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Playrix创始人的故事:新晋亿万富翁的发家史

发布时间:2020-04-15 08:59:30 Tags:,,

Playrix创始人的故事:新晋亿万富翁的发家史

原作者:Pavel Merzlikin 译者:Willow Wu

2019年4月,彭博将Igor & Dmitry Bukhman兄弟俩列入了亿万富翁榜单。这对兄弟出生于俄罗斯北边的一个城市沃洛格达,2004年他们在家乡成立了一个电子游戏公司。如今,Playrix旗下有1000多名员工,《梦幻家园》《梦想小镇》等游戏受到了世界各地玩家的喜爱,日活跃用户达到了3000万左右。Bukhmans兄弟的头几个游戏都是在沃洛格达的公寓里创作的,上架后几乎立刻就能回本。Igor现在37岁,Dmitry 34岁,据说个人净资产都有14亿美元。我们跟Bukhmans兄弟谈了谈他们是怎么通过游戏发家致富的、为什么选择离开俄罗斯,以及俄罗斯本土游戏市场的现状。

你们还记得小时候玩的第一款游戏是什么吗?

Igor: 在我们小时候,电脑是非常罕见的东西,直到五、六年级时才有机会接触它,也就是1990年代中期吧。我们差不多在同样的年纪开始玩游戏,大概是12、13岁,Dima比我小3岁。我们玩《坦克大战》《马里奥》还有Dandy,就跟其他孩子一样。

Dmitry: 我们的成长经历就跟家乡其他非富裕家庭的孩子一样,我们的父亲是一名兽医,在一家肉类加工厂做指导工作。母亲一直都在滚珠轴承工厂工作。我们的生活很简朴,上的也是很普通的学校。电脑是爷爷给我们的,这是我们人生中的一个里程碑事件。研究电脑成为了我们的第一个爱好。1996、97年,我们面对着奔腾100,研究着它的操作系统,试着写程序,当然还有玩游戏。但我们并不是时时刻刻都围绕着游戏。

你们是什么时候决定要自己做游戏的?

I: 2000年,我在沃洛格达大学学习应用数学,有个老师在网上卖他自创的游戏,我们也很想试试。那时我刚念完大一,Dima结束了九年级的课程。我们第一次连上了互联网。我们当时没想过要靠这个挣钱,我们只是想写些代码放到网上。

我们没有什么特别棒的点子,所以最后还是决定做游戏。在那时候,网络游戏的销售模式一般都是先让你免费玩一小段时间,然后你得付费才能继续。我们利用晚上的时间做游戏,白天补觉,一个月后我们的第一个游戏就完成了。它非常简单,有点像Xonix:你用键盘控制光标,在躲避敌人(其实只是屏幕上的一些点点)的同时清除图片的背景。

第一个月,有四个人买了我们的游戏,收入60美元。我甚至还记得第一个买游戏的人。当时有邮件通知我们说有个在美国的人购买了我们的游戏,这太难以置信了。

游戏优化又花了我们好长一段时间,我们的月收入增加到了100美元。当时我们父母的月收入大概是200美元/人。对我们来说这就是实实在在的真金白银。

这些收入有让你们产生再做一个游戏的念头吗?是什么时候开始着手新游戏的?

I: 发行第一个游戏的半年后吧。我们一边上学一边做游戏,为了一些画面效果,我们还找了一位本地的画师合作。前后大概花了4、5个月的时间。游戏发行的第一个月,收入达到200美元。这是一个大突破,我们有两个收入来源了。后来我们就有钱买第二台电脑了,效率提升了一倍,因为两个人可以同时工作,再也不用轮流使用电脑了。但我们还是坚持在同一个房间里。

你们是什么时候决定正式成立游戏业务的?

I: 2004年,也就是我们处女作发行的三年后,我们每个月可以挣到10000美元左右。那时月收入300美元在沃洛格达已经算不错了。

D: 一开始,我们的父母无法相信我们能在网上挣钱。那时候大家对互联网都是一知半解。即使赚了更多的钱,我们的生活也还是一样。没有买什么华丽奢侈的东西。

I: 我甚至都想不起来我们拿这些钱做了什么,应该是存了起来了吧。我唯一记得的是在大学毕业之前,我买了一辆车,也是在2004年的时候。但不是什么好车,是一辆二手的拉达21099。不到一个月我就攒够了买车的钱。我们需要一些时间重新定位自己,想清楚这笔钱的用处,适应这种收入状态。在这之前,我们从没接触过商务方面的事宜。也完全不认识做生意的本地人。

homes capes(from apple.com)

homes capes(from apple.com)

D: 公司成立后,我还在大学里呆了三年。我不知道我为什么要这么做,但是我们从小就被灌输“无法从大学毕业的人都是失败者”这种理念。我甚至都不知道有人是自己选择放弃学业的。

为什么你们选择在沃洛格达成立公司,而不是莫斯科这样的大城市?是出于对家乡的爱吗?

