About this Episode

In the Player Engage podcast, hosted by Greg Posner, guests Nigel Franks and Kristie Dale discuss several key aspects of project management in game development. The episode focuses on the importance of communication channels and reporting in managing large-scale projects, particularly when involving a thousand team members. They explore how multiple communication channels can lead to confusion and emphasize Brooks’s Law, which suggests that adding more developers to a late project can cause further delays.

The speakers also highlight the often undervalued yet crucial skills of organization and note-taking for efficient task management and avoiding technical debt. They share personal experiences about their organizational methods and the challenges they face, such as scattered folders and notes. The discussion includes the use of AI tools like HelpShift for organization, while acknowledging privacy concerns and the growing mainstream adoption of such technologies.

Additionally, the episode covers varying levels of collaboration and integration with clients, depending on the project and client requirements. The extent of collaboration ranges from close involvement with regular meetings to working on specific areas guided by the client’s producer or lead. The nature of the partnership and relationship between the team and the client also plays a significant role in determining the level of integration. Overall, the episode sheds light on the complexities of managing large gaming projects and the importance of effective communication, organization, and client relationships.

AI Transcript: Snowed In

Intro: 00:00: 00:15: Welcome to the Player Engage podcast, where we dive into the biggest challenges, technologies, trends, and best practices for creating unforgettable player experiences. Player Engage is brought to you as a collaboration between Keyword Studios and Helpshift. Here is your host, Greg Posner.
Greg Posner: 00:16: 00:37: Hey everybody. Welcome to the Player Engaged Podcast. I’m Greg Posner. And today we’re joined by Kristie Dale and Nigel Franks from Snowed In Studios, one of the fellow keywords studios that we are all part of. So we are all one big family and they do some really awesome stuff. And I’m excited about today’s episode. Before we jump too much into it, I’m going to let them each introduce themselves. So Nigel, you want to kick it off?

Nigel Franks: 00:37: 00:57: Sure. Yeah. My name is Nigel Franks. I’m the studio production director at Snowdin Studios, part of the management team here. I’ve been in the games industry since about 1999 and about software development for another 10 years prior to that with a couple of software companies, but always wanted to get into game development. That’s me. I kind of head up our production teams and I’ll hand it over to my esteemed colleague, Christy.

Kristie Dale: 00:57: 01:25: Hi. So, yeah, my name is Kristie Dale. I’ve been in the games industry for about three and a half years, and that was all with Snowdin. Before this, I did project management type stuff, but in different industries like construction. So it was really interesting coming into the games industry. It was just something that I loved and did on the side. And it just, I happened to cross the job posting and here I am three years later.

Nigel Franks: 01:25: 01:30: And we are so glad you came across that job posting, Kristie. You have no idea.

Greg Posner: 01:30: 01:37: So high level question for both of you. What’s the game that you’ve played that made you fall in love with gaming or what’s the first memory that you have?

Kristie Dale: 01:37: 01:39: Oh, you go ahead, Nigel.

Nigel Franks: 01:40: 02:50: Oh, where do I begin? I’d like to narrow the question down to which platform and decades, sir. But I would have to say, I also love games from the Atari 2600 days, but we couldn’t afford one. So I was always at friends places, playing on the 2600 on the TV with very different graphics than we have today. Definitely that. And from there, I graduated to the arcades and begging my mom for quarters. And she always thinking that this is a terrible way to spend money because again, we didn’t have too much of it. And then eventually through my work in the games industry, I was able to help my mom by buying her house at one point. So it kind of paid off in the end. So for me, it was definitely the arcade era. probably late 70s, early 80s, playing a lot of games. There’s no one single game. Though I do remember the most fun I had in a game was when the original sit-down vector graphics Star Wars game came into the arcades. Sometimes they would charge you up to 50 cents for a game, which I think is pretty cheap these days. Sometimes they’re charging a buck or two. But it was actually feeling like I was Luke Skywalker in an X-Wing fighter with really bad vector graphics, but I got to do the Death Star trench run and that was awesome.

Greg Posner: 02:51: 03:01: Was that the one that had those little rotary dials on the, uh, I went to a bar recently that had that. I was just like, this is wild. I have never seen this in my life.

Nigel Franks: 03:01: 03:17: Yeah, it’s very cool. So they had a, uh, it’s equivalent of a steering wheel, but it had, uh, two, two different rotary, um, handles on the side of it. So you could, uh, basically change the aim of, uh, of the guns on the, on the, uh, on the ship and change the up and down motion as well. It was a very, very unique controller.

Greg Posner: 03:18: 03:23: That’s awesome. Technology was great, huh? It still is. What about you, Christy?

Kristie Dale: 03:23: 04:14: So the first game that I remember playing was Top Gear 2, which is a racing game and is on Super Nintendo. My grandparents had a Super Nintendo, and so I always got to play video games whenever I went to their house. They also had like the Nintendo. What was the original Nintendo handheld that like you needed a light to see at nighttime. There was like no backlight. Just like the original Game Boy and I’d play Tetris on that too. So those were kind of like my first experiences with video games. The first console that I had was a 64 and I think that really solidified my love of gaming. My sister would never play video games with me but I just sat by myself and played games on the 64. So those are probably my first experiences with video games.

Nigel Franks: 04:14: 04:22: You gotta ask the question, Greg, like what’s the first game that we played all night? That’s where we know you’re really hooked on the title.

Greg Posner: 04:22: 05:14: Or that maybe you camped out for, you know, you went to like Electronics Boutique or EB Games at midnight waiting for maybe Halo 2 to launch or something like that. Have you ever pushed that limit? feel like… I mean, personally, my first game I remember playing was Dr. Mario because I played it a lot with my dad. But I feel like I was too little to really get it. And then I remember I got a Sega Genesis and I got All-Star Baseball and I used to just love that game. I would just sit there and I just knew at that point I wanted to be in video games. And this is why I’m excited to be talking to you. I mean, specifically you two because you guys create video games and that’s not something I have the ability to do. And I think it’s something that’s a fascinating fascinating skill to have, but before we dig too deep into it, just to be clear, Chrissy, you are a game producer. Nigel, you are a game director, or that’s what your LinkedIn title says, but I think you did multiple things there as well, right?

Nigel Franks: 05:15: 05:20: Just think of me as a producer as well, because basically I head up our producer team at Stonehenge Studios.

Greg Posner: 05:20: 05:35: So I guess, if we pretend the word was director, which I get it’s not, is there a difference between those roles? Like when you look at the gaming kind of hierarchy of people that are working, what does a producer do versus a studio director or someone else? I guess the day to day.

Nigel Franks: 05:36: 06:46: I think Christie’s a lot closer to the day-to-day these days, but I can talk about the specifics for a studio production director. For us, it’s Snowden, and it’s going to be different for every studio. This is one of the things I try and get people to really be aware of, that your title in one studio is going to be very different in another studio because of how they operate. Right now, we wanted to divide up the management team into different disciplines for one taking care of operations, one taking care of production. So that’s how I ended up with the title of studio production director. So I do touch a little bit of operations, a lot of biz dev and a lot of production, basically supporting our production teams. But that’s just very unique to us at Snowden Studios. I think when you’re looking at some of the traditional AAAs, my role is probably closer to either a senior director or an executive producer that’s got teams of producers working on a particular title or a suite of titles today. I don’t want to sound like I’m promoting myself, but it’s just more an idea of like, uh, there’s a, we have a team of very strong producers across our studio working in multiple titles and they pretty much report into me. And then I report up to our studio head, whereas the studio head myself and our director of operations and our studio TD make up the management team for how we’re making the major decisions of, uh, of how Snowden operates.

Greg Posner: 06:46: 06:51: Cool. Christy, anything you want to add on kind of your day to day kind of what it’s like?

