Year 8 – General Studies
8 March 2021
The Year 8 General Studies students were given a task to interview someone about a topic of interest to them. Finn G’s interview with Adam Parsons – Director of Production at a North American gaming company – is absolutely fascinating. A career in journalism or game design awaits!
Interview with Adam Parsons Director of Production at ProbablyMonsters
Adam Parsons started his career in the games industry in 1998 joining Codemasters in the UK. After over a decade later, he left to work at various game studios before moving to the USA in 2015, where he took a leadership role at Xbox. In 2020 he took on the role of Director of Production at ProbablyMonsters, a gaming company with a people-first culture!
What role do you play within your organization? How does it link to other people’s jobs?
“The role that I play is that I’m Director of Production, supporting and advising studios on best production practices, tools and processes to help optimize game production.
We have several games studios, all under the ProbablyMonsters umbrella, all of which have production staff – for example, an executive producer, senior producers etc., and it is their job to work with all the different disciplines, like engineering, design, audio, and art.
Those same producers work across all the different areas of the game to deliver features of a finished game. I work closely with the game’s studios, our executive leadership, and partner teams to provide guidance and services at different parts of the game development process.”
What makes your job interesting and enjoyable?
“The variety of work means that no one day is the same. If you’re making multiple games, the challenges for each game are different and of course sometimes similar. One day I can be organizing a small team on a bespoke project, and on others I’m building out management methodologies, pipelines, workflows. Working in production allows a great diversity of project and subject matter that always makes it interesting.”
What makes your job boring and unenjoyable?
“This new role certainly isn’t boring or unenjoyable. It’s a familiar role with unique challenges. Every time you take on this job, it is always different. Depending on what studio you’re working with and the unique talent in that studio – you’ll always experience an individual culture that is refreshing and new.
At ProbablyMonsters, there are fewer corporate policies compared to my previous company [at Microsoft] where there are over 140,000 people globally, and you need scalable policies and processes to operate effectively with that many people. That’s one of the reasons why I prefer the games industry and smaller studios. For me, the experience has to be creative, dynamic and unconstrained, and at the same time have just enough rigor to be productive and responsible. Of course, obvious factors like repetitive work can lessen the fun of the job, it’s then another challenge to see how you can solve those problems than let them reduce the fun you’re having!”
What inspired you to pick the job you do?
“I love making games. I love working in this industry. We’re not making banking software, we’re building entertainment, we’re working with people who are exceptionally talented and excited to make games, and that diversity of talent in the people you work with really rubs off and inspires you. New hardware, new technology, new projects, making something people have never experienced before is totally inspiring.”
What would you say to people looking to get into the same field as you? Is there any advice you have, or anything you wish you had known beforehand?
“The job I have is really like a Swiss army knife of jobs, making complex spreadsheets to solve for staff resourcing against project demands, building presentations to sell an idea, and then another moment reviewing creative game documents or software builds means your skills have to cover a very broad surface area.
I came into the industry in the art discipline, leading teams making in-game art for racing games, whether that be 2D or 3D, photographing racetracks then converting those into in game artwork that can be used for racing on for example. I wish I had known about an art role in gaming before starting my first job in product design. Saying that, all the roles I had before games gave me a unique set of experiences that others didn’t have.
A lot of people want to come into the games industry, and the advice I usually give them is to carefully consider what part of the games industry you want to come into. Where are you wanting to be in, say, 10-15 years? When I left college, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, until I saw computer graphics in ‘The last Starfighter’ movie which was one of the first to use CGI. Then I knew that I wanted to produce that kind of visually compelling content, particularly for games.
What I would say is research. Ask a lot of questions to game developers & educators, explore the career paths, watch YouTube videos about building games, read about the history, try small projects at home. Some people think they want to be an engineer, some people think they want to become a technical artist, but in a decade’s time, do you want to be leading people, or working as a specialist? Try a little bit of everything, even now, I still like to explore many avenues both in leadership and creative areas, and I think there are a lot of later in career folks in the same position. You can research people who have started businesses in their 60’s and 70’s and still have been incredibly successful, it’s never too late to change direction but better to start earlier.”
