80 Level Podcast

What Does Game Producer Do? - 80 Level Round Table

August 23, 2022 Kirill Tokarev / Slava Lukyanenka Season 2 Episode 9
What Does Game Producer Do? - 80 Level Round Table
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80 Level Podcast
What Does Game Producer Do? - 80 Level Round Table
Aug 23, 2022 Season 2 Episode 9
Kirill Tokarev / Slava Lukyanenka

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Xsolla's Slava Lukyanenka talked about his experienceing crafting big blockbusters in Poland and helping smaller indie teams find their way in today's saturated market.

Slava Lukyanenka is a Director of Products at Xsolla
(Formerly - Senior Producer at CD Projekt Red)
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/viachaslaulukyanenka/

Xsolla Website: https://xsolla.pro/main
Xsolla Funding Club: https://xsolla.pro/fc 

Follow 80 LEVEL on social media:

We are looking for more artists!
Join 80 LEVEL Talent for free: https://80lv.pro/rfp-rt  
Get your work noticed by some of the biggest and best developers, publishers, and studios in video games today.

The Gaming Blender
Could you design a video game?

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

This video is sponsored by Xsolla, a global video game commerce company with a robust and powerful set of tools and services designed specifically for the video game industry: http://xsolla.pro/8023

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Xsolla's Slava Lukyanenka talked about his experienceing crafting big blockbusters in Poland and helping smaller indie teams find their way in today's saturated market.

Slava Lukyanenka is a Director of Products at Xsolla
(Formerly - Senior Producer at CD Projekt Red)
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/viachaslaulukyanenka/

Xsolla Website: https://xsolla.pro/main
Xsolla Funding Club: https://xsolla.pro/fc 

Follow 80 LEVEL on social media:

We are looking for more artists!
Join 80 LEVEL Talent for free: https://80lv.pro/rfp-rt  
Get your work noticed by some of the biggest and best developers, publishers, and studios in video games today.

The Gaming Blender
Could you design a video game?

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

This video is sponsored by Xsolla, a global video game commerce company with a robust and powerful set of tools and services designed specifically for the video game industry: http://xsolla.pro/8023

producer is the person who is making things happen some indie teams do not

understand it they already have producer i've never seen agile practices perfectly working

in the gaming studio greetings and welcome to the 80 level roundtable podcast

in each episode host karel tokorev invites video game industry leaders to

talk about the world of game development no topic is off limits as long as it

relates to video game development new episodes are in the works so remember to follow us or subscribe and

share with someone you know will also enjoy the podcast hello my name is slava i previously

worked in war gaming as a project manager i was leading the r d team there

later on i joined the project threat when i spent four plus years

for cyberpunk 20 2077 development and uh currently i'm working at uh sola

as director of products making sure that indie teams have the

possibilities and the ways to get funding to make their games happen this uh

first time i bumped and took so uh bus death and solo guys like five years

ago uh while i'm working at the big companies all the time i do have a side project

i'm working on and one of them one of them won

one unreal development contest and one prize from from mixola

we applied for solar funding club and through this channel we have found we have find

the investor who who was ready to put to put funds into our team

we didn't sign with him though because we had this agreement inside of the team if we should we should do it at

this stage or not however i've seen that uh sola actually brought the

brought something useful for me as an indie developer and few years later

when i was already finished i have already finished cyberpunk 2077. when we have finished

cyberpunk i was thinking what to do next i i could stay in the company obviously

and continue working on cyberpunk virtual franchises while i met

eugene from axola and he said that actually i can do what i am doing

uh meaning mentoring indie teams i can turn what i'm doing into something

useful on a bigger scale with exalt so yeah currently i like what i'm doing because

i'm actually helping indie teams to raise

funds for their games and get good get a good deal

comparing to many others so i guess it will to be paid out in the future by karma

we we often ask this question um and i think for somebody of your caliber would

be a good one so why do you do what you do like why do you decide to go

into games and not do you know i.t or do some other stuff well honestly

before i joined game dev i was actually working in 80. uh

but to me it was mostly the the the need to start over career somewhere

i was pretty young so i uh started as a qa engineer

i worked in outsourcing company for four years and then when i when i became professional professional

