Moving from doing to producing

This is my first post, which warrants a bit of an introduction, at least to my mind. I’ve been a game designer most of my working life, which at this point makes up about eleven years.

Last year I took a position as a producer, which has turned out exceedingly well, or so they tell me. I’m in a good team of producers – there are three of us, one senior and two “ordinary” producers of which I am one – and the project is promising. It’s a triple-A title, you know, one of these huge affairs in the multimillion range, with approximately 60 people in the team. All that is well and good. It’s a brilliant company to work for, I have to tell you, it’s got an excellent company culture, welcoming and, well, the best word for it is “nice”.

But this is not about my success as a producer. This is about the sometimes, for me, difficult transition from creation to facilitating creation. You see, before this job, I’ve always been a creative type. You know, one of those that can sit all night to solve a problem and then, at the break of day, have a cup of coffee and in an almost sleep like trance, solve the riddle. I’ve dabbled in production. I’m certified as a scrum master, I know the lingo, I’ve taken a few courses, and I’ve led small teams before. But I was, and I still identify myself as, a game designer. Which means that moving from what I “am” to something completely new has been rather jarring. It’s a process of redefining my professional status in my own eyes. And it also has something to do with making sure that I don’t overstep my bounds as a producer. It also means being treated differently by the team.

Let’s start with the biggest hurdle. I am – professionally – no longer a game designer. There. I’ve said it. This is no little thing. I love designing games. I’ve designed games ever since I was in my teens and first discovered table-top role-playing games. Becoming what I loved to do the most was a dream come true, even though I sort of slipped in to the profession. In my eyes, my work conveyed an enormous amount of status, and it’s always been a point of pride for me, when asked, to say “I design games for a living”. I can no longer say that. I’ve carried a creative torch so long I find it hard to put it down. Now, when asked, I usually say that I’m a producer. And then I add “but I worked as a game designer for ten years before this”.  I’m not always happy only facilitating. I miss being the one in charge of the creative vision. I miss doing stuff.

I’ve worked out a strategy though. I focus on the good stuff. What I enjoy with production – which is the processes, and the problem solving – and with being in charge (oh, the power tripping I occasionally secretly indulge in when prioritizing work), and having responsibility.  Most of the time I know what needs to be done, because me and my fellow producers actually decide what needs to be done. So I focus on that whenever I feel a twinge reading through a design doc thinking “I could have done this”.

The second hurdle I’m working on is knowing when to shut up. I said I used to be creative. That’s not quite true. I’m still creative, I just can’t let it out as much anymore. I always have to think strategically, and keep all the limitations in mind. Do we have the time, do we have the manpower, do we have the technical resources? This has proven less troublesome. I do all the planning, short term. I know the answers to those questions, but it still hurts to have to say “no” to a brilliant idea, just because of time or resource constraints. Sometimes I fall off the waggon and start spouting ideas and “what if’s”, but I’m getting better at biting my tongue. I’m not sure I like it though. When I start having ideas, I usually write them down and save them somewhere. I don’t want to teach my brain that ideas are not to be had, to become too critical. I’ve tried to develop some sort of coping mechanism for this, but I haven’t succeeded yet. Let me know if you have any, I’d be grateful for advice.

The third part in my difficulties with becoming a producer is that the team treats me differently. I used to be one of the team. Now I belong to “them”. Thus my creativity is discounted, I am now and then told that my producerbrain does not understand how a creative person works and there is some resistance to processes that I know would speed up the work we do, because hey – I used to do that exact thing.

I can totally sympathise with the team. I used to think in a similar way. The producers where “them”, the lords and ladies, and we were the ones doing all the work. Turns out that that is not altogether true. Being a producer for a triple-A title is a lot of work and all of a sudden I understand decisions that were being made in previous projects, and I have a much better insight into – tadaa – game production as a whole. But it still saddens me to become one of “them” and no longer be one of “us”.

So, while I do enjoy my work as a producer, I’m still struggling with redefining who I am from a professional standpoint, and I’m guessing it’s something I’ll keep doing for a time yet.

Let me know if any of you have any good ways of handling such a transition. I know I could use the help.