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Games Producer Advises Northwestern Students to Collaborate During MSLCE Speaker Series

By Amy Ross

Collaboration, no matter how high-tech the endeavor, is about people. To be a success in the gaming industry, it’s just as important to know how to critique creative teams without irritating them as it is to understand how to code. These are some of the tips that game producer and content designer Matthew Schwartz gave in his talk at the Masters of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises’ (MSLCE) speaker series on Dec. 3.

Schwartz graduated from Northwestern’s Radio, Television, and Film department in 1995 and has worked as a games producer at Adult Swim Games and as a content designer at Cartoon Network New Media. “I developed a certain skill at being able to deliver creative direction and input…you didn’t want to come off as hostile, but at the same time you wanted to make your perspective very clear,” said Schwartz. This task was particularly complex because much of the communication took place through computer screens and was often directed towards people in other countries with different cultural backgrounds and limited English. Schwartz’ strategy focused on conveying to his developers that the feedback was coming from a place of respect and understanding, both of the product and the vision behind it.

These are crucial elements when critiquing projects that are often a product of years’ worth of a person’s time and effort. To do so, he invested hours and hours playing the games before offering feedback. He knew that the platform on which the projects were published tracked and reported this time back to the creators. “This is a much better way to get a creative person to see your view. As a producer your job is to make sure everybody is marching in the same direction. Sometimes your coder will become obsessed with the menu and other fundamental things are broken so you have to find ways to get everyone back onto the ‘critical path,’ which totally represents the production mindset, aside from being a gaming term,” said Schwartz.

Throughout the talk, Schwartz offered students insight about pitching, teamwork and project management. He also offered advice on how to reach out and get started in a creative industry like gaming. He also pointed out some of the major differences between working in gaming on a mass scale at large companies and at a smaller one with indie gaming. The larger companies tend to have much more specialized jobs like being “the bat swinging” or “dust kicking guy” of animations, while independent productions tend to be broader.

Schwartz encouraged students to muster up the courage to contact influential people in their areas of interest through tools like LinkdIn, Twitter and Facebook. He landed his first job at MTV after randomly contacting a man his girlfriend’s aunt rode with on a bus in New York. This man happened to be the president of development at MTV and wound up becoming his boss. “There are people out there and for every person that is willing to talk there will be tons of emails that go into the black hole but you have to be resilient and not take things personal. These people are very accessible now days,” he said.

MSLCE program director, Pablo Boczkowski, hosted the event and Northwestern University professor, Eric Patrick, was the moderator. The next talk in the Speaker Series will feature Martha Lavey, artistic director of the Steppenwolf Theatre since 1995. That event will take place on January 7th. For more information or to RSVP, click here.