How to become a Release Manager in game development?

25 June, 2021

If you’ve ever wondered how an idea for a game becomes a reality, you might already know a little something about game development and marketing. Are you familiar with a game’s release process though? Do you know what a Release Manager in game dev does? We’re here to solve that mystery for you.

Release management is a job in the video game industry which mainly requires soft skills and a talent for planning. And no, you don’t need to know programming for this one or even have a specialized degree! Sounds incredibly easy to start, doesn’t it?

We  spoke with our Release Coordinator, Aneta Zagórska, to get an inside and in-depth view of what it’s like to be a Release Manager in game dev and share it with you. Who knows, maybe this is the job you’ve been looking for!

Are you interested in a career in game development? Check out our current job openings at All in! Games here:

If you’re interested in other positions in the game dev industry, check out this interview with our Influencer Marketing Specialist:

How to become a Release Manager?

The easiest way to start your journey to becoming a Release Manager is to participate in an internship. Here at All in! Games we often have at least one, if not more, interns beginning their careers in game dev with us. As a Release Intern you don’t need to have any prior experience in the position or in the video game industry. If you already have experience in the industry, you can begin as a Junior Release Manager or transfer from a similar position, such as a job as a QA Tester or as a Producer. In this case you would probably already be familiar with the publishing process which would give you a jump start, although a Junior Release Manager still has a lot to master.

If you already have a job in the industry and are looking to change positions, QA is a good area to switch from. We value attention to detail, planning, and organization, which are often also the qualities of a good QA tester. You could also easily become a Release Manager if you’ve previously worked as a Producer. The jobs are similar, but instead of the communication being between a Producer and developers, it’s between a Release Manager and a platform holder.

It’s important to remember however, that release management isn’t creative, there’s no coming up with new things. We work within a strict framework. If you like improvising, the job isn’t for you—there’s a lot of planning, planning, and more planning.

What are a Release Manager’s skills?

You don’t need to have a specialized degree, it’s enough to be a video game enthusiast. We’re not involved in the creation of any assets or content ourselves. Our role is to coordinate and manage a smooth flow of such materials.

In this position, it’s soft skills that are crucial: communicativeness, responsibility, teamwork, being well organized, and attention to detail. So having experience in any position that helps you develop and hone those skills is welcome, whether it’s in the video game industry or outside of it.

In addition, it’s essential to be able to speak English fluently. A Release Manager contacts platform holders every day and uses developer portals that are in English—these portals are necessary to register a game, to allow the platform holder to review and certify a game, and to receive support from the platform holder. In addition, the work environment at All in! Games and at many publishers is international; the developers we work with come from around the world, so we communicate in English.

Japanese isn’t obligatory, the company can hire an external translator, but the perfect scenario is to have someone who speaks the language in the team. Such a person should read and write in Japanese fluently, especially messages, so that needs at least an intermediate language level. Despite that, you don’t need to talk in Japanese as we solve all the issues in writing, there are no face-to-face calls or meetings with Japanese people.

Although you do get bonus points if you can read and write in Japanese. Why? While platform holders usually provide documentation in English, working with organizations and companies in Japan is sometimes the exception.

What does a Release Manager do every day?

It’s hard to describe a typical day because we mainly work on the tasks which are necessary at a given time. What we work on depends on the needs of other departments or game projects. We help other departments by gathering information and sharing it, we make publishing plans and estimate their risk, set deadlines, and we carry out certification processes.

The most difficult and most important part of our job is putting all the puzzle pieces of our work together. Our release department takes care of the whole All in! Games’ portfolio, not just specific titles—so there are already-published titles, those coming soon, and those which are still in early development. Each game needs a different degree of attention from us.

It’s important to have set priorities in order, properly estimate task time, and share information about a game’s status. We need to look at our portfolio as a whole and organize our job accordingly. To make our job more efficient, we’re always working on internal documentation and templates as well.

We grow attached to our games, even though we usually only take care of them for a short period of time. If we sign a game that is already almost ready, we may spend as little as three to four months with it. Sometimes however, we work with a game for a much longer time, depending on how much work is required from us. For example, we spent a lot of time on Paradise Lost as we signed it pretty early in its development and because it touches on some controversial topics such as war, Nazis, and trauma. The game needed extra attention to make sure that it would be granted the proper age rating as well as to ensure it would be allowed in different countries. In the case of Paradise Lost, special permissions were required from the USK, the German Age Rating Board, which then helped pave the way to get the game approved in other countries. It was also necessary to make some changes to the text in order for the game to be permitted in Japan. Our work sometimes really depends on the game itself!

Besides growing attached to our games, we also grow attached to each other as a team, so working in the office is enjoyable for us. All in! Games’ office is great and there’s even a slide! We often eat lunch together and sometimes we organize baking contests to brighten our day, so being in the office is worthwhile for this extra activity too.

How do you prepare a game for release?

Preparing a game for release consists of the same elements for each platform. We need to register the game with the platform holder, fill in the technical documentation, carry out the certification, and prepare a digital store website. The process can start as soon as we know the final title of the game, often many months before the release.

First, we make a work plan together with other departments and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Even though the release process is always the same, each project is different, so we have to be able to accomodate our plans to changing conditions. We also publish other things besides full titles such as demos, DLCs, soundtracks, new trailers, etc. All of these additional assets need to be planned along with the full title schedule. The most intense time is 3 months before a game’s launch, especially for a sim launch (a simultaneous launch on multiple platforms) which is more challenging—we need to make a lot of different elements work together.

What does a release day look like?

It’s not much different from a usual day. It’s more stressful, but in general the game is ready to be published two or three weeks before it’s actual release. There could still be marketing problems or issues with review codes for the press though, so you never know.

