Monday, August 05, 2013

What does a producer do at SOE Live?

SOE Live (the SOE gamer gathering formerly known as Fan Faire) has come and gone for 2013 and I'm at home recovering today.  Wonderful time as always and the big "reveal" of EverQuest Next seems to have gone over hugely well with both players and media.  I still haven't caught up with all the articles but I'll post links another time.

I've been well known by players since I joined SOE in 2007 (even before, in some circles) so there were lots of hugs and welcome backs throughout the weekend. The number one question that I got asked, right after "what are you doing on EverQuest Next?" (answer: producer), was "what does a producer do?"

Despite the fact this is the second game I've been a producer on, I still don't have an easy answer. It seems to depend on the game, the team, and the circumstances.  The best answers I've heard so far include:

  • anything that needs doing
  • keep the team running smoothly and deal with external demands; if I'm doing my job well, everybody on the team should wonder what the heck I do all day anyway because it's going so smoothly.
  • deliver a product on time and see not only what is there, but what is NOT there and needs to be.  If a game company were a car manufacturer, the producer not only needs to check all the wheels and doors are being made and on time, but also notice that nobody's remembered to make the brakes.
That doesn't even begin to cover the details though.  So for anyone who is interested, this blog is about what this particular producer did at SOE Live (and keep in mind, Terry is our Senior Producer so he was taking care of a whole other set of things including all the press interviews, as were as many other competent people too).

This is probably way more detail than most people want, but if you WERE one of those people asking for specifics, here is essentially a high level diary of what I did at SOE Live this year (and why you saw me running back and forth for a lot of it)!

  • Arrived, checked in, rehearsed the Friday reveal presentation. The team discussed various changes of plan and how to overcome them.
  • Spent a lot of time doing last-minute playtests of the augmented reality mobile app we'd created for SOE Live; a few bugs were found and a lot of emails went back and forth discussing whether there was time to update before Friday.
  • Dinner with the Community Summit folks, a group of influential players invited for their input. Introduced as many of the EQN team as I could to as many of the players as I could; podcasters and similar will want to meet the team in particular.
  • Early (relatively speaking) night as Terry said he wanted to practice again in the morning.
Community Council dinner - my table

  • Headed down to the presentation area early, but turned out I was not immediately needed for practice. Found breakfast with some of our players, spent time chatting (though not about EQN, which was still all secret stuff!)
  • Up to the check-in area to see if any help was needed with setting up, then arranged for some relevant folks to sit in on the Friday morning run-through of the reveal.
  • Mid morning practice run of the reveal, and a few more changes based on feedback.
  • Gave some snack packs to the AV guys who were working nonstop setting up for the presentations. I always bring emergency snacks to SOE Live; there are always people who end up working through meals and getting too busy to find anything to eat. Especially the AV team, community, and folks supervising the game room areas. They later told me my snacks were all they had to eat for the entire day.
  • Spent a little time walking around getting oriented in the casino; new hotel from previous years and it's always good to know where things are.
  • Players started lining up to register in the early afternoon, and the lines were very long. I always take this time to walk along the lines saying welcome and hello. It sucks to be stuck in a line, and often people are happy to talk to a dev while they wait; even if not, a welcome is friendly! Community team were doing the same. Lots of familiar faces who said hello also, and many new ones looking nervous who said it was their first time. They're always unsure if coming was a big mistake, and I always reassure them they'll have a wonderful time (and they always do).  This kept me busy for many hours. I noticed our #myEQstory winner in the line, Maergoth the paladin, and think I made his day by recognizing him in front of his guild. 
  • Helped random lost press/media folks find the press room.
  • Periodically checked in with our EQNext authors, who had a stall in the hallway selling their other books and were looking forward to the big reveal as well as their own panel on Sunday. Made sure they had their schedules and everything they needed. Turned out they needed a couple of day passes for their spouses/kids, so I followed up on those.
  • The official welcome from Smed was Thursday night. Sat with the authors and made a few rounds of other tables welcoming people I recognized as well as newcomers.  Also helped a player who was collecting dev signatures to get a few more.
  • After the welcome, another rehearsal for Friday's big EQNext reveal. This was cut a bit short by technical issues so we ended around 11:30 with admonitions to be back by 7:30 for more. So, another early night!
Jeff dancing to appropriate music after someone accidentally deleted the database... panic moment

