Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rock Star!

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
My name is Adam Schwenk, and I'm a Senior Interactive Producer for Domani Studios.  I'm a gamer and a comics geek.

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?

I actually went to school and obtained a Civil Engineering degree.  At the time I was attending college, the web was really born, and the games industry was really taking off from the 2D pixel images to fully rendered 3D environments.  All this new technology fascinated me and I wanted to be involved with it, so I found myself in Los Angeles working for a small interactive agency, Jamison/Gold, as a web designer and developer.  From there, I went into the games industry, working as a Producer for Warner Bros Interactive, and then went on to be one of the early producers for JAMDAT Mobile, the premiere mobile games publisher in the world at the time.  We were incredibly successful.  We went public and were acquired by Electronic Arts, where I continued to produce award-winning game titles such as SOCOM and Medal of Honor.  In 2007 I transferred within EA to Chicago.  Unfortunately, that studio was closed shortly after, and I found an opportunity with Domani Studios.  

My background is an amalgam of a heavy technical degree from my college years, combined with lots of physical and conceptual design in both the interactive and games space.  I've discovered that the interactive spaces borrow heavily from each other...games and web interaction are becoming more closely connected every year and I find that exciting.  

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
I'm pretty fascinated with internet culture and the interactive world, so I read my favorite blogs daily, boingboing, slashdot, gizmodo, bluesnews, as well as the standard interactive advertising and creative sites such as thefwa, surfstation.lu, and designiskinky.  

I find the younger members of my team keep me engaged and challenge me to keep up, which excites me as well.  This new generation of interactive professionals have grown connected to the interactive space, so they remain on top of the latest innovations as a hobby, not just as their chosen profession.  I believe it's a collaborative effort between me and my team to make sure we consistently educate each other on the "Next Big Thing" in interactive and that happens with a happy and closely knit group.

As for motivation, it's generally not that difficult to motivate interactive professionals.  I find this work to be tremendously challenge, and can be very stressful.  There are much easier ways to make a living...but who wants to do that?  I honestly believe most folks in this business are here because they want to leave their mark.  They want to be a part of something that is continuing to revolutionize and inspire others.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
I prefer clients that have an understanding of the interactive development process, or at least have respect for the process.  It's much harder and more risky  to make changes in the middle or end of a complex web development project as it is in a project's infancy, so sometimes I find myself educating my clients on this process to get them to understand that even conceptually simple changes can't be fixed on the fly.  Production can be messy, especially when you're trying to do things that have never been done before.  The kinds of projects I love working on are those that engage the user in innovative ways, with a client that allows us the creative flexibility to try things that haven't been done before.  Taking managed risks in the creative stage is the key to generating huge successes.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
Usually, you can size up a client's understanding of the medium pretty quickly.  From there, I make it clear that the development process is much easier when changes are made in the concept stage than rather than in execution.  Storyboards and prototypes are critical in getting sign-off from a client early in the process.  Big changes toward the end can have catastrophic effects on both the schedule and budget, so I try to frontload as many of the questionable pieces that I can with the client, then execute, execute, execute.  I find agreeing on a plan up front and executing against that plan is the best way to set expectations.  

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
The project I'm most proud of is my worldwide launch of the mobile game SOCOM: Mobile Recon, which was developed by my buddies at IronMonkey Studios.  We worked collaboratively with Sony Computer Entertainment America on the development of the game, which ultimately received a 9 out of 10 score on IGN and Action Game of the Year.  

The best project I'd ever worked on was JAMDAT Air Hockey, which wasn't a financial success but an innovative one.  The challenge was to create an innnovative, one button press game that had a twitch gamer experience, but didn't punish the player due to any handset shortcomings. At the time, button delays and keypress caching made things very difficult to create a fun reactive experience, so we had to rely heavily on creating an altered physics system and some quite inspired game mechanics that allowed the AI to handle defense but give up control to the player to make offensive moves.  It was also the first mobile game to have head-to-head gameplay!  

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?
This really depends on a number of things, including scale of the projects, number and quality of team members, and the type of client you're working with.  Ideally, I like having one bigger web project and filling in the holes with banner ads or smaller one-offs as necessary.  In the past, I've been able to manage as many as 5 different projects at the same time, but technology is changing quickly, projects are requiring more depth of knowledge and brainpower, and I believe it takes more thought and energy to deliver a quality product.  

Q: What does your dream production team look like?
Again, this can depend on the project.  I'm open to working with most personalities, but the general qualities I really look for are the following:

Communication - I need team members that can work collaboratively and can understand and execute on clear communications.  This goes the other direction as well...team members need to be able to effectively communicate their needs, understanding how their role and effective and timely communication can impact the entire process.

Accountability - When I assign my team members tasks to be performed on a project, I make it clear that they own those tasks.  They receive the kudos as those tasks are performed to the best of their ability.  On the same note, if a team member fails to deliver what is asked and agreed upon, they are held accountable.  I want people to own the piece of the project they're responsible for.  I think that's the best way to motivate and encourage members to contribute.

Respect - I require my team members to respect each other.  Everyone has ideas on a project, and I encourage the best ideas to be adopted and used. I've had it ingrained in me from my managers that, if someone can come up with a better idea than mine, run with theirs.  There's no crime in admitting someone else had a better idea, and an effective manager will be more successful if they recognize this.  Respecting and appreciating everyone's contributions to a project makes for a happy dev team.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
Clear communication with the client, a clear understanding of the challenges they want to solve, and a cogent plan to tackling those challenges, within the constraints of budget, manpower, and time of course. ;-)

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
Interactive television.  I've imagined this for a long time, and I do believe there's going to be a day soon when you're watching a television show, and if you see a particular jacket on an actor you like, you can click on it and be offered up a list of online shops you may be able to purchase it from.  I see games, the internet, television and film making synergistic connections that haven't even been daydreamed about yet.  Social interaction is key to the future of entertainment, and interactive advertising is going to be the message that educates users on the best products and services.  

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
Interactive Production can be tough.  It can be messy.  It can be stressful, long, and grueling.  But ultimately, if you can produce something out of nothing that's a heck of an accomplishment, and far more than most people are capable of.   I have to remind myself on those stressful days that producing projects is a talent and an art, and in order to succeed, to rely heavily on my abilities that contribute to its success.  

There are many different types of producers with many different backgrounds.  If you can utilize your own unique skills to produce and complete a project, that is the key to your, and your project's, success.

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