enough i was invited to join wargaming and

that's how i tagged along with gaming industry it was

all the time the job dream to me and i was looking for the ways how to enter the industries

but i was failing over and over again but yeah after the working it company i

got recognized and had my chance what were like the major differences you

know when you were working in i.t and then you had this opportunity to work in a huge company like wargaming

what kind of were the first thing that kind of strike you

that's an interesting question at the beginning i've seen no differences

but months after months the the spirit of the way how the games

how the game's been developed became more obvious to me

because four years known sourcing company means that you're always

focusing on the delivery you're always focusing on what uh what customer told

you to do while working on the game

you have to do your discoveries on your own you have to

be sure that the team and everyone who is involved in the game development

they are courageous enough they are smart enough to keep up the conversation

to adapt to the change if they need to be implemented and

developing the game development appears to be more conscious and focused on what

the end customer and the player needs comparing to our source development when

we always had to believe that there is a customer who knows better

than you but in games it's quite different no one knows what player needs so we have a lot of those conversations

with game developers and i even did a couple of lectures

on what do game developers what advice do they give to people who are just starting out

and one of the things that they said is the following when you work in games

uh games are no longer the same for you you know what i mean like you like if you're

a director or like a cameraman you don't watch the movie you watch how the movie is made

so how did you go through this transition like because you're not originally a game developer you worked in at and how

did you kind of start looking how did your perspective change and when you're

assessing games or playing games learning oh the the major change was that in the

beginning you think that oh it's it's easy to implement just a simple feature let's just do it but

uh every tiny uh change in the mechanics in a user interface wherever

leads to another changes in most cases and you need to probe it over and over and over again

and uh sometimes the results might be unreliable but you still need to believe

them and build other hypotheses so over time

you're developing the experience you know how games are actually done you getting information how much

any gameplay change costs how much caused the change of the character of the location whatsoever

and at the beginning you look at the games and think well

that could be done better and they know how after years you're looking at the games

and you're looking at the movies whatsoever and you're admitting

very cool tiny things you have never seen before so from uh it transitioned over time

from being super confident on i know how to do this stuff into wow they did this stuff

in pretty peculiar pure peculiar way and and then fascinated by it

don't you find it's uh how like my experience when you look at

the game development process it seems like and i think movies are similar in that way that it's a it's a miracle that

these things actually release that they are finished and they are launched because there are so many

elements and like you said if you you know you want to implement one feature and

then the whole system's kind of collapsed or something and i think there was a talk at gdc where

uh this lady i think she was from obsidian or somewhere and she talked about like

those people who are they really like games you know and they think they they can do

everything on their own and then they start creating without telling anyone else that they're doing

something they create levels or characters or something and then it

just kind of creates more extra work for everyone else how do you guys battle this

you know how you worked in war gaming you worked in cd projekt when does this

passion kind of bothers you you know it doesn't allow you to go and finish the game

[Music] i would start with an abstract i would say typically

when you're developing the game you have two phases pre-production and production and the level of

the art the level of creativity uh which is allowed to be put into the game is

reducing over time the closer you are to the release the less and less additional stuff you can add into the

game so typically when you're developing the game you're gating these processes by milestones

but even though it's not always working the trick is

that the games is no games movies uh this

this mediums they created not but just one person they created but many persons uh and the beautiful part of it is in

emergent power of all of these people what's what can be done by one person

uh if you multiply it by 20 percent you may

have unexpected result if you have the chemistry inside of the team in this

case this 20 developers may uh deliver 100 times more

than uh than you expected if there is no chemistry it would it would be lower so

the key trick of the of working in game development is that you have to

trust your fellow developers you have to find the chemistry with them and in this case

results of both of you all of you are amplifying so you acted as a leader in

some of the development teams and the question that i think is

interesting not only like for the game development committee but overall for people in general because games is now