D: 并不是,但我们也不是不爱家乡。我们是在这里出生长大的,从没想过要离开沃洛格达。对我们来说,生活在这里是一种常态。我不认为搬到莫斯科是一种必要的决策。我们看到过一些很厉害的人搬到莫斯科,之后碰壁了又只能回到沃洛格达。

I: 另外,我们身边也有很多优秀人才。所以最开始,我们招募的是学校中认识的人。如果我们搬出去,在莫斯科重新开始,我们可能要经历一段困难的磨合期。

D: 在沃洛格达,我们迎来了快速增长。最开始,我们只有四个人。我们在一个书库里租了几个房间,花了几个月的时间才把那些肆意窜行的老鼠解决掉。我们在那里工作了几年,团队扩大到了十几人。两三年后,Playrix的员工已经接近三位数了。以前我们是从一个办公室搬到另一个办公室,后来我们决定自己盖工作室。

那时候电子游戏市场的增长速度就是这么快吗?

I: 我们刚起步的时候,几乎没有固定成型的目标市场和商业模式。能不能挣到钱那就是看你的运气。当Playrix成立时,可下载的休闲游戏正在崛起。这类游戏并不需要投入很多时间,任何人都可以轻易上手。此外,大型线上游戏商店也开始出现。

有一类目标用户正在不断增长:35+岁的女性。我们想知道这些人喜欢什么类型的游戏,哪些东西能吸引她们,哪些是雷点。我们力求把一个细节做到完美,即使这会耗费很多时间。第一个游戏耗费了一年多的时间,第二个更长。2009年之前我们一直都聚焦于这个年龄段的目标用户,制作了约30个游戏。它们都获得了商业成功,其中有些还是同类产品中盈利最多的。简而言之,我们公司的营收在当时是数一数二的。

那时Playrix的收入是多少?

I: 一年500、600万美元左右吧。但我们有一个问题:不管你的游戏有多酷,你的用户规模早晚都会触顶,这也意味着收入会到达上限。我们意识到我们不可能在这个市场中获得非常可观的增长,而且没有做新东西的动机。现在,我们致力于手游市场,而收入上限只存在于理论中。

Playrix的收入达到百万级别,但是你们依然选择呆在沃洛格达,甚至又新建了一个工作室,为什么?

I: 在那时,我们认为建一个工作室会比租或者买更划算,但事实证明这是个坏主意。在俄罗斯,有些问题你是根本意料不到的。

有人向你们索贿吗?

I: 比这个更糟糕。我们花了三、四百万卢比(大概是五、六万美元)买下那块地准备建工作室,施工是在一年多后开始的。我们打好了地基,结果发现卖土地的那个人并不是真正的所有者。这块地属于市政府,也属于我们,因为那个人设法让政府把所有的土地文件登记在我们名下。

之后我们又付了一次款,不然就得把所有建好的东西都拆掉。卖土地的那个人已经联系不上了。我们吸取了教训,以后再也不搞这样的事了。

那时你们有多少员工?

I: 大约140、150左右吧。一直以来,我们都在积极扩大规模。当《梦想小镇》登上移动平台时(2012年上架App Store,2013年上架Play商店),我们获得了突破。游戏一投入市场就引发了热烈反响,五年来都保持增长状态。如今它的用户规模比以往任何时候都庞大——日活跃用户达到约600万,比最开始的时候多了十几倍。

D: 在农场&城市建设类别中,《梦想小镇》如今是排在第一位的。成功的背后原因很难说清楚,或许只是因为它是一个好游戏。五年来我们持续进行优化提升,增加更多新内容。有个60人团队一直在为它提供支持。

像这样的游戏发行后,你们怎么确保玩家会注意到它?毕竟每天都有一堆游戏上架。

I: 如今,这些都与流量购买(在线广告)有关。一个成功的游戏,绝对有必要为它购买流量,这样才能让你的收入高于付出。这是通用做法,对我们来说也是如此。在如今这样的市场,不知道怎么销售产品是注定要失败的。竞争太激烈了。

你们在哪里推广游戏?具体是怎么做的?

