“I’m a very organized, flexible, and friendly person who loves a good plan.”
Kristina, thanks for meeting with me today. Can you tell me what is your current job title?
“I’ve just started a job a new company, Akili Interactive Labs and my title will be Development Director.”
You’ve held producer roles in the past correct?
“Yes, started as an Associate Producer and made my way up to Development Director.”
What are some titles you’ve worked on in the past?
“I have worked on games like Winnie the Pooh: Piglets Special Day for Jakks, Star Wars The Force Unleashed for console, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition for XBOX live, Plants Vs. Zombies Adventures for Facebook, and Peggle Blast for mobile just to name a few.”
That’s a wide set of games across various platforms. As a producer, does the type of game change your day to day work? Explain your typical workday.
“There are slight differences when the platform is different, but overall the type of work I do is essentially the same. So, I have been able to take what I have learned and my experiences across the different studios, different types of games and different platforms.”
“My typical day starts with combing through e-mail and building out my to-do list. There is usually a ton of coordination between the different disciplines which result in various meetings throughout the day. I make sure that people are communicating with each other during the day and following up on how we are tracking to our plans. I often refer to our project management software tools to follow up and track the features that are being built and work with the team to make sure that they are progressing smoothly.”
The role of a producer has been described to me as the person who removes the obstacles(e.g. excuses) from the game team. They do whatever they can to ensure the team is happy, productive, and on time. That’s a fair amount of hats to wear. How did you first happen into the game industry? Did you go to school? How does one learn to become a producer?
“Yes, that is very true, and is a lot of what I do in a day. I got into the game industry while I was going to school. I was studying 3D animation at San Francisco State University and ended up getting an internship with a game company. My original goal was to get into the movie industry, because at the time, that is what I knew more about, and thought that I wanted. But, as I was working at this game studio, I really started to like the fast paced excitement that I felt there. Because I was an intern at a small company they not only gave me 3D models to build, but had me help out one of the producers. That is where I started to discover that I had a knack for organizing and planning. I pretty much learned how to become a producer on the job, I think that you could go to school and learn project management, but games production is more than just that so I think a lot of the education comes from on the job experience.”
Your first “job” in the industry was an internship. How did you find that internship? Did the school help you find it?
“Yes, the school did help me find it. I was in one of their programs that helped students prepare for getting a job. You had to work on your demo reel, resume and get real world experience. The school had a list of companies that the students could approach to find an internship. The students did most of the leg work by reaching out to the companies to seek out what was available and set up the internship, but the instructors were industry professionals so they knew people at these companies and did help the students along the way.”
You initially wanted to get into movies. What went into your decision making for SF State?
“Yes, I was fascinated by the animated movies that were starting to come out around the early 2000s and thought that I wanted to be a part of that some how. Since the job that I was in was definitely not what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life, I started looking into going back to school. I focused on schools that had an 3D animation program. I looked at The Academy of Art, The Art Institute, I even thought about applying to CalArts. But, I decided on SF State’s Multimedia Studies program because it was well reviewed, it was close to home and most importantly to me it was affordable.”
You grew up in the Bay Area?
“Yes I did. I was born in Berkeley and grew up in Danville.”
Let me clarify your timeline a bit. You grew up in Danville, started working and decided you needed a different path. So you considered school for 3D animation, because, animation is COOL. And choose SF State. What job were you doing before you choose the animation route?
“Yes, that’s about right. I had graduated from UC Berkeley for undergrad and while in school I was working at Nordstrom as a salesperson in the children’s shoe department. After graduating, I was promoted to a managerial position so I decided to stay and see where that lead me. Since I was on the manager path the next step was buyer then other types of management so on and so forth. I started feeling that this path wasn’t the right one. Now that I had a degree in Art History I also didn’t feel that there was anything specific related to that field that I wanted to pursue. So, I decided it might be best to learn a new skill. Art was something that I was always interested in and since 3D art was really starting to explode at that time, I thought it was the right way to go.”
“I think that you could go to school and learn project management, but games production is more than just that so I think a lot of the education comes from on the job experience.”
You’ve obviously shown an aptitude for management and organization from the beginning. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
“There is a lot I think I can be proud of, but the one thing that stands out to me was the work that was done on Peggle Blast. While it may not have been the runaway success we had hoped it would be, from a project management perspective it was the smoothest run project that I had ever worked on. We met our development goals for each milestone and I felt that we had established a very smooth production process by the end.”
It’s rare that things go mostly right with development. I would be proud of a smooth project as well. What skills or traits are most important to have as a producer?
“I think that it’s important to be a good communicator and open honest with your team. Along with that I believe it really helps to have a team that works well together. When you have a team that works well together then the communication about changes, priorities, etc., helps with the process going smoothly.”
How do you stay relevant in your craft? Are there websites you frequent? Books you read? Blogs you rave about?
“I have rarely had that much time to explore most of these kinds of things. I am fortunate to have worked at companies that provide training in things like Scrum and send you to conferences like GDC. Those are the types of places that I learn the most from aside from the on the job education. When I do have some time I look into places like Lynda.com and Mountain Goat software to take some online courses to refresh some of the things that I have learned along the way.
What is your one favorite thing that you saved from getting cut during production?
“[Laughs] I don’t usually save things from getting cut, I’m usually the one saying we need to cut everything in order to get the game done.”
How true. Well, how about the flip side. Was there anything you’ve cut that you wish you could have saved?
“In the Peggle Blast development we ended up cutting our leaderboard feature from our World Wide launch. In mobile games it’s a little easier to push those features out and implement them later, but in this case, I always wonder if it would have helped the launch of the game and make some of the social features a little stronger.”
It’s hard to know what impact what any one feature would have on a final product. It is the sum of its parts. What development practice do you think developers don’t do enough?
“Most of the game teams that I have been on, I feel like the practice of reviewing and reprioritizing the backlog was something that wasn’t done enough. On Peggle Blast we did do this every week to 2 weeks and I really think this is something that helped get us get to our launch date on time.”
How do you like to spend your free time?
“I like to spend my time with my dog Tron. I love photographing him because I love photography and he is one of my favorite subjects. You can see proof of this on Instagram.”
If people want to find you, where can you be contacted? Instagram? Twitter? Tumblr?
If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say? What is your tagline?
“I’m a very organized, flexible, and friendly person who loves a good plan.”