The Business of Design
The Business of Design
July 2020 · 2 min read
When I found myself sitting across from Wargaming.net’s vice president of design, I realized that I had an enormous blind spot.
As a graduate from a top-tier game development school, low-level product design was my wheelhouse. But this was the first time I was asked to scope and schedule a product’s high-level content releases – and it needed buy-off from the person who made World of Tanks.
This was easily the biggest challenge of my career, and our company was flying me to Wargaming’s headquarters in Belarus to get the job done.
Navigating Culture Clash
With the expert help of our studio’s research lead, I spent weeks preparing content plan proposals. The pace and caliber of work was difficult, but our studio’s executive leadership provided me with the mentoring I needed to prepare mentally and emotionally for the presentation ahead. What I wasn’t prepared for was the team I was about to be presenting to.
We met in the VP’s office in the heart of Minsk, Belarus. As our studio leadership filled the room, we learned that the VP would not be joining us. Instead, he had delegated veto power to his team of strategists – and neither of them spoke English. This was my first publisher meeting, and we were already coming from two different worlds.
The negotiations lasted for hours, covering specific content choices, release timing, and the rationale behind our approach. Given my limited experience in the role, I only had two guiding principles for this meeting: defend the work that our studio leadership had approved, but also to stay open-minded to strategic advice from our publisher. Both of these goals were tested, but after a long day of slowly-translated discussions, we came to a mutual agreement on exactly what content we wanted to release, and an effective schedule for releasing it.
All that was left was to bring our battle plan home and rally the team.
Aligning a Studio
Once we got back to the US, I announced the new content strategy to our studio. Thanks to close personal connections in each department, any concerns about the plan were quickly brought to my attention and surgically addressed. I had already built a change-control process into our content plan, so minor adjustments were expected and presented to the VP and his team during weekly video syncs.
Note – To ensure a unified vision, I left a concise “Changes and Rationale” memo on the desks of our internal executives prior to each call. Several of them commented that this was really useful for them, so I recommend it to any product manager in a similar situation.
Given how much of a learning experience the journey had been so far, I had no reason to think it would be easy to rally the studio around the new plan. But thanks to the watertight research from our research lead, the amazing oversight from our studio’s executive leadership, and my existing relationships across departments, we were able to deliver a noncontroversial content plan and realign the studio in a matter of weeks.
I never expected to be entrusted with something of this caliber for Wargaming Seattle, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Because of this journey I had learned:
How to negotiate scope & schedule with a publisher – Even if they don’t speak the same language.
The value of having a change control process – And how to keep an executive team updated about any changes.
How to manage studio-wide product changes – Through relationship-building, transparency, and a plan for feedback.
But even more important than these lessons was a humbling realization: there’s always more to learn, and repeatedly rising to new challenges might just be the best way for me to grow.
My experience at Wargaming was far from ordinary, and I’m continuously grateful that I was able to learn the inner workings of a gaming supergiant. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the incredible artists, engineers, and designers that helped realize the content plan we built, and to the company’s design leadership for taking a chance on a fresh college graduate.
Copyright © 2010-2020 Kevin Katona, DigiPen Corporation USA, Wargaming America, Microsoft Corporation