Kim Sellentin, Producer at SEGA Studios Australia, discusses her start as a QA tester, her approach of cultivating a learning culture in the studio, and strategies for current and future producers.
From Programming to Producing
Although Kim Sellentin set out to be a programmer, she found a fitting path as a producer. During Sellentin’s software engineering studies, one of her instructors highlighted a game designer who worked for a local studio. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I can make a career out of developing games? Cool!’” Sellentin recalls.
Soon after, Sellentin tracked down the designer and expressed her utmost interest in a position in quality assurance if anything opened up. A few months later, Sellentin was a part-time QA tester at the studio.
Medieval II Total War: Kingdoms, the first game Sellentin was involved in for the entire development cycle, was ultimately what hooked her. “I fell in love with my job and the game industry after the whole experience.”
Sellentin naturally shifted from programming to producing as her career progressed, although she is still mindful of the importance of the QA tester.
The Throws of Producing
To Sellentin, a good producer is a good leader, one who creates and fosters a great environment for the team to succeed. Sellentin takes a situational leadership approach and fulfills different roles whenever necessary, such as project manager or mentor. “In creating the right environment for high performing teams, I believe there’s a certain level of autonomy and creative ownership you must give to the team,” explains Sellentin.
Sellentin sets clear goals and then focuses more on being a facilitator to leverage leadership, which appeals to intrinsic motivation and cultivates a learning culture. Ultimately, Sellentin feels this approach makes for higher performing teams and, therefore, better games.
“My general production strategy is having clear goals throughout the entire project lifecycle and setting milestones that add incremental value to the player,” says Sellentin. Goals should be aligned with the studio’s core values, business strategy, project management approach, and day-to-day decisions.
Sellentin forms cross-disciplinary teams that are focused on proving the core gameplay experience while eliminating unknowns as soon as possible. Sellentin likes to involve QA right from the start and keep the game in a playable state at all times. “Find the fun as early as possible and then use the core gameplay experience to drive and optimize pipelines, support teams, quality assurance, technical frameworks and tools.”
Producing often goes beyond the studio. Sellentin puts a lot of effort into maintaining healthy relationships not only with her team, but also with key stakeholders and industry contacts. “In a troubled economy, it’s really important to help each other out,” says Sellentin. She advocates sharing knowledge on the merit that you in turn will receive knowledge and perspective.
Producing as a Skilled Profession
Sellentin’s path to producing started in QA, which is still a viable route, but production is now a skilled profession. To be effective, producing requires previous project management experience. It is possible to get this kind of experience from team projects in college or personal projects. It is especially important to read and explore both traditional and agile project management approaches, such as Scrum and Kanban, Sellentin describes.
Opportunities for entry production jobs vary from studio to studio. The first step involves getting a position as a production intern, production assistant, or assistant producer. Industry events are a good opportunity to make contacts. “Opt for the smaller meet-ups or conferences, where you won’t get lost in the crowd,” advises Sellentin. Always have a business card and CV ready. In these economic times, it’s always useful to make connections.
Kim Sellentin is currently working with SEGA Studios Australia on an unannounced multi-platform sports title.