Zynga lead product manager Vikrant Agarwal on finding your place in the games industry

"The game industry is very dynamic and things are constantly changing"

Zynga lead product manager Vikrant Agarwal on finding your place in the games industry

Vikrant Agarwal is a lead product manager at Zynga, where he is helping launch the next generation of games.

After working for over seven years at multiple gaming studios such as EA, DeNA, Machine Zone and Amazon Games - and working on more than eight gaming titles grossing over $4 billion - Agarwal knows what truly drives the player acquisition, engagement, retention and monetisation (AERM) funnel, game monetisation and world-class live operations.

In his own words: "It's all about the players and providing them with an experience they truly value."

Agarwal is one of over 250 industry leaders and pioneers speaking at Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #7, which takes place from July 12th to 16th 2021. The team spoke to him about the road to finding a role in the games industry, what it takes to be a world-beater and how gaming is a constantly evolving sector. Tell us a bit about your company

Vikrant Agarwal: Zynga is a global leader in interactive entertainment with a mission to connect the world through games. To date, more than one billion people have played our games, including CSR Racing, Merge Dragons!, Toon Blast, Words With Friends and more.

I spent about two years looking at over 20,000 job posts, giving out over 1,000 business cards and talking to over 250 people
Vikrant Agarwal

Our games are available in more than 150 countries and are playable across social platforms and mobile devices worldwide. Founded in 2007, the company is headquartered in San Francisco with locations in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, India, Turkey and Finland.

What does your role entail?

I'm the lead product manager for cross-promoting games. This entails working with many games across the company and figuring out what other games our players may enjoy. It’s a unique role since I constantly get to learn something new and different about our players from the game teams.

Since we have a large portfolio of games, there’s a new problem to solve every day and that’s what makes the role challenging as well as exciting.

Why did you want to work in the games industry?

I developed a love for first-person shooter (FPS) and real-time strategy (RTS) games, eventually playing competitive multiplayer games like Counter-Strike and Age of Empires 2 in various tournaments like the World Cyber Games in India in the early 2000s.

I was lucky as my parents supported my ‘semi pro’ career in competitive gaming as they let me spend many, many hours honing my skills at home and travelling across the city to compete in various tournaments during my undergraduate days.

After receiving my master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon, I worked in the consulting and banking industry for a few years. That’s where I developed my love for analytics and knew that I wanted to apply it in a business to consumer (B2C) environment, as I love working with people and real customers.

I spent about two years looking at over 20,000 job posts, giving out over 1,000 business cards and talking to over 250 people on the phone for contacts and recommendations. More than 100 interviews later, I finally got my dream job in the gaming industry!

What advice would you give to anyone looking to break into the industry?

I would provide them with three pieces of advice:

1) Ask yourself, 'If you could pick one company - and only one - to work at in the whole wide world, which one would that be?'

The idea behind this question is not the actual answer, but the process of elimination in figuring out what you truly want. I was always a techie at heart and assumed that my answer would be one of the top tech companies. But every time I thought through this question, my answer was always a gaming company. And that’s when I realised what I was passionate about and where I really wanted to work.

I thought that since I'd worked on a product as a manager, I was a product manager, right? Apparently, it doesn’t work that way...
Vikrant Agarwal

2) Aim to get a job with the skills that you have and work your way to the job you want.

At a tech conference in New York someone gave me the advice to leverage my existing skills, so I started applying for analytics roles. I suddenly started getting lots of interviews and eventually landed a job as the lead analyst for Dawngate at EA. After that, I worked my way into being a games product manager over the years.

3) Use LinkedIn and industry-specific tools to get a new role.

LinkedIn has so many hidden secrets that job seekers are not aware of. Such as when you're ready to look for a job, you can set up job preferences on your profile and that section is only visible to recruiters. Also, applicants should reach out to a few recruiters from each company about the positions they want to apply for. This has a far higher chance of success than simply applying into the job portal void.

How has the games industry changed since you first started?

The game industry is very dynamic and things are constantly changing. When I started, a few mobile games were at the top of the charts and it was all about App Store rankings.

Since then, the industry moved from launching lots of games a year to focusing on fewer games with longer player retention. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the advent of hypercasual games that let users play very engaging games for short sessions.

What are your thoughts on the industry in the last 12 months?

As we all know, the last 12 months have been very challenging for the world. The games industry was able to help provide a small bit of respite from these challenges by providing entertainment to everyone during these trying times.

All of us did our best and tried to launch new games experiences that our players could enjoy while they were stuck at home. The numbers definitely show that players enjoyed the extra time they could spend playing with their friends, so I think all of us hope that we can keep providing these social game experiences on an ongoing basis for all our players.

What major trends do you predict in the next 12 months?

When I think about game trends over the next few years, I continue to be excited by the ability to cross-play. I can’t wait to play a game during the day on my phone, then carry this over to my pc or console during the evening with friends. 

Personally, I’m also particularly excited about social virtual reality (VR). Imagine playing Diablo 4 in VR for a few hours and then hanging out with your clan while planning the next big quest!

I continue to be excited by the ability to cross-play games.
Vikrant Agarwal

Which part of the Connects event are you most looking forward to and why?

I enjoy attending conferences because I find it inspiring to hear other developers talk passionately about what they are building and how players enjoy their games. I particularly enjoy the Growth, Live Ops Landscape and Monetiser tracks at PGC events, since they focus on topics core to product management.

I definitely enjoy catching up with my peers in person as well. Hopefully, we can do that at other events later this year!

Connect with Agarwal direct!

Our thanks to Agarwal for his really interesting answers today.

If you want to hear more, Agarwal is speaking at next week's Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #7. His seminar is called: 'Product Management and Analytics in the Gaming Industry' and addresses such fundamental questions as: "How do I make the next big game? Should I work as a Product Manager (PM) or a Producer? What's the best way to run live operations and monetise my game?"

You can connect live with Agarwal - and more than 250 other speakers - during the event, which takes place online from July 12th to 16th.

Find out more and book your ticket now.

Managing Editor

Brian has been working in the games industry since the mid-1990s, when he joined the legendary studio DMA Design, as a writer on the original Grand Theft Auto. Since then he's worked with major publishers, founded his own digital agency, helped numerous startups with PR, marketing, communications, narrative design, branding and making money.

Back in 2004 Brian created the Scottish Games Network, the industry body for the country's videogames sector. He also lectures at Napier University on the transformative power of interactive media on the creative industries, is a board member of Creative Edinburgh, and helps to organise games, tech and creative industries events.

In his spare time he plays videogames and is usually, proudly, at least one generation behind the cutting edge consoles.