PRODUCTION IN THE AGE OF COVID-19

Hello All – my name is Austin Maestre, and I am a producer on Bloodlines 2. I’m one of the newer producers at HSL, but I have been in production roles for about six years. In my experience, production can be a bit of a black box – in or outside of the games industry – so I want to take some time to share a bit about the role and how it has changed during the pandemic.

First, let me acknowledge that the following breakdown of production is based off my own – and some friends’ – experiences and that there may be things that don’t apply to everyone who has ever worked in production. I intend to do my best to accurately paint a picture of production that fits with general understanding with a hint of personal experience.

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WHAT IS PRODUCTION?
At its core, the role of a producer is to make sure the game/project is completed and delivered. While the baseline seems simple, it gets increasingly more complex and ambiguous as constraints are put on the project. For example, in the pre-production (planning) phase of any projects work has to be to done to figure out: what is the intended scope/size of the project, how many resources (people) do we need to complete it, how long should it take us, what will the cost look like? These are all questions that production is often responsible for figuring out the answers to and then creating a plan informed by them.

Unfortunately, no project will ever stick entirely to the estimated time, cost, scope, or resourcing in each project plan. Maintaining, changing, and updating this plan – in real-time – is akin to being a bus driver on a crowded bus, where there’s no clear road to your destination, and most of the passengers have thoughts on how to get there. In some cases, the destination isn’t even really known. Continuing the bus analogy - it’s the job of production to listen to those giving directions and then filter, mediate, and align those voices to one direction; while also marking it down on the map so everyone knows the plan.

Each studio will define the responsibilities of production or project management differently. This is where the ambiguity comes in. At some studios, there is only one producer who oversees high-level planning and project maintenance. At the same time, each department (ex: animation, engineering, UI, Narrative) take on the planning and delivery work for themselves. At other studios, there is a robust fleet of producers that are helping on all levels, from specific teams to large chunks of the game, to the entire studio. Since there isn’t a single standard of what a producer’s day-to-day responsibilities are, it’s often up to individual producers to figure that out as they go. The resulting scenario is frequently a mix of concrete “paperwork” type stuff and filling the gaps for the project or studio as needed. Because in the end, a producer’s job is to produce.

PRODUCTION FROM THE HOME OFFICE

teams8.PNG


“But Austin, those all seem like things that can be done remotely and regardless of WFH mandates. Have things changed that much because of the pandemic?”

Great question, faithful reader. The short answer is yes; they have changed. The shorthand definition I gave for production is centered around concrete fundamentals of production. Specifically, planning, organizing, facilitating, coordinating, and filling gaps.

Those things are not the sole makeup of production, however. They are just the building blocks. The other parts of production come from soft skills that revolve around integrating with teams, understanding their needs, and supporting them in more profound ways than planning. To me, a producer should be someone who can advocate for their team (or teams) and affect real change because they genuinely trust and understand their perspective. They should also have built trust with the members of their team because it has to go both directions. A good producer should be listening to and supporting the developers they oversee - but at the end of the day, they are responsible for getting the project across the finish line. This can result in a conflict between what their department leads want and what the budget, timeline, etc., allow for. Building trust with their team(s) is crucial because it helps make those conversations more about the project’s quality and less about the business aspect of development.

That trust and understanding is not usually something that is easily cultivated or maintained. Like any relationship (work or otherwise) effort needs to be applied to keep things in a healthy state. This has become more difficult in the age of COVID-19 because popping over to someone’s desk to chat or taking a coffee/lunch/walking break with a coworker isn’t possible the same way it used to be. Those types of human interactions help build a relationship more organically and naturally.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to build those connections, but more effort is required to develop and maintain them. I guess the easiest way to put this is: the same types of learning and adjusting that we have had to do socially – during COVID - also applies to how production staff have had to shift to maintain the aspects of our jobs that are less about “paper work” and more about “people work”.

teams11-858e17.png



So, what could that look like? Let’s say a producer is working with a lead to define a spec for a feature. Pre-COVID times, it’s likely that the producer and lead would have an in-person meeting to kick off the conversation and then set some dates to follow up or complete it. Let’s also say that this particular lead isn’t a super communicative person by nature. If the pair have the relationship I talked about, there likely wouldn’t need to be any follow-ups until the due date or next meeting because the two would have an understanding of how the other works or what their needs are. In the year of our lord Corona, this interaction takes more time and energy. Nowadays, the producer and lead will still have a call – and will set dates – but if they haven’t had time to build rapport, there’s a high chance the producer ends up checking in more frequently. Not because they don’t trust the lead to get the work done but because they don’t have that same understanding of each other’s work habits. The higher number of check-ins mean more time disturbing the lead to get info. More disturbances to the lead means less time spent on work. Less time spent on work means… you guessed it… less work getting done. It’s the producer’s job to keep the work on track, but it’s also to support the people doing the work. It gets precarious to try and build relationships and trust at a distance while regularly needing to bug people about progress.

TL;DR
Production is an integral part of video game development for many reasons and, there are aspects of the job that got more difficult because we have less access to the types of interactions that help us work well with our teams.