D: 主要是通过Facebook和谷歌这两个平台。你在社交媒体浏览推送的feed内容时,你会看到我们的游戏的广告,然后你可能会点击它启动下载程序。当然,我们会为此付一笔钱给平台。我们按用户付费,然后看看推广后的平均收入是否高于用户在玩游戏时为我们带来的平均收入。

这些人已经玩了很久了,有些人是从一开始玩到现在,已经5年了。这其中大概有九成的玩家从没掏过一分钱,因为就算不花钱你也能享受游戏的乐趣。但如果你想要一些额外的选择,就得花钱买游戏内的货币了。一个玩家一个月可能会花上5美元或10美元,但是两年下来,这个数字就很可观了。

彭博社将你们俩列入了亿万富翁榜,他们写道Playrix的年收入有12亿美元。这个数字准确吗?

I: 我们是一家私营公司,非必要时我们不会谈钱这方面的信息。有一家专业数据公司App Annie,他们在2018年底发布了一份分析报告,Playrix在所有移动产品公司中排名第九。

D: 如果跟独联体的其他IT公司作比较,我们是规模最大的公司之一;如果单就游戏公司来说,我们肯定是最大的,没有之一。但是本国人很少有知道Playrix的。大家熟悉、喜爱我们的游戏,它们在俄区榜单中名列前茅,但是几乎没有人知道Playrix这个品牌。一定程度上是因为俄罗斯对我们来说是一个非常小的市场:这里产生的收益只占总体的2.8%。我们最大的市场是美国,然后是中国和日本。美区玩家带来的收益占到了总体的40%,跟俄罗斯形成强烈对比。

你们目前有多少玩家?

D: 日常大概有3000万,但我们增长很快的。我们最成功的产品《梦幻家园》,日活跃用户就有1200万左右。90%都是非付费玩家,但是你可以看看美区付费玩家的数据,他们的月平均消费是32美元。

后来为什么将总部转移到其他城市了?

D: 当我们发行《梦想小镇》时,我们只有一个工作室,然后我们就搬进了那个命运多舛的建筑。大家都想保持这种快速增长的势头,我们开始考虑更多选项——包括搬到另一个城市,在那里建立工作室等等。人才是分散在世界各地的,想把他们聚集到一个城市中是挺困难的,因此我们让一些人远程办公。

我们这样工作很长一段时间了——一间办公室,一大堆远程办公的员工。但他们中的很多人确实想在办公室里工作。所以我们在莫斯科、圣彼得堡等城市也开设了工作室,那里有很多员工。这样,人们就可以自己选择在家工作还是去办公室。让人们选择更加方便的工作方式,这对我们来说很重要。

现在Playrix有15间工作室,1100名员工,分布于在独联体和爱尔兰。我们计划在独联体之外再开设一间大工作室。

I: 因为有这样的工作方式,我们把Playrix称为一家分散式公司。意思就是我们的员工不仅是分散在不同的工作室或者远程办公,我们的项目团队也是由居住在不同城市的人才组成的。并不是让同一个工作室的团队专门负责某个游戏。所有的团队都是分散式的。并且,从我们的数据来看,采取这种工作方式的公司中,我们的规模是最大的。

将新总部设立在都柏林的原因是什么?

I: 我们当时是从法律的角度来考虑,我们认为爱尔兰的法律体系对我们来说是最理想的。成熟的公司法和较低的企业税——12.5%,这是我们看中的点。也有税率更低的城市,但是那些地方的风评没有爱尔兰这么好。我们不是第一批来这里的人。Facebook和谷歌的欧洲总部也在这里。都柏林是高科技的中心。

你们认为Playrix还是一家俄罗斯企业吗?

I: 我们认为Playrix是一家国际化的公司,总部设在爱尔兰,在独联体地区有一些工作室。我们的管理层都在都柏林,那里是公司的火车头。但我们的根还是在沃洛格达。大多数员工还是用俄语交流的。

你们之前有想过把总部留在俄罗斯吗?

I: 当然有,我们没有什么要隐瞒的。不幸的是,俄罗斯对潜在投资者的限制引发了人们的担忧。他们认为在俄罗斯什么事都可能发生,投资的前景很难说。

你们也搬出俄罗斯了吗?

