A passionate and avid gamer, Ponappa was thrilled to begin his career with Zynga as a Product Manager at our Bangalore studio in 2017. Two years later, he transferred to our London studio where he currently works as a Lead Product Manager for the Action-Strategy group which comprises Dawn of Titans, Star Wars: Commander and an exciting new Star Wars project which is currently in development. While he is a lover of gaming himself, Ponappa says you don’t have to be a gamer to work in the industry!
Keep scrolling to learn more about Ponappa and his Zynga journey thus far with regard to personal and professional growth, mentorship and the rewarding nature of creating a positive impact on players worldwide.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to NM/BA.
I hail from south India and followed a standard cookie-cutter path – Engineering degree followed by an MBA. I worked in management consulting for a short time before a friend introduced me to Product Management and the video game industry. Having been an avid gamer since childhood, I grabbed at the opportunity of a lifetime. I first started as a Product Manager at Electronic Arts (EA) before joining Zynga at our Bangalore studio 5 years ago. I worked on games such as Mafia Wars and Empires & Allies before moving to NaturalMotion London in 2017 and joined the amazing Dawn of Titans team. That team has now evolved into the Action-Strategy group that comprises Dawn of Titans, Star Wars: Commander and a new Star Wars project in-development.
How would you describe the people within NM/BA?
Driven, passionate and inspiring. It’s amazing to be surrounded by like-minded people who share your passion for video games. Everyone at NaturalMotion is a master at their craft and shares a common goal of surprising and delighting our players. In our HQ in San Francisco, we have a massive wall installation that reads, “What will our players thank us for?” This message resonates deeply with me and represents the player-focused culture that exists in each of our studios and drives every single person within the organization.
Tell me how the company supported your growth?
Zynga has always supported me from day one. I’ve had brilliant mentors and leaders to look up to. They’ve guided me through my career and invested significantly in my growth. One of the biggest perks of being at Zynga is the natural advantage you get by being a Product Manager. This company wrote the playbook on Product Management in gaming and there’s no better place to hone your skills as a PM and to learn from the best. We have a robust and well-connected Product Management culture which gives me an opportunity to reach out to PMs across the globe to share and learn with them. Another great reason to be at Zynga is the opportunities that exist here. For me, this includes being given the opportunity to move across studios and work on some amazing mobile games, as well as fulfilling a dream of being able to work on a Star Wars game.
What are you most proud of working on the game?
It would have to be my very first feature – ‘Siege’, which we introduced in Mafia Wars. I had been working at Zynga for less than two months and was tasked with coming up with a new Player vs. Player system that would provide players a new way to compete with others in the game. It was a massive challenge that the whole team rose up to tackle and we were able to deliver a quality and fun feature that players enjoyed. Seeing the feature go from a couple of scribbles on a whiteboard to a fleshed out system in-game that players were interacting with on a daily basis was a pretty cool moment. I learned a lot while working on it and it helped me delve into new areas such as understanding and catering to consumer psychology, the importance of user experience (UX), as well as the art of balancing multiple stakeholder needs and combining them to craft a play experience that delighted our players, drove new and interesting gameplay behaviors and helped us achieve our commercial goals.
What would someone be surprised to learn about your company or profession?
You don’t need to be a gamer to work in games. It does help if you know the market and are passionate about it, but we’ve had so many amazing teammates who joined us from non-gaming backgrounds or don’t identify as ‘gamers’ (which is a definition that is also evolving). They’ve come in and added so much value to every game they worked on. Of course, once they do join, it’s only a matter of time before they pick up video games as their new hobby.