Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Free to a Good Home....

It's been one of the strangest times in my career, since I started in the games industry in 1999.  I've always been a hot commodity, the one that gets high profile projects, because I can be trusted to get it done, keep the right people in the loop, and to say "NO" when it's needed.  I typically have a backlog of things to do, just waiting for me to have enough time to do them.
Part of the weirdness has been around a reorganization from one big happy studio family with a pool of people and managers that are responsible for specific disciplines (Programmers, Artists, Producers, Designers, QA) to silo'd franchise groups, where the management is responsible for building cross-functional teams that encompass all disciplines.  Those managers still report in to the same higher structure, but from a peon's perspective, it sure doesn't seem like they are talking to each other that much.
I love being busy.  I love having multiple projects on the burners at once.  I love feeling like I am an integral part of a healthy, functioning team.  Right now, I'm helping out on special projects, and I have one game that is drawing to a close as my work.  The conversations around "What's next" have been going on since March, and it's starting to get to me, mentally.
I wrote a sales pitch to send around to the management team and decided it tells enough of a story of what I do, that I'd share it here.  (sanitized company name and project name)  It's mind-blowing to me that I have to sell myself this hard at a company I already work at.... but at the same time, sometimes it's nice to revisit what I believe makes me tick.
Hi All:
Have you recently had a situation where you’ve thought to yourself “it would be so great if we could only do xyz on this project, but WHO WILL MANAGE IT?”  Do you have a short or long term need for a project manager with a ‘take-no-prisoners’ attitude, and a commitment to details?  Are you working on integration of a parent company (or partner) brand, and you just wish there was someone on your team with a long history of navigating the murky waters of approvals, integration, and last-minute changes?  Is the majority of your time spent on the big-picture with no time left for the day-to-day work of monitoring the pulse of your project? Are you at that point where it’s time to ship it and you need a leader who knows how to motivate, lead from the center of the action, and takes pride in getting it done?

HAVE I GOT AN ANSWER FOR YOU!  That’s right, it’s ME!

As projects draw to a close, and changes are happening in the individual franchises, I wanted to reach out and see if there are areas where I can help YOU with the needs of the individual projects for our company.   No job is too small, no job is too tall.  

I am:
  • (Not an actual Zombie)
    A people-focused project manager with a love for making games.   
  • Passionate about working with a team to create AWESOME products, while sustaining a pace and quality of life that supports the company's core values.
  • Not afraid to get my hands dirty in the trenches.   
  • A voracious consumer of casual games content.
  • In possession of the following super powers: directness, common sense, and an uncanny ability to get sh*t done.

My satisfaction comes from helping a team see projects through to completion, and helping their creative dreams make it out to the big world.  I have extensive experience in making branded products, with a significant portion of my career invested in shipping Hasbro branded projects, as well as creating adver-games for companies like Unilever, Chrysler, and Visa.   I’ve also worked with Warner Brothers, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, HIT Entertainment, Johnny Wright Productions (*N’SYNC), Horn Abbott, and Mattel to deliver interactive products that are true to their respective brands.  Between time in QA and time as a producer, I’ve been directly responsible for 40 projects, with credits in over 100 games

Here at our company,  I’m currently working on finalizing some dangling details on the current iOS project.  Earlier this year my team shipped this iOS game, and I also managed the updates to our two most recognizable brands world-wide to have functioning product on the launch date of Lion OS last fall.  In the last 8 years as a producer,  I’ve managed internal teams, external teams, licensor approvals, multiple outsource resources, voice-over direction, done guerilla QA testing, written design documents, made a little (bad) art, and done a little programming.  Outside of work,  I’m a proud mom, wanna-be writer, musician, uuber-nerd, smack-dab in the middle of our target audience, and a controlled force of nature. 

Feel free to poke around my linkedin profile, read my recommendations and do not hesitate to let me know if you have needs for your franchises.   I’m not afraid to work hard, I own it when I make mistakes, and I never ask a team to do what I’m not willing to do myself.  I look forward to making YOUR life easier, while working together to make great products that we can all be proud of.

Best Regards –

Trivial Pursuits

As mentioned in a previous post, once upon a time, I produced a Trivial Pursuit game for PC, Xbox and PS2.  My brain holds onto a lot of bits of information from that project, I proof read, verified sources, and edited thousands of questions by the time the project was done.  One of the best parts of the project is that I sourced and directed a set of celebrities to read the questions for each category.

One of the celebrities we hired was John Cleese, and he opted to read the History category.  I sent the script off to his agent, and went into the recording session in Santa Barbara feeling prepared for the experience.  I should add, this is the FIRST voice recording session I ever directed.

As we were going through the session, John was getting more and more annoyed with the topics of the questions.  Apparently, John Cleese used to teach history at a prep school in England, and he felt that we were mis-representing current events as History.  He was right, it was America focused, and not deep history, our goal was to create a game where the average 30-40 year old American SHOULD know the answers to the questions.

Less than an hour into the session, he was visibly agitated, and I don't even remember the question that put him over the top.  All I know is this was my first ever voice recording session, and the talent looked at me through the glass, called me an 'illiterate con-artist' and stormed out of the studio.

I looked at my co-worker, and said "Oh shit.  What do I do now?"

"Get him back!  GO! GET HIM BACK!"