D: 我们沃洛格达生活了很长一段时间,大概在五年前,我们搬到了爱尔兰。在国外生活是一种什么样的体验,我们很好奇。现在我们依然生活在异乡,但之前有很认真地想过近期要不要回到俄罗斯生活。

为什么决定搬走呢?

D: 我说过了,是因为好奇心。另外就是一些次要原因,比如气候之类的。

I: 公司的发展经历也是影响因素之一吧。在俄罗斯我有种感觉,可能哪天就有人会举报我们做了什么违法的事。我们所做的一切是合法的,然而他们给我们的感觉就好像我们在实施欺诈似的。如果不是这种情况,我们可能会留下来。我们曾经梦想过去在一个讲英语的欧洲国家生活,那里的情况似乎会比较好。那时我们对一切都抱着乐观的态度。现在,我们知道一切都不是那么简单。

说到这个——你们有跟踪关注俄罗斯的情况吗?

D: 当然有。我们关注着一切,每天会看三次Meduza(俄罗斯本地的新闻媒体,游戏邦注)。

身在外国,你们觉得俄罗斯的情况看起来是怎样的?

I: 如果你指的是政治方面,我们从来不会谈论这些话题。而且也确实没有什么太大的变化。

比如那些影响到游戏行业的事呢?比如禁用Telegram?

D: 那时候我们说过这不会有什么影响。如果真的有影响,我们就去解决这个问题。我们在这方面没有什么特别的想法。好好做游戏,好好纳税,一切都OK。

I: 在这里表达个人观点可能不太合适,而且说实话,在这方面我们也不是什么专家。总而言之,大体情况还是挺有意思的。但如果事情发展到了封锁网络或者封锁边境的地步,我们肯定是反对的。我们搬离俄罗斯的时候比现在更悲观。

为什么?俄罗斯的情况变好了吗?

I: 在某些城市,比如莫斯科,确实是变好了。但重要的是,我们意识到我们还是跟讲俄语的人最亲近,我们更能理解这些人。尽管当我离开的时候,我认为我的思想已经很不一样了,我在西方的某个城市可能会过得更自在。简而言之就是政治移民这种感觉。无论如何,在未来,当我们开始重新思考居住地时,俄罗斯肯定会是选项之一。

俄罗斯电子游戏市场当前的状况是怎样的?

D: 很明显,最近俄罗斯涌现了很多成功的移动产品公司。我们看到他们在成长,这个地区正在变得更加强大。总的来说,移动市场是必须关注的。整个游戏行业的年收入已经超过了1000亿美元,移动市场占了其中的一半以上,而且还在增长。

你们有想过为那些传统平台开发游戏吗?制作Playrix版本的《巫师》?

D: 不,我们喜欢待在移动市场,规模大且发展迅速。越来越多的人选择在移动平台上玩游戏,这里也不乏一些hardcore游戏。如今,我们自己没有那么常玩游戏了——因为没有时间,但如果玩的话,我们还是会玩手游。但这并不意味着我们对PC就完全没有兴趣。我们正在考虑触及更多平台。可能未来我们会收购一个PC游戏开发工作室吧。

你们的下一款游戏计划在什么时候发行?

D: 去年(2018),我们没有发行任何新游戏,新游戏的开发进度有点落后。只有在产品完全准备好、大家胸有成竹的情况下我们才会发行游戏。我们没有预算限制,从早期的开发阶段到最后发行,我们在每个产品上投入的资金都不一样,通常是500万美元左右。这很难计算,因为产品发行之后我们还会继续更新。

今年,我们计划发行3~4款新游戏。2013年以来,我们总共就发行了4款新产品——考虑到这一点的话,今年的发行量应该算很多了。我们总共发行了5款游戏,但是其中1款失败了。我们很早之前就开始做这个游戏了,但完成的时候市场也改变了。它多少还是挣了一点钱,但我们最后还是把它下架了。尽管手游用户在持续增长,但是任何人都无法保证未来会是怎样的,俄罗斯也不例外。但是从用户规模的角度来说,俄罗斯恐怕永远都达不到美国或中国那种级别。

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In April, Bloomberg added Igor and Dmitry Bukhman to its list of U.S. dollar billionaires. The brothers, born in the northwest Russian city of Vologda, founded a video game company out of their hometown in 2004. Now, Playrix, which employs more than 1,000 employees and entertains about 30 million users every day with popular games like Homescapes and Township. The Bukhmans made their first games out of their Vologda apartment and almost immediately started raking in a profit. Now, Igor is 37 years old, Dmitry is 34, and each is said to have a net worth of $1.4 billion. We spoke with the Bukhmans about how they started making more money off their games, why they no longer live permanently in Russia, and what’s going on in the country’s domestic video game market today.

