August 20, 2019
Student Spotlight: Gamer Brushes Up in Strategy at Riot Games
MBA student Feng Wu is analyzing player behavior to help inform strategic decisions for the company’s products.
As a longtime League of Legends player, Tepper MBA candidate Feng Wu said the opportunity to intern for the game’s developer, Riot Games, “is almost a dream come true.” Wu came to the Tepper School of Business with the specific goal of getting an internship in the game industry. “I love gaming. I’ve always been a big gamer,” he said.
League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena game, is a major player in the multibillion dollar gaming industry. “It was my main game for a while,” Wu said. “I was involved with the competition aspect of the game. I was actually on the coaching staff for a professional team for a few months.”
As an Insights Analyst Intern this summer, Wu is working behind the scenes now, analyzing player behavior, such as how long they play and how they monetize.
Wu studied computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated into a career as a software engineer for defense contractors. But after five and a half years, he found himself longing for a transition. “I realized I’d kind of hit a plateau,” he said. “Both the industry and the work weren’t very satisfying, and so that’s when I decided to go back to school and get an MBA.” He wanted to transition into a role more focused on product management and strategy and is now completing the Technology Strategy and Product Management MBA Track at Tepper, a series of courses focused on strategy and management surrounding the technology industry and development of new technologies.
Before Wu had begun at the Tepper School, an engineering recruiter from Riot Games had contacted him with a potential opportunity. “But at the time I was committed to going to business school,” he said. Wu reached out again after starting his MBA program to find out more about the company’s university recruiting, and was connected to a contact in charge of MBA internships at the company. They took Wu through the interview process and hired him for a summer internship.
At Riot Games, Wu is working with the League Strategic Intelligence team, whose function is to analyze the business health of League of Legends, including monetization and behavioral patterns. “We provide data-informed strategic advisory,” Wu said. “We take the gameplay and revenue data and try to find opportunities that we can recommend to different product teams or senior leadership.”
“Riot Games treats insights as a discipline,” Wu said, on par with the artists, writers, and software developers behind the games. “The people who program the game are actually a small team, relatively speaking. Riot is a big machine.” The company embeds analysts on product teams so they can use data to better inform the design and product decisions each team makes.
“When you play a game, you just see the game,” Wu said. “I don’t touch the game at all, actually; I measure the business performance. There are a lot of supporting systems around the game, because player engagement is very important.”
Player engagement is important for games like League of Legends, which is free to play and relies on “microtransactions” — purchases of virtual goods for use in the game. With better understanding of player behavior, Riot Games is better able to provide appealing items for purchase in game and foster longer periods of participation.
In fact, Wu said, Riot Games maintains strong connections with its players. “We don’t even refer to them as customers, even though they are our customers,” he said. “There’s a very close connection between the studios and developers and the gamers. Many people here are very passionate gamers as well. They really care about gamers and how they play our games.”
Wu said this has helped him to recognize the value of building a personal network, especially in the game industry. The insights that developers get from engaging with players directly drive development decisions and help to support player loyalty to the game and the developer.
In addition, Wu has appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the strategy and business decisions that drive the video game industry. “For the gaming industry, unless you’re an insider, you don’t know what’s going on or how companies work,” he said. “Coming to Riot, I have a better sense of how game studios operate.”
He hopes to remain in the game industry upon graduation. “The culture and the products that the game industry makes fit me very well,” he said. He plans to pursue a career in production. “It encompasses both product management and development management. Riot’s culture of openness has allowed me to network with and learn from veterans of this discipline.”