Kristie Dale: 06:51: 07:17: Yeah, I guess. And I guess I’ll just say so. as a producer, generally, what you would hope is like a producer would just have one project that they’re working on, and they own that and they own the delivery of that project within the studio. So that’s kind of the difference in level. So like Nigel looks kind of over everything and over all of the producers, and then each individual producer has their own thing that they own as well, their own game that they’re working on.

Greg Posner: 07:17: 07:32: So for people outside of gaming, because that’s where my name goes, is it almost like product management, where kind of each producers, a product manager in charge of a few different disciplines. And then there’s a higher level that kind of oversees the entire project. Maybe I’m simplifying it a little too much, but.

Nigel Franks: 07:32: 08:38: More like project management and people management than product management, because we are not necessarily defining a product unless we’ve got the the remit to build a product from end to end for our clients. And we do that about once every two to four years, potentially. Usually what we’re doing is supporting an existing AAA production where the product management decisions on who the target audience is, what the basics of the game are supposed to be. Those decisions are made by the client. And then we come in and solve the technical problems and the artistic problems of making the game fit that particular vision while still being able to contribute a little bit to it as well. So I think our producers are closer to, for example, the electronic arts equivalent for what our producers do would be a development director. where they have members of the development team reporting directly to them who are responsible for the actual delivery of the product. Regardless of the main creative decisions being made outside of our studio, we still have a lot of input on how things are implemented and how we think it’s going to be a better experience for the player. So we’re not doing the direct product management, we’re more doing the project management and development direction for the game itself. And Christy, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Kristie Dale: 08:38: 08:59: No, that sounds right. I definitely would be more responsible for the people that I work with and making sure that they have everything they need to do their work and less responsible for the end result of the product or the game. It’s more of the people management side of things for me.

Greg Posner: 08:59: 09:01: So you would say you’re extremely organized.

Kristie Dale: 09:02: 09:04: I try to be, yeah.

Nigel Franks: 09:04: 09:21: I would say Christy is hyper-organized. In fact, I take a look at how Christy’s done with a lot of the things and I’m thinking there’s a ton I can learn from her about that. And we’ve said it a couple of times in many conversations and I was saying like, gee, Christy, I wish I was as organized as you when it comes down to getting all this stuff done on time.

Greg Posner: 09:21: 09:46: Organization, note-taking are all skills that are completely underrated and we need more people that are better at it because I know myself, I just have folders everywhere that make no sense and I’m just thinking, oh God, how am I going to scale this? What am I going to do? And I’m jotting notes in different places. There’s too many tools and it’s both a positive of living in this age when new things are coming out all the time and also kind of a good way to get yourself in technical debt.

Nigel Franks: 09:47: 10:17: Well, I don’t know if it’s because we’re nerds, but I definitely had a really good time two days ago spending an hour at the tail end of my day just organizing my bookmarks folders to make sure that they made sense and where I can have access, quick and easy access to information because I noticed that there’d been so much information I’d just been tracking. And realizing that some I don’t need, but I’m trying to figure out what I need for the day to day, what I need for strategic planning, what I need for staying on top of industry news. And it was actually kind of fun. And I felt a very strong sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, just for tracking that data.

Greg Posner: 10:17: 10:42: You know, I know the privacy issue is kind of weird, but throwing a lot of notes into AI tools are doing really good at like finding ways just to say, can you organize this in a way that makes sense? Or it’d give me like, I don’t know, I’ve been using that more and more often to make sense of my notes. And I’m just like, wow, this is so much better at this than I am. Like, it’s becoming more and more mainstream. And it’s exciting for me to see, again, the privacy aspect might be the iffy part, but we kind of ignore that right now.

Nigel Franks: 10:42: 10:49: So I’m kind of curious if I say, can you organize my files in such a way that they make sense? It’ll say, well, according to people at HelpShift who do this kind of stuff.

Greg Posner: 10:50: 12:16: I make sure to erase the help shifting keywords words every time I copy and paste, don’t worry. So Snowden Studios, for people that are listening and aren’t familiar, it’s a very, I’m going to say unique, and maybe you can tell me it’s not studio where they are part of the keywords family. And in keywords, we act as a BPO, meaning development studios can reach out to us or publishers can reach out to us, I’m sorry, and ask us to help with them, right? So Snowden, I think, It’s probably one of our bigger studios. If you go to their webpage, which I think is Snowden.ca, you can check it out. They’re based out of Ottawa. And some of the titles you’ll see when you log on right away are Forza. I’m making sure to say it right so I don’t get yelled at by anyone on this call. Starfield, Madden, all AAA titles that, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you are very, very familiar with. So there’s a lot of questions here, and I don’t know where to start. So I’m going to try and get myself organized here. But you recently recently, as in five minutes ago, talked about creative control. And that’s an important thing for a studio to understand. What are my limits? What can I do? And when you work on AAA titles, it’s clearly going to be a different limit than when you have your own title that you can completely have creative freedom, right? So, I don’t know the exact question I want to ask, but when you work on a project, who Who sets those limits? Maybe that’s too simple of a question. How do you deal with those limits when you’re working with a triple A title versus a indie? Wow. Where to start with that?

Nigel Franks: 12:16: 16:02: Is that too broad to start? It’s actually not because it brings up a really good question. And I’ve heard a lot of people say, well, you’re a service provider working on these other titles that somebody else has come up with an idea for. And I’d really like the idea of working for first party. So I’ve got more creative control about what it is that we’re working on. And from somebody that’s had the opportunity to work in first party, the amount of creative control that you have there is actually extremely limited. Typically, the decisions for how a game is going to be defined from a narrative standpoint, from a feature and function standpoint, at a very high level has been defined already by a creative director and their design team. So even if you’re on the design team, that creative director has absolute control when it comes down to what the game is supposed to be. And there could be a team of 100, 200, 400 people working on this across art, audio, development, engineering, all the different areas that go into making a game. And there may be a little bit of creative freedom and liberty there, but no different than if you’re a service provider, because basically we decide how we’re going to be creating a feature on the AAA team if we’re on the AAA team working for first party. And we have that same level of freedom on how we’re going to be creating and implementing those features as a service provider. So it’s really interesting to see that the There’s just a general conception. Some people may call it a misconception. I just call it a conception. But basically thinking that if you’re working for first party, like if you’re working directly for the publisher on the publisher development team, that you’ll have more creative control. I haven’t found that to be true. Typically, a publisher team will be divided up into all the different functional areas of the game. So you might have an area for UI, an area for audio, an area for networking and multiplayer, which can all the things that go along with multiplayer gameplay, an area for gameplay and AI as an in-game AI, not necessarily gen AI, an area for vehicles, props, weapons, worlds, tracks, whatever it happens to be, flight mechanism, if it’s a space flight, and each one of these becomes a sub team on the main team. that has one or more producers working for it, that has, again, one or up to 50 developers or more working in this one particular area. sometimes even larger if it’s worlds, for example, and there’s just so much art that has to be created. And take that across the AAA and divide it into, you know, the 80 or 90 or so different areas that a AAA has to hit in order to be able for it to be shippable. And everyone’s working in those areas and we just happen to be joining into those areas at Snowdin Studios to be able to deliver a feature or set of features that’s been defined in one of those areas. And sometimes we are the lead producer there. Sometimes the client provides the lead producer there. So I don’t think we’re that unique in how we provide those services among the 24 studios in Create. We have plenty of Creates, our game creation arm of keywords, by the way, being Create, Engage, Globalize, and Media and Entertainment. The four groups, I think I’ve got that right. But they all pretty much do the same thing within certain boundaries. So we have areas that we definitely share in functionality. And sometimes we’re actually working side by side with one of our sister studios and keywords where they’ve got one area that they’re working on, we’ve got another, sometimes we collaborate, all depends on the size and style of the project. Where we get more creative control is when a client comes to us and says, we’ve got this great idea for a game. Here’s our budget. Here’s when we want to get it out. Do you have game designers? Do you have our art directors? Do you have creative directors that can help us make these decisions and get this game out on a particular platform over this particular timeline? And that’s a completely different set of skills from us, from our design team. And then we put our heads together, figure it out, and then we come up with all the ideas and figure out how we want to get that into the game and finally get it out. I think that’s a bit of a long-winded answer to your question. There’s many different ways of slicing this particular pie.