Do you remember the first game you played yourself?

Igor: When I was a kid, computers were a really unusual thing, and we only got to touch them in fifth or sixth grade, in the mid-1990s. We really started playing around the same age: I was 12 or 13, and Dima was three years younger. We played Dandy, Mario, Battle City, the same things everybody did.

Dmitry: We grew up like normal kids in Vologda whose families didn’t have much money. Our dad was a veterinarian — he taught and worked at a meat processing plant. Mom spent practically her whole life in a ball bearing factory. We lived very modestly, and we went to a totally ordinary school. The computer was our first hobby. Our grandpa gave it to us, and that was a huge event. In 1996 and 1997, we were sitting by our Pentium 100, figuring out the operating system, trying to program stuff, and playing, of course. But not any more than other kids — we’re not gamers who have built our whole lives around video games.

When did you decide that you could make games yourself?

I: [In 2000] I started studying applied math at Vologda University. There was a progressive teacher there who had already been selling his own games on the Internet. We decided that we really wanted to try it too. I finished my first year, Dima finished ninth grade, and we set ourselves up on the Internet for the first time — an unlimited nighttime plan. We weren’t thinking of starting a business. We just wanted to write some code and put it on the Web.

We didn’t have any genius ideas, so we decided to make a game. Back then, Internet games were usually sold in a model where you could play for a certain number of minutes for free, and then you had to pay to continue playing. It took us about a month of working at night and catching up on sleep during the day to write our first game. It was very simple, kind of like Xonix: you used your keyboard to control the cursor and clear the background out of a picture while avoiding ‘enemies,’ which were just dots on the screen.

In the first month, four people bought our game, and we made $60. I even remember the first person who paid for it. We were sitting in Vologda, and we got an email saying that someone had bought the game in America. It seemed like an unbelievable thing.

We worked on improving our first game for a pretty long time. We brought our monthly income up to $100. Our parents made about $200 each back then. So it was a tangible sum — it was real money for us.

Did the profits push you to make a second game right away? When did you start working on it?

I: It was about half a year after the first one. We went to school and worked on it in parallel for four or five months, added some graphics — for that, we had to find an artist in Vologda. In the first month, the game made $200. That was a breakthrough: we had two games going at the same time that were bringing in money. At some point, we were able to afford a second computer and put it in the same room. Our productivity doubled immediately because we could work at the same time instead of taking turns. But we still kept working out of the same room.

When did you decide to turn all this into a business?

I: In 2004, three years after we released the first game, our income reached around $10,000 per month, and a good salary in Vologda was $300 back then.

D: At first, our parents couldn’t believe we were making money on the Internet. Back then, no one understood anything about the Internet. And even though we were making more money according to the standards of the time, we kept living the same way. We didn’t buy anything fancy.

I: I don’t even know now what we did with the money. We probably saved it. The only thing I remember is that before I graduated from college, also in 2004, I bought a car. But not a decent one, a used Lada 21099. Even made enough to buy it in less than a month. We needed time to reorient ourselves, to figure out what to do with the money and how to live with it. Before then, we didn’t live in a business framework at all. We didn’t even know people in Vologda who were in business.

D: On top of that, I was in college for three years after we founded the company. Now I don’t even know why I did that, but we were raised to think that only losers don’t graduate from college. I didn’t even know there were people who don’t finish school by choice.

Why did you stay in Vologda instead of going to Moscow to found Playrix? Are you just real patriots for your hometown?

D: I wouldn’t say we’re patriots, but I can’t say the opposite either. We just stayed there because that’s where we were born and raised. You know, we never even thought we would ever leave Vologda. For us, living in Vologda was the norm. And I don’t think moving to Moscow is some kind of necessity in general. We had examples of really strong guys who moved to Moscow and then came back to Vologda.

I: Plus, there were always a ton of smart guys around in Vologda. So at first, we started hiring people we knew from school. If we had moved out and started all over again in Moscow, we might have had a harder time breaking in.

