Last week in Randell Hall Drexel’s game design program hosted Jeremy Lee, a senior producer at Microsoft Game Studios. The theme of this seminar was game production, and Lee was well suited as a speaker due to his vast history with both game production and development. His multifaceted outlook on game production offered various insights that were extremely helpful to the students in attendance.
Lee, who has worked with many popular game studios like LucasArts, EA, Square Enix, 2K Games and more, began by explaining the relationship between the publisher and the developer. He often referred to this relationship being a lot like human relationships, stating that when you are looking for a publisher, you don’t want to commit too early and sometimes publishers can “see other people” (assign multiple developers to one game and then choose the better one to continue production with) when they are trying to make a game out of a license they own.
The developer acts as the creative side of the relationship; either they are given an idea and told to run with it or they can sell an idea to a producer for funding. Once a developer decides on a game to work on, he or she goes through a multistep process, beginning with the concept and ending with the beta. Then the game is released to manufacturing.
Publishers, on the other hand, act as the business side of the relationship. They put up the money to keep the developer’s doors open. They also fund all of the marketing and packaging of the finished goods. Since the publishers provide most, if not all, of the money throughout this process, they are entitled to be a part of the development process, although this is not true in all cases. For example, when Lee was at Microsoft Game Studios when Lionhead Studios was making Fable II, he was told that they didn’t need to check in on progress as much, because Lionhead did such a good job with the original Fable.
Lee also outlined the process of game development, which is one that has always intrigued me. It all begins with the concept of a game; this is the stage when most ideas fail. This is a critical time for a game, because if the idea does not get funded, it will never see further development. If the project is picked up, then they develop and construct a prototype to create a style for the game. During this phase, the developer normally has a mini-contract with the publisher so that if the publisher is unhappy they can just halt production after this phase.
From here, Lee went on to explain that the developer begins the production plan, which outlines what needs to be done in the next year (or multiple years, if you are Blizzard or Valve). While production occurs on the developer side, the publisher begins marketing the game by using a demo to stir up some interest.
Production is broken up into these phases: Alpha, Beta and the manufacturer release. During any of these phases a publisher can demand to see progress and if sufficient progress isn’t met, then the publisher can stop funding the project. A project can still be picked up by another publisher and then finished – the most popular example of this was Duke Nukem Forever. After the game is completed, it is finally released to the public and reviewed. Now, it may seem that this will not affect production, but the publisher often uses the Metacritic score as a basis if he wants to work with the same developer again.
Though the seminar was mostly fact-based, Lee managed to keep the students entertained with various anecdotes about the industry, an open forum for questions and the appearance of Business Cat. Lee stressed that during college, students should try to get more exposure to the way the industry works. He suggested that students enter game production competitions or take classes that go through all the steps of the development process, which Drexel does offer.
Lee also stated that every development process teaches new things, and the more times you experience this, the bigger the leg up you will have on the competition when going for an interview. He also stressed that the three skills most companies look for are passion, critical thinking and teamwork.
Lee was very open to answering questions about the logistics of the process of making a game, and many times he followed up with personal examples of how he has gone through a situation similar to that in question. He also offered advice on how to become a registered developer and gave interviewing tips for graduating seniors interested in getting a job in the market. Altogether, this lecture gave specific insight for up and coming game developers and designers to take into their future jobs.