Greg Posner: 16:02: 16:39: It’s great. It’s fascinating. It really is. And one of the things that first pops to my mind is, I’m just going to keep calling out Microsoft here, because again, looking at your page, there’s Microsoft games there, right? But they don’t have to be the true example here. But do they send people from their team? So if you start working on Starfield, does Bethesda have people working directly with you to kind of blend those teams? So you have kind of those mixed workflows, I guess. It’s not the right word I’m looking for, but like synergies, I guess. And that’s a buzzword, right? But like, do they send studio people to your guys to work together? So it’s the same feeling?

Nigel Franks: 16:39: 17:07: Well, we’ve recently come out of the pandemic, so there wasn’t much of that going on. But prior to that, for sure. And then sometimes when there’s a travel budget, we’ll go and spend some time in their environment. And if they’ve got the opportunity, they’ll come and spend time in ours. It’s the kind of thing we haven’t done as much of as we want to, but we definitely encourage it. about how they’re working inside of a group and with a particular Microsoft studio. Christy’s had some recent experience with this over on Ports of Horizon 5. I don’t know, Christy, if you want to talk about how the teams work together at that point.

Kristie Dale: 17:07: 18:21: Yeah, so sometimes it kind of depends on whether we are ending up owning a full feature or area of the game, or if we’ve been just kind of added to a pre-existing team. So say if we were working on like a certain gameplay area of the game, maybe they already have four developers on their side and we have an additional six that we’ve added. We’ll do things like we’ll have meetings with people and we’ll meet regularly and we’ll do planning together and it’s like that level of collaboration Sometimes though with larger teams we will be given an entire area and we just work closely with maybe one producer on their side or one lead and they just kind of help give us direction but we own that entire section and so we’re maybe not fully integrated into a team on their side. It kind of depends on what the client is asking for what they need from us in terms of ownership of the work that we’re doing. So there can be collaboration and integration of the teams, but it kind of depends on what we’ve been given as our mandate for working with that client.

Greg Posner: 18:21: 18:54: Building on that teams concept, I was reading a Reddit thread yesterday that talked about Starfield and mentioned that Bethesda still has about 150 people working on the game. And in Reddit fashion, people are saying, Oh my God, how could there be that many people? That’s crazy. That’s a waste of resources. And I’m sitting here thinking, well, you have audio people, you have visual people, you have, like you were mentioning before, Nigel, UI, UX, networking, and it’s a complex game. I mean, in reality, 150 doesn’t seem like that much to be working on a game the size of Starfield, but is it?

Nigel Franks: 18:54: 20:05: I just got to laugh at that. Multiply that by 10 and that’s a more accurate number of the people working on this game. Just take a look at the credits. Because Starfield is under a heavy level of secrecy, I found out that there were a total of seven keyword studios working on this title when the game came out and I read the credits. I fully understand that level of secrecy and we couldn’t quite collaborate. We were working on separate areas. Some were working on worlds, some were on weapons, some on ships, some on core engineering technology like us. I was really surprised and then we got together with some of our studio heads and were saying, you’re on Starfield? I was on, but and then it was really neat to see. So it’s not surprising at all that there’s still a core team of at least that size working on it. We are continuing to work on it with our client Bethesda as well. I can’t say on what or how, all I can say is that we continue to be engaged and working on Starfield. And it’s going to be having a lot of really good things to come down the line with this game because it’s got a very long tail when it comes down to the features and plans and things they’re looking to put in place. So it’s not surprising at all.

Greg Posner: 20:05: 20:30: In true fashion of a Bethesda game, hopefully it’s got long, long legs. I’ve been a big fan of the game and I play it every night and my wife makes fun of me still to this day, but love it. I guess, I mean, I have my own judgment here, but between the differences of working on a AAA title or versus, I’m just gonna keep calling Mindy’s, right? Like, do you guys have preferences based on your roles or?

Kristie Dale: 20:30: 20:31: You want to go first, Nigel?

Nigel Franks: 20:31: 20:33: You go, Christy.

Kristie Dale: 20:33: 22:32: Yeah. Okay. I can’t say I have a preference. Every project has its unique, like, difficulties in how the production is. They’re both extremely different styles of development and even just my experience as a producer because I’m not the person who’s doing the code. I’m not actually making the game. I’m supporting the people who are making the game. And what I have found in the past working on a AAA is my involvement in the actual making of the game is even that much less because I’m very focused on getting organizing everything so that we hit deliverables and everything that we need to do contractually with the client. And so there’s a lot of time spent on that. Whereas other projects where it’s not AAA, I find I have much more involvement. And so then I like on the project I have that I’m working on now, I can do things where I’m like, Hey, what do you think about putting this in the game? I think it would be cool. And some of those things have been picked up where you don’t really have that involvement with a AAA. And so like, there’s there’s that. But there’s also it’s really nice sometimes having the structure of a AAA and because sometimes it can be stressful the other way when it’s not the development isn’t so rigid. It can also be confusing of like, OK, what do we need to do? What do we need to complete? So there’s really positives and negatives on on both sides. So I personally don’t have a preference based on my experience so far. They’re both really interesting. It’s obviously really cool to get your name in the credits of a AAA game and you can just point at it in a store and be like, I worked on that. So, yeah, I’d say I don’t have a preference. But yeah, I think that’s it.

Greg Posner: 22:32: 22:38: Before Nigel jumps in here, something you mentioned and maybe it was part of your answer was styles of development.

Kristie Dale: 22:38: 23:33: Yeah, so I guess it’s in terms of production, I guess. There’s a certain way that AAAs develop their game, and there’s a certain lifestyle there, or sorry, life cycle, that you go through with the AAA. It is very organized, and there’s very specific stages. Where I’ve found with some smaller games, they don’t adhere to that as tightly. It’s not necessarily like Okay, we are very specifically in pre-production and now we’re at the point where we’re switching to production and now we’re going to do implementation. It’s a little bit more blended on smaller games. It’s like there’s still a bit of design happening. There’s still a potential complete shift in what we’re even going to make in the end. So it’s a bit more blended I find sometimes in smaller games. That’s what I’ve experienced.

Greg Posner: 23:33: 23:59: Hey, we test in production. I feel like I’ve played a lot of games recently. I feel like we’re testing in production. I feel like what you’re just finding is like the difference between an enterprise company versus a startup and how agile they can be. And I think that’s all making a lot of sense is where can we push the boundaries if you’re, again, Microsoft, you’re not going to put. production or test code into Starfield, where if you’re a smaller Indian, you want to test out a new mechanic, you might just ship it and see how it looks.

Kristie Dale: 23:59: 24:00: Yeah.

Intro: 24:00: 24:00: Yeah.