D: In Vologda, we started growing fast. At first, we had four people including ourselves. We rented a few rooms in a book storage building where there were rats running around for a couple of months before we got them out. We worked there for a couple of years, and then we got to be 10 – 15 people, and two or three years later, we had almost 100. At first, we moved from office to office, but then we decided to build our own.

Was the entire video game market growing that fast back then?

I: When we had just started working, there was practically no set market and no business model. Whatever luck you had, that’s how much you made. When we founded Playrix, casual downloadable games were on the rise. They don’t take much time, and anyone can start playing them. Big websites started popping up where you could sell them.

There was also a growing target audience: women 35 years old and up. And we were working for that audience, figuring out which genres people liked, what worked and what didn’t. We tried to make everything as high-quality as possible even though that took a lot of time. We spent more than a year on the first game and even longer on the second. We worked in that market until around 2009 and made about 30 games. All of them were financially successful. Some of them were among the most profitable in the whole market. On the whole, our company was in first or second place in terms of revenue.

How much did your company make back then?

I: About $5 or $6 million per year. But there was a problem: no matter how cool a game you made, you would hit a ceiling in terms of the size of your audience, and that meant a revenue ceiling too. We realized that we couldn’t grow to be 10 times bigger in that market. There was no incentive to do something new. Now, we work in the mobile games market, and the revenue ceiling there exists only in theory.

You started making millions of dollars, but you stayed in Vologda. You even built a new office there. Why?

I: At the time, we thought building would be more profitable than renting or buying, but then it became clear that it was a bad idea. But in Russia, problems sometimes pop up where there shouldn’t be any.

Did someone demand bribes from you?

I: Worse. We bought the land for the office for three or four million rubles (around $50,000 or $60,000), and we started building after a little more than a year. We built the foundation, and then it turned out that the person who sold the land to us didn’t actually own it. It belonged to the city government and to us because he somehow made it so that the government registered all the documents for the land to us.

In the end, we bought the land again because otherwise, we would have had to just take down everything we had built. The person who sold the land to us disappeared. We learned a lesson from that story — we would never deal with construction again.

How many of you were there at the time?

I: 140 or 150 people. That whole time, we kept growing actively. The breakthrough was when Township came out on mobile platforms — it came out on iOS in 2012 and Android in 2013. It was a success right away, and it’s been growing for five years. Right now, it has the largest audience it’s ever had — around six million users a day. It’s grown by more than 10 times in the course of its history in that respect.

D: In its genre category, which is farming and city construction games, it’s number one in the entire mobile market today. It’s always hard to figure out the reasons behind this kind of success, but it’s probably just a good product. And we’ve been improving it for five years, adding new options and so on. There are around 60 people who work on it full time.

When games like this come out, how do players find out about them? A ton of these games come out every day.

I: Nowadays, all of that is directly related to traffic purchases [online advertising]. If a game is successful, it’s absolutely necessary to buy traffic for it so that you make more than you lose. It’s a universal approach, and that’s how we work too. You can’t survive on the market nowadays if you don’t know how to sell your product. The competition is fiece.

How and where do you promote your games?

D: Mostly through Facebook and Google. If you’re scrolling through your feed on social media, you see an ad for our games, and you click on it and download it, of course, we’re paying the platform for that. We pay per user, and then we look and see whether we make more or less on average than the user brought in for us while they were playing.

The thing is that people play our games for a really long time. Some of them have been playing Township for all five years. At the same time, 90 percent of our players don’t pay us anything at all because you can easily play the game for free. But if you want to add in some extra options, then you have to buy the game’s internal currency. A player might spend $5 or $10 a month but over the course of two years, that’s not such a small amount.

Bloomberg wrote that you’re both dollar billionaires and that the company’s annual revenue is 1.2 billion dollars. Are those numbers accurate?

I: We’re a private company, and we don’t talk about money any more than we have to. We can say that there’s a respectable company, App Annie, that put together an analytical report at the end of 2018, and we got ninth place among all the companies that work on mobile platforms.

D: If you compare us to other IT companies in the Commonwealth of Independent States, then we’d be one of the largest, and definitely the largest among all the game companies. But very few people in Russia know about us. People know and love our games, they’re at the top of the Russian charts, but almost nobody knows us as a brand. That’s in part because Russia is a very small market for us: it gives us 2.8 percent of our returns. Our biggest market is the U.S., and then China and Japan. In contrast with Russia, the U.S. brings in 40 percent of our returns.

