From QA to Technical Production. A Perspective from Wargaming Bellevue’s Associate Producer, Riley Manns

Bellevue, WA - the perfect mix of booming industries and thriving neighborhoods surrounded by beautiful vistas. Wargaming’s Platform Development team lies in the heart of downtown Bellevue, and I had the pleasure to speak with Riley Manns, one of Wargaming’s Associate Producers. He shares his fascinating insights on how to get from QA to engineering production.

Hi Riley, let’s open up this session with what does the Wargaming Bellevue office do?

So Bellevue is the Headquarters of Wargaming’s Platform Group. The Platform Group is run by Matt Wilson, and it includes teams out of Minsk, Cyprus, and Kiev. We have the Wargaming Game Center [the distribution group], commerce, and the legacy platform powers all the operation of Tanks, Warships, and Warplanes trilogy out of Minsk. Matt Wilson and Jay Minn direct the flow of the platform. For example, if we’re working on a new platform feature for one of Wargaming’s titles, Matt will be the one that prioritizes it and Jay will make sure it goes towards the central goal. We have a little bit of development here as well, but I think the best way to describe the Bellevue office is that it’s the leadership studio of the Network Platform.

Great, so for the uninitiated in the game industry, what does being on a platform team entail?

Of course! So you know when you have your games like World of Tanks? You have the tanks, the currencies, the gameplay, and the monetization designs - that’s all part of the game. The platform team oversees many things like servers for matchmaking, player inventories, and player accounts - basically, we’re everything that supports the game to get it running.

I think Matt Wilson is the one who said “Game Development is awesome, but for everything else there’s platform”, and it’s true. Everything outside of the game, that make it run, make it lag free, and connect the players together - that’s all the Platform Team. It’s the backbone and infrastructure that allows games to be played fast, smoothly, and without issues.

What is it like to work at Wargaming Bellevue?

I think right off the bat, what I can say is that the Bellevue Office is very unique. And what I mean by that is we have roughly 20 to 30 development people, a couple of finance, admin, and HR; in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty small. We have a large company backing us that, - lend support from other teams, and help us get very talented people. It feels a little bit like you’re working in a startup where you have as much responsibility as you want, you know everyone by first name, and you can learn new things while also having the backing of a very large company.  The studio as a whole, I think it’s fantastic to work here - I have very good bosses, they teach me what I need to be taught, and they let me own my areas. I feel like I have a voice in my group, and they don’t put me down based on my lack of experience. Everyone here is really friendly, and you get to be in a very tight-knit group of developers, producers, and artists. 

I’ve been to a couple of the other [Wargaming] studios like Chicago-Baltimore and Paris - there’s a lot of people in a huge office with a lot of teams, but I think the Bellevue studio is a pretty unique office in the Wargaming family because of how close we are.

How did you end up at Wargaming Bellevue?

So, I ended up at Wargaming over four years ago; in 2013. I started out as a QA tester for a game in the Redmond office. I did about 9 months in that studio when Matt Wilson’s company got purchased, and you know at that point they were doing Mobile applications. There was a chance to jump over to that team of 15 to 20, and I decided to jump on. So, I started to do QA for that team’s mobile projects. That team eventually became the Platform Team, and in 2015 Matt Wilson got us the green light to make the new Network Platform for Wargaming. And so, I’ve been working on Platform ever since. Starting out from QA and getting to the development side of things was a very good educational process for me, and I’ve learned an incredible amount form these guys. That’s why I’ve been very fond of the Bellevue studio, - since they let you learn and expand in ways that you want.

Let’s dive deeper on your transition from QA to a Producer role. I keep on hearing people ask about how to get from QA to development. Can you elaborate on that?

So for me, the experience was possible because in our development group, everyone is very close together. I sat next to an engineer who might have been next to a designer – my producer was to my left and right behind me was my executive producer Jay Minn. The way it started for me at least, was going to my boss and letting them know I wanted to do more. What happened next was that he took me into these meetings - nerve wracking at first. At the time, I wasn’t in my comfort zone during these meetings, but once you do that for two or three years, eventually you’re the one running them [the meetings]. You show interest, you do a little bit more, and you're given more opportunities.