Nigel Franks: 24:00: 29:25: Thank you for that. They both have their level of chaos in a way. So from a AAA, it’s going to be chaotic trying to understand who owns what, how to actually implement a particular feature and the dependencies on it, because there’s no such thing as anything that’s completely independent inside of a team of that size. And there’s a really interesting project management concept called Brooks’s Law, which basically states the more developers you put on a late project, the later it’s going to get. And that’s due to the increased number of communication channels that are required for people to gain an understanding of the work and to report back on the status of the work and problems. Whereas you see that on the larger projects with a thousand people working on them, on the smaller projects, like a really creative, hyper-creative indie, for example, someone will come to you with an idea and you’ve got this really interesting time of sitting in a room with a bunch of your colleagues and the client kicking around ideas. And you’re thinking about, what if we did this? What if we did that? That whole ideation process is so fun. And then two years later, you look back and you’ve got, you know, you look back to that ideation process that grew into the game that’s out there. This happens on AAA as well, to a degree, more so with the creative direction team, but definitely can happen at the producer level and at the developer level. But it’s really, really rewarding to have that process where you are part of creating a feature and then you’re more likely to do that with a smaller independent publisher that’s come up with an idea for a game. But the chaos that’s there is that there is no structure because at the beginning, you don’t even know what engine you’re going to use, let alone what your whole art creation pipeline looks like and whether or not it’s going to work. you don’t know what your build process is going to look like. Because you start asking the basics of, all right, so how do I start playing this game right now for where the vertical slice is? All right, so the vertical slice was done completely in another system. It was just basically done with a little bit of fakery and poking buttons here and there so we get an idea what the game is. And it’s like, oh, we have to define what that build pipeline is. We have to define what that art pipeline is. Who’s done that? Anybody here done that? Okay, great. So you haven’t. All right, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do this, this, this, this. All right. How long do you think it’s going to take? Let me know. Let’s go out and estimate it and figure that out. So there’s a lot of there are a lot of times when that exactly happens because of that chaos. It’s a lot more work up front to try and define what that project is going to be. And with any type of project that you’re working on, there’s always going to be the problem of changes that are coming late in the day. So these changes end up somebody coming up with a really good idea. For example, hey, I heard about this really great plugin that we can use that’s going to enhance our player experience. And I talked to the company that made this and they said, all you have to do is just write one line of code and you can integrate this particular plugin or API, whatever it happens to be. And we always get a little bit suspicious of that because we know that technically that’s correct for technically one type of game or a slice of a game but then the actual ramifications of how that fits in with the other hundred features that rely on that could be a little problematic and could add months to your development time because you don’t know exactly what the nuances are until you start playing around with it. So Each of these types of titles have really interesting challenges, especially for somebody that wants to stay organized and put things together and find that path through. But there’s that bit of that chaos that you have to deal with to bring some order to that chaos. Man, I’m sounding like the Borg now. We bring order to chaos. But being able to bring some order so that things make sense and everybody knows what they should be working on and feels a sense of direction as to where the game is going, as opposed to, we have no idea what we’re going to be doing next. And that’s really what the producer’s role is for us at Snowdin Studios, is to make sure that everybody knows that direction. knows where we’re going. And sometimes a client that we work with and partner with will have a really good idea of how that goes. And sometimes they’ll say, we only know about the first 40% here. We need you to work with us to figure out the other 60% and where we’re going to go with all this. Whether it’s systems where some of our developers have a lot of ownership, like we had a project that’s been mentioned a couple of times where we had a developer working a lot on a lockpicking system that people were really, really happy with how that went. So that developer had full ownership of how that got implemented, but somebody else set the basic creative direction, and then the developer picked it up and ran with it, and that became a very popular feature. So each of these are very different. To ask which ones we like, it’s basically like, what kind of partnership can we have with the client? How can we learn? How can they learn? Do we like who they are as people? Do they like who we are as people? And then before we make a decision for the kind of projects that we want to take, we ask a whole variety of questions like, what is the technical challenge in this? Is this something that our people are really going to enjoy sinking their teeth into? Are there any moral or ethical challenges with this as well? Say, for example, if they want to work on something that’s not traditionally in the game space or is in a game that really pushes boundaries way too far, and if our people say, this is going to be something we’re challenged with, we don’t necessarily want to do that. So these are the kind of questions that we ask as we evaluate a project and before we make a decision to do a bid on that particular project. And we want to make sure that we’re working with companies that are are very much like us with a couple of different things in their values. Number one, obviously, they really love games. And number two, they have a strong people first type of focus when it comes down to how they treat their teams and what their expectations are and how they operate as companies.

Greg Posner: 29:25: 29:53: That’s awesome. You said a lot there that I found interesting, and just starting at the end, right? So I guess my understanding, and it’s wrong, and I get that, was like, all right, you’re working on a AAA title, you’re told exactly what to do, and you’re just marching in line doing, but you still do have that creative freedom, right? Like you mentioned, there’s the lockpicking system. So you do have the ability to kind of come up with these new cool concepts, even if you’re working on a major AAA title. And maybe some studios or publishers do give you that right, and maybe some don’t.

Nigel Franks: 29:54: 30:42: It’s a bit more nuanced than that. Somebody may have done the initial design for any one of these systems, and they leave it up to us to say, do you understand this design? How long will it take you to actually implement this, do you think? And then our developer takes a look at it, starts stripping it down to its component parts, figuring out if there’s already an existing architecture for this. Sometimes they have to define that architecture and then figure out how they’re going to do it. So, and as they’re doing it, they may come back and say, look, I see what you’re trying to do here with this feature. There’s a better way to do it by adding these particular items over here, dropping these ones here. And we still think you get the same experience that you’re after. And we think it’s actually going to be better for the user. And it’s going to save you some time. And it’s going to be easier to support down the line for any bug fixes, et cetera. And those are the kind of discussions that we as producers like to facilitate, or just that the developers have those discussions directly with the client.

Greg Posner: 30:42: 31:18: Is all this done from within Snowden? And I ask this question more so like the consulting type of thing, right? So when a customer first comes to, or a prospect comes to Keywords, right, they might say, hey, I want help making this game. Do you guys, or is there someone else at Keywords, maybe it’s just your sales rep, give you a platform where you can bounce your ideas off of, right? Like, hey, I have this idea, or like you just mentioned, like, I have this idea for a lockpicking mechanism, can you help me flesh it out? Like, is that your job as producers at the studio, or is it someone else’s at Keywords, or maybe you recommend another studio?

Nigel Franks: 31:18: 32:12: Yes. All of the above. It could be anywhere. It could literally be anywhere. So it could be somebody working with the business development rep at Keywords where the business development rep is fleshing out what the client wants to do. And they start figuring out, is there a good studio that’s the right fit for this, that has availability, that has the right skill set? And then he or she ends up facilitating the conversation that way. And then we have those discussions there. I’d say our Our sourcing for our projects coming in is probably about 60-40 based on 60-40 to existing connections in the industry to 40% coming in through Keywords BizDev. But yeah, it could be all over the map. So we might be having those discussions very early in the day with the client. We might be coming in after the fact that those initial discussions have been had. So it could be literally anywhere.

Greg Posner: 32:14: 32:53: Makes sense. It could be anywhere on the map. I want to kind of turn this into kind of pillars to creating the game because that’s something as I’ve been talking to more people, I’ve been understanding that different people have different philosophies. So the pillars around creating a game I think are fascinating. It’s something that I kind of started spitballing in my mind what makes sense. So, forget about the AAA titles and talk about just creating a game. When you first sit down, I guess, let’s start about the ideology because you said that’s fun and that sounds like it’s like every little kid’s dream when they start playing video games. Like, I just want to sit around a table with my friends and throw a whole bunch of ideas together and what sticks, right? Like, is that exactly what happens?

