Meet Aaron Hamilton Cook, Producer

1. Hello, who are you and what are you known for?

I’m Aaron. I’m known for being a collaborative solution finder. I build exceptional teams and help them achieve outstanding success.

2. What initially attracted you to the industry, and how did you break into the games industry?

My interest in games as a means of creating content first developed at a young age using the level editor in Tony Hawk Pro Skater. I had blast building levels for my cousin to play. My professional interest in games, however, began in undergrad. I was studying recording arts and engineering and I love attending game jams and creating audio assets for my fellow students. There was a sense of community that I found that I fell in love with.

3. In this notoriously turbulent industry, what qualities do you feel helped you navigate your career path?

I’m of the opinion that if you don’t choose your values for yourself, others will choose them for you. As an Air Force veteran, I’ve internalized the USAF core values of Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all you do. As my career has progressed, I’ve adopted “continuous growth” as another value for myself. Additionally, I have found that my ability to pivot and adapt has been essential in navigating what can seem like a chaotic industry. When you learn how to connect with others and adapt to their language and understanding, you open up a massive world of opportunity for yourself.

Aaron has worked as a Senior Producer on Halo Infinite during his time at Certain Affinity.
4. For those learning about our industry or interested in your role can you explain your job title, its function and what impact do you have in game titles?

I refer to producers as glorified project managers. The role is essentially the same at all levels, the way in which you are asked to approach it is the main thing that changes. That role is one of service. At its core, production has two main pillars: management, which is all about facilitating process, and leadership, which is all about connecting with people. Within those two buckets, you have three types of skills, technical, human, and conceptual. Technical skills are the nitty gritty in the trenches work that we all do at some level. It how you facilitate process and use tools. Human skills are what people refer to as soft skills. It encompasses things like emotional intelligence and emotional self regulation. Conceptual skills are more abstract. It is less of the how and more of the why. The focus of these skills involves more long term vision and greater understanding and learning. At the end of the day, production is all about helping a team be more successful than they would be otherwise. That means being the calm in the storm, being organized on behalf of others, and removing roadblocks, often before they can even become issues.

5. What’s your favorite part of your job?

Two things. First, I love that it is my job to help people. This presents itself in a variety of ways. Sometimes it means mentoring a less experience producer and helping them grow personally and professionally. Other times, it involves chasing down complex issues and facilitating nuanced collaborative problem solving. Second, I’m a highly analytical person. I intellectualize most of my life and what I encounter. Production is a role where I get to do that as part of the job. There’s something oddly satisfying about distilling a complex problem down into an elegant solution that can be explained simply and quickly. That continued need for problem solving and solution finding is one of the best parts of the gig.

6. Where do you work? Can you explain more about the studio, it’s culture, size, strengths and why you chose to work there?

I’m between positions at the moment. I’ve worked at a variety of places and on a litany of projects. The best place I’ve worked was Certain Affinity. Certain Affinity has an exceptional culture. It is one of care and mutual respect. There’s an intense focus from the CEO, Max, to provide the best environment for his staff that he can. As far as I can tell, he’s doing a great job of delivering on that promise. Additionally, CA has a great reputation in the industry and has garnered a fair number of partnerships allowing the teams there to help ship some amazing content.

Desert Cats is another game Aaron worked on while working at Scientific Games

7. How has COVID after your career, studio and what lasting changes both good and bad do you feel COVID has brought to the games industry?

It’s been an interesting time. I’ve made two career changes during the pandemic and I’m in the middle of my third. Starting remotely is really hard. It’s tough to feel connected to the team and your colleagues like you would if you were in the office. It requires that employers have exceptional leaders in place to help facilitate the onboarding process and that those leaders have a plan for each person joining their team. Some of the good has been the increased productivity. The number of random interruptions that people might normally encounter throughout the day has dramatically been reduced. It’s also helped a lot of folks improve their work/life balance, which means they are regularly feeling recharged and have the right energy to tackle the issues in development without feeling over extended. It will be interesting to see what lasting changes come from this. I think there are some places that understand how to stay effective and competitive remotely, and I expect that those organizations will thrive as it offers increased recruiting opportunities and implies a more adaptable structure. That’s not to say that companies asking their staff to return to the office are doomed. I just feel that lacking that flexibility may hinder their ability to pursue opportunities as they arise.

8. What shall I be doing right now to improve my career prospects?

Regardless of whether you are just starting your career or have been at the same place for a decade, there are two critically essential things to ensure you are able to take advantage of opportunities. First and foremost, do everything you can to constantly learn and grow and master your chosen craft. This industry is highly competitive. There’s a wealth of talent and a limited pool of available opportunities. Being at the top of your game will help ensure you’re ready to seize those opportunities as they arise. Second, work to expand your network. There’s a lot of opinions on networking, but I personally feel that networking is a formal term for making friends. Build relationships with people who share your professional interests. You’d be surprised at the ways in which those friendships will pay off over the years. They may help you find someone for a role you’re looking to fill. They may be someone to whom you can have honest and vulnerable conversations when you’re struggling professionally. They may even refer you to a position one day. The goal should just be to build a relationship though, not to focus on what they can give you.

9. Is there a quote that motivates you?

There’s a quote from the book “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” at the end of the first chapter that reads, “We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out – and we have only just begun.” There’s something about that notion that is both hopeful and insightful. It offers a sense of perspective on how we are capable of contributing to a greater whole. It also reminds me of the concept of an ever expanding universe, constantly ambitiously growing at rate that offers ever depreciating returns, and yet that expansion persists. I find that sense of relentless ambition almost noble. Growing for the sake of growth. I like to apply that philosophy to how I learn and grow as an individual. Not at someone else’s expense, not for some vainglorious purpose, but to simply grow and evolve and expand my understanding. There’s always more to learn, and that’s exciting!

10. Can you share your thoughts about the next 5 years outlook for games?

I feel like the industry is due for a new trend, and I feel like that is going to come from some indie sleeper hit. It may already be blossoming in the form of deeper relationships with NPCs as seen in games like Hades built off of the “dating sim” genre. I feel like the last major revelation the industry saw was the birth of the battle royal. I would also expect to an increase in visual fidelity and an increase in photo realism as hardware continues to improve. The major problem this presents however is the increased cost. The consumer price of games has failed to meet the increased cost of production and that aspect of gaming is due for a reckoning. Ideally, it presents in the form of more stylized art that more cost effective to produce, yet still high quality. Alternatively, it would be great to see a huge improvement in rendering technologies and tools that enable artists to create photo-real content much more cheaply. We’re also in the midst of a social revolution, and the companies that will endure will be the ones that foster a healthy and inclusive culture. Those that fail to do so may see momentary success, but will ultimately fail as more and more consumers focus on a company’s ethics, morals, and behaviors.

11. What advice would you give your younger self when looking at the games industry?

I would have told myself to “Show your work more often.” I’m able to think linearly, non-linearly, and divergently. When I jump ahead, I have found that I need to explain how I got there so everyone else can keep up with my thought process. When I have failed to do so, it has caused frustration and confusion for my peers.