Basically, my boss trusted me enough, and eventually realized that I can do a little bit of sprint planning and project management - gave me responsibility over the next couple of years. Even though I started out as a QA person, they did not limit me in QA work. 

What do you currently do at Wargaming? What does an Associate Producer Do?

What I do on a day to day basis, with my immediate boss who’s another producer, we make sure that our engineers are developing the features that we need to and that they deploy at the right time. So, a lot of my job right now consists of making sure that when the developers are finished with a task, I verify with our customers other WG teams in different offices on the platform side or the game team “here’s what we developed”, “here’s what we deployed”, and “here’s how you use it” – really making sure that it’s exactly what they needed. The other part is very much aligned with deploying software. So, once we get sign off on the correct staging environments and talk to their QA guys to make sure we have tests running - I’ll make sure it gets out to the proper environment for deployment on time.

Platform can be a bit obscure sometimes if you’ve never worked in that realm before. So, I’m there to help our customers know what they need if they haven’t considered a few key details to make proper decisions.

What makes living around Bellevue cool?

Personally, I like the small mom and pop shops. When you go downtown, you can go find a couple hole-in-the-wall bars, or little music places where they bring in musicians from the street – You know it feels different because you’re not walking into another McDonalds or a Fred Meyer [chain of hypermarket superstores]. It really feels like the community itself is built up around these individual places, so it makes it feel a little bit more unique than some other cities. It’s a lot of local stuff which I like - I like seeing different musicians I’ve never heard of or going down to a local art show. The community is very artistic and musical so there’s always stuff like that to do which I find very, very, fun.

What do you love the most about Wargaming?

For me, what makes it so great is my team. So, within software development there’s a lot of different methodologies, and one of them is Agile. The basic idea of it is that plans don’t always follow through,  - documentation is not necessarily followed, and people don’t usually do what the original plan was. To react to that, you need to be willing to understand and be aware that stuff changes. The great thing about my team is that my guys are very flexible. We might be working over a month straight on a very big feature, and we all are working our butts off - then the plan shifts. They never have issues when shifting requirements, so it makes it really easy for me to work with them. They always go the extra step, and it makes it easy for me to depend on them.

For example, if we get a new hire, and they get a little bit nervous about working on a new service because they know it’s very important and if they mess it up they might get in trouble - the guys are very good at talking that person down. They make sure to spend time with them, they understand the services we do, and that they communicate with the right people. You know, normally that’s my job, but seeing the team kind of pick up after that is awesome. I really feel like a community that has dependability and comradery with each other. I trust them.

If you could give someone advice on breaking into the Video Game industry, what would it be?

That’s always a difficult one. What I would say is that you have to understand that it’s not just coming in and playing a game. It can be extraordinarily rewarding, and for me I just can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s not something you just waltz into and do well – you have to prove yourself.  You might be very, very smart and very talented, but you have to start somewhere.  One thing that I can highly recommend is that if you want to be an engineer, a designer, or a producer do not look down on QA roles. I know we’ve already talked about it, but if I look around outside at all of our senior developers and producers, I would say probably two thirds of them started out in QA on a game or a mobile app. Anything you can do to get through the front door, you have to do.  QA work can be very rewarding, and I believe it to be very educational. So if you want to get into the industry, find yourself a way to get into the door, then find someone who can teach you- stick with them.

What does it take to be a Wargamer?

You know what I’ve seen from different studios when I visit is that “help Wargaming” mentality. I think in order to be a good Wargamer, you need to be able to look outside of your project and think “How can I help the company as a whole?”. You know even though I’m on Platform, I need to look out for the game team. Just because I’m not on that project doesn’t mean I shouldn’t look out for them. Go above and beyond your job duties to help in any way you can since we’re all part of this Wargaming family.

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