Recruiting firm TS2 has announced their pick for the "Most Successful & Respected" executive producer in the video game industry, and the nod goes to Obsidian Entertainment's Feargus Urquhart. To commemorate the event, they've published an interview they did with the deserving RPG veteran back in April:
What would you say, is one of your projects that was a turning point in your career?
(Definitely I would say Fallout I and Fallout II. Just going through the process and taking these games to completion.) When he started at Interplay he was dealing with 5 people in a development team and with Fallout he found himself working with teams in excess of 30 people. This, he said, really showed him how to manage people and make a game in the current environment. The complexity that has to go into the production of these games is so different than it was even 10 years ago. There is much more focus on the source control, the tools used, and more intense focus of preproduction than there was in the past.
Feargus noted that he is currently looking at the differences between preproduction and production as potentially two different teams with a different focus. The focus of the preproduction is what kind of game it will be and may not mean that those people are necessarily needed to be the ones working on the production team.
Other differences that have affected his career are operating as an independent developer working with publishers. Feargus said the big difference is when dealing with a publisher is that they look at the bottom line and want to know how much it will cost and how long it will take to develop. With the cost of games in the tens of millions range the ability for a team to experiment a great deal outside of the original scope is limited because the importance of hitting milestones. (Working with a publisher we are contractors,) Feargus cited. (We go in and sell the idea of building a 12' swimming pool and how we see it as a finished product. Then you go to dig the hole and find out that at 10' there is bedrock that did not show up on the seismic readings. To go back to the publisher and explain that to get that pool to 12' we will either need to increase the budget and timing or make some adjustments to the plan has been challenging.) Feargus said he is much better now at understanding the core of a project and explaining the additional features and ideas that go along with the concept but that are not essential to creating a completed game. It is managing those expectations and clearly understanding your vision for the project that allows for successful relationships with publishers.
Feargus also got a better understanding of working with a publisher's goals and motivations. Although it takes many people to develop and publish a successful game not everyone involved has the same timeline to hit certain milestones. A PR person may need a certain asset for an upcoming cover that the production team slated for finalization weeks down the road. By understanding that there are external relationships and deadlines that are going to affect the schedule is part of the process. These changes come up but they do not change the milestones originally set. Feargus mentioned that he has seen people new to game development struggle trying to get a publisher to understand their situations and the results of the changes; where the disconnect lies is the publishers don't need to understand your job to do theirs. The passion can be different and is usually focused around different things. Explaining a back story of a character to a publisher that is focused on the multiplayer feature is not helping. In working on both sides earlier in his career Feargus was able to understand some of the relationships involved in the process allowing him to focus on what is important to his team being successful.