Rod Fergusson knows production. At Microsoft, he helped create courseware their consultants use to teach project management, went on to produce MS Train Simulator, Blood Wake, Counter-Strike Xbox and headed up production on the Microsoft side for a third-party project by a North Carolina developer called Epic. The game was 2006's blockbuster Gears of War, and by the time it shipped, Fergusson had moved to Epic to take over as producer.
He says the hardest part of the transition wasn't convincing Epic he wasn't a Microsoft insider, but convincing Microsoft he was no longer a Microsoft employee.
"I think people say I'm a little bit harder on Microsoft than others just because I know them, and I know what they want, and I know why they want it," he says, "so I tend to call 'bullshit' a little bit quicker than other people do. "
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Fergusson in his Epic office, as part of The Escapist's exclusive coverage inside Epic. You can read the rest of our interviews and impressions tomorrow when Issue 149 goes live, but for now, enjoy my exclusive interview with Fergusson, where we talk about game production, why Gears of War was a harder game to develop than the sequel and the value of knowing when to say when.
The Escapist: Tell me all the stuff you've been working on. "Producer" is still kind of a new role for game development, and it's kind of nebulous from studio to studio. I know a lot of guys have an adversarial relationship with their producer, and some of them just love their producer. How does the role work for you at Epic, and what do you end up spending your time doing?
Rod Fergusson: Well, for me it's kind of a different role. The reason I love being a producer is that you're able to get your fingers into all the pieces. Like, you're able to be involved in everything, because you kind of oversee it all. And I know that producers ... you know, when I first met Cliff, I think the first thing he ever said to me was "there are too many producers in the industry." And that was before he had sort of gone through the cycle of seeing how producers can really contribute to the development process. And I think if you were to ask him that same question today, he'd have a completely different story.
TE: I think the industry in general, also to some extent Epic, has a reputation for being just kind of cowboy, unbridled creativity, and "the game is released when it's ready, and you can't put your business constraints on us, mister." How do you sort of corral that as a producer and focus that into making a game like Gears or Gears 2, where it's such a big project, and Microsoft is over there in their corner, waiting to see what's going to happen?