  • Super early breakfast and practice for the noon reveal. Some issues with the sand painting and projection equipment actually meant we sat around for a while before we could start practicing but things eventually got started. We had a very short break before the actual reveal at noon, then gathered again. I sat with the team at a side corner table way out of the way, so that when Dave's presentation was drawing to an end we could slip unnoticeably behind the curtain and get to the live demo machines. 
The team who were backstage during the reveal
  • Once Dave's presentation ended , they drew back a section of the curtains so that Terry, Darrin, and Jeff could be seen, and a group of 7 of us ran through some live play to show off the massive destruction and more of the wizard and warrior abilities. 
  • Once again provided snacks to the AV team, at least once of whom once again had nothing else to eat for lunch on Friday. Those guys work like crazy at these events.
  • After the presentation ended, EQN had a 3 hour break until the first EQNext panel. Most were free to wander around, but I'd been assigned to meet a small group of VIP players from a particular gaming site and ensure they felt welcome, knew where they were going, and generally make them at home. I met up with them around 2 and made sure they had my number in case of emergencies, gave them a brief introduction and welcome, and then made sure they met up with the first EQN team members they had a scheduled interview with. I also followed up with the relevant team members to ensure they knew where to go and when!
  • Checked back on the guest passes for the authors' families and ensured they'd been delivered. 
  • Discovered we'd omitted some details that needed arranging with the Round Table section of the website, and found the appropriate marketing person to confirm fixing this, then followed up with the social media guys to get it done.  Updated the relevant EQN team on the changes.
  • Checked in a couple times on the VIPs to ensure their interviews were going well. Chatted with players in between. Everyone very excited about EQNext!
  • First EQN panel was at 5pm and we were all supposed to sit in the audience (only 5 people actually up front). When I turned up, Terry asked if I could film it with a handycam. Unfortunately, there was no tripod so I flipped a chair around and tried to steady my arms on the back of it. Added complication: marketing manager was texting me during filming with questions about the VIP players dinner plans which needed answering, so apologies to anyone who subsequently watches the video; if there's a time or two when the camera drifts completely off course, I blame marketing!  My arms/hands were killing me by the end. Fortunately they found a tripod for all the subsequent panels.
  • After the panel I met up with Eric our Associate Producer and we took the 5 VIP players out to dinner at Hofbrauhaus. There is a tradition for a number of staff to go there for dinner each year before the pool party, though I have never been before as I'm usually too busy. Food was good and we had time to catch up with the players and learn more about them.
  • Back in time for the pool party; changed clothes appropriately and headed down, but almost as soon as I arrived I was introduced to Daniel, a player who runs a brewery and who had printed up many many cases of beer with special EQ themed labels (Blackburrow Stout, Ogre Swill, and Dwarven Ale) hoping to share them with us at the pool party. However, casino security had refused to allow him to bring the beer into the casino and he'd had to leave most of it behind, and even the 3 or so cases he did bring in a cooler he wasn't allowed to bring to the pool because they were in glass bottles. He was understandably very frustrated and had clearly gone to a lot of trouble and expense to do a nice thing for us which was being stymied. This kind of randomness is the kind of thing that becomes a producer's problem. So I found our Director of Community (Linda), explained the situation, confirmed we could bring them to the banquet tomorrow instead, and then escorted Daniel and his beer to my hotel room for overnight storage (of the beer, not the man!) as he was not staying at the same hotel.
  • Returned downstairs to the pool party and made sure that Daniel was thanked and enjoying himself, then bumped into one of our authors who was frustrated at the length of the bar lines and looking around for people he knew. As it turned out I had cases of beer in my room, we retreated to my room and shared a bottle of the Dwarven Ale (into plastic cups) which we were able to safely bring back to the pool party. This was actually the only drink I managed to get during the whole party, so fortunately it was very nice beer indeed.
  • I introduced the author to various other people and checked on the group of VIPs I'd had dinner with; they seemed to be doing well, so I tried to track down our legal team as the author had wanted to meet them.  Unfortunately by the time I found a legal team member I couldn't locate our author. I did bump into Ten Ton Hammer staff, and recalled Daniel (the brewer) had wanted to deliver some of his EQ themed beer to them also, so I told them I had some and arranged to stop by their hosted breakfast in the morning with a few bottles.  
  • The rest of the pool party I spent chatting with a number of our podcasters, making sure they were having a good time and had managed to meet up with all the various devs they were trying to find, and generally talking with players. I never actually did get within visible distance of a pool!
  • Towards the end I was handed a nice wooden "EQNext Fans" cigar box, still mostly full, which had apparently been left behind on a table. The person giving it to me thought it had been given to someone in the marketing team, so it was now clearly a producer's job to take care of it and get it back to its rightful owner.  Which I did.
  • We were kicked out of the pool area at midnight and I went to a smaller room party in the suite of one of our EQ2 designers. Drinks and Cards Against Humanity were the main themes. Brought a couple of bottles of the EQ themed beer to the party and made sure Holly, the EQ2 producer, got a bottle.  
  • Went down to the Heart Bar in the main casino to chat with players until about 2am. Linda introduced me to a player she knew from previous years who had offered to help film our EQN panels, and I arranged to introduce him to Terry in the morning.
Awesome beers in my bathroom!