So, I went.  John was getting into his car and I started explaining what the goal of the game was, and how we arrived at the content that we did.  He said he understood that, but that I shouldn't call it 'history'.  I explained that we didn't actually CONTROL that nomenclature, Trivial Pursuit is a branded product, and the brand owners defined it, and that they had approved the content.  Finally, I closed it, like any good used car salesman would, I asked him the action question.

"What would it take to get you back behind the microphone, Mr. Cleese?" I asked, with my best, most charming smile.

"Five Thousand Dollars", he replied.

I quickly ran some budget numbers in my head, and thought of what my boss would say if I came back to tell him I'd lost John Cleese while standing outside the studio in downtown Santa Barbara.

"DONE.  Let's get back to work"

I went back into the studio, and sat behind the control board.  My hands were shaking and I was actually seeing little black spots.  I pretended to be pulling something out of my bag while I took a few deep breaths with my head down near my knees.  I realized I was actually going to throw up, so I spun my chair around and grabbed a garbage can.  I discreetly dry heaved into a garbage can while my co-worker and the studio rep looked on.  Then I wiped my mouth, grabbed my water, took a deep drink and spun back around.

"Alright, John.  Are you ready to get started?" I asked through the communication system.

We finished out the day, I got what I needed, and I put a call into my legal group to amend the contract to include an additional $5,000 talent fee.  The next day I was driving down to San Diego for a lunch date with a friend.  My cell phone rang, and I answered it.  It was John Cleese.

"Hello, I wanted to talk to you for a moment.  I believe I owe you an apology.  My wife and I were drinking some wine last night, and she reminded me that it's called 'trivial pursuit', not 'important pursuit'.  I shouldn't have called you names and stormed out, that was unprofessional of me."

I reassured him that I understood his frustration, and very much appreciated the follow up call.  Then he got to what, I believe, was the REAL reason for the call.

"I was wondering, can you treat the additional money as 'expert consultation' or something like that?  I'd rather not pay my agent fees on the additional money." He was very matter-of-fact about the request, and I am such a people-pleaser-person that I really wanted to be able to honor his request.

"I'm so sorry, John.  I can't do that.  I've already had my legal amend the contract and it went out to your agent this morning."  I really was sorry, I wanted him to continue acting like he liked me!

"Well then," he replied, curtly.  "Very well.  Goodbye."

One of my first bosses in the industry once told me this bit of wisdom.  "We make games.  No one dies.  You can't eat your liver over it."

As I've been struggling with getting my next project lined up, and dealing with self-esteem issues around feeling unwanted because I haven't figured out where I can best be effective at my job, (not to mention my insecurities about motherhood) I am reminding myself that creating entertainment is truly a trivial pursuit.  The important stuff is outside of these walls, just there waiting for me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Finding my voice. The story of the Armadillo

I am writing with a wonderful group of writers via tele-class once a week (Hi writers!)  We had a homework assignment last week, and I've decided to incorporate that assignment with tonight's post.  The week is shaping up to be a little nutty, and I need to take advantage of the time that's available to me right now.

My assignment:
I'd like everyone to write a short piece, either as a post or just an email to the group. Think of one small piece of information you'd like to share with the world, one tiny insight. Then, in a paragraph (maybe 2 if need be) with clarity, brevity, wit and your own best voice, deliver the piece of information. (This might be harder than it seems!)

Over the years, as I've got to know myself better, and to know my father better, I have learned that I have the soul of a storyteller, and that I came by it honestly from my Dad.  A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with a game development studio based in Santiago, Chile.  The travel was exhausting, I flew to South America from Seattle for one week of each month for a period of 13 months.  I narrowly missed riots and protests on the occasion of the hospitalization and death of Pinochet, and I watched the 2007 riots on the "Day of the Young Combatant" from my hotel room.

On one trip, my business associate, Tiburcio was telling me about his life growing up on a cattle farm in Argentina.  One of his favorite past-times was to chase armadillos, killing them for the shell, which could be used to make a bowl, or strung with strings to make an impromptu guitar.  Tiburcio spoke with heavily accented, but very good English.  He rarely used contractions and would sometimes pause to cull his memory for the correct word in English.  A small group had been drinking a fine organic red wine on a visit to the Colchagua Valley wine region when he told me this story.

"Armadillos, they run very fast, and they have the long.... CLAWS."  He made a gesture with his hands, curling fingers into cat claws.

"They live in holes, and if they get inside the hole and spread their claws, the only way to get them out is to stick your finger in their, how do you say it?"  The claws changed to a poking finger, jabbing in the air.  "Asshole.  Once you do that, they go 'whooop' and retract their claws and you can pull them out."

I interrupted.  "TIBURCIO! Armadillos carried LEPROSY from South America to North America and they can pass it to humans!  Plus, they have huge claws!  Why on EARTH would you stick your finger in it's ass?  You should use a stick or something!"

My boss interrupted me and said "How in the HELL do you know that about Armadillos?"

"I produced a Trivial Pursuit game with 5,000 new questions in 2001.  I am FULL of useless information," I replied.  "Back to the Armadillo.  Seriously, why not use a stick?"

Tiburcio looked at me, very earnestly, and said "It is very dangerous to run with a stick."

I opened my mouth for a retort.  Then I closed it again.  I opened it one more time and said, "I guess that's fair."

Sometimes, when things start to feel a little out of control, I just remind myself, "It is very dangerous to run with a stick."  Things could be worse, I could have my finger in an armadillos asshole.