such a huge part of our lives right the my question is like who develops

games like who are these people that decide to devote their lives to you know building

mechanics and creating technology and so on and the question is

i'm i'm trying to understand because for technical guys right for coders

especially i mean there are so many opportunities you go silicon valley do your own app or

something right you can go to japan and work in a bank just create some boring

software for transactions or whatever um and still i see people fighting

for an opportunity to work for this company and or that company so what's like the

psychology behind it like who are these people they did they decide to work at war gaming or

city project red or any other these big organizations that build games

okay uh i guess i guess it's mostly about the

passion i know developers who are awesome in rendering they're awesome in

building animation systems this requires a lot of

super deep knowledge on algorithms algorithms which are specific for this

area and these guys keep evolving in in this area specifically because they want

to see how the how the how they can push it even better

i have a friend who who is regularly

writing white papers after each game he has delivered and uh telling the telling the stories on how

rendering can be improved on a c graph his key his he just want to

share it with everyone else because this is what he could achieve and he can show it to everyone so the technology he used

can be populated and improve any other games when we talk about the other type of the

developers animators 3d modelers uh

artists all of them are developers but all of them are still driven by the same

thing passion they have something that they want to show and they have a joy when they see that uh players enjoy what

what they have delivered so when you have these people who are

incredibly passionate and uh they're driven by this kind of desire to make

better games i'm sure you kind of ended up in situations where

there's just so much energy in the room there is like so much stuff going on then it's important it's impossible to

kind of keep everyone happy right so because as there's any kind of product that

you're developing you have to make decisions and sometimes these decisions they don't

you know not everyone is a fan of right and you and i we both come from

i guess like a former soviet union kind of scene where

we've seen tons of those teams where they're saying we're gonna build this game and it's gonna be a game it's going to

have open world and it's going to have realistic damage and you can be able to

you know attack caravans and do all the stuff of crazy stuff so adding so many ideas that

you know it's never going to work and like me and my career personally i've seen too many of those games

but um in your role you work as a producer and this seems to me

kind of like this role that is often avoided like not a lot of people

understand what this produce to do and for me when i think about producer

is this guy from a movie called the tail wax the dog

you know like the like the glasses guy and then he he walks around and he just

he has the vision he gathers some people and then he makes people work so my question is in games in your role

in your experience from having all the background who do you think producer is like what

is this person's role on a project right that's the answer is actually depends on

which company which country we are talking about because the definition of production job differs

between between different companies while at the same time there is one

thing which is always standing out producer is the person who is making things happen

and uh in this quote that can mean anything so let's say at this point

after i left cd projekt red i picked up a couple of

indie projects and i'm leading them as a independent producer and in this case my

role in most cases is to take what creative talents uh are working on and frame it into the business frame it into

deliverables which they can actually uh finish by site by some time and it

actually takes a lot of time not so many people understand that you cannot just like go to the team and say do this

it doesn't work this way you're working with creative talents they they are creating these games you are helping

them so your quest in most cases is to get what

uh to understand what the game they're developing and how you can help them to deliver it

in its best shape then you have to explain it and then you have to agree with them

how exactly is going to be done so let's say me the independent producer wearing

at least three hats that sometimes i have to behave as a story doctor because i see that

the story we want to tell inside of the game

is too huge or too complex or vice versa too simple so

players won't like it on another day i'm wearing the head of

director preparing a profit involves file calculating budget for the game

sometimes and we're in the head of the business developer and i'm going to talk with with investors publishers whoever

everything to make team focus on what they can actually do the best creating

the game so yeah producer is the person who helps the team

to achieve to achieve the point of the case did you um

because you mentioned you worked at like large companies but you also help in the indie companies as well when you have

these conversations with guys who are creating their own smaller experience um

how do they like how do they treat you do they sometimes think you're like a just like a money grabbing machine that's only

here for you know um make some buck on their shoulders and to

monetize their game do you see any kind of uh because at least

a while ago that was kind of the attitude from the indie teams you know what i mean when they

because producer for them was similar to like a marketing ceo or like uh

some kind of publisher because developers they live in their own world their own game and they feel like if