  • I was able to get a slightly late start this morning as panels didn't start till 11. First stop was the Ten Ton Hammer breakfast with a few of Daniel's beers to make sure they got some, but it seemed Daniel did manage to find them himself and was already there chatting with them.  So I caught up a bit on twitter and facebook and got some photos and news posted before heading to the panels.
  • First EQNext panel was packed and crowd was very excited. The player who'd offered to help film was not to be found but Greg had located a tripod and someone other than me filmed the panel. This left me free to sit in back and watch, as well as do some last minute preparation for the player panel I would be MC'ing at 3.
  • Lunch break to allow players to get lunch between panels was at 12; I got to the room it would be in during the break and copied onto the PC their presentation (they'd shared it on Google Drive) and a preview EQN building video we'd got permission to show also. Texted them to let them know it was there and ready.
  • While there I noticed the list of panels on the sign for that room was wrong (our panel wasn't listed) so followed up with the registration desk to get that fixed up.
  • Checked in with our authors, our VIP players, various other players in the area, and fed AV team more snacks.
  • Provided Ibuprofen to some EQ2 devs who were in serious need. (Another thing I always pack.)
  • Brought the beer down out of my room (alas) and delivered it in the cooler to the info desk where Linda was going to pick it up for the banquet.
  • Checked in with wikia who were doing a great job encouraging players to sign up and update information. Nice to meet the wikia team, and I was sorry I didn't have more time to chat with them.
  • Panels from 1-3 (I sat in the back) and the player who offered to help film did show up, I put him in touch with Terry and he was very helpful with the remainder of the filming.
  • One of the players I know from previous years stopped by to show off the cloak she'd hand-sewn last year based on a quest I made long ago. She brought it specially so I could see it. I took a photo to show to the artist who created it, in case nobody had done so last year (apparently they hadn't; he just replied "I never saw this before such an excellent rendition" which I've passed back to her). I love showing the artists what costumes players create from their work, I think it's inspiring on both sides!
Obann's "Cloak of the Gatherer"
  • At 3 there was another EQN panel but I went off to do the player panel: "EQ2 Hardcore Decorating". Since it was a player panel I didn't want to take the attention away from them, but I did the introduction, a brief overview of some of the history of changes in EQ2 decorating, and then let them do their stuff. I also helped with handing out (and gathering) reference cards and sign ups to win decorating stuff.  At the very end I'd got permission to show the timelapse video of building in EQN Landmark, which is very relevant to decorator interests, and that went over very well as a little preview of what's to come.  There was some good Q&A which the panelists handled, and then it was off to the last EQN panel of the day.
  • Final Saturday panel was general Q&A and all of us who weren't sitting up front lined up on the side wall in case there were questions for us also. There were also a couple of Nagafen hat giveaways which Terry had me deliver to the winners.
  • During the session lady in a scooter beside our line knocked over her large soft drink, so I ran out to get paper towels and clean it up and let hotel cleaning know.
  • One of the players also brought up some bugs with Station Access that we hadn't been aware of so I also followed up to get his name so we could get more details later.  Also followed up and thanked our filming assistant afterwards!
  • After that, there were 2 hours till the banquet. I checked the smaller panel rooms as I'd noticed during the player panel that there were some Nagafen hats that were intended for giveaways but had been forgotten. Gathered those up and got them to appropriate people before they went walking.
  • In between all the above I was tweeting as much as I could to share with the fans who were not able to come on-site, as well as checking in with marketing and Terry whenever I saw them to see if any help was needed with anything else.  
  • Had been planning to get dinner, but nobody seemed to have plans (or at least, not plans that included me) and one of our new EQNext podcasters and his wife asked me if I had time for coffee.  Miraculously, I did; apart from helping to follow up on who'd ended up with our cameras (which I could do by text message), I managed to spend a half hour with them at a table at the Coffee Bean talking about the industry in general. She was curious about how people got into it and whether there might be any jobs she could look at, and he was just generally curious. They were both very positive about their experience at SOE Live, and very impressed by how accessible all the staff from Dave's level on downwards made themselves. Other conventions they'd gone to had felt very impersonal and they said this made a huge difference.  Of course, I explained how important we find our players and their opinions at SOE, especially as many of us started out as players ourselves, me included!  It was nice to sit down for half an hour and get to know these guys. I hope that, like many of our EQ2 podcasters, they'll be back again in future years.
  • Followed up with Linda on the beer to ensure it had been collected for the banquet; it had.  Followed up with Daniel the brewer to let him know, and also to meet up with him before the banquest so he was able to get into the hall as his vendor pass had been incorrectly set up.  Met him outside and introduced him to one of our marketing managers also, in case they were interested to arrange some more formal agreement for EQ themed beers.
  • Escorted Daniel safely into the banquet, and sat him down with some friendly players I knew would keep him company. Walked around talking to players until it was clear there was room for staff to sit down (players come first, and it was sold out). Checked on our authors, guide program volunteers, various podcasters, our VIP player group, and generally walked around chatting to random tables making sure everyone was happy. Signed various things people wanted signed, and directed them to other devs for more signatures.
  • After the banquet, talked with the stragglers and bumped into the person from Massively who wrote the extraordinarily flattering and somewhat embarrassing article singing my praises when I rejoined the EQN team. She was having a great weekend and looking forward to seeing lots more of EQNext.
  • Many people decamped to the Heart Bar afterwards and I joined also. Spent more time talking to our friendly brewer, plus various players and podcasters, till well past 2am (probably closer to 3).
Good turn out for the decorating panel: ~70 people?