If something isn’t done at this point, there’s no way to change it from our side. Two weeks before a release is simply not enough time to apply any significant changes. Some small modifications can generally still be made though. The actual release day is about waiting, seeing if all the data is correct and if all the products are visible. If yes, we celebrate. If not, we work on fixing the issue.

The time it takes to fix a problem differs; it depends on the importance of the issue. While Platform Holders don’t release games with critical issues, even seemingly small issues and bugs can be a big problem for us.

Even after publishing, a game will still need our attention. There could be new builds, changes to the game’s page, discounts, and DLCs. For example, releasing the Tools Up! DLCs in a Season Pass turned out to be a complicated process—it was a simultaneous launch and we had to take into account different regions too. There were around 40 products that needed certification in total and the bundles were especially hard.

Do you celebrate a game’s launch?

Of course! We usually stay in the office after a release we worked hard on—that is, if there’s no problem in the digital stores. We make a toast, sometimes we invite people from other departments that also worked on the game, and we reminisce about the release process. Sometimes the project is simply too small for a celebration though; it depends on how we feel.

What platforms do you work with? What does the cooperation look like?

We currently work with Valve (Steam), Sony (PlayStation), Microsoft (Xbox), and Nintendo (Nintendo Switch). In addition, there are smaller platform holders, like GOG, the Epic Games Store, and Xsolla.

Cooperation with them is all about using their developer portals. There we can access documentation and support and information for us and for other departments. Each portal is a bit different. While console developer portals are similar, those for PCs are not. Each platform holder also has different forms of contact, sometimes it’s email, sometimes it’s support tickets or message boards. We have to be able to use all the developer portals efficiently and maintain good relationships with each platform holder.

Which platform holder is the most challenging to work with?

It’s hard to say which one is the most challenging, but Steam stands out in this context. It’s actually the least demanding platform. The requirements for developers and publishers are less complicated than on consoles when it comes to the quality of games and later changes to a game’s page. For example, Steam only certifies your game once and then you can modify the description and screenshots as you wish, while on consoles every small change, even fixing a typo, requires a long approval process. Of course, it’s a different story if you break Steam’s rules.

In addition, console platform holders have long, detailed guidelines about a game’s requirements to be published and we need to know them well. An example of a guideline can be something like “a loading screen can’t be up for longer than 20 seconds”. In comparison, Steam has rather easy requirements—the game must work and marketing assets must be true to the game’s content.

What are the possibilities for growth or promotion as a Release Manager?

Here at All in! Games you can be promoted according to your experience, so you can go from an intern to a junior, specialist, senior, and expert. Sometimes you can also become a team leader if there isn’t one. On rare occasions there’s a horizontal promotion to other teams, but the truth is that there’s a lot to learn in the release team and the process takes time, so obviously we want to keep our teammates.

Do you get many ASAP tasks?

In my opinion there are many tasks which must be done as soon as possible, but it’s more of a “within the next few days” thing than “yesterday”. Sometimes a task may seem to be ASAP to other departments, but not to us—we have an overview of the whole portfolio, so from our perspective another game may need ASAP attention more.

We plan our priorities by the day or week, we know what we should work on, so if there are some external things needed ASAP it may mean that something was wrong with our plan or there wasn’t enough information about the task. In our case, “I need this yesterday” tasks shouldn’t happen and as a team, we have an impact on that as well. If they do happen though, of course, we get them done.

Do you have time to play video games?

Yes, we do! We need to get age ratings approved so we have to know the games in our portfolio well enough to list the elements which influence them—in theory, that means playing and finishing the whole game. In addition, releasing games can be easier if you know some details about the game like its length or if it has a multiplayer option.

We also play games outside of the All in! Games’ portfolio on Fridays, for an hour or two, to improve our industry knowledge. We want to know what other games are on the market, what their quality is, and if they are similar to the games we’re releasing. In addition, developers send us demo versions of their games when they’re looking for a publisher, so we often play those to evaluate a potential game’s impact on our portfolio. It’s not a big part of the job, and we don’t need to know the games completely, but we do our best—and it’s fun!

What values are important to you in your daily work?

Improving communication between departments is important to us; we want to know we did our part well. Clear, transparent, and professional communication is essential. We also have respect for the projects we work on—for us the project may be a short task, but we know that other people, such as developers, Producers, and Marketing Managers, have worked on the game for a long time, sometimes for years, so we do our best to have that all pay off with a successful release.

Are there some Release Manager benefits?

Benefits usually depend on the company you work for. All in! Games subsidizes English courses and the purchase of glasses. They also offer private medical care, a friend referral system, and access to the MultiSport program. An added benefit we have is flexible working hours, so you can choose when to start working as long as you’re present during core hours.

What are the best things about being a Release Manager?

One of the pluses of our job is that we can easily see the results of our work. For some other departments, it’s not so simple. A producer may only feel gratification after a few years, while in our case, if a game is published, we’re happy, and sometimes that happens every few weeks.

It’s also nice to be able to oversee the work on our portfolio from a big picture perspective. We often work on many projects simultaneously, basically handling our whole portfolio as opposed to other departments where one person focuses on just one or two games. It’s really cool to be able to look at our efforts as a whole.

Something else that’s interesting is that sometimes we influence company rules a bit as we have access to the requirements of platform holders. It’s a great responsibility, but also satisfying when we manage to make something easier for everyone.

See if your dream position is available at All in! Games:

If not, no worries. Follow All in! Games and stay up to date with our latest recruitment updates—we’re always growing!

Is the work of a Release Manager what you thought it would be? Do you want to share your own experience with us? Join the discussion on our Discord.

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