Simona Vilutiene — Exclusive Interview | The Hivenh

Career, skills and how to manage the production of a video game through empathy and collaboration.

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Introducing Simona Vilutiene

From Lithuania, Simona Vilutiene is a Production Manager specializing in video games and is currently based in Montréal. Previously, she has worked on several triple AAA titles at the biggest video game companies as a QA Lead, Scrum Master and Production Manager. Since 2020, she has been appointed ambassador for Women in Games WIGJ.

1. Why and how did you decide to start a career in the gaming industry?

I have played games before, but I think everything started when I played the game Half-Life, as this was my first real experience where I kept thinking about the game and was finding myself coming back to not only to play, but to analyze it as well.

When I was growing up in my hometown, we had no video game companies and working in this industry was something that I would never think of or consider. I always knew that my calling, is to work surrounded by people and large teams; that’s when I was the happiest. I started studying stage directing, and after I found myself falling into the movie industry.

I became a freelance movie producer, and at that time, my proactivity had no limits. I was involved in the cinema community and organized movie events at one of the most famous club during that time. I surrounded myself with creative people that inspired me to stay focused. At that time, my dream was to be a documentary movie producer, and I have to admit, I still hope that one day I will have this opportunity.

When I came to Montréal, I started working as a QA Tester for a big company. This was my starting point when I began exploring my strengths in the video game industry and how I could influence the process to make it better.

I had the opportunity to work with the talented Reflector Entertainment development team and now landed a position at Ubisoft Montréal as a Production Manager. Discovering my professional side was a long road, but I could not be happier to be where I am now. I have an amazing team!

“I started as a QA Tester. This was my starting point when I began exploring my strengths in the video game industry and how I could influence the process to make it better..”

2. How did you develop the skills to become a QA Lead and then a Production Manager?

I believe that all the life experiences that you get counts towards who you are in your professional life. I was a QA Tester for a moment, but all my experience in stage directing and movie producing brought me to a Coordinator position. You will never carry knowledge on your shoulder, because knowledge will carry you. Having a curious personality is also essential as the gaming industry is always changing.

I always hear developers say, “What would be the best for the player?
and “How we could make sure that players are having fun?” and the truth is:

If you have a happy team and the team is based on trust, support, and communication, you will have a great game, as people are free to be creative, take the time they need, and have support daily.

Being a lead or manager does not mean telling other people what to do. It’s about asking them how you could help them and how you could serve others. People are scared of the word “serve,” but you can’t be a great leader if you don’t know how to help your team and genuinely care for them. When I joined my previous company, my goal was to build the best QA department, because I had a chance to do so. I had all the tools and support I needed.

I was able to choose and hire my team, build the QA production pipeline and manage the process. This was a great challenge, but with the right mindset and other people’s support, it became possible. My team was not only talented but had the capability of solving problems as a team.

Video game development is not about individual work; it’s all about teamwork, and this process moves like one giant organism.

After taking on this challenge, I decided to learn more about leadership and different management styles. I wanted to help other teams find solutions and improve their workflows, so I got a SCRUM Master certificate and became more involved in different team’s workflows, which allowed me to learn more.

“Video game development is not about individual work; it’s all about teamwork, and this process moves like one giant organism.”

3. You have been working on the triple AAA titles, and those are massive projects with hundreds of professionals involved. What was the value of these experiences? What did you learn?

I could talk for hours about what I have learned during those massive projects, and I’m not talking only about the technical aspect of this work.

I met so many great and talented people. They all had a significant influence on my professional life. I learned how to solve complex problems when you have multiple people involved. I understood that good communication is one of the most valuable skills.

And overall, I learned how to be a better human being. I know it can sound funny, but when you work in a big production and take a management position, you must learn to care for other people and how to support each other in difficult moments. It’s not about you anymore; it’s all about others.

“I understood that good communication is one of the most valuable skills.”