  • Our brewer friend had been supposed to collect his cooler before leaving the hotel last night but he must have been drinking too late to remember, and it was uncollected. Fortunately I had his number so I followed up with him; he'd already left town to get back to work and told us to keep it. I let the community team know to just pack it up with the rest of our stuff. Perhaps we can get it back to him next year.
  • Dev Brunch at 10, so I had to be up, dressed, packed, and checked out of the hotel before that. Left my bags at the desk and headed to the brunch, where we were asked to spread out and ensure all tables had at least one dev. I ended up sitting with Rod Haza, who works on Dragon's Prophet, with a mix of players from EQ1, Planetside 2, and Dragon's Prophet. They were all very excited about EQNext. 
  • One of the PS2 guys was collecting PS2 dev signatures so I pointed out a few devs to him, and one of the EQ1 players had his original EQ1 collector's edition box with him and was collecting EQ1 dev signatures. He got a few on his own and I helped him locate some others he particularly wanted. When he found out I was Domino from EQ2, he also insisted on getting mine although I reminded him I'd never actually worked on EQ1. It felt like a very serious moment to put a pen to an original EQ1 box and sign my name on it, something I would never have expected when I first picked up the game back in 2000. But then, I would never have expected any of this!
  • After the dev brunch it was time for the last EQNext panel, readings from our authors and a Q&A. I was called outside during the readings by our brand manager who needed help contacting the VIP players I'd been checking on; apparently one of them had missed his plane and they were attempting to help him make new arrangements. I gave him all the information I had, and later heard the player did successfully get home after some delays. Fortunately I'd read the authors' stories already, so I didn't miss out despite missing part of the readings, and the Q&A afterwards was interesting and surprisingly lively. I hadn't been quite sure how many people would be interested in the readings, given the hung-over state of many of them by Sunday, but it was a good turn-out.
  • Finally, the last panel was over. I gave a few last lost people directions to the EQ2 Q&A panel which was still ongoing, and said goodbyes to various of the stragglers left behind. Then it was time to collect my bags and head off to the airport; another SOE Live behind me. 
  • I was still wearing my SOE staff shirt at the airport and was stopped by a couple of people in the airport to tell me what a wonderful time they'd had, and thank the team for a great weekend. :)
Aliscious and Dellmon (EQ2 podcasters) with me and Dave at the pool party

