Working in Gaming with Michael Eng, Product Manager at Electronic Arts
What’s the difference between a producer and a product manager? And more specifically what do both of them do in the gaming industry? The product manager at Electronic Arts joined our Slack community for an AMA session to talk about the product manager’s day-to-day life in the gaming tech field.
Product Manager at Electronic Arts for about 3 years now, first as Business Analyst and later in the Core Product Management group. Holds a B.A. in Econ and is a hardcore gamer. In his free time, he likes playing basketball, watching superhero films, reading fantasy novels, and listening to mystery murder podcasts like Serial.
How did you get your first job as a Product Manager and do you have any advice for those of us just starting out?
I spent the first two years being a Business Analyst for EA’s Central Analytics team. I decided that I wanted more influence and impact in actual games, so I reached out to Product Managers in my organization and managed to move internally. For those starting out, I recommend that you reach out to as many people as you possibly can and really understand the Product Management function.
What would you consider the best lessons you’ve learned during your time as a Product Manager?
Learning how to identify problems and solving them, and making understanding the product at the core of the framework as being a Product Manager.
How is product management at gaming company different than other tech companies like Google, Uber, etc.?
The biggest difference is that Game Product Managers tend to be extremely data-driven, and less on the actual project management side. We’re constantly looking at dashboards, monitoring KPI’s, and looking for levers to pull in our game to push for performance.
How has your BA background helped you? Do you recommend that Product Managers be cross-functional with data driving decisions?
It has definitely helped a lot. Even if you don’t have an engineering background, being able to understand and query the data makes influencing that much easier. Data does not lie, so it’s easy to get your team behind a change if the data is showing something. Product Managers are always cross-functional, and it’s quite necessary.
What advice would you give to a fresh grad looking to break into Product Management?
I would recommend applying to new grad Product Management programs and seeing what skillset they’re asking for, and then try to cater your resume to those skills and gain experience in those areas as much as you can. Leverage your network, and try to push as much as possible!
What products have you helped roll out or worked with in your time there?
I’ve rolled out several feature/content updates for mobile games; The Simpsons Tapped Out. It’s a pretty highly event-driven game, so most of our content updates revolve around releasing new items that we want to sell in-game.
Any advice for people already in the game industry (QA or production) looking to switch to gaming product management?
Start becoming more familiar with data and gain some skills in data analysis. Learn SQL, Excel, and start really understanding what drives those metrics in games. Becoming data literate is extremely important to being a game PM.
What are your top job responsibilities?
Merchandise planning, roadmap planning, feature analysis, forecasting, driving results, retargeting campaigns and A/B testing.
Does it help to be a hardcore gamer to work at EA or would that hinder you a little?
It definitely helps to be familiar with games. Understanding what makes a good game ‘bad’ from a design perspective will give you an edge over other applicants since you’re familiar with games in a way that other people who don’t play games are.
What is the organization structure for the Product team at EA?
Both. There are different types of product managers that own different parts of the game, and they might have differing specialties. One person might be really heavy in design, and the other person might be more data-driven.
Typically the Product Managers starting off will be utilized in the skills that they’re strongest at, so Product Managers with engineering backgrounds or dev backgrounds will probably take on more of a producer role instead of a Product Manager role.
Can you explain the difference between a producer role and a Product Manager role?
It depends on the team. Some teams will split producers and Product Managers into two different functions, where the Product Manager is more of an analyst/producer and the producer is the product owner running the sprints, etc. Sometimes Product Managers will have to be the product owners running the sprints but that really just varies from team to team.
What do you enjoy in your current Product Manager role that you didn’t have as a Business Analyst?
Definitely ownership. I’m able to drive a lot of changes instead of just passing on recommendations and never doing anything after that. Being a Product Manager also requires talking to a lot of people, which I enjoyed a lot more than just sitting at my desk and being an individual contributor.
If you were a Product Manager of a brand new game – what part of the funnel would you try to focus on?
Depends on the game. Think about what’s driving revenue? Is it content? Is it engagement with a certain mechanic that is driving that result? Every game operates differently, and there’s no one single formula that works for all games – it’s just a matter of understanding what game you’re working on and how the different levers work.
Does your job require that you interact a lot with Product Marketing?
Yes, I do interact with them a lot, especially for getting push notifications and re-targeting users to get back into our game. They also run a lot of ads and A/B tests in our games.
What are your thoughts on games with levers that are primarily content or story?
I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘lever’ per se, but for content driven games it really helps to understand the qualities of the items that make it sell so well. Are they characters? Buildings? Characters that give certain kinds of powerups?
Or is it power-ups that work well a specific mechanic in the game. If that’s the case, then what you’re really trying to do is get the most attractive content out there on the market, and spacing the releases in ways that drive the most results.
Would you advice game engineers who have shipped a few titles transition to producer role instead in the game industry?
I would start by talking to producers on your team and finding out if they need help with their project management part of their role. Once you get more experience in that resume, find out if you can transition internally, or put that stuff on your resume and apply externally.
Do you recommend starting out as product UX/UI design, web developer or business analyst?
You can start off from any of those and still reach Product Management. I would say that engineering is probably a bit easier since there are more roles out there that want their Product Managers to have coding backgrounds.
How do you prioritize game features?
Prioritize game features by looking at which ones have the most impact given the amount of effort. If a feature has a low impact but high effort, end with those last. For features with high impact and low effort on KPI’s, start with those.
I wouldn’t say that there’s one particular book that you can read and suddenly become an expert in business. The best things in business are learned by actually doing and experiencing for yourself. You can try to read ‘The Lean Startup,’ but my recommendation is that you go out there and actually work on a product to really understand how to drive results cross-functionally.