Inside the Gaming Industry with Ubisoft’s Senior Product Manager
This week, Product School’s #AskMeAnything session welcomed Matthew Jordan, Senior Product Manager at Ubisoft!
Previously working in IT infrastructure Project Management in Australia, Matthew moved abroad and embraced the challenge of working in Product Management in an international role based in Paris. Curious about how Product Managers have broken into and mastered their roles? Then join our Product Management Slack Community and ask them!
Matthew Jordan has spent the better part of 7 years at Ubisoft designing and managing internal SaaS solutions for worldwide teams, as well as, player-facing products and platforms. Balancing the needs between Business teams and Production studios in a fast-paced, and highly engaged consumer market, he has honed his communication, leadership, and stakeholder management skills to deliver valuable business outcomes and player experiences. Check out his responses to questions from our Product Management Slack Community:
Gaming Industry Product Management
Are there any specifics of being a PM in the gaming industry versus other domains (i.e. digital)? What actually made you choose Ubisoft?
I’m a gamer myself since a very early age, so when I moved to Paris and saw the opportunity, I applied straight away. The gaming industry for product development I’ve found to be interesting as I’m often working on applications and services that work in parallel with the end user product, so my products are consumed as either part of that end experience or as a pathway to it.
It can be very demanding. The gaming community is a highly engaged and vocal one, so there is a lot of time spent on analysis of potential pitfalls and interpretations of content and communications. I spend a lot of time thinking from the end user’s perspective, not just in terms of the functional utility, but how it fits into the entire user journey from online to the actual game experience.
Are there any specific frameworks and/or methodologies that have been particularly helpful for you in your work?
I completed a masters in Project Management in IT, so I became quite familiar with PMBoK and Prince2 methodologies and knowledge areas.
However, when trying to adapt these by the book, I’ve found it to be burdensome and for a lot of fast-paced environments, hard to adapt. So I’ve taken a lot of the core concepts and fundamentals to heart and use them where applicable.
The key concepts I keep In mind are to promote and maintain an open and transparent approach to product development. Avoid at all costs the black box problem, where stakeholders are not aware of your development activities and roadmaps. You’ll exponentially increase the likelihood of divergent expectations, and increase your rework and efforts needed to steer back on course.
Shift the communication from “here’s what’s going to happen”, to “here’s a snapshot, do you agree, does it align with your expectations?” It’s about giving an opportunity to see the product plans and decision making, people may not take it, you need to give it to them.
As much as possible, try and become comfortable with complexity, and that things need to bend at times to accommodate the unforeseen or higher organizational priorities. Flexibility and adaptability are key.
Where I’m working feels like a “chicken and egg” situation. We have a number of teams creating new products but they seem to stumble when it comes to targeting an audience. In your experience, do you craft a new product to target a specific audience, or do you craft an experience and then find the audience? If it’s the former, how do you identify that audience as a target in the first place?
I’ll cheat and say I do a little bit of both. In the early conception stages I’ll have an idea that I think is useful for a new product or a feature expansion, and then come at it from a different angle and see if there really is an audience for this based on competitive analysis, player sentiment, or direct feature requests from players.
I work a lot on internal solutions, and I’ve found one of the most useful approaches is to familiarise yourself as much as possible with the various departments and areas of your company, your colleagues are your best indicators of what works well or doesn’t, and what they wish they could do.
In terms of stumbling, this is natural in all products I find. An important trap to keep in mind is to learn when to abandon ideas or directions, irrational escalation of commitment is a surefire way to develop something you love, but that isn’t really needed. Get others to challenge your ideas and assumptions, be open to this process of feedback.
How difficult is it to manage a product that is so massively consumed by many different regions? Are there different regulations you have to contend with?
This is indeed a challenge. Ubisoft has a lot of studios and offices worldwide, so we have local subsidiaries to help us and provide input on various projects and communications. I leverage the market insights I can from colleagues, especially on smaller items such as localization and marketization of messages, which can vary between languages and regions.
There are indeed many regulations to contend with and with this end, user agreements, ToS, NDA’s, T&C’s, as we’re a very large company, we have dedicated resources for managing the regulator side, so I focus as much as possible on the end user experience that may be different based on region preferences or expectations.
Transition Into Product Management
I’m a Software Engineer trying to get back into Product Management (I have 2 years of PM experience, but went back to SWE). I’m having trouble at companies where my application goes straight to automated rejection. How do you think I should overcome this or break through into Product Management again?
I come from a Project Management background myself (the non-technical side), so I can’t speak to the same experience. What I can say is that I strive to take a very inclusive approach to product development, meaning, I keep everyone in the loop from high levels stakeholders to developers and testers, and I try to promote development feature analysis.
My development teams are part of the product success, so I look for input and ideas on the products. If you’ve been in development roles where you’ve fed into the product evolution upstream, instead of just coding the tasks at hand, I would try and highlight this aspect; that you have a holistic view of product development and insight at multiple levels of the process.
I’ve been a PM for the past 3 years and I’ll be moving to Australia soon. I don’t know anyone and will have to start all over again in a different country. How would you deal with this? And what would you do to break into Product Management in a whole new country?
Starting over in a new country is always a challenge, and when you enter the workplace even more so with the variations in cultural approaches to work. Be prepared for things to be different, even if the work seems the same, the approach to it will likely differ even with the same industry and similar companies.
Highlight your international experience, you have untapped knowledge that you won’t realize until you start working, whereby you’ll see things from a different perspective and this can be a valuable asset that is hard to replicate by those without your background, so this for me is a selling point.
Be flexible, and patient, with complete openness to understanding local work life, take chances, and integrate yourself as much as possible. I know what it is like being a fish out of water having previously lived in Argentina, and now France. For hands-on practical aspects, look for local professional groups, meetups, and professional events, the Australians are typically as friendly as you expect and would be open to talking to people from diverse backgrounds. 😉
Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?
My parting general thoughts would be this:
Good ideas, processes, and products are much like a wheelbarrow, it only moves forward if someone is pushing it, so be the shepherd and guide your initiatives and products, be their ambassador and represent the product. Don’t set and forget, actively be on the bridge, even if you’re not steering the ship’s day to day operations; presence builds trust.
Ensure products are conceived, designed, and managed from a systemic viewpoint, very few things ever work in isolation, especially so within internal solutions; ensure you’re leveraging the most efficient solutions and knowledge centers within your organization.
How to get into Product Management – Show initiative, evaluate and look for gaps in operations, or opportunities for new services. Listen, your colleagues are your best guide to what is painful to do, or what they wish they could. Become familiar with as many different areas of your organization as possible, and don’t be afraid to work on something and then step forward with an idea.