Meet Ivan Ertlov — The Senior Producer of Guild of Guardians
We’re on a mission to onboard hundreds of millions of gamers into digital ownership via NFTs, by building the world’s most popular mobile RPG where players can turn their passion for gaming into real assets.
It’s a bold ambition, and bold ambitions require relentless focus, teamwork and the best talent in the industry. In this ‘Meet the team’ series, we take a behind the scenes look at the team who are passionately building and spearheading the next frontier of gaming.
Guardians, say ‘Hello’ to — Award-winning Sci-Fi Writer, Designer, 80’s synth DJ and the Senior Producer for Guild of Guardians, Ivan Ertlov.
The word ‘accomplished’ doesn’t even begin to describe the fascinating life of Ivan. With 20 years of game experience under his belt, Ivan’s list of shipped AAA games is almost as impressive as his number of monthly Audiobook listeners! Hint hint— it’s a lot!
A true team leader, Ivan loves a challenge and is constantly pushing for the absolute best, not only from himself but from the entire Guild of Guardians team.
Hi Ivan! Tell us a little about yourself…
In a nutshell, I am Czech-Austrian now living in Australia. Born in Prague, I was raised in Lower Austria, went there for school and later graduated in Agricultural Engineering and Psychology.
I worked in many interesting and odd jobs before joining the games industry in 2003. There, I worked as a Community Manager, Creative Writer, Head of Development and Producer on 100+ shipped titles from Indie to AAA, including major brands like Gothic, Fast & Furious, Anno and Hitman.
I also tried my luck in acting and music production, with more or less embarrassing results. In the last six years, I have written 30 novels, with many of them available both in German and English. I consider them “delightful trash”, but they allegedly are quite decent as I managed to win the German Audience Award for Phantastic Literature twice, and the Global Book Award for the best SciFi Novel.
When I am not enthusiastically herding cats (aka producing Guild of Guardians) or writing books, I go bushwalking or ride my Harley-Davidson through the Outback, occasionally accompanied by my teenage daughter who has her own 250ccm cruiser.
Comparing your extensive past experience in the game industry, what have been the standout differences between Guild of Guardians and other games you have worked on?
I think the most important difference is that we are pioneering in several areas, trying things no one else has ever tried before. If I was asked to “produce a world-class dungeon crawler / RPG”, I know from experience exactly what I need to do, in which order and what the metrics are. If I am told “create an engaging mobile game for this or that specific audience”, I have playbooks and mental blueprints I can follow.
Here, my first serious briefing started along the lines of “we are trying what no one has done before and many consider impossible” and that was no exaggeration. We are building an engaging, fun mobile game with deep lore and several layers of interesting gameplay, something absolutely enjoyable as a game. But at the same time, it creates real value for the players and the community, empowering them and handing them digital ownership without trying to sell them anything.
They say an old dog doesn’t learn new tricks, but I’ve learned quite a few in the last year and I am figuring out new ones every single week …
… wait a second, did I just call myself an old dog?
Are there any particular games that you draw inspiration from?
Of course! In terms of mission and “breaking new ground”, I often remember my time as producer of the Viennese team working on Hitman (2016) which was also a first of its kind with its “game as a service, but without greedy monetisation models” approach. The way we iterated and developed across teams in different time zones was an experience that helps me now.
In terms of “simple at first glance, yet deep and rewarding” I still think XCom is a masterpiece inspiring not only me. In terms of “ingame wanderlust and motivating exploration” I would reference Sid Meier’s Pirates!
Closer to our genre, I look back at Diablo II which I used to binge-play, but also to the many brilliant Indie dungeon crawlers, small teams and even solo developers have published on Steam.
How do your skills as a prolific SciFi author translate into the production of Guild of Guardians?
Less than you would expect. Our Creative Director Aaron is working with an external team of highly gifted writers on the lore of the world and characters, and they are doing a much better job than I could if I would do the creative writing myself. Which is funny, one of the first tasks I did in my gaming career was actually writing the unit descriptions for the handbook and website of SpellForce. Very close to home. But as a producer, I have to recognize and utilize everyone who is better than me at a specific task, and I have the patience to lean back and enjoy everything unfolding without my interference.
How different is the production process of GOG compared to previous games you have worked on?
As said, in terms of international distributed and embedded production, it is actually comparable to my work on Hitman (2016). Of course with several key differences. Back then, I was a regular project manager for Mi’Pu’Mi, one of several producers working on the game, reporting to Chris Schmitz (now COO at Remedy), an old friend of mine, and IO Interactive as studio was led by Hannes Seifert (now Senior Director at Riot Games) with whom I had crossed paths before. So I was basically a mid-range producer with little say regarding the processes and tools, but surrounded by friendly faces in leading positions.
When I joined Guild of Guardians, I was already an experienced Senior Producer, but the first Producer in a team of “strangers” I had never worked with before. So I had to learn how everyone ticks and collaborates best, I had to develop all necessary processes, create new ones for the specific setup we have between us and Stepico, roll out the necessary tools and basically build my own production department.
At the beginning of 2022, I hired my first producer who has taken a lot of the daily routine tasks off me (and has the potential to become one of the best game producers I know, but that’s a different story) and now we have been joined by an experienced and enthusiastic world-class operations lead who helps to refine and optimise all processes. More hands-on-deck will follow, as we build to scale and foster the relationships we have between the teams in Sydney, the USA and of course our developers in Ukraine, who have proven extremely determined to ship a great game no matter how difficult the circumstances for them are.
Guild of Guardians is on a mission to disrupt the gaming industry and bring digital assets to hundreds of millions of gamers via NFTs. What do you think is going to be key in making this mission a success?
The game comes first. This is my mantra. We have so many great and exciting ideas on how to empower the community, how to leverage the possibilities we have with the IMX technology in house, and how to expand GOG beyond being “just a game”. But all of that has to be of lesser priority for me compared to what I was hired for — shipping the best game possible. It must be fun, rewarding, motivating, perhaps even enchanting and charming. Our mission can only be a success if the game itself rocks — and, I promise, it will!
What are your favourite games?
I will take all games I worked on myself out of the equation for this answer. This leaves me with almost all games by Firaxis (Civilization, Pirates!, Xcom), The Witcher III, DOTA: Underlords, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, Vampire Bloodlines, Alan Wake, Max Payne, Wolfenstein, Doom, Among Us and probably 20 more.
What excites you the most about working on Guild of Guardians?
- The Guild of Guardians team. One of the best, most diverse and inherently different bunch of enthusiastic and positive people I’ve ever worked with.
- The community. No explanation needed.
How can people follow you?
We hope you enjoyed getting to know our amazing Senior Producer, Ivan Ertlov. Stay tuned for the next edition to learn more about the people behind the game, Guild of Guardians.
Until next time.