Overall this year was a very positive experience, except for someone stealing one of the Silent Auction displays whose proceeds would have gone to the Child's Play charity - despicable - and a series of slightly irate tweets from a player who seemed to think I could get him for free into a sold-out event on one day's notice when even SOE staff were being told they might not be let in due to the numbers. I wish we really did have the time and powers to pull off miracles like that for everyone who wanted, but alas. I hope he'll plan in advance next year and pre-book tickets.

Players who attend SOE Live always have a great time and sometimes seem to assume that it is a holiday for SOE staff also. We almost always do have a great time as well, but it is definitely not a holiday and definitely exhausting. It's always nonstop from the time I wake up till the time I pass out; even if I do have a brief time to walk around on my own, it's always with the understanding that I could be called to drop everything at any time, or stopped by players and need to be immediately charming and sociable.  I am always happy to do both, of course, but I'm very glad to have Monday off to relax and do absolutely nothing but catch up on sleep and laundry!

I'm not sure if that helps in the slightest to explain what a producer does at SOE Live - every year is different and could have a completely different set of problems.  And I've certainly already forgotten some things from this list. But at least it probably illustrates the complete randomness of my job, and maybe that's what a producer does best: deal with whatever comes up and ensure as many people as possible get whatever they need to do their jobs, stay happy, and have a good time.


  1. Whew, I got exhausted just reading that!! I'm another one of those that squeed when I heard you were back at SOE, at working on EQN, of all things. :) You were sorely missed!

  2. I can surely say it must take a lot of energy to be a producer!
    You did forget one important thing, however, I think.
    Through all your duties you took the time and made the effort to keep all of us informed and entertained via twitter. The tweets and pictures were a great benefit for the people at SOELive and especially the people like me who had to stay at home. For that you have our gratitude!

  3. Hi Domino,

    From someone in the UK who's just a little far from Vegas - thanks for the insight! The focus you put on the players really comes across :P

  4. Didn't see this until now but a great writeup... you are one busy lady! :)