From Joystick to Leadership, I Never Looked Back

November 29, 2023
Jaka Robnik, Head of Product

From a gamer with zero game-making experience to overseeing the whole product department, my journey has been a wild ride. Bouncing from Product Management to Producer and back again, I’ve now found my sweet spot. And it all started with a leap of faith.

Now, apart from being a gamer, which I guess everyone at Outfit7 is, at least to some extent, I didn't have any experience making games. I didn't understand the inner workings of game creation; I simply loved playing open-world games like Skyrim and Assassin's Creed.

Coming out of high school I studied media production and got a gig working at a multi-channel retail company that sold stuff online, focusing on web-related projects. Although I learned a lot about project management and online marketing, it was a very run-of-the-mill company with an old-school, climb-the-corporate-ladder mentality, and I’m not someone who’s into that, really. Basically, I was getting bored and looking to get into something else.

Opportunity came knocking at my door in 2017 when I was approached by the then VP of Product at Ekipa2 d.o.o. (an Outfit7 subsidiary) to see if I would be interested in joining as a Product Manager. At that time, Outfit7 was gaining recognition in gaming with My Talking Tom making waves around the world. Plus, a friend of mine worked here, and I was always kind of envious because it seemed like a cool place to work. So, as you can imagine, when I was asked if I wanted to join, I said to myself, “Fuck yeah! Why not leave everything I know, and make a leap of faith into gaming?” - a field I knew literally nothing about except for my years as a gamer. Oh, and on top of that, a month after joining, my girlfriend and I found out that she was pregnant. So, no pressure to make it work, right? But I think I did!

Diving in at the deep end

The first game I was working on was Talking Tom Gold Run, which was a relatively new project at the time. I remember my manager back then telling me on my first day, 'Rule 1: don't mess up Gold Run, Rule 2: don't mess up Gold Run... good luck.' The team was great, though. The then Director of Technology (now VP of Tech), Miha Obal, and others onboarded me, and then we just hit the ground running. It was a different time back then. There were no updates versus new games. It was more along the lines of: This is a project, and we have people, let's figure it out. It was a lot less structured and more run-and-go type of situation. We were figuring out how to do things as we were doing them.

We've come a long way since then. I came out of a meeting recently where we were syncing with distribution, marketing, product, and production on what is planned for next year, when we’ll work on updates, why, which ones will be pitched to stores, etc. When I started it was more along the lines of, "OK, so what are we going to work on this year?". It was a lot more chaotic. We had product managers and game designers, and many of the roles we have now, such as UX designers and UX researchers, didn't exist.

As a product manager, I was supposed to be figuring out how to work on features, as well as checking performance and reacting to it, all the while planning for the resources we would need and handling all the paperwork. We realized this was way too much workload for one person. Actually, I remember having a conversation with Ante, Senior VP of Product Development, and he said something along the lines of, "You product managers, you guys need more time for virtual whiskeys and cigars, you need to focus on making it happen!”

Producing side-quest

And we did, we made it happen by introducing the Producer role to lighten the load of Product Managers and improve production efficiency. Now, it took us quite some time to define what that role would actually look like. But once we did, I decided to go into producing simply because we were short-handed at the time. I was a producer on all the updates and games we were working on at the time, such as My Talking Tom 2, My Talking Angela, and Talking Tom Gold Run to name a few. But, with all due respect to producers, it wasn't my cup of tea.

Essentially, a Producer is going to handle the budget and ensure the game production runs on schedule. I quickly realized that that was not the part of game production I liked. I prefer the creative aspect of product management, rather than roadmaps, charts, and resource planning.

The evolving role of a product manager

A Product Manager here is essentially a creative problem solver. The role involves figuring out how to implement benchmarks and goals. They lead and coordinate brainstorming and solution-oriented sessions with the PUG (Product, UX, and Game Design) team to figure out ways to do that. The process involves a lot of prioritization; understanding what’s important and why. Most importantly, though, a Product Manager is there to help turn a game into a profitable product.

All those things are what I love most about the job.

Managing people

When I first started, I was managing two people, and while it was a bit too soon for me to focus on leadership, over time I realized that I really liked that part. I like leading people, and seeing them grow. The more I grew in expertise and experience, the more it made sense to me that I head in that general direction.

Now, it wasn't until I left my role as a Producer and went back to being a Product Manager working on My Talking Angela 2 that I started managing people again. I learned something then… either manage and lead teams or focus on expertise. Doing both PROPERLY at the same time is like juggling flaming knives while riding a unicycle.

So after finishing work on My Talking Angela 2 and a couple more projects, I finally fully transitioned to management. I was managing a team of product managers, which led to leading all product managers, which led to now. I now manage the whole product department with all its sub-departments. I still keep one foot firmly in expertise but don’t do much of that kind of thing day-to-day anymore. Most of my time is spent focusing on people, their growth, and their challenges.

The Outfit7 culture

Looking back, my time here has transformed me for the better. I've learned to handle challenges and diverse perspectives, helping me become a better person. I basically did a complete 180, going from solely relying on my subjective gut feelings to trusting the data and incorporating a more scientific approach to problem-solving.

I can safely say that the Outfit7 culture has evolved, moving from a more structured environment to one that values autonomy.

"The opportunity to create an impact is immense."

Experts are now empowered to defend their ideas through a peer-reviewed process, allowing them to be more independent. And as a Product Manager, you really have the ability to impact not just the project, but having focus on people also the company as a whole. Of course, that capacity to make an impact also comes with a lot of responsibility, so you will be held accountable for your actions. But if you’re doing great, your contributions will be appreciated.

It’s been a fun ride so far, and I hope it continues for a long time.

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