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By D.S. Cohen

For all of you folks in the Tucson, Arizona area, come on down to the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend (March 13th and 14th) for a chance to meet the author of Producing Games…namely me, D.S. Cohen. I’ll be teaching two workshops at the festival…

  • Writing and Producing Video GamesSat 1:00 PM – 02:00 PM

    Integrated Learning Center – Room 137

  • Your First Published Book: What Every Writer Needs to KnowSun 1:00 PM – 02:00 PM

    Integrated Learning Center – Room 151


After each workshop I’ll be signing copies of my book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design and would love to get the chance to meet readers and chat up about video games with fellow fanatics.

While you’re at the festival you might also want to check out some of the other writers like Elmore Leonard or J.A. Jance.

By D.S. Cohen

In Section 1 of Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design we discuss not only the different roles of a video game producer, but also the various paths for breaking into the industry.
In addition to all the job boards and college programs, there are numerous trade shows that encourage careers in gaming. The most important of these is the Game Developer’s Conference (aka GDC).

GDC is the largest professionals-only game industry show designed as a “forum for learning, inspiration, and networking for the creators of computer, console, handheld, mobile, and online games.”

While the primary GDC takes place in San Francisco, there are four different GDC shows per year. The upcoming ones are…

  • GDC Austin – September 15-18, 2009 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, TX
  • GDC China –  October 11-13, 2009  at the Shanghai International Convention Center in Shanghai, China
  • GDC (primary show in San Francisco) – March 9-13, 2010 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA
  • GDC Canada – May 6-7, 2010 at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Center in Vancouver, BC
  • GDC Europe – August 16-18, 2010 at the Cologne Congress Center East in Cologne, Germany


Each show features panels and roundtables with industry pros discussing the development, creative and business side of making games, a exhibitor floor, socials and networking mixers and recruiters seeking out talent for both developers and publishers.

The price of admission ranges depending on what parts of the game you want to show. The basic “Expo” pass lets you have access to the show floor, exhibitors, recruiters and all the other basics.  From there passes increase in price for panels and other industry events going on at the show.
While the panels do cost more to attend, there are certainly worth the price; (I will never forget Will Wright’s legendary presentation on the future of content at the 2005 GDC San Francisco) but if you’re going on a budget, then the basic Expo pass is a great value.
So how does this pertain to those who aren’t already in the industry but itching to break in? Well at the next GDC in Austin they are having a special all-day Career Seminar (Friday, Sep. 18th) designed specifically for students and those just looking to get their game career started. Not only does it provide insight and access to working in the business, but you also gain access to the exhibitor floor where you can rub elbows with seasoned professionals.
The Career Seminar at GDC Austin is a separate pass that can be acquired through the GDC Austin website or at the show.
If you end up visiting any of the Game Developer Conferences, be sure to pick up a copy of our book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design at the GDC Bookstore, or you can order it right now by clicking on the title.

by D.S. Cohen

This guide is a bonus chapter to the book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design by D.S. Cohen and Sergio A. Bustamante II. For more information please refer to the chapters on management, organization, scheduling and planing in Producing Games.

Once the book was completed I asked a few friends to look it over and get their thoughts. One of them pointed out that there was nothing in the book on maintaining any kind of quality of life outside of work. I slapped my head…”of course, how could I have forgotten”.

Well the reason it was overlooked was simple, for most folks on the production side quality of life is typically one of the last things you think of, mainly because there is too much work to do. This is the very reason my friend brought it up. As wife to an industry veteran she knows all too well of the tug of war her hubby must face every day between work and family. (By the way, he’s a terrific family man and talks about them all the time with great pride.)


Across the board, the job market today is the worst it’s been in decades. At a time when technology jobs are being farmed out of the country in record numbers, companies are focused more on increasing their bottom line through layoffs, hiring fewer staffers and tripling up the workload on those that remain. For the working world trying to maintain any quality of life in any industry is an extraordinary challenge.

While this is something that has progressively grown over the years in corporate America, it’s been around for much longer in the video game industry. Long hours that would be considered ridiculous in non-gaming jobs are considered the norm when working in the world of games.