they're building this game it's gonna be successful you know either way people are gonna see all the features all the

implementations and they never even come up with the idea that a lot of

a lot of people like me for example they make their decision whether to purchase this or not based on the like whatever the

icon looks like on switch you know store right so how do you kind of persuade them or

how do you build that need to in the team so they understand that the

producer is the one who's going to help them you know finish it yeah it starts with

the basis because producer is not just like one guy's job producer is a role anyone can take it inside of the team

and typically this is how it starts despite the fact that some indie teams do not understand it

they already have producer it's just someone inside of the their team who is

trying to manage what they're doing who is trying to uh build up our long-term plans

so they do have them and when we arrive at the point where

developers want to actually focus on the game when they understand

that actually working on the finance part of the studio is complex having

conversations with publishers is time consuming

they're getting tired and that's the moment when uh experienced producer help comes in handy

it starts with typically it starts with just mentorship so they're coming to you

asking questions uh you're helping them with some advices or vice versa you are

challenging with the questions they would never ask themselves and so

step by step it builds the trust because you show them show the developers that

you're actually on on their side you're not putting money out of them you're trying to help them to make the to make

the game happen and i don't know the other recipe recipe

actually because without trust from the team you're always going to be the

just a manager who is chasing people who's chasing people for their tasks

which is not a production job actually so when you worked

in these smaller studios and the larger ones as a producer and a part of the team you

obviously saw a lot of challenges and problems that people face and i think

my question is do you feel like the process is different the bigger the company becomes

do you see more problems kind of arriving or less and then

the question is what about the the way that you you know manage all

that like is it like a flex structure do you need some kind of hierarchy do you do use

waterfall or do you like the safe techniques what works best for

you know what size well i'll start with the fact that in practice uh we can imagine the game

studio as just a system my background is that i'm an engineer and

i'm specialized in system analysis and when i'm looking at any studio i see

that it has the composition of different developers so the bigger amount the bigger the

number of the developers the more complex system is so that that's the third thing

uh second thing uh when you're working with indeed developers

you're always producing stakeholders because stakeholders are actually in the

team while you're working with in a big company your developers they creative talents inside or inside

of the inside of the company while stakeholders are typically game director

or studio director or head of the studio some other guy and yeah sometimes there are conflicts

between stakeholders and the team but that's the thing you are here to mediate the

process and if someone in the process gets offended or

someone in the process disagrees it's your job to settle down the conflict to explain

why the decision was made this way or mitigate some

some other solution with the with the director that depends on the situation in practice i've never seen

i've never seen agile practices perfectly working in the in the

gaming studio at my memory only bungie achieved

working process in a safe manner while others trying to implement

some practices sometimes with the success but yeah

once again typically every studio is building their own process because the pipelines of the

development are different engines are different and that requires different team composition

and different skill sets i think uh i have like two comments on

that one that one of my friends who actually worked with me

and we were both kind of studying for safe and we did this like safe agile training

for different roles but still like this it's mostly the same training and uh i was like wow this is so nice

this work perfect like let's just use it and it's like 40 gross like faster

delivery all that stuff and he said well it's kind of great on paper but

it never actually works how you learn it right and there are very few

companies that are actually um implementing it and achieve results and you mentioned

bungie and i had a friend who worked there and he said yeah they said like developers they use

frameworks that you know bring them results they don't they they can use waterfall here and do safe agile there

and bungie is now different like i think in that direction like any big companies right uh

when you have these teams i guess and you can comment on that like on a smaller scale well you have stakeholders

kind of within the team the team is just a number of stakeholders

what you need to spend less time on is probably clarification and communication meaning

that everybody understands what they're building everybody understand what everyone is

doing and you know if i build something that's not entirely like in

in something then everybody's you know they know who to talk to and they understand what's

going on but what happens if it's like world of tanks good god this this game

is like humongous right or any other big title let's not take examples from your career but any

let's say like eldon ring look at that game it's like first of all

one of the biggest rpgs ever right so much content there so many elements so

if i make a decision that you know the the chest is going to teleport you god knows where in another

