Meet Frank Rogan, Senior Producer
Today we’re speaking with Frank Rogan, a veteran video game producer and senior producer. Frank has worked on many game titles including Enter the Matrix, Gears & Guts, and the Total Annihilation series.
Pay special attention to Frank’s advice on how to break into the game industry. It might just jump-start your career in games.
In just a few sentences, how would you describe what you do every day?
A producer’s job is different every day, which is part of what makes the role so darn interesting. Traditionally at the highest level, the producer’s role is as owner of a project, or a significant part of a project. The producer is responsible for assembling and managing a team of engineers, designers and artists; outlining, scheduling and tracking tasks (project management); and ensuring the project is generally headed in the right direction.
But what that really means is that, at any given time, a producer could be working with designers to break down their ideas into specific tasks, working through code problems with engineers, or making sure that artistic feedback is complete and actionable. Or, you could just have your head buried in a spreadsheet.
Think of the producer like the head coach of a football team. There are the actual players on the field, and a whole group of coaches, coordinators and trainers to work with them. But someone has to stand in the middle of it all and be able to call the plays while keeping an eye on the scoreboard and the game clock.
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How did you come to be a Game Producer?
I’ll tell you, but you have to promise me you won’t ever take my career path as any kind of inspiration or advice, OK? 😉
- First, I wanted to be a sports writer, because that sounded like a great way to get paid to watch baseball games.
- Then the newspaper industry started its long, slow slide into irrelevance, so I took my editing skills to Microsoft, for no other reason than because it was a gig that paid money.
- Then the Internet happened, so I wanted to produce and design Web sites.
- The first stop on that path was producing sites for a video game developer, and I it was there that I had a “holy crap” moment. I realized that video games were actually made by people. It was really a thing people did for a living. Amazing!
- Then I thought “writing + games + Web sites = game journalism.” I’m terrible at math.
- Then I proved that every games journalist really, really wants to be a game designer, because that sounds creative and glamorous.
- Then I realized I was the game designer that was really wrangling the work of the other game designers, and they call that person a “producer.”
And there you have it!
What’s your favorite part of the job?
There’s a Mark Twain quote that really inspires me: “I like a good story well told. That is why I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.”
My favorite part of the job is story-telling, and that can come in many different ways. When you’re putting a project together, you’re telling the story of what a group of people will accomplish together. There may be a story in the game itself, or the story of how the game is played. And then there’s the story of the product you’re creating that will delight people. That’s my favorite part – developing the story that everyone will hear about. I don’t think I could ever work in a role where I couldn’t tell a good story about what goes on.
What’s your least favorite part?
My least favorite part? There isn’t any one thing. I will say, though, that if you’re looking for a position where you can punch a clock, do your work and go home, production is not for you. Every day is ‘Anything Can Happen Day.'
What aspect of the job would be surprising to people looking in from the outside?
People think I play games all day, every day. An outsider would probably be shocked at the amount of games I don’t have time to play. It’s actually a real concern of mine, that I don’t get to play as many games as I should. Don’t get me wrong! I love playing games and play way more than the average gamer. But I need to stay up-to-date with trends and technology. But no one can play everything.
Think about Steven Spielberg, or Martin Scorsese, or Quentin Tarantino. You’d have a really hard time finding people that love movies more than those guys. But they’re busy, busy people. They have to work hard to make time to actually sit and watch movies. I have to make time to play games.
What kinds of talent and personality does it take to produce video games?
The best producers:
- Are extroverts that love working with people. In fact, they thrive on it.
- Are able to think on their feet. They get pushed and pulled in lots of different directions at once.
- Are interested in many things. They’re jacks-of-all-trades.
- Have a bias toward action. They don’t wait to be told what to do.
- Have a natural tendency toward organizing the action. If someone says, “Let’s drive to Vegas,” the producer starts thinking about whether there’s gas in the car, are the tires properly inflated and when was the last oil change.
Producers confront things. I don’t mean, “producers are confrontational people.” I mean that producers confront things head on and they go talk to people and they make plans and they do stuff.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the best producers know it’s never about them. Producers succeed when the team succeeds. People play games because the design is fun, the art looks great and the game runs smoothly without bugs. Nobody ever plays a game and thinks, “Wow, that was a well produced game!”
What advice would you give to somebody in school, who’s thinking about Game Production as a career?
You should have two areas of focus. First: I get asked all the time: “How do you get into the game industry?” My answer is always: “Why aren’t you already in the game industry right now?”
Seriously. Why aren’t you already making a game? There are far too many FREE tools and courses to list. You should be taking advantage of them. If you’re not already doing so… honestly, I question your commitment to getting into the game industry. Sounds like you want something handed to you. The world doesn’t work that way!
Go make something. Anything. You want to get into games? Show me the little Flash game you made and put on your Web site. I kid you not, making your own Flash game will be worth thousands of dollars of classes at any university. Otherwise, if you want to be told what to do? Join the Coast Guard and go rescue people for a living.
Second: Learn to code. I say that to everyone, including artists and fancy-pants designers of imaginary worlds. You should be able to at least understand how the ones and zeroes get put together. What language to start learning? Doesn’t matter. Seriously, the language literally doesn’t matter. Because what we’re talking about here is not the specifics of a language, but how to adopt a code-is-everything-and-everything-is-code mindset.
What would you recommend for education, books, or other learning to start down that career path?
Did I already say you should learn to code? Let me say it again. Learn to code.
I’ve been particularly enamored of the Learn Code the Hard Way series. These are all free, but you can pay for the books and supported videos. Learn Python for $30. You’ll spend twice that getting a new PS4 game.
Lynda.com is a paid educational tool, and while it’s oriented toward art, it will provide you with a super-wide range of offerings.
Frank can be reached via LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/frankrogan. If you appreciated Frank’s advice, pass it on to others by sharing on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.