Nigel Franks: 32:53: 39:06: Sometimes, yes. In fact, that’s probably the most fun part, the ideation of what a game is supposed to be and either a game or a feature. Actually, the most fun about this is getting the ideas from other people around the table and you all start feeding off each other where someone says, what if we did this? And then you get another idea, what if we did that? And suddenly you’re going from one person generating three ideas to five people generating 500 ideas because as you introduce more people up to a certain amount, that ideation tends to increase in speed, volume and quality and all the things that go along with that. So there’s an optimal number for this and people have done studies about this as well. But there’s absolutely nothing like that feeling of bouncing ideas off somebody who loves games as much as you do. And you hear the ideas that they have for the cool things you can do inside of a title. And you’re like, what, can we actually do that? We can. Oh, okay. I think we can figure out a way to do that. Or that’d be really fun. We’ll, we’ll put that one in the bucket for like version two or three, because we know that’s going to take a lot of tech to develop. And on top of that, people are often discussing features that they’ve seen during this ideation phase in other games saying, hey, they did this in Title X, but they only got about 90% of the way there. What if we took that to the next level? What would that actually look like? And that’s so fun. And in the end, you end up with this huge feature list, and you realize you wouldn’t be able to do this within the next century, no matter how big your team was. And then you have the difficulty comes in pairing that down into what is the core gameplay supposed to be? And that gets back to the pillars of what a game is supposed to be. That’s always happening at the design stage. What are the core pillars that we want for this particular title? All right, so we know it’s going to be multiplayer. So it has to be a positive multiplayer experience. And then you have to define, what does that actually mean? Is it one-on-one? Is it one versus many? Is it team-based? Is it team versus team? Is it asymmetric, where you’ve got one person who’s extremely overpowered with a major weakness, and then six people who are underpowered with one major strength going against each other? We saw this with Dead by Daylight, for example. One of the pillars could be multiplayer, and then you start stripping that down into its component parts. Another one would be replayability, to make sure that people can always come back and get a fresh experience by looking at that. Another pillar could be, for lack of a better word, some games I’ve seen will say, not being evil with in-app purchases, right? So it means that we want to be able to have in-app purchases where we can make some money, but we don’t have to force the player to get into this in order to be able to pay to win. or pay to play the game. So from a design perspective, there are these pillars that are defining what the game is. And from there, the team can understand those pillars to find them out into greater detail, make sure that there’s an agreement on that. But then from us as game developers, we have the equivalent types of principles of what we want out of a game for our teams. Again, getting back to those ideas that is it technically challenging? Is it the kind of client that we want to work with? Is it going to be something that helps advance us as a studio or as our team? Is it cool new tech? that people haven’t touched. For example, we have a lot of demand internally for people working on Unreal 5 because that’s the latest and greatest, while still a lot of games are still working on Unreal 4 or custom engines where you’re not going to get the experience working on Unreal 5, but you’ll be working on this really interesting and sometimes challenging internal engine is probably the best way to put it. Because companies have made investments in these engines, for example, over time, they want to keep recouping that investment. And that makes a lot of sense. So they don’t want to be paying royalties off to another engine provider. So definitely pillars of gameplay is where that whole ideation starts. And it’s really important to define those up front, because it’s going to be really easy for your game to become something different than what you anticipated. six months, a year, a year and a half into development. And I think it was Jason Schreier that talked about this in Press Reset, where there are a pile of games that in AAA development, you don’t really understand the game you’ve got until two and a half years in and on a three or three and a half year project. And that’s because there’s been so much ideation happening going on. that it’s only in that last six months to a year, you finally understand what that core gameplay is. And Todd Howard talked about this with Starfield Development in a really interesting interview that he did. He said, I went digging into the game just to play and check out a couple of different features. And then I found out, and I’m completely paraphrasing, I’m probably butchering this as well. But he said, once I went into what I thought would be a 30 or 45 minute session just to see what the game is, and I walked out four hours later, then I knew we had a game. So this often happens with AAA that you’ve got all these great designs, all these great ideas, all these great prototypes. And it’s only once there’s a huge amount of content that’s been developed that you know that you’ve got something that’s really tenable for the long term. Now, this makes the certified project manager and me cringe and cry on the inside a little bit, because it’s always been the perspective from project management software. If you define everything up front, you have a level of effort for everything up front and you know exactly how long it’s going to take. But there’s one big difference in game development from software development in that it’s really hard to define fun. Because you can put fun on a sheet of paper and say, you can read a feature and say, yeah, that looks like fun. But until you see how it actually operates with the right art, the right lighting, the right cameras, controls, characters, like all the things that are really important for really good gameplay, you don’t know how these things interact with each other. Because there’s so much interaction in these systems. that you haven’t taken into account how these systems interact with each other until you actually see it. And that takes a lot of work to get to that point. Another problem that comes out of games that we don’t see in regular software is the concept of emergent gameplay. So suddenly five gameplay systems come together and you have a completely different mechanic than what you thought. You had no idea that this was even feasible and possible and you decide, okay, this is really core to what we need to be doing here with this game. Let’s make sure we focus on this at the cost of some other items that may have been developed for two and a half years that you realize are not as important as this really core piece of gameplay. Or maybe this core piece of gameplay that you’ve discovered ends up becoming something new that has to be built on. thereby adding stress, thereby adding potential for a lot more work to be able to still hit the deadlines for the game. So it becomes very complex or can be.

Greg Posner: 39:06: 39:33: You said a lot of stuff and I want to talk about some of it. But first, what I kind of like to do in the middle, and I think we’re way past the middle of the episode, is kind of like a spitfire round where we just ask some loose questions that you can answer and hopefully my marketing team can make magic of it. Don’t put much thought into the answers. Each answer, let’s say Christy, you go first. Nigel goes just so we got order. If you were to go to a bar, what type of drink are you ordering?

Kristie Dale: 39:33: 39:34: A whiskey sour.

Greg Posner: 39:34: 39:38: Sparkling water. What is your dream vacation?

Kristie Dale: 39:38: 39:43: Hawaii, I guess.

Nigel Franks: 39:43: 39:47: Walking the hills of Southern France along the Cathar route.

Greg Posner: 39:47: 39:50: Nice. What did you have for breakfast?

Kristie Dale: 39:52: 39:57: I had an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich.

Nigel Franks: 39:57: 40:01: Oatmeal with a heavy dose of protein shake mixed in.

Greg Posner: 40:01: 40:14: That’s a smart move. Way to elevate oatmeal there. I hear oatmeal a lot from all these people I talk to. It’s interesting. Last but not least, what was the last book you read?

Kristie Dale: 40:14: 40:22: It was probably from the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, A Court of War and Ruin. by Sarah J Maas.

Nigel Franks: 40:22: 40:36: I have the entire Court of Thorn and Rose series from Christie’s recommendation. I haven’t read a single one yet. I’d say the last book I read in its entirety was The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacicalupi. amazing sci-fi story.

Greg Posner: 40:36: 41:30: There we go. Off the hot seat there and appreciate your answers. Jumping back to what you said before, because I think there’s some fascinating stuff. First, I heard you mention camera controls character and I learned about the three Cs. So that’s exciting to hear that other people are using. Obviously, clearly it’s used by a lot of people, but it’s exciting for me to remember something and it’s exciting to hear that. But one thing you also mentioned was that the engine, right? You’re talking about people learning Unreal 5, which clearly it’s going to be the new thing that people want to learn because it’s the latest and greatest. But what happens if you come to a project where it’s a weird engine you guys aren’t familiar with, whether it be like a Frostbite engine, or I don’t know what Forza uses as their engine, right? Is it versatile enough where developers can probably switch languages fairly quickly? I know some will not be, but A, is that just a project you have to reject? Or do you kind of think, how do we do this?

Nigel Franks: 41:31: 41:37: How do you think we do this, Christy? You’ve had the chance to do this a few times.

Kristie Dale: 41:37: 42:50: Yeah, so we’re just laughing because the project I’m on, we are using a different engine than what we’re used to. Switching quickly is, I wouldn’t say that, but we kind of, we have to see who we have available to join a project like this. and who we think will be able to ramp into the new custom engine in a reasonable amount of time for the client. And it kind of depends too on the relationship with the client. So the client that I’m working with right now, they were really gracious with the amount of time they gave us to ramp into their engine, which made a really big difference for us. And it probably took the team at least like three months to really know what was going on, know what the project was and start to feel a little bit more comfortable in the new engine. So we don’t turn them down, that’s for sure. But it just, it kind of depends on a few different things. And I think we were just uniquely positioned with who we could have on this project to ramp in fast enough so that we could work on it. It’s not a challenge we’ll shy away from, but, It doesn’t happen too often, but we have done it.

