Explore a Career As a Producer in the Gaming Industry - Discussion with Graciela Ruiz, Producer @Netflix
We recently met up with Graciela Ruiz, a Producer at Netflix and Forbes 30 and under 30 in Gaming. A relatively new role in this industry, she shares a lot of great insights on what this role is all about. If you love gaming, this might be a great role for you! Read on.
LED: Can you share a brief summary of your background?
Graciela: I’ve always been in production, media, art and film. I studied Film and Digital Media in college (University of New Mexico). I started my career at TellTale Games, where I started as a cinematic artist, and then transitioned into production. I was a Producer there for a few years, then I joined Google Stadia where I was a Publishing Producer. Now I’m a Producer at Netflix where I’m on the Interactive team.
LED: What does a Producer do?
Graciela: As a Producer, my job is to make sure that titles ship on time, on budget, and with high quality. I have to try and help the company get maximum ROI on their investment in a title. My work is sort of like a Program Manager at a Tech company, mixed with a Product Manager role, with elements of project management added in.
At Google, I was a Publishing Producer on Stadia, a game streaming platform similar to Playstation or Xbox. As a publishing producer, my job was to help us get great games so that people would come to our platform. Similar to Halo on Xbox, We were looking for exclusive content for Stadia. To do this, I would work with lots of different game developers, review submissions, give feedback, and ultimately release the game.
Before Google, I was at Telltale Games whereI worked with game designers, developers, software engineers, sound engineers, voiceover artists, and a host of other functions. For eg: I was working on the Guardians of the Galaxy game. It has characters such as Peter Quill, Gamora, and we had to design them in a way that they met a certain criteria that was in keeping with the overall tone of the game. As a producer, I had to manage the full scope of the project, prioritize the feedback, and make sure that things were getting done on time.
A producer’s job can vary a lot depending on the type of product you’re working on. A game can use different technologies, it needs to work on different devices in multiple geographies. A producer oversees all of this.
LED: How is a Producer role different from a Program Manager role?
Graciela: It’s sort of like a program manager role but it’s also creative. You’re getting feedback from a lot of different stakeholders - Research, User studies. Quality Assurance, Engineering, etc. A producer has to consolidate all of the feedback and help the team prioritize where to focus.
LED: What’s the difference between a publisher and a creator?
Graciela: A publisher is usually the group funding the project. For example, Stadia was a publisher as well as a platform. Publishers are managing a portfolio of content, whereas game developers are deeply focused on individual titles. As a publishing producer, I help developers prioritize and choose where to focus to make the overall platform successful. Creators ultimately own the vision and the creative for their games. On our side, we consolidate our feedback and give it to the creators and ultimately it’s up to them how they address it. But as a publisher, we’re the ones who’re funding the project and doing marketing and distribution, so being aligned is very important.
LED: Can you describe a project that you’ve worked on as a Producer?
Graciela: Every team is different. You have to talk to people and get diverse perspectives. For eg: At Netflix, we give a lot of freedom and creative control to developers. At Stadia, the publishing team had a lot of creative control. This makes the job of a Producer different at the two companies.
An example of a project - say you’re marketing a title. You need to align with the marketing lead, with the game developer on who they view as their target audience, with consumer insights and user research on whether that audience will be interested in your product. You run tests on how users are responding to it, and then share that feedback back with marketing and game developers. You help decide whether we should change aspects of the game or target a different audience. Sometimes you find that a game resonates with a different audience, or maybe you decide to change the skill level to address the feedback.
LED: How would you recommend someone evaluate working as a Program Manager or a Producer?
Graciela: If you want to work in more of a creative environment, eg: films, games, something with more of a traditional production schedule, if you want to work with a large diversity of creatives such as designers, artists, musicians and storytellers - then working as a Producer is for you. Game Producers work in a cross section between art and technology.
LED: What are the typical backgrounds found in this role?
Graciela: Anyone who is a great communicator, proactive problem solver, thinks about systems, how people can come together and get things done, can make for a great Producer. If you geek out on workflows and processes, you’ll love this job. This job is a lot about teamwork and managing dependencies, and enabling people to work across different teams. For eg: A character artist needs to work with an engineer to create a simulation. A producer needs to make this happen. Or you have to manage dependencies between different companies, such as the publisher and creator. You have to be able to manage very complex systems.
There’s no typical background as such. My generation is the first generation that has had game design as a degree in undergrad. But otherwise people come from other industries such as tech, animation, film, books - it’s very diverse.
I will say one thing that usually people just love games or movies and are super into this space. They want to work in this space.
LED: Do you recommend any resources to learn more about this space? Eg: Books, Articles, People you follow, things you do to become better at your job?
Gdcvault.com. Some content is free and you have to pay for the full library.
Discord has a game production community. They have a channel for resources where there are lots of great links that people post
Youtube channel called Extra Credits. It’s all about game design. They talk about lots of common problems and how to address them
Other than the above resources, I think finding mentors is really important in your career. I’ve lucked out a lot by having relationships with people I can look up to and have lunches with and discuss problems I'm having. The more you talk to people in your field, you realize that others are having similar problems. You don't have to solve everything yourself! There’s no point reinventing the wheel and wasting effort.