What is the working environment like where you work? Is there a close bond between workers?
“We’re all working from home, and (since I only joined ProbablyMonsters recently) I haven’t had the chance to physically meet the people I work with. I have seen people really want to help and support each other; I like the culture that I’m part of now which was one of the biggest draws to ProbablyMonsters. It’s a friendly place and you can see the close bonds already formed in the short time I’ve been here.”
Was there anything you did not expect to be a part of your job? Was your job different to how you imagined it?
“Not yet! We’re a new company and we’re all contributing regardless of role or title to make this the best place to make games. There is always the reality and perception of starting any new role, most of that is down to COVID and how that has altered the way we work remotely. I am imagining a much more social future where we can be in the same studio space and return to how I imagine interacting with many folks much more informally.”
Would you recommend your job to people? If so, who to and why?
“I would recommend it. It would be weird for me to willingly be in a job I didn’t think others would enjoy. I would recommend it to people who want lead teams, like organizing and planning, and being in a creative environment. But you must be flexible. At one point you can be making a finance spreadsheet, the next you can be talking to an outsource company in Vietnam about partnering on asset production for your game.”
How many job opportunities are there in your field?
“Typically, production staff on any given team or in studios are a much smaller percentage of the overall game team. If I had to give a rough estimate its about 5-10%. But that said, Production roles are absolutely critical as they are the leaders that keep the game production on track. Last year, the video game industry grew by almost 20%, and 7% the year before that. With more and more people playing games than ever before, we see demand of these roles only increasing.”
What has the most stressful time been in your job (that you are comfortable talking about)?
“I think that the most stressful part of my job is ensuring that the team have all they need to accomplish a certain goal. I’m always thinking through all the edge cases and dependencies that have to be considered and often have to just ‘go with gut instinct’ that the approach is right.”
How many hours a week on average do you end up having to work overtime to complete tasks?
“A few hours. Some days I don’t start until 10:00 AM and end at 5:00 PM, and others I’ll work 8:00 AM until 7:00 PM. It all depends on how engaging what I’m doing is and how critical the deadline is. I’m very self-motivated and always know the right level of sustained workload that gives a healthy work/life balance. The best part is that ProbablyMonsters really supports that balance.”
How demanding is the workload you must undergo?
“It isn’t really a workload question in terms of daily tasks that are always a challenge to get done in a typical workday. If I said to you “make an information architecture based on being able to scale to a certain number of studios”, it would be mentally taxing, not necessarily a lot of just raw physical work. It’s very different to packing boxes for example and you have 500 boxes to pack in 8 hours which is physically demanding in a different way.”
Do you ever wish you had a different job? If so, why?
“My dream job would be a film director; I think it’s such a creative role, and yet it has its own demands. I used to love photography too, but now I think that there’s too much soul ripped out of it, with a low barrier to entry with mobile phones and image AI. There is so much less skill required to get a great shot technically, and so people question hiring professional photographers when they feel they can accomplish the job themselves.
I photograph as a hobby now to scratch my creative itch, I love the job I have, but there are some compromises in your career choice that limit some opportunities to be creative in a certain way. I could do something I love less but be paid more for it. Or you could do something you really enjoy but be paid less for what you do, be happier as a person, but not the sustain the same level of personal lifestyle. It’s about finding a balance between what you are able to do, what your skills are, what you enjoy, and how much you would be paid.”
Finally, I just had a quick extra to ask him, out of interest (and it also may be useful information in future)
Does your organization offer internships in their games departments? If yes, who do you contact for further information?
“ProbablyMonsters absolutely offers Internships and we have been delighted to extend learning opportunities to students interested in our Industry. This year, we are currently evaluating how to offer that learning opportunity given the pandemic situation. Typically, American companies take internships very seriously. And ProbablyMonsters is no different, we already have good connections with educational faculties. In terms of non-American internships, there’s always the added complexity of location and visas to consider, and so remember the UK does have a great gaming industry to explore for internships as another option.”
A big thanks to Adam and ProbablyMonsters for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate in this interview and allowing it to be published.
– by Finn Geraghty