Nigel Franks: 42:50: 45:35: We actually think of it as part of a unique selling point, a unique selling proposition for Snowdin Studios. And a lot of the Creed studios, I think, are very similar in that we don’t get tied into a particular engine. Us at Snowdin, we like to market ourselves as C++ generalists. And we’ll also be doing that with C Sharp, because we can do that with a lot of Unity projects, Unity being primarily C Sharp. But when we are looking for new developers, we test them quite heavily on C++ principles so that we can have people ramp into all these very disparate custom engines. I’d say probably our two biggest projects over the last couple of years were on custom engines that had over 60 or 70 people as developers working directly into these custom engines in C++. And the ramp up time can be arduous. It takes time to understand these particular engines. Some of these engines are still considered cutting edge, but the original conception was 15 or 20 years ago because a company is still adding to these engines and adding new features and still getting really great performance out of them, causing very interesting technical concerns from our side when we start finding out something like how is this piece of code written? And the person that originally wrote that piece of code is no longer there, there’s no one to be able to support it. We started asking questions about who’s going to support it, how do we fix this problem, then we find out, oh, that’s us. So that’s, that’s something that we actually really pride ourselves on, because that’s the kind of deep technical problem we like to work on. So there’s often going to be this type of thing where we’re looking into custom engines for clients, or we’re looking at custom engines and working in them that a client has been built on. And it makes a lot of sense if they’ve got a lot of money invested in this engine, they still want to be able to use that for future use. I think Ubisoft’s got three or four different engines that they’ve developed in-house. They’ve got Anvil and they’ve got Snowdrop and a couple of others that I’m forgetting off the top of my head, but they’re used in different ways on different games. And it’s really fascinating that they can continue to get the return on that investment. Bethesda uses their own engine that they’ve been working on for multiple years on multiple products, which is great. EA does have Frostbite. It’s funny that you mentioned that because we had to do exactly that when we were working on Madden. We had to ramp up on Frostbite and how that actually works. Frostbite was originally written for the Battlefield series, and to be able to use that for a sports series is really fascinating that EA was able to make that conversion over time, but that also comes with its own issues that nobody’s expecting. So the ability to aim down a rifle and shoot at a target and drive a vehicle is very different than organizing a full football team on the field, right?

Greg Posner: 45:36: 46:25: I remember there’s lots of stories about people that worked on Mass Effect back in the day that just said Frostbite doesn’t translate well into that world then which is fascinating because Battlefield is not an RPG clearly but I imagine a lot of the assets and type of things you do are the same but yeah, I mean… Custom engines always kind of fascinates me because Unity, forget the whole pricing debacle they had a couple of weeks ago, right? Outside of that and Unreal, they’re good engines, but clearly you’re stuck within the restraints of the engine. Whereas if you build your own, then you’re kind of relying on yourself, not the community to help build it out. And I don’t know, it’s this weird thing. And I’m glad to hear that it all comes down to C sharp and C plus. Cause when I failed that in college and gave up on my dreams of being a video game creator, I thought who uses C plus plus anyway, but I’m glad to hear. I was proved wrong there.

Nigel Franks: 46:25: 46:45: It’s definitely the strongest skill that you can pick up as a developer if you wanted to be working in writing code, like C++ is really essential. And it’s one of the things that we test for and make sure that people have a very strong background in before they come into our studio. And I think that’s been one of our unique selling points with our clients as well. We have very strong C++ developers.

Greg Posner: 46:45: 47:10: Very. So I want to kind of take a different direction of the conversation now. And I speak to many different studios and it’s been an honor. And I speak to people in Montreal and Toronto, but you don’t often hear Ottawa. I think Ottawa, I think of government and I think of the senators. So what is the gaming culture like in Ottawa? How do you guys collaborate? Is it like a tight knit group?

Nigel Franks: 47:10: 49:52: So some of us were here before the hockey team had come back. So you put Ottawa and senators together, you’re still talking about the government. Yeah, we are trying to, as much as possible, promote the Ottawa Games business and the Ottawa Games community, for sure, providing some support for game development clubs. A lot of our folks are part of the, I guess, the underground indie scene more than anything else. Back pre-pandemic, we had the Capital Gaming Hub as part of Snowden Studios, which is an initiative that was spearheaded by our studio head, Jean-Sylvain Sormigny, who is very interested in very keen on developing the community here in Ottawa and he’s been such a strong advocate for Ottawa’s game development community. At that time like cheap office space was given to indies that were basically trying to start up and we’re looking at doing the same thing again now that we’re post-pandemic and we’re seeing a bit of a rebound and being able to provide some office space for people that need it. So that’s one thing that they don’t have to worry about. And they’re close to another game development community and companies that they can actually be bouncing ideas back off each other, which is really important to us. We also make our space available for the Ottawa game development community for free when they want to have like meetups and start talking about different things. And we try to have these very regular sync ups with the Ottawa game dev community. It’s really important for us because You’re totally right. You hear a lot of news out of Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal in Canada, and Eastern Canada, even more so than what you hear about Ottawa, which is really, really interesting because we have such a strong high-tech culture here. I believe Ottawa’s got the, one of the figures that was used back before I left Ottawa, and I’ll get that in a second, was that Ottawa has the highest concentration of high-tech companies in the world outside of Silicon Valley. And the reason for that is the fact that we’ve got five strong universities here plus a federal government and people having access to grants and starting their own tech companies and telecommunications and software and a bunch of different areas, but games is never really big outside of a couple of anchor companies over the last 30 years that were developing games from the late 70s onwards. And oddly enough, we have some people that were at some of those companies with us now here at Snowden Studios. But when I was looking to get into games, I had to move to the West Coast. So that’s a four thousand 400 kilometer flight to get to Vancouver and start looking at that or go to Montreal. I was more interested in the West Coast. But I was quite surprised when I came back to Ottawa that here’s the studio that’s building stuff up here in town. And it’s really great to see. And that really fits with the vision of me coming back to my hometown, being able to continue to develop the community here. And for me, it’s it’s super important because we want to be able to put Ottawa on the map for game dev. So we’re trying to do a lot of those support things.

Greg Posner: 49:52: 50:01: How would you recommend people get started? Right. I mean, this can be a silly question, right? Like if I’m interested in making a game, how do I get started? What do you think, Christy?

Kristie Dale: 50:01: 50:11: Oh, geez. Uh, no, I think I might have to pass this one to you. Just, you want to, if someone wants to make a game, like if they.

Greg Posner: 50:11: 50:30: If I’m interested in getting into the gaming industry, what resources would you recommend taking a look at? Is there groups I could join to kind of get that, especially if you’re trying to do something in Ottawa as well, is there local stuff? I know Nigel, you started talking about different groups coming back, but is there any places you’d recommend to get started or, or maybe it’s again, too broad of a question.

