotion, chance, and rational calculation.” I'm fairly sure he wasn't talking about making computer games, but... you never really know, I suppose.
He also talked at length about “friction,” and that makes sense too; the vast difference in perspective between devs and producers make for some really interesting meetings. In the best case we can all contribute to an awesome game that sells the crap out of the market. In the worst situation we just glare at each other and think the other part is clueless: “they do not understand the game we are trying to make!” meets “these guys must have taken sales prevention classes in college!”
The process of producing and publishing a game is all very human – moreso, perhaps, than is to be expected in such a tech-dependent business. A big part of it is to establish stable working relationships with the devs. Our ambition is to work with the devs over many titles; a lot of effort goes into that first title together, and that commitment can be a great asset for future titles. Meeting the devs is both a way to iron out the details in the milestone schedule – deliverables, marketing assets, sales stuff – and a way to build relationships. Emails, Skype, Basecamp and video conferences are all good tools, but it does not replace the good-old-fashioned meet-and-greet. When I’ve had face time with devs they tend to see my mistakes in terms of “Oh, Mattias is having a bad day” as opposed to “What the frack is this guy's problem?” That makes a world of difference since the pressure will rise exponentially up until release. I will screw things up, and so will the devs. In short, there will be blood. Figuratively speaking, of course... though there was that one time where I... umm, nevermind. This leads to the art of herding cats.
It’s in the nature of skilled, ambitious professionals to get along in the way cats do – or don’t. The field of game design doesn’t really help much, as each project strives not to carbon copy previous solutions – the dream is often to invent something new, or do a novel mix of previously well-known elements. In this business, plans are nothing and planning is everything. If all the cats can agree on a direction we can get places, and part of the joy in producing is to sometimes see it happen.
Mattias Lilja is the Executive Producer in the Paradox Publishing team