Product Management in the Games Industry

This week, Product School hosted Ramon Martínez Orellana, Director of Product at King, for an exclusive #AskMeAnything session. Ramon talked about dealing with uncertainty and challenges, validating a market for new games, and the importance of having good engineers on your team.

Meet Ramon

Ramon Martínez Orellana, Director of Product at King

Ramon is currently working as the Director of Product at King in Candy Crush Soda. He started his career journey as a Research Scholar at Northeastern University in medical Big Data analysis. After that, Ramon turned to Business Analysis first at PWC, and then at King.

Within King, he transitioned to Platform Product Manager and later on to Product Leader, driving the product vision and strategy for the technology built around player support, community, and game economies for all King games. Today, Ramon leads several cross-functional teams directly in the game Candy Crush Soda for both Core areas of the game as well as growth initiatives.

How do you plan your day/workload, especially when starting at a new company in Product Management?

I believe when you start in a new company you need to focus almost all of your time building your competence to be able to drive the product forward. That means talking with customers, knowing the product inside out, and building a relationship with your team and stakeholders.

Read next: Your First 90 Days as Product Manager

What are the challenges you face in your work that you find the most difficult ?

When you step into more of a Product Leadership role, one of the key challenges is to deal with organisational structure and change management. As a leader that’s an area where you need to put in the time so that other PMs can execute, and that is a big thing (and challenge) on my mind right now.

How do you deal with uncertainty?

It’s a big question :lengua_fuera: . I deal with it by not pretending I know what I don’t know, and then figuring out what’s important for me to know before I make relevant decisions (risk management). I think the more important the decision you need to make—for example, on investment you will put from a product point of view—the less uncertainty you need to have around it.

Check out: Leadership In Tumultuous Times

It’s hard as a Platform PM to understand the developers (our users), and the needs vary based on the developer group. What helped you as a Platform PM to understand developers’ pain points worth addressing, and those that could be scalable?

I can absolutely relate to you :cara_ligeramente_sonriente: . It doesn’t help either that most of the frameworks are built for consumer or B2B products.

From my point of view, I would recommend you to go back to the basics and try to build up your own approach from there. That means talking to your customers as much as you can and figuring out what their problems are. At the same time, remember customers usually don’t know what they want, so when you talk to them look at how they do things rather than asking what they need. At the same time, fight back the urge that in platform products it does not apply to have clear KPIs. Having quantitative data about how your customers use your products will complement a lot your qualitative findings.

You might also be interested in: Do’s & Don’ts of Interviewing Customers to Build Great Relationships

empty chair across from each other at table

What should the acceptance criteria be before starting the first phase of a Soft Launch? Is it enough to commit to a project because it’s “fun” or is a “light marketing” test necessary to see the initial KPIs on the market?

I think before you start building anything you should have evidence that there is a market for it, and a marketing test is a way to do this. That would be my first acceptance criteria to start building it.

There are tons of people out there with computer science degrees, but it’s still difficult to find good developers. Why is that?

I would rephrase that to, “why it is so difficult to find good engineers?” It’s difficult because in my experience there aren’t so many. You can find people that can code, and they can be very good at it, but that doesn’t directly qualify them as good engineers (problem solvers).

How can you assess if a developer is/is not suited for startup life?

Related to what I mentioned above, you need to make sure you look for good engineers, not good developers. They will care about the problems you are trying to solve, which in startups will be much broader and ill-defined, and they will help you to tackle them. And they will be ready to do what they have to do to solve them.

Read next: How to Get a Product Management Job at a Startup

man in yellow shirt with ear to a telephone made of a cup and string

Developers generally don’t like to fix defects and would rather someone from Quality Assurance fix it. I think part of growing as developer involves fixing some defects. What are your thoughts on this?

I am a strong believer of end to end accountability, and that means that the team is collectively responsible for the quality of the product. I think it sends the wrong message if dealing with defects is seen as something to be delegated out, and engineers should take responsibility over it.

What would you say is your Number 1 Tip to build trust within your engineering team?

In my personal opinion, the best way to build this trust is by generating examples of it. There is nothing wrong with being honest in the beginning and telling the team you need to build their trust, and even that you will get some things wrong. Your track record going forward will do the job for you with 1) how you conduct yourself as a leader and 2) the results the product is having.

Check out: Characteristics of Exceptional Product Managers

What was the biggest difference that you found when transitioning from Business Analyst to Product Manager?

I think the biggest change is the accountability part of actually having to make sure you drive the product forward, since you are no longer making “suggestions.” It was also a big leap in terms of people management since you start to lead a team.

What are some of the key metrics you use to track success of game play?

A lot of it depends on what your gameplay loops are. I would suggest defining which activities you expect players to do per session and start counting how many times they do that. I would also recommend starting with your core loop.

If you could start your own studio from scratch right now, which type of games would you target and what would be your approach looking to the future?

I think the industry needs less opinionated approaches to what genre you should be building and instead try to see which ones are underserved from a customer point of view, or are ready to be disrupted. Too many games start from a great design idea and then struggle to find an audience to appeal to, especially with such a competitive landscape.

two women sat side by side, smiling and playing video games

What’s your view on Hyper Casual Games? Do you think they’re gonna go out of trend anytime soon?

Hard to make predictions on the gaming industry, it might backfire very easily. However, I don’t see them going away anytime soon given the potential growth ads as a revenue stream might have going forward in mobile games.

This article is also pretty good: The Metrics Great Product Managers Track

What do you think about NFT in the gaming industry?

I knew there was going to be something about NFT here. I think that is still an emerging area, but obviously getting a lot of attention due to recent successes there. It’s also a hard one to crack.

One of the things that has shocked me is snobbery towards mobile gaming from some people working in PC gaming. Is this something you’ve come across?

I can’t say I have come across this kind of attitude, and I have had some exposure to PC games since King is part of Activision Blizzard.

I think the exponential growth of the mobile games market is silencing a lot that feeling that mobile games are the little brother, and more and more companies are looking at expanding to mobile (and also the other way around, with mobile companies looking at PC as well, as Zynga has done recently).

More and more we are looking at a multiplatform approach to gaming and it is less relevant where you play it.

What are your views about gaming in India? As RMG (real money gaming for skill games) have been increasing at massive pace in India do you think it will follow the same trend in other geographies too?

I think emerging markets are somewhat of a dormant opportunity. I believe player bases are definitely appealing there, but monetisation is still not big enough to sustain the necessary investment. This, however, can change relatively quickly (and same in other similar markets, so it’s a “keep a close eye on it” type thing).

Why do so few companies hire Product Management talent from India?

We have always tried to be as diverse as we can in the people we bring in, but we have historically operated in specific locations and the talent pool is what it is. Covid might change that though.

Any plans for the metaverse?

I feel like we are in one already 🙂

blue and pink lighting over messy gamer's desk, with headphones, control, keyboard, coffee, a spilled box of gummies, and action figures visible

Any final advice?

My advise is to be persistent and try to find ways in which your career choices can lead you to where you want to be. Sometimes a step back can help you make 2 steps forward later on since it is a hard thing to break into Product Management from scratch. But keep your spirits up because there is a lot of growth in the area and opportunities will come: there isn’t that much talent out there, and an ever-increasing demand.

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