Creative Chronicles: Development Management
November 9 2021 | Legacy Project
Creative Chronicles brings together key insights, information and statistics from the experts at Creative Assembly. We hope this will inspire students and those considering a career in game development.
This edition of Creative Chronicles focuses on Production or Development Management.
Producers (Development Managers or Game Producers) are the ones who keep projects progressing towards delivery, while working with all the development disciplines to preserve the creative pillars of the game and achieve the best possible player experience.
As a development manager, you are surrounded by people who can find creative solutions to complex problems and it’s your responsibility to help them foresee these problems and apply solutions. The production team are the communication centre for the project, ensuring each member of the team understands where they are and where they need to be, and crucially, helping them to work with a complete understanding of how their features will fit within the finished game. This is overseen by a Development Director, with Producers managing a specific area of the project such as art or tools.
THE SKILL SET OF A DEV MANAGER
A development manager has a wider holistic understanding of the project processes and pipelines. Their expertise is in facilitating the delivery of a specific feature, asset or the entire game, as opposed to creating these elements. Some start their industry career in QA as this provides a good foundation in the workings of development across a whole project, while others will have a more general project management background.
The role of the development manager is one that has changed considerably over the past few decades, adapting to the industry and the competitive market. With marketing activities such as live streaming and early access driving the need for quality stable demos, the development manager now has to deal with multiple milestones, and the team are working on a playable game earlier in the project schedule.
Leading the production, the development manager works with the Game Director and Development Director to deliver the entire project on time and to budget.
PLAN, PREPARE, ANALYSE AND COMMUNICATE
A development manager’s personal pillars are: plan, prepare, analyse and communicate.
Alongside your Development Director, you are continually estimating and goal setting (from a macro level all the way down to the micro detail).
Supporting the production, you have a variety of tools, graphs and indicators to estimate and evaluate delivery expectations, this might be done by taking past averages to produce a project timeline. It is productions responsibility to plan out the project milestones and deadlines, keeping the entire team on track and making constant adjustments for all the changes that invariably happen throughout development. Accurate finish predictions, along with subjective knowledge of the project's progression, finish projections, can be ascertained by measuring individual progress based on previous averages and setting the scope at the start. However as with all objective data, it must be constantly reviewed and checked to ensure it accurately reflects reality.
In an AAA environment, you may be working with teams of hundreds of creatives and these predictions must be carefully analysed.
The development manager is a goal-setter, but also a problem-solver.
While the data helps build a picture of the product pipeline, it's only part of the picture. The rest comes from discussion with the team as there will always be external factors that will impact the schedule, and the producer will need to adapt to take these into account.
Through this wider analysis, the development manager can foresee potential problems. With a broad knowledge of the production process as a whole they will be able to help identify what might go wrong, what has gone wrong, and work with the expert e.g. the programmer, who will be able to find the solution.
While planning and analysing data will help you spot issues, it’s through this communication with the team that you can understand the full picture and drive everyone towards solutions. Within a creative team there will be such a broad range of personalities and the development manager will need to bring everyone together, leading them towards solutions and being able to get the best out of the team.
This is one of the reasons why game production is such an interesting area, you have a holistic view of all the disciplines and work in an extremely multidisciplinary field.
You are analytical, constantly interpreting, evaluating, adjusting and communicating data to the wider team. This skill is far more important than proficiency in software and yet is often overlooked by those looking to get into games production.
However, Excel is the development manager's best friend and software for understanding time estimates, capacity and managing tasks, such as JIRA and Hansoft, will come in handy and are often utilised on large AAA projects.
- Mark Sutherns, Development Manager on Total War sat down with Develop and industry colleagues to discuss the role of the producer.
- Marcus Sheldon, Senior Producer on the console team, shared his insights about getting into the industry with Play UK.
- Iain Angus, Development Manager on the console team shares his 'Producer's Guide to Decision Making' on Gamasutra.