Thanks for coming to my TED talk and I want you to know I’m super excited to be a part of this team and this project. I can’t wait for you all to have a chance to see what the team has been creating. I think it’s really special.
 

RagnarokCzD

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Hi ... @Feeona i feel kinda sorry, for constantly bother just you, but ... if i may ask few things, once again ...

1) I presume answer for Marc's question will be: "no" ... can you please comment on that, if you know anything?
2) Since we were told (not sure if you was the messenger tho) that developers are taking step back in DD's ... is there any idea allready if we can expect another one this month, or more like in distant future?
3) I completely understand that making another demo, or another video takes time ... time that can, and honestly should be used better ... but i wonder about videos that was allready done, but never shown to some of us ... for example this one:

Thank you for any answer, and thank you for your work. :)
 
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Hi ... @Feeona i feel kinda sorry, for constantly bother just you, but ... if i may ask few things, once again ...

1) I presume answer for Marc's question will be: "no" ... can you please comment on that, if you know anything?
2) Since we were told (not sure if you was the messenger tho) that developers are taking step back in DD's ... is there any idea allready if we can expect another one this month, or more like in distant future?
3) I completely understand that making another demo, or another video takes time ... time that can, and honestly should be used better ... but i wonder about videos that was allready done, but never shown to some of us ... for example this one:

Thank you for any answer, and thank you for your work. :)

Don't feel sorry about tagging me, it's my job and it's absolutely fine!

As far as I'm aware we're not scheduled for any big games events coming up but again, this could change and I'm not Marketing so I don't want to speak for their plans or step on their toes. :)
We're still working with the team on what we want to include in DD's going forward so at this time we don't have a date for the next one but it's still something that we're discussing.

As for videos, I can't speak for why some videos weren't wildly shown but, I can say that to show videos of really old builds wouldn't be giving you any "new" content.
 

RagnarokCzD

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As for videos, I can't speak for why some videos weren't wildly shown but, I can say that to show videos of really old builds wouldn't be giving you any "new" content.
Wasnt expecting that ... just wanted to see it. :D
But nevermind, that window probably allready passed, and it could confuse people. :-/

Thanks for answers. :)
 

RagnarokCzD

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I gues by now its almost safe to presume this month will be once aggain skipped. :(

Not good idea in this situation if you ask me. :-/
Remember how fans was mad about that long silence? I would recomend not do that again to them.
 
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I gues by now its almost safe to presume this month will be once aggain skipped. :(

Not good idea in this situation if you ask me. :-/
Remember how fans was mad about that long silence? I would recomend not do that again to them.

We're taking the extra time to work on our next Dev Diary. Yes we don't want to have silence either but we'd also rather not put out something unsubstantial at this time.
 
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RagnarokCzD

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@Feeona

Sooooooo ... i guess you probably know what i wish to ask ...
Last 4 days of "no DD confirmed" before us ...

Does it seems that there is some "DD possible" date forming on somewhere at the horizont? :D
 

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@Feeona

Sooooooo ... i guess you probably know what i wish to ask ...
Last 4 days of "no DD confirmed" before us ...

Does it seems that there is some "DD possible" date forming on somewhere at the horizont? :D

Oh I'm sorry, I thought I had mentioned it here once or twice but currently there's no date for the next DD, sorry about that.
 

RagnarokCzD

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Nope ... im affraid this one:
Was kinda last info we get ...

Some of us (yes, i mean me, just guesing im not the only one) kinda hoped that means something like:
Maybe in November. :-/
Hope we will be told, when it will be certain that in November will be also nothing ...
(//edit: Or is it allready?)

Thanks anyway.
 
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Sorry, @Feeona , but this whole "Radio Silence" thing is really the worst possible route to take, from a PR perspective, in the current climate. With the departure of Brian & Cara, I can fully understand why people might be doubting the future of this game. A truly meaty Developer Diary is therefore more important than ever.......yet we've received no real news in almost 2 whole months. You really need to have a word to the Higher Ups & insist they get something out there, ASAP.
 
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aaronshadow577

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Sorry, @Feeona , but this whole "Radio Silence" thing is really the worst possible route to take, from a PR perspective, in the current climate. With the departure of Brian & Cara, I can fully understand why people might be doubting the future of this game. A truly meaty Developer Diary is therefore more important than ever.......yet we've received no real news in almost 2 whole months. You really need to have a word to the Higher Ups & insist they get something out there, ASAP.
he's right ..maybe release a Dev diary this month November
and if possible please tell the higher ups no December 2021 release Ill take a April release maybe a may release in 2021 but I won't wait till December in 2021 for BL2 to release
Please give us something about the game
 
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he's right ..maybe release a Dev diary this month November
and if possible please tell the higher ups no December 2021 release Ill take a April release maybe a may release in 2021 but I won't wait till December in 2021 for BL2 to release
Please give us something about the game

You won't wait for a December 2021 release? I understand the delay is unfortunate (and the lack of communication is doubly unfortunate), but it's silly to want a game that isn't finished. No one should want a semi-complete or buggy game just because it's released a few months earlier. It will be unplayable and it would look bad on the developer. The game will be done when it's done. We just have to be patient. Personally, I don't expect the game to release until August 2021 at the earliest, but I'm thinking more of a November 2021 release.