This very subject was the topic of a (temporarily) industry shaking event when in 2004 the spouse of an industry pro anonymously blogged about frustrations with her husband’s video game publishing employer who required production teams consistently work 12 hours a day, for as much as 7 days a week, with no end or compensation in sight. Her story spread like wildfire through the video game industry and was soon picked up by major news outlets. This broke the damn of long overdue flack for unfair business practices against employees and resulted in numerous lawsuits against the publisher.

The fallout and negative publicity caused by that single anonymous blogger had most of the larger companies requiring employees leave after an 8 hour day. However most never bothered to cut back on the workload or hire more employees to take care of the overflow.

Within a few short years it wouldn’t matter what the negative practices were in the video game industry. Due to the poor economy nearly all business now require long hours, tight deadlines and understaffed teams. So for those of us in video games it was back to business as usual.


Quality of life still remains a major issue to the point that the International Game Developers Association (IDGA) has set up a Quality Of Life Advocacy Committee to study the and improve the quality of life for development studios in the industry and encourage fair practices for developers and their employees.


While it is impossible to completely change the industry and its work philosophies, there are steps you can take to your own approach that will help you and your team a reasonable quality of life throughout the production process. Keep in mind these are all easier said than done, but nothing worth having, including a personal life, is easy.

The truth is, if you’re working for a reasonable company that doesn’t mandate long hours as the norm or only consider those willing to forgo a personal life as dedicated employees, an overworked and overburden team is often the fault of a disorganized and unfocused producer.


Make sure your team has enough time to complete the tasks expected. Next-gen console games cannot be made quickly. Even the most basic game needs at least 14 months to develop. While there have been those made on shorter timelines you can certainly bet that quality of both the finished game and the lives of the team suffered. Console games made in 8 to 12 months typically fail and hurt developers, publishers and each individual team member.

In my professional carrier I’ve only witnessed three next-gen console games given a production cycle of less than 8 months.  One reviewed in the low 50s and although it shipped, retailers didn’t bother putting it on their shelves, another reviewed in the 30s and was a financial disaster, and the third was so bad that even first parties refused to allow it to release for their platforms.


The most overlooked elements when planning out a schedule are vacations and holidays. When scheduling out the project the ways you plan out the time and due dates are critical. Don’t ever schedule submission crunches directly before, during or after holidays. Typically those are the weeks folks are planning vacations or time out of the office, and the absolute notorious times are the week of Thanksgiving and the time between Christmas and New Years. Religious days of observance also factor in. You can’t and shouldn’t schedule an employee to be working during their high holidays, so these are all dates to be aware of when making the production plans.

In addition to office and religious holidays, you need to plan for employee holidays. Not only does everyone need a break at some point, but you can’t expect them to know when they will want to take a day or two off a year in advance, but you need to require that they let you know as early as possible so you can make the proper adjustments to the workflow.

There are times that you don’t want anyone taking time off. These are during crunch mode, the week of milestone submissions and right before the Christmas holiday. The industry pretty much shuts down between Christmas and New Years, so there will be lots of work to do in preparation for this dry spell.

For more on scheduling and planning, please refer to Section 3 – Scheduling and Structure in Producing Games. There we go step-by-step in structuring a proper schedule.


From the very beginning of the project you should be considering quality of life, especially when working out what the game will be. Timelines should be set before production starts, so when specing out a game with a short dev cycle, don’t make it overambitious when you don’t have the time to follow-though with your plans or promises. Even games with longer dev cycles can be too large for the time allowed.

Too many teams take on games that are physically impossible to make in the timeline agreed upon. This leads to everyone working ridiculous hours and no time to focus on quality. There is no reward at the end of this path, especially for the producer. Games like this are rarely well received, tend to lose money, generate poor reviews and cause enormous strains on professional relationships and careers.

To learn more on judging the scale of your game, go to Chapter 5 – Size and Scope in Producing Games.


If stuck with a full console game with a short schedule it’s extremely important to communicate upwards what the quality expectations should be. This doesn’t mean your game is going to be bad, there are loads of fun and addictive games made on small budgets and short cycles. You just need to let management know that they shouldn’t expect the next Grand Theft Auto or God of War. Set a quality bar based on resources and time, and get their sign-off on it.


