80 Level Podcast

What Does Game Producer Do? - 80 Level Round Table

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

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 

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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


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