4. I know you are an ambassador for Women in Games. What does that mean for you, and what it brings to others?

First of all, this is a big honour. I’m thrilled that I can be part of this big community. Women in Games is all about how to make this industry a better place. It’s an organization that seeks a games industry with culture and a community free of gender discrimination.

Full equality of opportunity, treatment and conditions empowers all women to achieve their full potential. Being an ambassador is not just a title for me. It gives me the possibility of sharing my experience with others and help other young talented individuals to reach their dreams.

We have so many talented people that have been in this industry forever, and their expertise could inspire many people, but it’s not their priority. If I can help others reach their goals, I don’t see why I should not do it.

Less than a year ago, I had a chance to give a speech in a school that was related to video game development. Seeing students so curious and passionate about this industry made me understand that the least I can do is support them and help them start their journey.

“Full equality of opportunity, treatment and conditions empowers all women to achieve their full potential.”

5. What advice can you suggest to an aspiring professional to start her/his career in the video game industry?

Every time I start a new project or a new position at a new company, I have a reminder set up on my phone that every day at 8 AM, I get a message:

“Be present. Listen to understand, not to replay. Work Smart”

To start understanding what is going on when you are entirely clueless at your new position, all you need to do is be present at work. Don’t skip workdays, don’t miss meetings and keep your mind in the present moment.
The information will reach you, and you will build good relationships with your coworkers. You don’t need to be anxious about your new adventure. Enjoy it and be in the present moment.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to replay. This one is a must for every lead, manager or production member. If you have to do an evaluation, you need to know how to listen. I know it sounds easy, but to listen without making your own opinion or interpretations is way more challenging than you think.

And finally, work smart! Working with a big production, you can’t possibly know everything, but you need to know who knows the information you need. It’s okay not to know, and you always need to be transparent with your team. That way, you’ll avoid unnecessary pressure, stress and learning is way more fun than struggling alone to find the answers.

Prioritizing is also a big part of working smart. If you are working in a big production, you can often find yourself running in circles on what you should do next. Take some time to learn how to prioritize your day, your tasks and have a routine. Start your workday with 10min planning and free your mind from the question, “What’s next?”.

These are my top three pieces of advice when I start something new, everyone is different, and you need to find your own top three and be consistent.
Finally, my ultimate advice is to find yourself a mentor.

Our learning does not end with school or university. Find a person that you admire professionally and learn from them. I have met some amazing producers in my life, and I’m forever thankful that they dedicated their time to share the knowledge they have. A good mentor doesn’t give you all the answers. They ask the right questions that help you to find your way.

“If you have to do an evaluation, you need to know how to listen. I know it sounds easy, but to listen without making your own opinion or interpretations is way more challenging than you think.”

Simona Vilutiene’s video games management projects include:

Set on the fictional Caribbean island of Yara, Far Cry 6 (Ubisoft, 2021) sees dictator Antón Castillo (Giancarlo Esposito) and favorite son Diego (Anthony Gonzalez) crack down on the local population to maintain their authoritarian power. On the island, however, the social crisis is now unsustainable and the opponents of the regime, led by Dani Rojas (the player), begin to organize themselves in an urban guerrilla with the aim of regaining their freedom: it is the dawn of the civil war for the domain of Yara. [Far Cry 6 official website]
Reflector Entertainment’s first transmedia project, Unknown 9 expands with confirmed narrative experiences between video game, a trilogy of novels, narrative podcasts and a series of comics. The Awakening video game experience (2021) explores the story of Haroona, a young Indian girl involved in occult mysteries, secret societies, conspiracies and paranormal phenomena that will force her to fight for her life and for the destiny of humanity.

Humenhoid is a creative research unit specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling, with focus on cinema, tv series, and video games.

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I’m a creative research unit specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling with focus on cinema, tv series, and videogames | humenhoid.com

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I’m a creative research unit specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling with focus on cinema, tv series, and videogames | humenhoid.com

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