A fellow professional in the biz once told me a golden nugget of advice that I’ve always strived to maintain, regardless of how difficult of a task it is. That advice is…

Only care as much as the client does.

Those are words to truly live by. Remember, no matter how much of yourself you’ve put into a game, no matter how passionate you are, if you’re working for a developer or publisher, you don’t own the game; the publisher and/or developer does.

If you’re finding executive producers, directors, and the rest of the higher ups rushing to leave early, coming in late, and refusing to work overtime, why should your team work endless intense hours? Leaders should be leading by example and if the execs don’t think they should be working crazy hours, they shouldn’t be expecting it of the production team.

Now understand you need to take a mature approach to this philosophy. You’re job is still to put out a high quality game, so during the work day you and your team should be doing their all and functioning at 100%. After an 8 hour work day where you and the team have put in a solid 8 hour day of work, there should be nothing wrong with going home, especially if the bosses are doing the same.

Leading though example is also something that falls on your shoulders as well. Don’t ever take your team for granted. Always consider yourself one of them and share in the efforts. If they have to work late to meet a deadline, so should you. You’ll never get the respect you need without pulling an equal load.


A disorganized producer will have a disorganized project. This causes chaos throughout the team which results in late hours and overwhelming, inefficient workloads. In the book, Producing Games, we go over many of the tools, techniques and philosophies on personal and professional organization.

Tips, tools and styles of being an organized producer can be found in Section Four – Managing Your Project, Your Team, Your Time and Yourself in Producing Games.

by D.S. Cohen

This guide is a companion piece to the book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design by D.S. Cohen and Sergio A. Bustamante II. To gain a full understanding of the milestone schedule, deliverables, terms and structure, please refer to Chapter 16 of Producing Games.

Before You Begin

When using this guide for building a milestone schedule, please refer to the free downloadable Milestone Schedule template. This will help give you a visual reference to each stage.


The Preliminaries

Our fictional game that we will be using as an example in our milestone schedule is Robot With a Gun, a mid-budgeted Xbox 360 and PS3 title planned for a holiday release in 2010.

 After specking out the project, running the P&Ls and calculating a budget, the game is granted with a 14 month development cycle. This is a tight timeline for a Next-Gen console game, but not untypical.

If the game needs to be on store shelves for the holiday, the best range to hit is a little before Black Friday, so let’s say our ship date is Tuesday Nov. 16th 2010. That means the production for the game, starting with the concept stage, would have to begin no later than August 2009.

You might be wondering why August 2009 when its 15 months from the ship date? That’s because you need to allow time for manufacturing and distribution.


First get the following information from your operations group.

  • How much time do they need for first party submissions? Make sure this is padded with time for resubmissions as games are rarely approved in their first round.
  • How much time is needed for manufacturing? This number will also need to be padded as your Release to Manufacture (RTM) build might also need to be resubmitted a few times.


Start at the End, and Work Your Way Backwards

Let’s say operations needs at least 6 weeks for manufacturing and distribution (which includes padding for RTM resubs). You should then take your ship date and move backwards as you build your schedule timeline.

Since we know our ship date is Tuesday Nov. 16th 2010, when we count backwards, our RTM build needs to be completed and delivered to the publisher on Oct. 8th 2010. This is a FIRM DATE. Any tweaking of this date will likely result in the game missing its ship date (see chapter 13 in Producing Games for the consequences of missing your ship date).

NOTE: You might have noticed that I’ve added two days to the RTM due date. This is a personal preference as I like to have milestones in on Fridays and at the same time every month (in this case the second Friday of every month). This helps everyone to remember when a milestone is due in any given month. One of the reasons I’ve chosen the second Friday of every month is that it rarely falls on a holiday or typical vacation times. The last thing you want is a submission due when everyone should be out of the office.

As the RTM relates to the completion of the game then we can also move forward another two weeks for the Archiving. This will make the Archiving deliverable due on Oct. 22nd. This is the only time we’ll be moving ahead when building our schedule. From here on in we’ll be working backwards.

