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What does a game “producer” do, exactly? (exclusive)

Editor’s Note: Reaction to our first exclusive TERA dev diary and massive TERA art exhibit was positive, and the game itself seems to be doing well now that launch woes have been stifled, so I’m happy to present the next entry from En Masse Entertainment Producer Chris Hager. If you have any specific games or aspects of game development you’d like to know more about, shout them out in the comments and I’ll see what I can do. Enjoy! ~Sebastian

TERA: A Producer Does What?

By Chris Hager, Producer

“So, what exactly do you do? I bet you get to play games all day.”

“Well, I produce things. I product-manage, schedule various departments, and integrate everything into a smooth-running live service, while also looking to the future of the product based on design and player feedback.”

“Okay…but seriously, you must play games all day.”

This was a recent conversation I had with a friend when I tried to explain what I do. Being a producer on TERA is full of challenges, but one of the most surprising challenges is describing exactly what it is that I do. Allow me to back into this explanation.

I am a huge gearhead. I have loved cars and everything about them since before I can remember. I think it’s in my blood, because my near-two-year-old son is exactly the same way. Every morning when he wakes up, I take him downstairs for breakfast, and he asks to play car games. (Well, he makes engine sounds and points to the TV, but we both know what he means.) His favorite part is looking at each car and studying the details up close—opening doors and peering at the engine. After he’s inspected it all, we start the car, and his grin is almost as big as mine when that harmonious engine revs for the first time.

It’s this love of intricacy and detail, along with an appreciation for a well-made product, that makes me love being a video game producer. I’m like a mechanic. Separate, tiny parts, connecting in intricate patterns, combining to form something much more grand and impressive—that’s what I love, whether we’re talking cars or games.

TERA concept artWhat’s under the hood is the most fun of all. Most of TERA’s economy is invisible to the player, but the changes we made to the enchantment system and the removal of private stores meant manipulating countless intricate parts. When the economy revved up for real last week, no one was prouder than me.

Another thing I love? Helping something move through the design process. It’s truly amazing to watch and be an integral part of a product going from inception to concept, concept to design specs, design specs to implementation, and on and on through testing, and all the way to having a final product in your hands. To use the car analogy again, I got to see TERA go from sketches and blueprints to the showroom floor.
One “blueprint” I’m proudest of was the concept of a new, action-packed prologue—something early testers told us TERA needed. We brainstormed the idea for the “rainy beach” prologue, fine-tuned it countless times, and then tweaked it even more once we saw the response from players. Now the new prologue is TERA’s test-drive experience, and I like how fast it gets up to top speed.

To be sure, there are nitty-gritty parts that take away the luster of a video game career. Spreadsheets, bullet point lists, to-dos, action items. Did QA check this? Does Operations have Instance Matching set up yet? I need to check with the Writing team about the new voice-over scripts tomorrow. I hope the build hits the delivery schedule, otherwise that will put everyone behind. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night more times than I can count because mentally I know, “Yeah, I should get up and check on that.”

Now that TERA is live, those “get up and check” moments have added urgency. Real players are relying on us to make sure their instance runs are fun, their guilds are thriving, and their ambitions to rule TERA are in the fast lane. We’re keenly aware that TERA has crossed the starting line, but now the real race begins. These are the thoughts a producer has in the days, weeks, and months leading up to a major launch, mostly when you least want to think about work. Family time, sleep time, and the thought-provoking bus rides to and from work are some of my more common work-epiphany zones. My wife has actually told me that I was talking in my sleep about QA pushing builds live.

It’s not just a job, but a way of looking at things in a different way to optimize for efficiency and scheduling. Just the other day I was updating our launch master schedule, and had to stare at it for a minute to find my place. It’s intricate, detailed, full of bold colors and dates, details on builds, bugs, and optimal publish windows. It’s the lifeblood of what we’re doing because it’s where multiple departments go to see if we’re on track, what dates/milestones are coming up, and what we’re looking at in the next days or weeks.

It’s a challenging job, both to describe and to execute, but I love it like no other. Plus, I get to work with equally passionate people who love what they do as well—and with TERA, we’re off to the races!

TERA concept art

More TERA coverage from GamesBeat: TERA online art exhibit — TERA: A writer’s labor of love (dev diary)


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