2 months ago

The role of a product manager at a game development studio

Professionals working at a Bangladeshi game development studio
Professionals working at a Bangladeshi game development studio

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According to Newzoo, the global games market will generate around US$ 211 billion by 2025 and mobile games alone will generate more than US$ 100 billion. The popular mobile games that most of us know such as Candy Crush and Angry Birds already generated billions of dollars of revenue. The Bangladesh game industry is in its infancy, however, several game studios are gearing up and continuing to make successful hits in the global market. Many love gaming and it would be a dream for many to have a job that involves building what they love. So, what is it really like to work in a game development studio? As an industry insider for over 18 years, this writer breaks down the role of a product manager in the games industry and how it functions.

Let us first have a quick look at the key people ideally required to make a game: developers/programmers, artists and animators, game/UI/UX designers, and one or multiple product managers/producers. The developers are in charge of the coding in any shape or form, whether it is mechanics, interactions, game logic, AI, etc. Artists and animators cover an equally large range: concepts, 2D art, 3D modelling, animations, SFX/VFX, and more. Designers are the ones who ideate and create the worlds of the games, design the experience, story, pacing, difficulty, etc. Product managers are the glue that binds together all these talented people from different disciplines, and ensures the best possible game is made within the allocated time and other resources.

The core essence of a product manager is to facilitate the team members to ensure the best possible game. While it may sound simple, it covers all of product manager's responsibilities such as ensuring a high team morale, clarity and ease of communications between all members, making sure everyone is on the same page and shares a common vision of the final game, answering any questions, addressing any concerns, and most importantly: making sure the team has fun while making the game.

As a product manager (PM), it is imperative that the PM always keeps one eye on ensuring a successful product development that ensures the right game mechanics and user retention. A PM's tasks demand meticulous organisational skills, keen analytical skills, and a knack for taking calculated risks. Keeping all these in mind, a day starts with a team meeting, which we call a "morning scrum". It's a short, 5-15 minute meeting where the team discusses the work plans for the day, sets the daily goals, and makes sure everyone is up to speed on the project. The rest of the day is spent on game design, analysing game testing data, solving problems that inevitably arise in any software development, bridging communications between different members of the team, taking decisions that will affect the final outcome, planning ahead for the project, etc.

Often when exploring new mechanics or challenging development aspects, teammates will undergo significant stress and pressure, here a PM needs to ensure no one is overburdened beyond their limits and they take breaks regularly, play various mobile games, talk to others -- in this writer’s experience these all lead to high team morale, fresh thinking, and mindset amongst the team members, and actually speed up the work like magic. This can also lead to a particular challenge at times: balancing the right amount of pressure and the right amount of challenge that will help them evolve into a better version of themselves once they overcome it. In order to know and apply this delicate balance, a PM needs to be aware of their team member's strengths, weaknesses and capacities.

In light of such responsibilities, A PM must have three core skills: patience, perseverance, and communication. From a technical point of view, a basic understanding of computer coding, art, and game design is also needed, but no matter how many other skills one may have, it will all be wasted unless one has the core skills. Additionally, it always helps to make yourself as approachable as possible to the teammates -- don't let age, seniority, race, religion, politics or anything else get between you and your teammates! Always ensure an environment of mutual respect, tolerance, and open communication where anyone can speak their mind regarding the project.

For individuals considering to work as a  product manager at a local or foreign game development studio who are worried about qualifications, the good news is that most game studios won't require any strict academic qualifications, though most would prefer a bachelor's degree in a related field. What most studios would require, however, is that you have a couple years of experience in a game development company, preferably in a team lead role. People working as team/project leads in other fields can also join as a product manager, given many of the team skills and soft skills usually translate well into game development as well, though there is a steep learning curve when switching fields.

If one is starting out at an entry level job in the games industry and aims to be a product manager, the first thing one has to learn is to be proactive and take ownership of tasks and projects as much as possible, learn from more experienced individuals, and develop game senses -- the ability to instinctively know if an idea sounds good or bad, which naturally evolves over years from experience. If you are already a product manager, it's not the end of the road -- you can pursue moving to bigger projects, eventually becoming a producer or even a studio head!


The writer is working as a product manager and game designer at Kolpoverse, a mobile game development studio. He graduated in Games Design and Production from Northumbria University, UK. He can be reached at [email protected].

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