Nigel Franks: 50:30: 53:59: Well, totally. I can talk about somebody coming from scratch, but I’d also like to have Christy talk about her experience of getting into games as well, because I think there’s a lot of value in that, too, because she brought some really valuable experience to our studio. The key thing for me is making a game and getting involved with people who are making games at all, so understanding what it actually takes. The interesting thing to me is that there’s so many people I’ve met over the last 24-odd years of making games and another 30, all told, and 30 in tech. Is that right? Yeah. Well, almost 30 years. Again, old man yells a cloud. So basically it boils down to understanding what other people have done. So talking to people who are in that industry and figure out what they did and understand that your network is really important because there are so many people that will help you get to where you want to go, who will talk to you about what their path was like, and every path into the games industry is absolutely unique. You can go to a school program, that’s great. You can go and build something on the side, that’s great. You can go work in an adjacent industry, in entertainment, or in software development, or in web, or you name it, where there’s some elements that are the same, and that can give you different contacts and different contexts to talk to people about in the games industry. For me, here in town, in Ottawa, for example, we’ve got the Capital Gaming Hub Slack site, where we have all of the local game devs talking and just sharing information back and forth about different events that are happening. There’s also a local group here called Dirty Rectangles, which is a whole pile of people coming together on a monthly basis, talking about the indie projects they’re working on in a local pub. And it’s really neat and interesting and fun to meet all these people that are doing these things. So that’s one way. For me, I started off in software development, knowing that I also wanted to get into games. So I literally started in tech support, taught myself a little bit of programming and databases, and then ended up running professional services for a software company where they invited me to be a partner and then grew that up to 90 people over about six years. And then when I moved to the West Coast, did a little bit of CRM. And then finally, because of my background in project management, I was able to you know, and my network talked to somebody in a game company, and they brought me in as their inaugural producer at Next Level Games. And that was a lot of fun. And that was still like a massive amount of learning I had to do about AAA game development. So I didn’t come in there as like, I know everything I’m doing here. But I do know about project management, I do know about software development, I do know about the basics. And in the meantime, it’s like, now I got to be drinking from the firehose of information of what it actually takes to make a sports title on Xbox, PlayStation, and GameCube at the time. So, massive learning experience for me, and a lot of fun. So, that’s one particular way. There are many different ways that people can end up doing this, but a lot of people have ideas on how to make a game, and unless you’ve got a game design doc, unless you’ve got a prototype that you’ve built, unless you’ve done the actual work, all you have is an idea. And a lot of people have really good ideas, but you want to basically be encouraging people to be doing something with that idea that’s concrete, and then talking about the next step. So pick up a free engine and start tooling around with it. Learn the art tools, learn the design tools, actually do that. A lot of game designers started off by doing level design, making their own levels for places that had games that came with their own level designers like Duke Nukem or Doom or Quake, where you can start playing around with these tools to understand some of the principles of what makes a really good level.

Kristie Dale: 53:59: 58:26: Yeah, I guess, yeah, going off of what Nigel was mentioning about how it’s, it’s interesting when you talk with people, even just like my coworkers here, and I learn about their backgrounds and where they came from. They’re always so unique, how someone eventually made it into the games industry. It’s, it’s actually, I feel like it’s almost more rare that I heard like someone saying like, My entire life, I wanted to work on games and then I went to school for it and now I’m here. It’s always some crazy way that they eventually ended up here. For example, for me, I went to school originally for history and museum studies. It was just an area that I was interested in. I wanted to work in museums. Then from there, while I was in those programs, I realized that I liked project management. And so I was like, I’m going to be a project manager in a museum one day. And it just, I didn’t really end up there. And I ended up in a few different jobs. And then, like I said, I just kind of came across this posting one day and I was like, Hey, I like video games. And so, and so I applied for the job. And, um, I really, I do feel that Snowdin, like it took a chance on me. Like I had the skills around project management, but I, had never been in the games industry before. There were questions, there was like a quiz, there were questions about the game industry and game development that I had no idea what the answers were. I’m still learning. You’re going to continue learning in the games industry. It’s a lifelong thing. But I guess what I’ll say in terms of how you get into something that you’re interested in and that you’re going to love, I sometimes think about just kind of the analogy of if a lot of people say, I want to be a movie star or I want to be a rock star and play guitar on the stage for the rest of my life. But if you look at these people who were extremely successful, occasionally, yes, they got in in a sneaky way and didn’t have to put in the time. But a lot of the time you talk to these people like guitarists, it’s like they spent every second of their free time in their childhood and growing up playing guitar. that was their life. It is what they love to do. I think, to a certain degree, when you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, you need to be willing to be happy with the road to get there. You can have the grand idea of, I want to work on a AAA game one day. Okay, great. You want to be a programmer? Great. What kind of engines have you played around in? What courses are you taking in your school? What do you know about the games industry? Are you looking at the news? Do you know what’s going on in there? It’s a bit of like you need to be happy with the road to get there and enjoy that whole process because once you’re here, you’re not going to want to stick around because you’ll realize that you don’t maybe love the process. I guess an example for me was I was in between jobs and I was I started doing YouTube videos for gaming. I would play Fortnite and I made YouTube videos and I went a bit into streaming as well on Twitch. I thought when I started that, you know what would be a cool job? Being a streamer every day because you see these people on Twitch and they seem like they’re having really cool lives and they make lots of money. and you think of the grand idea of making it as far as Ninja or something. But I did it and found out, oh no, I don’t want to do this. I obviously enjoy playing games and I love it, but it just wasn’t for me, the idea of streaming. But I did it and I realized, you know what? I wouldn’t end up loving to do this my whole life. You just sometimes need to take a chance and if you are able to just start getting experience in those things in any way that you can and find out, are you enjoying it the whole time? Like you’re not going to enjoy everything the whole time, but in general, are you enjoying the process? And do you know what’s going on in the industry that you’re interested in? And I think that’s kind of applicable to anything that you’re interested in getting into. But when it comes to games, you can love playing games every day, but I can’t guarantee that you’ll love making games every day. So you need to, start dabbling in the different things and get the experience and see how you actually feel about that. And then just keep going if it feels good.

Nigel Franks: 58:26: 01:01:45: It’s a really good point that Christy made there, especially like when it comes down to the love of playing games versus making games and the business of games, too, because you have to understand how games basically operates as an industry. If that’s what you want to do and make a career out of. Gene Simmons, the guitarist, bassist, I think it is for Kiss. Now they’re on their final tour right now and they’ve been touring since the 70s. When he came to Ottawa about 20 years ago, I remember him talking to a bunch of aspiring musicians at a big conference and he said, don’t forget that no one’s really going to care about your art if you don’t understand what this business is. You really need to understand that you are in a business and you have to make sure that you’ve got something that’s marketable. and no one’s really going to care about the art side of things if there’s nothing behind that that can actually be marketable. The other thing about like playing games is one thing, making games is a totally different scene and it certainly helps if you love playing games for sure. I’ve met a lot of people, managers in some of the big AAA companies that really didn’t last a long time because they’d come in with their big qualifications and nothing wrong with those qualifications for sure but they’d say this is totally chaotic I’m going to show you how you do software properly now and they had no idea how to how games actually function work and no desire or joy to to get out of games and they always found it really frustrating because they didn’t gain a lot of I guess, supporters when it came down to a lot of these things because the people inside the companies themselves who have been working on games for a while saying, you know, like, do you really understand what we need to accomplish here versus following a particular process? And when it comes down to the games that you love versus the games you love working on, I have a lot of people in the studio saying, what kind of games do we want to, I ask, we ask the studio, what kind of games should we be pitching on? What kind of stuff you want to work on? And we get a lot of really interesting ideas and, which is great. And then I remember asking the question like, If you worked on this game for five years, would you still love it as much? And I’m not saying this as a rhetorical question because I already know the answer. For example, I’ve got four or five games on my desk here that I worked on over the last bunch of years and I can’t play them now because I spent so much time playing these games in the development process that it’s not as fun for me to go and experience that as a new player. So working on an RTS, for example, I would love the chance to work on like a reboot of Command and Conquer General Zero Hour, for example, because for me, that’s my that’s my relaxing game. At the end of the day, I get the hardest mission on the hardest difficulty, and I try to finish it in 45 minutes without losing a single unit on the battlefield. And as soon as I lose a unit, it’s like, that’s it, I’m done. And I do a little bit of a tantrum. And it’s like, okay, that’s it. That was that was enough for me for today. Oh, I don’t really have a tantrum. I just get a little bit grumpy. But If I was working on the game, it’d be a totally different story. Would I still get that same level of enjoyment out of how units are moving around the field, how I meet an objective? Probably not. And it took probably 20 years, oh no, 15 years after working on a Need for Speed series that I actually picked up the game and played it again. And I thought, oh, not bad, not bad. But I could only play it for about half an hour, 45 minutes before I was just like, oh, I remember this particular scene. I remember the grinding we had to do to get through all this particular area. I remember the late nights doing all this. Still a strong feeling of pride in having worked on it. But I can’t go back and play that for another 20 hours now the way I would have if I just picked up the game off the shelf. The best way to lose the love of a game if you’re addicted to it is to work on it.