Let's hope that a DD comes out this month to shed light on where they are.
 
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aaronshadow577

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You won't wait for a December 2021 release? I understand the delay is unfortunate (and the lack of communication is doubly unfortunate), but it's silly to want a game that isn't finished. No one should want a semi-complete or buggy game just because it's released a few months earlier. It will be unplayable and it would look bad on the developer. The game will be done when it's done. We just have to be patient. Personally, I don't expect the game to release until August 2021 at the earliest, but I'm thinking more of a November 2021 release.

Let's hope that a DD comes out this month to shed light on where they are.

Let's hope so..and I guess your right no matter what even if it's December I'll still get it since there's not a lot of vampire games being made..they do need time but I'm not trying to encourage them to release it in December of next year as you said "it's done when it's done"
but yeah I still like it and plan on buying it on release
 
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FZ400R17KE4

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No one should want a semi-complete or buggy game just because it's released a few months earlier
Golden words! Quality > release date. I'm frustrated by HSL team changes, not by release date shift. We all praying VTMB-2 story line and atmosphere being worthy of it's ancestor, even without our God, Brian Mitsoda, whose unexpected dismissal made thousand of hearts bleed.
 

RagnarokCzD

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Gold? Really?
I never seen anyone here, or anywhere else demanded "release now even if that means buggy, or semi-complete game" ... true, many people talk about stop waiting, but i allways understanded it as refunding preorder, cancel subscription on media, delete links ... and go focus on something else, where they have at least slightest idea about what to expect ... usualy Cyberpunk.

And even if ...
I have seen dozens people demanding informations, demanding answers, demanding sharing, and demanding openness ...
Yet i have never seen any response ... maybe except "we cant tell you" ... so even if there was someone who would demanded an early launch ... and even if there were more than one ... i wouldn't attach much relevancy on it.
 
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FZ400R17KE4

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Gold? Really?
Yeah really. IMO Quality is much more important than release date. Does phrase "golden words" mean something bad ? Cause I'm completely agree with your statements!

I never seen anyone here, or anywhere else demanded "release now even if that means buggy, or semi-complete game"
Excuse me, kind sir, but five posts earlier there was:
please tell the higher ups no December 2021 release Ill take a April release maybe a may release in 2021 but I won't wait till December in 2021 for BL2 to release
Which I disagree. Why the hell may 2021 deadline!? Hope this dude ain't planning to die by this date or something...
 
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RagnarokCzD

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It dont mean anything bad ...
I just usualy mark as "gold" something that is wonderfull idea, something inovative, something that excites me ... not the most obvious statement that was allready told multiple times. :-/

And that deadline i allready comented earlier ...
No one ever wanted bad game, when people are talking about "not waiting anymore" it means they simply loose their interest.
Once again nothing new in this forum.
 

aaronshadow577

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Yeah really. IMO Quality is much more important than release date. Does phrase "golden words" mean something bad ? Cause I'm completely agree with your statements!


Excuse me, kind sir, but five posts earlier there was:

Which I disagree. Why the hell may 2021 deadline!? Hope this dude ain't planning to die by this date or something...

Lmao no im not it's what ragnarokCzD said about intrest but BL2 is just one of those games that makes it hard to get over and so im buying it no matter what regardless of when it's released..guess all we can do is wait (which we've been doing so im stating the obvious)
 

RagnarokCzD

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Oh I'm sorry, I thought I had mentioned it here once or twice but currently there's no date for the next DD, sorry about that.
Hello again, @Feeona ...

I was just thinking about what you said in this quote ...
And i want to say that i totally understand that team decided to take some time to prepare ... i dont think that is best idea tho, but i get that this is certainly not my place to judge, also not what i wanted to ask ...

So my question:
Since there was never specified how many time this team will need to prepare for the next (hopefully big) anouncement, or DD ... can you please ask your bosses in our regards if there is planed any revealing until end of this year, and if not, tell us as soon as possible, please?
It would be great reveal for some of us. :-/

Thanks once aggain. :)
 

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Hello again, @Feeona ...

So my question:
Since there was never specified how many time this team will need to prepare for the next (hopefully big) anouncement, or DD ... can you please ask your bosses in our regards if there is planed any revealing until end of this year, and if not, tell us as soon as possible, please?
It would be great reveal for some of us. :-/

Thanks once aggain. :)

Hey, I'm really sorry but just like how we don't have a specific date for a reveal, we also can't talk about when a reveal will be. We are working on things but, until we've got it narrowed down and ready, it wouldn't be fair to tease and then not be able to deliver.

Sorry again but thanks for understanding.
 

RagnarokCzD

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That much i presumed ... i didnt want any reveal dates.
I just wanted to ask to be informed, soon if possible, when it will be decided that there will not be anything til end of this year ... it seemed fair to me.

But when you cant, you cant. :-/