How the Video Game Series “Dark Souls” Can Make you a Better Product Manager

February 25, 2017 by Paul Lopushinsky

I’ve written about how video games can help you be a better product manager in the past.

I wrote an article on the video game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and how it can make you a better product manager.

For this article, I’m going to be using the “Dark Souls” Series.

If you play video games, you’re no doubt aware of how much of an impact that the Dark Souls (and Bloodborne, another game by the same studio From Software) have had on gaming over the last 5 or so years. If you’ve played the series, you know what it’s all about. For this article, I’m going to assume you have a familiarity with the series, whether as a player or an observer.

You know about all the frustrations.

You know about all the triumphs (while praising the sun).

You know all the times you’ve said “I’m done with this game”, only to come back the next day and say “I love you Dark Souls! But I also hate you!”

Sounds like product management, doesn’t it?

The game has a well-earned (if somewhat exaggerated) reputation as difficult and punishing. If you take your time, learn patterns, and mind your surroundings, you’ll beat the game, no matter what kind of character build you use. So let’s jump in.

The Risk reward aspect of Dark Souls.

When you defeat enemies in Dark Souls, you gain souls. These souls can be used to level up your character, buy items, buy or upgrade spells and equipment etc. It’s your currency. If you die (actually, when you die…and you will die a lot) you will drop your souls at your location of death and return to the last bonfire you rested at (bonfires are checkpoints in a way). You can return to your spot of death and reclaim those souls, but if you die before reclaiming them, those souls are lost for good!

Each time you die or rest at a bonfire, the enemies that you killed will respawn, so you simply can’t make a beeline back to where you died.

This is where patience comes in.

After a few deaths and being sent back to the last bonfire, you become very familiar with the area. You know where the enemies are, and where to look out for them. And yet, it’s easy to get arrogant or cocky and try to rush through things, only to get surrounded and meet your demise again. Once again, there go your souls!

Takeaway for product managers:

Just because you know the landscape of your surroundings, don’t make assumptions! When you get cocky and arrogant, you’re going to miss out on important insights.

It’s easy to miss the details of the world Dark Souls if you’re so focused on one thing. And those details matter.

The Dark Souls series have a very interesting story, which, after beating the first game, I realized how much I missed. There’s whole YouTube channels devoted to breaking down the story of Dark Souls by piecing all the parts together. The game doesn’t rely on cutscenes or large info dumps to tell the story, but is told through items that you pick up (in their descriptions), short cryptic conversations you’ll have with characters, and the environment and enemies around you. Of course, as you’re fighting to stay alive, it’s easy to miss these small little details that tell a cohesive whole, and, for the medium of video games, tells a very interesting story. You have to put the pieces together to figure out about this world and its inhabitants.

Unlike most modern games which do their very best to make sure you don’t miss anything, Dark Souls does not. Some of the best areas are completely optional and fairly easy to miss.

Takeaways for Product Managers:

When you’re so far in the trenches or focused on certain aspects, it’s easy to miss some of the details that are around you. Maybe you’re so focused on thing that you’re completely ignoring what your customers are actually looking for. Nothing is laid out in a straight path — you need to be able to pull from a variety of areas and put the pieces together.

It’s dangerous to go alone. Seek advice!

One of the most unique aspects of Dark Souls is the game gives you the option to leave notes for other characters. These can be upvoted or downvoted for how helpful they are. Is there an enemy hiding around the corner past that door? Is there a treasure nearby? Is that treasure chest secretly a monster? Well, the game gives you the option to leave a message letting players know about these.

Yes, this actually happens.

Takeaways for Product managers:

We may all work in different industries or different companies, but we do struggle with similar problems! Instead of keeping all to yourself, there are plenty of resources to seek assistance, or even offer your own advice. Leave your notes behind, or let others know that you appreciate their work…whether that’s through blogging, podcasts, product manager slack teams, meetups, or mentorships, to name a few.

In Conclusion:

As a jaded gamer who sees Dark Souls as a shining light in a sea of mediocrity in the modern gaming landscape, there’s plenty of takeaways from the game that you can apply to product management. Hopefully I’ve convinced some of you to check out the series if you have not done so already!

With that said, give the game a chance. It took 2–3ish hours before the game finally clicked, but once it did, there’s few games that can match the Souls series.


Originally published at www.pmpaul.com on February 25, 2017.