Padding Your Gold Master Candidate Submissions

Our Ops group has allowed five weeks for first party submissions of the Gold Master Candidate. Personally I like to pad my submissions, so I’m going to have it come in a week before that, to allow for extra time in case it gets rejected multiple times.

For Robot with A Gun we are going to have the 360 version as the lead sku, followed by the PS3 build. Throughout most of production the PS3 will lag behind the 360, and in the schedule we will be providing a week between the GMC submission for the 360 and the PS3. That way the majority of focus will be on the single sku in preparation for submission, rather than having to split the teams attention between the two.

Because of this, and because we want to pad for resubmissions, we are going to go back another 6 weeks for the GMC due date. This will make the Xbox 360 GMC due date August 13th, 2010, and the PS3 a week later on August 27st, 2010.

Is Padding Bad?

At this point you can see how early you must plan to meet your game’s release. Something could go wrong months before the ship date having a ripple effect that will still be affecting things months later.

Some might say I am over padding the schedule, but this will only help. Few games have been completed without a hiccup or two, and you’ll find by the time you hit these dates you’ll be grateful to have the extra cushion of time.

Alpha and Beta

The time between Beta and GMC is typically the most intense as the team needs to fix all of the major bugs (prioritized by A, B or C bugs based on how they effect the player experience) which is a grueling task.

Some like to only give two weeks between Alpha and Beta, but as I’m notoriously cautious, I give it a full month. If we had more time in our schedule, I would actually break the Alpha deliveries across two months, with an Alpha 1 and Alpha 2. The goal of this is to allow everyone time to make sure the game is exactly where we want it to be before adding the final touches in Beta.

You can adjust the template for what you feel is best, but for these purposes were going to have Alpha due on June 6th, 2010 and the Beta on July 9th, 2010.

Concept, Pre-Pro and Production

What you have left at this point is 10 months for the concepting, pre-production and production stages. See how quickly your time slips away?

The length of time you provide to each of these stages all depends on you and your team’s styles and philosophies. While I prefer dedicating the bulk of the time to the production stages, others, such as my co-author on the book, prefer to dedicate the max time to pre-production as you can see on the milestone example in Chapter 2 of Producing Games.

Because I like to put the bulk of the time in the production stage, for the template example I am assigning one month for concepting, three months for pre-production, and six months for production. These are all very tight timelines, but as you’ll find in the world of video games we are constantly faced with tense development schedules.

This will make our first Production deliverable land on Dec. 11th 2009, continue to Jan. 8th 2010, Feb. 12th 2010, March 12th 2010, April 9th, 2010 and hit Pre-Alpha on May 14th, 2010.

Continuing to work our way backwards, the three months of Pre-Production will have the first deliverable due on September, 11th, 2009, October 9th, 2009, and end on November 13th, 2009.

Finally the beginning of our project is a single month due in on August 14th, 2009.


If you have more/less time, you can add months in to concepting or pre-production, whatever you feel is the right amount of time for your team to focus on what needs to be completed.

For more information on milestones, scheduling and deliverables please check out our book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design.

Order Here: Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design

By D.S. Cohen

This is a companion piece to the book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design by D.S. Cohen and Sergio A. Bustamante II. To gain a full understanding of the milestone schedule, deliverables, terms and structure, please refer to Chapter 16 of Producing Games.

At the beginning of a project, one of the more important duties of a video game producer is to plan out the production schedule including each and every deliverable. Planning carefully and sticking to your due dates will make sure the project stays on track.

To help you get started we’ve got a free downloadable Milestone Schedule Template as a special bonus.


For information on how to use this template, please check out the Online Bonus Chapter – Guide to Creating a Milestone Schedule, and refer to our book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design by D.S. Cohen and Sergio A. Bustamante II.

Purchase Producing Games here!

The advance copies of ‘Producing Games’ has arrived! It should be available in stores next week!

You can pre-order the book through!

Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design by D.S. Cohen and Sergio A. Bustamante II

Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design by D.S. Cohen and Sergio A. Bustamante II