Interview

Square Enix Montréal's Nathalie Gauthier explains why soft skills are the key to managing people

"You certainly have to clearly understand that producing has nothing to do with authority or micro-managing every decision."

Square Enix Montréal's Nathalie Gauthier explains why soft skills are the key to managing people

The games industry plays host to a colourful cast of diverse individuals, from artists and coders to narrative designers and studio heads.

The skills to pull off these roles, however, are complex and differing, with each position requiring mastery in its field – especially in these complex times we are all living through at the minute.

To highlight some of the brilliant work that goes on behind the scenes as well as how employees around the world are adapting to the life of remote work, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to the individuals who make up the games industry in our Jobs in Games: Remote Working series.

This week we spoke with Square Enix Montréal executive producer Nathalie Gauthier.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Nathalie Gauthier: I am the executive producer for an unannounced project at Square Enix Montréal, a mobile-only development studio that is part of the Square Enix group. I define my role as being the project’s business owner, which means that I oversee every aspect from product development to market positioning and business strategies.

In games just as much as in movies, we need to connect with the audience and strike an emotional chord.
Nathalie Gauthier

I am supported by a tight-knit group of wonderfully talented people. Every member of my team has a crucial role to play. We are all in it together.

How did you first get into games and how did you progress into this role?

After university, I first worked in the television and cinema industry. This chapter in my career taught me that no matter the platform – a movie, a novel, or a game – in the end, it’s all about storytelling.

In games just as much as in movies, we need to connect with the audience and strike an emotional chord. It’s crucial to have the humility to not make our creations about ourselves but about those who will, hopefully, enjoy it. I regularly tell my team: “Look at the screen. Forget your intention and really look at the screen from the player’s point of view.”

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

I graduated with a degree in Communications Studies and specialised on Cinematography. There is no one path to becoming an executive producer. Executive producers can have management, finance, or engineering backgrounds.

Obviously, a degree in project management can always come in handy, but it is a role you grow into based on how well you can positively affect people around you and align them towards a common goal.

Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?

The biggest misconception that people have about the executive producer role is that it is only a financial and business responsibility. My role is more importantly about the project’s vision and its relevance in the future video games market.

What advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

If you have an interest in a role in the producer category, you certainly have to clearly understand that producing has nothing to do with authority or micro-managing every decision.

You need the humility to realise that, first and foremost. You are there to support your team and help others succeed. To become a great manager of people and projects, you need to invest in your soft skills. Simply put: listen more, talk less. You also need to trust yourself and take responsibility for your decisions. Little by little, your role will grow towards handling the overall vision of a product or a license.

Another piece of advice is this: if you are not an entrepreneur at heart, this is probably not the role for you, and that’s ok. An executive producer needs to develop a project with the same dedication and passion as if it were your own business.

How has the shift from office to remote working impacted your role, if at all?

We’ve been working remotely for six months now, which is mind-blowing. At first, we were laser-focused on operations and getting everyone set up at home with all the material they need including their Lenovo workstations. We immediately set-up a daily leadership meeting to review and act upon all potential issues, either personal or professional that employees might be experiencing.

My role hasn’t changed per se, but I spend more time in meetings than I did when I was at the studio. Without informal hallway conversations or chats over coffee, it’s harder to gauge how people are doing. So, while we have adapted our production processes quickly and efficiently, I miss real face-to-face contact. Therefore, I plan as many one-on-ones with my team members as I possibly can. I depend more on managers than ever before to make sure that every employee has someone to turn to.

Some members of my team have chosen to move back home with family members, others have rented co-working spaces to get out of the house.
Nathalie Gauthier

What’s been the biggest challenge is finding ways to be creative as a team without being physically together. How do you brainstorm remotely? How do you generate the same creative energy? It’s something we’re still working on.

What does your typical day look like when working remotely?

I have three daughters ages 10 to 17 whom I’ve had to help adapt to remote schooling. So, like many parents, my days start earlier and end later than before. However, I consider myself lucky to have the flexibility to take some time during the day to help my youngest with her homework.

My days are mostly spent in virtual meetings with my team and partners making sure we are aligned with the vision we have defined. Between all of that, I still need to reassess this vision, evolving it and keeping it relevant.

What do you think are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of remote working?

On the plus side, and ironically, we’ve gotten to know each other better. It’s not rare to be on a call with someone who has a baby on their lap or a cat on their shoulder. We are seeing another, more intimate, side of our colleagues.

Obviously, less commute time and having lunch with my husband every day are also nice benefits. To me, the biggest disadvantage of stay-at-home orders is losing access to a whole world of inspiration and human contact. It’s been months since we’ve been able to go to the movies or watch a play. How will we feed our creativity? Where will we find inspiration? These are the questions that I’ve been grappling with.

On top of that, there is a special energy that emanates from people connecting, just like attending a streamed concert versus a live one - it’s just not the same.

Is there anything you wish you had known before moving to remote working?

I wish I had known we’d still be working remotely six months later. I would have spent more time thinking about the what instead of the how of remote working. How do we keep our team dynamics intact with such a disruptive change?

Do you have any advice for others who are struggling to adjust to remote work?

Remote work can be a struggle for those who are isolated. Working remotely while taking care of a family is difficult but going through it alone can be just as hard, if not more. Some members of my team have chosen to move back home with family members, others have rented co-working spaces to get out of the house.

My advice would be to speak up if you’re struggling. Tell a colleague. Tell a manager. Tell someone. Fortunately, in our case, we already had a very safe and supportive environment which allowed team members to be very upfront about the challenges they are going through.

Square Enix Montreal is currently working on an unannounced title after previously launching Deus Ex Go in 2016.

On a more pragmatic note, and if possible, dedicate a space in your home for your workstation, create a daily routine (and stick to it!), and most importantly know when to stop working. It’s too easy to extend the day when your workspace is in your living space.

After the pandemic ends and if you were given the choice, would you prefer to continue working remotely or go back to working in an office?

I would return to the studio in a heartbeat! I miss my team too much; I miss human interactions and the creative magic that occurs so naturally when we are all together around the table. As soon as we can return safely, I will be back at my desk… at least 3 days a week. I am too much of a social person.

Features Editor

Matthew Forde is the features editor at PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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