How Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Can Make You a Better Product Manager

*NOTE: HUGE shoutout to Jason Amunwa for inspiring this article. Check out his article on STARTUP LESSONS LEARNED (BY PLAYING XCOM), the original inspiration for this article.*

Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain can improve your skills as a product manager.

What? A video game helping moi be a better product manager? I’m out Paul.

Wait! Hold on one moment. Hear me out!

If you play video games, chances are extremely high that you are familiar with this game and the series, and there is also a good chance you’ve played it, or at least seen someone on YouTube play it.

While the game has some controversy over its story and the fact that it was pushed out probably a year before it should have been, along with upper management shenanigans (you can read more at the Wikipedia article), the game was critically acclaimed and I found myself sucked in like few games have been able to do.

This image summarizes the series perfectly.

What is the game all about?

I’ll try to summarize it best as I can.

  • You are sent out on missions in an open-world setting. Sometimes you have to rescue a prisoner. Other times you have to destroy some artillery or communications equipment.
  • The best means to play the game is taking a stealthy approach, although you are free to fire at will. However, the best approach is to be stealthy, and to extract enemy soldiers back to your base. Along with capturing these soldiers, you want to pick up vehicles, plants, and containers full of resources to bring back to base by using the fulton function.

How the fulton function works. Metal Gear is known as a wacky series, to say the least.

  • There is also the base management aspect of the game at Mother Base. You take the soldiers that you extracted from your missions and can set them to a base unit, like medical, security, and R & D. Luckily, the game can auto sort this for you and send each person to where their skill set is best. As you level up the units, you are able to buy more equipment to use for your missions, upgrade your base, upgrade your helicopter, you buddies equipment that you can take out on missions as well.

Now, let’s take a look at some aspects of the game, and how they can help you be a better product manager.

Building a strong team

As mentioned, you can sneak by the enemy, kill them, or the best approach, capture them and bring them back to your base. At this point, you can assign them to a base unit.

As the game goes on, you will find your base might get overfilled (along with some other interesting circumstances that are part of the game) and find the need to expand your base in order to enlist more people into your units. As you go further into the game, you’ll be finding better soldiers with higher skills. You may have wrapped up a mission, but decided to delay finishing it in order to extract a high-skilled soldier.

How does this help you as a product manager?

The Phantom Pain enforces the importance of building your mother base up, in order to build more advanced equipment that you can use for your missions. In order for you to be able to build up a successful product, you need a strong team with a high level of teamwork. I have written about this recently, in discussing that it’s the blacksmith, and not the tools that are to blame.

Choosing Where to allocate your limited resources

The game has an insane amount of projects that you can spend your resources on. Guns, grenades, armor, an artificial arm, building a bigger base, improving your helicopter, or improving the equipment of your buddies who join you on your missions.

Yes, this is a real weapon in the game.

How does this help you as a product manager?

Now, with so many options available, you may feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to try a variety of weapons, especially early in the game, and then specialize as the game goes on. Because your enemies will toughen up, and you will need to upgrade your choices. If you spread yourself too thin, you’re going to have a tough time, as you won’t have the resources to upgrade your equipment. You really want that weapon upgrade now, but upgrading your base will pay off in the long term. These are the kind of things you have to decide. As a product manager, you have to help guide your team in where to allocate your resources. Where are you spending your time? What are you focusing on? It’s super easy to spread yourself thin and try to focus on too many little things, and you’ll be paying for it down the road. As well, you could be spending your time and money checking out all the neatest apps or SaaS services to help your business, or you could spend that time building up your team. You’re going to have constantly be asking yourself where you should be allocating your focus.

Making the Most of your team.

As the game progresses, you can bring in one buddy on your missions. Want to snipe the enemy base from afar while you make your way in? Select Quiet as your buddy. Want to spot all the enemies, and resources you can capture? D-Dog will take care of that. Want something that can quickly adapt to a stealth or combat situation? Hop on D-Walker.

Yes, that’s an eye patch.

At any time during a mission, you can swap in your buddy for another.

How does this help you as a product manager?

As a product manager, delegation is one of the most important skills that you need in order to succeed. You need to know what team member of yours to go to for a task. You need to know the possible situations that you will face and which team member has the expertise needed to deal with the situation.

An adapting enemy.

There’s a point early in the game where you find a rhythm and think “man, this is going to be easy for the rest of the game!”.

However, your enemy will adapt.

Constantly taking down enemies with head shots? They’re going to start wearing helmets so Quiet will have a tougher time with sniping, and so will you. Taking out the enemy with heavy firepower? They’re going to upgrade to body armor. Are you doing all your missions at night because you are much tougher to spot? They’re going to start using night vision googles.

You can spend resources and time to destroy the enemy supplies, but this requires resources and time that could be spent on getting your team to collect resources or recruiting additional staff. You have to make a decision.

How does this help you as a product manager?

Conditions are constantly changing around you. Nothing is static. Perhaps you have a competitor that is making headway into your market share. You need to always be ready for external conditions that are shifting around you, and act accordingly.

When Things Go Wrong, be ready to change things on the fly.

Sometimes on your mission, shit will hit the fan and you need to bring in heavy artillery. You have enemy helicopters and guards hunting you. You call in air support, but because you neglected to invest in your helicopter, it gets shot down quickly. You didn’t bring any heavy firepower, so you have to call in an equipment drop to your location in order to obtain some. You now wish that you decided to bring a rocket launcher with you when you chose your equipment at the beginning of the mission.

When trying to extract a high skilled soldier doesn’t go as planned

How does this help you as a product manager?

You need to be ready for things to go sideways. Even the best laid plans can go awry. Perhaps your product launch didn’t get the reaction you hoped for, or there are critical bugs that are crippling your product. Perhaps a competitor launched a new product that takes you completely by surprise. You need to at least have an idea of what to do if your current plan doesn’t work so you’re not caught with your pants down.

In Conclusion — We’re all diamond dogs.

The Phantom Pain is a phenomenal game that you should play if you’re into video games. However, while a great way to relax and escape for a few hours, it contains many principles that can help you in the world of product management. From building a strong team, knowing which team member to delegate certain situations, how to allocate your limited time and resources, being flexible in your approach and an external environment that is constantly changing, the Phantom Pain can teach you a thing or two on product management.

Originally published at on September 20, 2016.