part of the map i don't like physically i cannot understand

how that studio manages to do it and any big studio how do they not lose their and just

you know go around killing each other because it's just too much to kind of compress into one so can you talk a

little bit about what are like the efficient ways where different kind of decisions can

communicate within the team and also outside the team when game director comes or our director comes

and you show him some technique and he says it's never going to work because my prop is let's say gray and it's just

going to be lost nobody's gonna see it you know what i mean yeah the thing is that uh

there should be always the point of synchronization in different companies it works differently some some some

prefers to have uh uh regular playthroughs on the drive and

that's it someone demands uh developers to play the game regularly

once a week let's say to spend couple of hours but you have to play the game to understand and see what's happening in

there some companies are posting huge uh posts on internal confluence

uh assuming that everyone will read it but the thing is that

the only working way to assure that people will know what's

inside of the game is to make them passion on their passion on their change and willing to show it to the others

when one developer is uh coming in the picture and saying look i have created

uh i have created the uh let's say new mechanics of shooting

so it's based on let's say freezing time and you can pinpoint few a few

few places you want to shot at and boom it it works like you are doing it

automatically it looks nice i want to show it to everyone and

yeah it should come from the developer so you mentioned uh passion a couple of

times when we were discussing and

we think that this is one of the biggest thing that kind of unites game developers in general because that's one

of the things why they're doing this in in in the in the first place and when i think about passion i always think about

i think it was a former playstation head who on camera

he was beating and he successfully did so um a very challenging boss in bloodborne

bloodborne is a very challenging game and he was like dodging kind of his

heart was skipping a beat and you could see that this guy really likes games and he's like a ceo of playstation he's like

a very high level c c level guy right so you might think he's not really interested

in game but he is and you can see this from the recording but

passion is just kind of like one little part of this um

yeah it's like part of the base of this formula like for a successful hire

in in the game and when you're looking for talent when you speak with your colleagues and so on

how do you choose when you're getting resumes i'm sure when you're working on cyberpunk

you've got like tons of you know knocks on the door and people like hey

i really like your game want to work with you how do you make this decision that this person fits and this person doesn't and

if you're thinking about it to make it easier like uh let's think about these hard skills

and soft skills that you need to have in order to you know continue working in big games

that actually depends on the uh culture which is uh in the company so let's say

uh when you're working when i was working at cd projekt threats i was hiring gameplay designers and

comparing to many other companies still five years back we were

we were focusing on the developers who are not only game designers who are not only the

designers and they can build a cool presentation and write nice papers but they can also implement

things so uh for us was always important that the

person who is about to join us has the hard skills we want and they can prove

it with with the simple task to implement the prototype

while later on uh each person who supposed

who is supposed to work with this developer should speak to him

and uh in my case i wasn't challenging designers with

questions on how they execute their job we were talking about the games my top three questions uh typically

what the last game you played is there anything uh you would change in

this game and if so why and third is how it will impact a player's experience

so this three simple questions allows you to spend uh

an hour with the developer if he is passionate enough if he's actually

uh putting a heart in the answer not just like

i don't know pulling it out of the nowhere yeah

when you talk about game designers especially um what are those

hard skills because um i i know like if you're like a mobile free-to-play you probably biggest hard

skill is your spreadsheet and then you calculate like lifetime value of whatever and how to loop them in the

game but when you talk about a game like cyberpunk that's like like uh there are so many

systems there it's a very different monetization model um i'm struggling to

understand what kind of scar hard skills do you need to have in order to actually

start building something like this it's also super important for our listeners who are you know they're

still in school they're they're maybe they're in junior positions somewhere they don't really know so if you could

explain a little bit like what do you need to uh learn and maybe start practicing that

will help you build those hard skills and maybe you know get in the career ladder right typically typically for me

the best person is is the one who has the passion first who is able to build the language with

the others and adopt the language from the studio that's where hard skills comes in

