Throughout my many chats with game studios, I’ve realized that game producers are the main “product” people who help drive for game success. But should game studios establish a “product culture?”
The obvious fundamental difference is that the game is the product. This cascades down to everything else. Users are gamers, and a gamer experience is different and should be measured in a tailored way.
But let’s step back to define what the core differences between game producers and tech product managers really are. Thankfully, from my numerous conversations with game producers and the like, I was able to summarize the following key points:
- Help with the execution of the game by ensuring cross-functional teams are on track, noting potential bottlenecks, unblocking teammates, and raising issues with leadership when appropriate.
- Manage, schedule, and outline game development tasks together with game designers, writers, engineers, artists and other teams.
- Establishing partnerships with publishers, vendors, and more.
- Collecting valuable feedback from gamers on all parts of the whole gamer experience by empathizing with their needs.
- Plan all work items across a doable timeframe, and then ensure all work items and deliverables are completed on time.
Tech Product Managers
- Define the strategy and general direction of your product/feature, and how that aligns with organizational direction, leadership, business impact, and goals for success.
- Analyze data and customer/user feedback to improve product current functions and capabilities.
- Evangelize the product/feature across various platforms both internally and externally.
- Collaborate with engineering, design, and other teams to strategize and execute projects that achieve product goals or KPIs.
One major difference between product managers and game producers is that tech PMs usually get to influence the strategy of their product/feature more. Their team relies on them for a strong vision and roadmap to success, and game producers — unless much more senior — get that vision from their director. Think: the legendary Eiji Aonuma — producer for the Zelda franchise. He probably has much more say in the vision than your average game producer.
Regular associate or general game producers focus on specific areas of their games, and it varies as much as the content of games themselves. Producers could be working on partnerships, unblocking work items, focusing on sound quality, creating accessible features, or even designing game content themselves.
Everyone knows that good video games, due to their difficult nature of development, are much harder to produce than a mere mobile app designed to address a certain use case. Reasons include:
- They’re limited in the different streams of income available.
- The first version has to be the bulk of the game (as mentioned above), so it requires more time and effort rather than a simple “MVP” which could pivot more easily if things go south.
- Investment is usually lower with higher risk of no profitability.
- The “value” is based on how good the video game is. Tech products can solve all sorts of problems for people and society, but for a game, it all comes down to entertainment value.
Determining that perfect “entertainment value” should be the center of a game team’s “product culture.”
From my eyes, there are tons of opportunities for game studios to become more product centric. The game producers I chatted with also agree on this. Teams should treat your video game like the beginning of a product and empathize with your potential users as much as possible. Prioritize on initial metrics, but don’t ever jeopardize that valuable user experience. Obviously, the “first version” — AKA the MVP (minimal viable product), should be much more complete as a video game — but that’s where the “vision” needs to be established from the get-go. I think game producers have the chance to dictate the direction for a project AND help with the execution of it.
Game studios can be risky because their deliverables are more waterfall-based. On the other hand, tech products are usually MVP-enabled, with sprint exercises in the form of scrum or kan-ban. The first versions deliver basic value before expanding for more. In a video game project, it’s hard to do that. You’ve got to deliver the bulk of your game as the first deliverable. If there’s no game with high value, then gamers won’t buy/play it, and it goes into the bins. A game needs to be profitable if you’re working under a publisher with investments at stake.
This is why games should be more product focused. It’s all about improving “product discovery” to maximize chances of success.
When teams become more product-led, it means a product team is embracing a “product culture” that depends on discovery, user empathy, and desirability. I honestly think that game teams need this type of culture ingrained before they start development.
When a team has an idea on a game they think will be successful, they need to really prove it and fail fast if they cannot prove it. It’s harder to do-so because games are not like every day products. They have to deliver immense entertainment value at launch and require loads of execution work. It makes building an MVP in a regular industry feel like child’s play.
- Ask tens of hundreds of potential customers if they’d truthfully play your game. Create a simple blueprint that captures your concept, and then just ask: “What are the chances you’d play this type of game?”
- Look into leveraging AI to help build their gaming concept or world. This can help make building MVPs must faster for a game idea, thus making it faster to test the waters. Imagine spending only 2 months rather than 2 years to develop a game and testing how successful it will be in the market.
- Research gaming trends more often and be on top of these trends. Open-ended gameplay. Narratives. XR. AI-integration. Higher-quality graphics. Stickiness. All these areas are examples which teams should keep track of.
This is just the start. The expanding use cases of AI can certainly help indie developers fail fast, now and in the future. Just look at this article by Rachel Kaser on the power of generative AI in game development.
My name is Kasey, AKA J.X. Fu (pen name). I’m passionate about (you guessed it) writing, and thus I’ve found myself deep in the abyss on weeknights creating novels. I do this while working a full-time tech PM job during the day.
Follow me on Medium for more writing, product, gaming, productivity, and job-hunting tips! Check out my website and my Linktree, and add me on LinkedIn or Twitter, telling me you saw my articles!