How Do You Actually Become … a Product Manager for Catan
My name is Sebastian Rapp, and I am a product manager at the publishing house KOSMOS. Sounds impressive, right? In the past, I also liked to call myself the “maid-of-all-work at KOSMOS regarding Catan,” but ever since Carol supports me in the area of marketing I am only the “maid-of-almost-all-work,” fortunately …
When people ask me what I do for a living, they interestingly don’t inquire that much about what a “Product Manager for Catan” does. Much more frequently, I get asked how you become one.
This may be related to the fact that, professionally as well as privately, I have a lot to do with people who are interested in games and for whom “Catan” is, of course, a household name. And for those people it is more exciting to hear how you come to deal with games professionally – because “games editor,” for some, is a kind of dream job. And perhaps I’m not totally wrong in assuming that this also goes for many readers of this blog. It was definitely the case for me, almost 10 years ago – which is why, in my first blog, I would like to tell how I came to Catan. What it actually means to be a “Product Manager for Catan” or, respectively, a “games editor” – and if, as such, one really spends the entire day exclusively with games, or maybe playing games – that’s something I’d rather tell you on a later occasion.
First of all, let me answer the question of how to best prepare oneself in terms of education, in order to gain a foothold in the gaming industry: preparation is quite easy – because it pretty much doesn’t matter. Well, all right, it matters a little bit. Having attained an academic degree is helpful, since it means you already have (or should have) proven that you can handle written language and have text comprehension skills. Academic studies are definitely not necessary, though – but text comprehension and the ability to express oneself in writing are indispensable.
Apart from reliable spelling skills, one needs especially one thing: enthusiasm for games. And one also needs either luck or connections. However, it’s not about “connections” in the conventional sense, such as being a great networker and having a thousand contacts at LinkedIn or similar platforms. The board games scene is small, and everyone knows almost everyone – at least in Germany. In fact, it’s not that difficult to get to know games editors. It may happen at gamer meetings or during game nights, but also at Brettspielwelt (a German online portal for online versions of board games) or during an internship at a publishing house – actually, it may happen wherever people play games, so long as it occurs in a fairly public environment. However, games editors can only rarely be met at one’s own living room table; that would only happen if one already has met them somewhere else. Once you know a games editor, you almost inevitably are in contact with many other ones as well. And if publishing house A is looking for a new staff member, and an editor at publishing house B knows someone he considers interested and capable – even though it’s not half the battle, it surely is an advantage.
Now I know all this.
10 years ago, I didn’t know it.
That’s why I was just plain lucky.
I have been into gaming my whole life, and after I began my studies in 1990, I played a lot – particularly games from the US, but also German games, of course, provided that they were sophisticated enough. Before 1994, German games of the latter type were kind of difficult to find, but luckily, this changed when the Settlers of Catan appeared in 1995. (Yes, I have one of the rare first editions that show the black logo of the publisher Franckh but no “Game of the Year” reference, featuring an additional, orange-colored set of game pieces – bought right after its publication!) I was member of a game club; since 1991, I went to the Essen game fair each year; I participated in the German Board Game Championship; etc. Nevertheless, I had almost no contacts at all.
Then I graduated; it was the beginning of 1998, a time when start-ups sprung up like mushrooms. At first, I struggled along in a start-up whose specialty were play-by-mail games, which at the time were already dying out. But it was a start, and in 1998, for the first time I went to Essen not as a visitor but as an exhibitor. Things went well for a little more than one year, then the company slowly but surely ran out of money, and I was forced to start looking for another employer. But even back then, job offers for specialists in German studies and cultural scientists were kind of few and far between, especially those I would have been interested in.
Therefore, I was exhilarated to find a KOSMOS employment ad offering a trainee position in the area of books for children and young people. Although children’s books were not at very the top of my list of interests, I could definitely imagine myself working in an editorial office, particularly at KOSMOS, because like everybody else, as an adolescent I had read many stories of “Die 3 ???” (“The Three Investigators,” whose German version was published by KOSMOS). However, far more interesting for me was the fact that it was a job at KOSMOS. KOSMOS was the publisher that had been instrumental in making it possible for “genuine gamers” to once again being able to play games from Germany, and in addition to that, KOSMOS was based in Stuttgart. The fact of the matter was that I really wanted to work for a game publisher, and even better, for a game publisher based in Swabia, which is where I lived.
To cut a long story short: They didn’t even invite me to the job interview in the area of books for children and young people, because my application documents seemed to make me more suited for a job in the games division, which – at the time – still belonged to the same department the area of books for children and young people was part of. And as chance would have it, at that moment a trainee position was available in the Catan area, which seemingly had not been officially advertised yet. Therefore, I was invited to a job interview – and afterwards, the search had apparently come to an end, or rather, it didn’t start at all.
After less than six weeks, I was already working at KOSMOS. And that’s where I still am today – although I’m sitting in a different office now.
Until next time!