Greg Posner: 01:01:45: 01:02:26: I think that’s fantastic what both you and Christy said. I mean, it’s a passion project at the end of the day. You need to love what you do and you need to be willing to put in that grind. I mean, no job just falls on your lap and makes it the best job ever. I mean, you talked about kind of entertainers and like Taylor Swift comes to mind. Everyone probably thinks she has the best life ever and she probably does, but she probably puts in so much work behind the scenes that like, you’re tired of it. It’s not just easy. And if you love gaming, yeah, I’m sure it gives you that advantage because you’re excited to go to work and build this stuff out. But it comes down to like, I’ve talked to a lot of people in the movie industry that like, they can’t go see movies without criticizing it and picking every little detail like that. The love is gone. Like, you don’t want that love to be gone.

Nigel Franks: 01:02:26: 01:03:41: But it’s just the movie industry. Like as soon as you start working in cinematics and games, you will never look at any piece of visual media the same way again. And it’s Oh, my wife hates it because she’s like, we’re going to watch this and you’re going to be quiet. And I’m like, okay, no, I know, I know how they made the decisions on the camera angles on the lighting. I know which audio has been redone and most people can’t figure that out. But when you have to go back and put the audio back in for like the fact that the script doesn’t work or the way that the, the, um, the actors, uh, spoke their audio, you know, that they went back into a sound booth and redid that and then stitched it back in. Sometimes you can tell, sometimes you can’t. It’s like, we’ll fix it in post, it’s a real thing. And the same thing happens in games and cinematics. And as soon as you start working on all this, you realize like, oh, it’s very different. Every commercial, you can figure out, all right, I know this was probably done in Unreal, this is probably done in Unity, this was done with virtual production, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Not every piece of media for sure, but a lot of them. a vast majority. The more time you spend working games, the more you really understand some aspects of film production to the point where it’s a lot more difficult to really appreciate something for the creativity that went into it and just to enjoy it as a piece of entertainment.

Greg Posner: 01:03:41: 01:04:28: You know, you mentioned Command & Conquer Generals but my favorite game growing up was Tiberian Sun and you can tell me the acting of Kane and that is underrated. I could watch that every day and be happy and see those Command & Conquer cut scenes and probably made for budget dollars. It’s amazing. Yeah, super fun. We’ve been here a long time, and I feel like we can keep going, but I realize that you probably still have work to do for the rest of the day, as do we all. And I hope we can do this again, sit down again. But before we do go, A, thank you so much. This was such a educational episode to me and a learning experience. And I’m excited to see how I can put these learnings into practice. But before we do go, is there anything that you want to share or you want to just kind of prep or not prep? Talk about?

Kristie Dale: 01:04:30: 01:04:31: All right, go ahead, Nigel.

Nigel Franks: 01:04:31: 01:05:22: No, you go ahead. We love this business. We love making games about all the stuff about games is nothing without the love of the people that you’re working with. Like, that’s what excites me every day going to work, whether I’m working remotely or working from the office. I’m working with. The most interesting group of people who are all extremely smart, all extremely accomplished, very unique perspectives on how the world works, and we’re united by this love of games that we all work on, and that for me is the single biggest thing that I find so uplifting and so satisfying. So when you find that right group, that right studio, it makes everything so much fun. It makes your entire journey worth it. And for me, I’ve never been happier in my career than working at Snowden Studios because of that amazing group of people. And to that, I have to thank the studio founders for creating a really great environment for people to be in.

Kristie Dale: 01:05:22: 01:06:55: Yeah, I would have to echo everything that Nigel just said. Yeah, it’s been, I tell people regularly, this is the best job I ever got. I got the job I had before this one, I got laid off and I thought it was the end of the world. And then a few months later, I got my dream job. So it definitely feels like everything kind of happens for a reason. I guess the last things I’ll say, just kind of touching back on the idea of like how to get into the games industry. Yeah, I think just do everything that you can to network with people, meet people, learn new software. If you want to be a programmer, do your art, share it with people. Just do everything that you can to get experience whether it’s professional or not and make sure you’re enjoying it the whole time because you never know what event you’re going to be at or what person you’re going to meet that’s going to be the thing that’s going to get you into the industry. I was just at a conference and I just happened to be talking to one of the volunteers and he was going to school to be a programmer and he just was so excited about potentially working in the games industry one day. And I just happened to pass his name on to our hiring team at Keywords. And maybe one day he’ll work for Keywords. And I think those are the type of people we want. The people who are really passionate about what they’re doing, that they’ll do anything, including just volunteering at a games conference, just to have the opportunity to maybe meet people and learn some things. So just, yeah, do everything that you can and maybe one day you’ll meet the right person or be in the right spot.

Nigel Franks: 01:06:55: 01:08:49: I have to close it off with one other thing as well, is that Snowdin Studios are pretty contained within Snowdin for the most part, for the people that are working on their titles, but we’re part of this amazing family of studios all around the world. That potential is so awesome. When we get together at these groups, when you realize that you’re meeting with people from all over the planet, We all share that same passion and the fact that we’ve worked on collectively like the biggest games in the world for many, many years now, surrounded by other entrepreneurs or the game creators who are all part of the Keywords Network, it’s really mind-blowing. The first time I got together with other people inside of Keywords, I was like, I had no idea just how much potential we have here and how much brainpower there is here and the amazing things that we work on. We often lose, when you’re on the day-to-day working on your title, you kind of forget that there’s like the bigger picture out there. But when you have the opportunity to work with multiple studios coming together and a lot of people that are joined by a lot of the same values and principles, and it’s really fascinating to see, and it’s really rewarding. It’s kind of like one of those best kept secrets of the games industry. When you’re working inside of a AAA for five or six years, you may say, oh yeah, yeah, some outsourced studio named Keywords may have done some localization or some QA, FQA or CERT QA, or maybe it’s another keyword studio that did some art for us. when you’re inside and you realize just how big this is, it’s really amazing. There’s nowhere to go but up from all this. And the fact that we continue to grow during difficult times for the games industry all around, it just really speaks to the potential of Keywords as a company and all the individual studios that are adding to all that is just something that’s really neat to see. And it’s absolutely fascinating to me to see how this company operates and grows. In fact, here you are at HelpShift, right? We have the opportunity to talk. We haven’t had a chance to work together yet, but hopefully we will at some point soon.

Greg Posner: 01:08:49: 01:09:36: Yeah. And just to triple down on that, a big thanks to Keywords, right? In the tough time in the gaming industry, we are still hiring. There’s positions all available, whether you’re an artist or you’re in customer support or if you’re in sound or if you’re digital media. There’s tons of jobs opportunities. And I too get excited when friends come to me and say, how can I even get started? And you send them to this page that has hundreds of jobs opening. And I mean, it’s a great, great company. Thank you, Keyword. But most importantly right now, thank you, Nigel. Thank you, Christy, for coming on. Thank you, Snowden Studios. This, again, was a great episode. I’m really excited to kind of go back and listen to the different nuggets of information that we learned and we will be sharing all this information. Before we say goodbye, I know you said your final words, but any parting words?

Kristie Dale: 01:09:36: 01:09:41: Just thank you. Thank you for having me here. This was really exciting and love to talk in the future.

Nigel Franks: 01:09:41: 01:09:44: I like that. Thanks so much, Greg. This has been awesome. A lot of fun.

Greg Posner: 01:09:44: 01:09:57: Thanks for listening, everybody. I hope you got a lot of good information out of this episode as I did. Make sure you join us next week when we have Mike Gallagher from Untitled Ad Lab join us and we can learn more about the marketing side of gaming. Thanks for listening and have a great rest of your day.

Greg Posner

Avid gamer with a passion for storytelling. My goal is to unpack the narratives of customers, partners and others to better understand how industry-leaders tackle today's challenges.

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