Product Management Lessons From The World Of Castlevania

Castlevania is a classic video game I first played in 1986, and instantly fell in love with. It’s a platformer with amazing music, crisp graphics, and monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

The game is very rewarding–but can also be brutally, frustratingly difficult. Just like being a Product Manager.

In honor of the newly-released Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, here are the three key product management lessons I’ve learned from playing Castlevania games…

Look For Problems You Can Whip Profitably

Defeating monsters in Castlevania brings you money and experience points which translate into making you a tougher opponent with an increased variety of weapons available. But don’t bite off more than you can chew, or that next monster will kill you dead.

As a Product Manager, it’s easy to get carried away by the excitement of feature brainstorming and “what-if” scenarios. You need to stay focused, and attack problems the market has that your company is ideally suited to address. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Get In Close Enough To Whip, But Not Close Enough To Be Hit

Generally, Castlevania monsters fall into two camps: Those trying to get close enough to strike you before you can hit them, and those who keep their distance while chucking projectiles at you. That balancing act is a core element of Castlevania gameplay and can be incredibly, frustratingly difficult–but feels so gratifying once you’ve accomplished it.

To be an effective Product Manager, you must be able to balance the short term and the long term, and think about both simultaneously. A delicate balancing act, easy to mistime, but essential to launching the right product at the right time to the right market.

Plan For Alternate Endings

Many Castlevania games feature alternate endings, and your decisions in the game determine which ending you see. Did you leave the vampire sisters to suffer in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin? Then you missed out on Portrait of Ruin’s “good ending” in your rush to beat the game.

As a Product Manager, you need to pay attention–to the market, to trends, and to people internally–and think about what you’re witnessing. If you don’t, you run the risk of missing opportunities, small and large, and potentially damaging your own reputation.

Many times, PMs lead through sheer force of will rather than real, vested authority, and a great way to ensure people fail to value you is for you to fail to value them.

Bonus Content!

The trailer for the new Castlevania : Lords of Shadow coming to XBox 360 and PS3 in 2010. (Yes, that’s Patrick Stewart narrating!)

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