and being able to receive the feedback that's when it comes to the soft skills

there's tricky points they're necessary for any any developer why i mentioned

language is mostly because while uh requirements would be different between

different professions in different studios uh the key thing is that in

different companies you are using different language to describe things you're working on let's say

two months to my first month in cd projekt red i was super confident

while i was talking about what we should implement assuming that the word prefab

is exactly this has exactly the same meaning as in unity or unreal

but in practice it did not and that was my mistake that

i when i came in i started to i started immediately operate with the

language i i knew i didn't i didn't align myself with the others so

the hard skills here is that you have to have at least basic knowledge on how the games are developed if it are developed

if you have the possibility and courage to open the engine you should because

the hands-on practice of creating even a smallest even the

simplest game is priceless because you're starting to

understand what kind of language might exist and then you're coming to

another company you're getting hired and you have to be ready that most of the things you named one way can

be named the other way and you have to learn how and you have to adapt

to to the language they're using and this is the most necessary hard skill i would say and

this is something that people typically are taking from the university

so while we're on a subject on university and kind of achieving those

skills there is a trend in games and i think game is like one of those industries where

you can never sit still meaning that uh i mean today it's one technique tomorrow

is another technique we run a website for artists and this stuff changes almost every year

like every year there's some new feature like a good example would be you know zbrush like

you used to use zbrush all the time to make materials like even during like crisis times right now you use substance

designer or substance painter and maybe in five years you're going to start using

mega scans or something else where everything's going to be scanned or deli yeah or ai stuff so

this ai stuff also comes into mind so how do you

advise to young people and maybe not only only young people for everyone how do you adapt in this

environment where everything's changing so quickly and how do you make sure that you're still employable that's what i'm

that's the biggest thing because if you look at dali we joked yesterday that you know interior decorators are no longer

necessary and then any billionaire can you know click something in dolly and create his own underwater aquarius

bedroom or something right so how do you see this progressing in the future

with all the tools with all the ai are there is there going to be a need

for game developers in the future at all there should be a constant learning all of the tools

substance painters zbrush dali any other ai ai tools that's just tools to make

your work more efficient more faster more effective

from the result standpoint so uh it's just necessary to

to keep watching over the trends and learning new stuff because like

my case uh i'm a producer but i'm struggling to find a concept artist but

here is dali that means that for me as a producer i can speed up or work on my concepts because instead of

spending a month with concept artists to get super detailed concept which will

show which which is going to sell uh my uh concept

i can work with uh with daley

generate pictures which will which which is going to sell the atmosphere uh sell

the mood uh it's not necessary we'll put it in the game but see this is something that

helps me to speed up the decision process same same comes for the concept artist

they can take dilate they can generate something and over paint it into something that actually fits their needs

all of the tools which from the first glance looks scary so hey i i will know

i will no job anymore because there is a new tool in practice that means that you can do your work faster

and that's it and you can achieve the better results so constant learning uh looking around you getting practice

getting knowledge on the new practices that that's the must so what advice would you give

we kind of talked a lot about hard skills soft skills constant learning passion

kind of the themes that we had in our conversation um if you're speaking with new recruits

if you're speaking with people who are just getting into this industry what advice would you give them like if you

just if you were to summarize everything we talked about today get feedback as early as possible

whatever you are doing get feedback as early as possible you just wrote a few

lines about the new concept show it to someone if it doesn't click

if it does if you do not receive any feedback maybe you should rework it somehow

or you have finished you're about to finish the vertical slice of your game on the prototype

test it as early as possible it might be semi-ready it might have gray boxes it might have missing effects sounds

whatsoever the earlier you test it the more insights and the more

feedback you'll get and it comes not only to the game it comes to

uh your knowledge uh the way you're writing emails the way you're

building your spreadsheet if you're building the spreadsheets anything feedback is a must

rely on it cool thank you sal i was very insightful thanks

thank you thanks for enjoying another episode of the 80 level roundtable podcast

check out upcoming episodes on the 80 level website at 80.lv join our career site at 80. lv

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(Cont.) What Does Game Producer Do? - 80 Level Round Table