What’s the total audience for your games currently?

D: Around 30 million people per day, but we’re growing fast. Our most successful game, Homescapes, has around 12 million per day. 90 percent of that audience doesn’t pay, but if you look at the average check in the U.S. from paying players, it’s about $32 per month.

Why aren’t you headquartered in Vologda anymore?

D: When we released Township, we had one office, and we moved out of it into our ill-fated building in Vologda. We knew we wanted to keep growing fast, and we started looking at various options — moving to another city, opening and office there, and so on. But putting together a great team in a single city is pretty difficult because talented people do live in different places. So we started offering people remote work.

We worked like that for quite a long time — with a single office and a ton of remote employees. But a lot of them did want to work out of an office. So we started opening offices where we already had a lot of employees — in Moscow, in Petersburg, and so on. That way, people could choose whether to work out of the office in their city or work from home. It was important to us for people to be able to work wherever it’s convenient for them.

Now, our company has 1,100 employees and 15 offices all over the Commonwealth of Independent States and in Ireland. We’re planning to open another big office soon that’s not in the CIS.

I: Because we have this arrangement, we call ourselves a distributed company. That means we don’t just have employees in different offices or working remotely — we have teams made up of employees who live in different cities. It’s not like we make Township in Petersburg and Homescapes in Vologda or anything like that. All of our teams are distributed. And, according to our data, we’re the largest company in the world right now that does things this way.

Why did you pick Dublin for your new headquarters?

I: We were thinking about how to structure our business right from a legal standpoint, and we decided that Irish jurisprudence is optimal for us. The pluses are that there’s good corporate law and a low corporate tax — 12.5 percent. You can find lower ones, but the places aren’t as trustworthy and prestigious as Ireland. We’re not the first ones to come here. The European offices for Facebook and Google are here too. Dublin is a hub for tech companies.

Do you not think of yourselves as a Russian company anymore?

I: We think of ourselves as an international company headquartered in Ireland that has offices in the CIS. Our entire management team is in Dublin, and the company is lead here. At the same time, of course, our roots are in Vologda. Most of the company still speaks Russian.

Did you think about keeping your headquarters in Russia?

I: Of course.

Why didn’t you?

I: Well, what have we got to hide? Unfortunately, Russia raises concerns for potential investors in terms of defending their rights. They think anything can happen in Russia.

Have you moved out of Russia yourselves?

D: We lived in Vologda for a long time, but about five years ago, we moved out to live in Ireland. We were curious about what it would be like to live abroad. We’re still abroad, but we were reconsidering where we want to live very recently, and we were thinking seriously about Russia.

Why did you move away?

D: I already said that we were curious about living abroad. Plus, the climate’s bad, you know, smaller details like that.

I: You know, the whole story with the office also affected this. There was this sense that they could just come and write us up for something. We were doing everything legally, and they responded to us as if we were scamming them. Maybe we would have stayed if it weren’t for that situation. And we did have this dream of going to live in Europe in an English-speaking country. It seemed like things were better there. We saw everything through rose-colored glasses back then. Now, we understand that everything’s not that simple.

About that — do you follow what’s going on in Russia overall?

D: Of course. We visit regularly, we follow everything, we read Meduza three times a day.

And how does it all look from the outside?

I: If you’re talking about politics, we’ve never dealt with that, and we don’t now. And there haven’t been any large-scale changes in that respect anyway.

And what about events that affect your industry, like the ban on Telegram?

D: Back then, we said that it wouldn’t affect us. If it affected us, we would solve the problem. We don’t think anything in particular on that count. We make games, we pay taxes. Officially, we work in the same Russia, and everything’s okay for us.

I: It’s probably inappropriate to express a personal opinion here. And, to be honest, we don’t see ourselves as experts in this respect. All in all, it looks pretty funny. But, of course, if things move toward closing down the Internet or closing borders, we’re against that. In any case, when we moved out, we were feeling more pessimistic than we are now in terms of what’s going on in the country.

Why? Have things gotten better in Russia?

I: In some cities, like in Moscow — yes. But the main thing is probably that we realized we feel closest to Russian-speaking people, and we understand them better. Even though I thought when I left that I’m very different mentally and that I’d be more comfortable somewhere in the West. In short, it’s an émigré thing. In any case, in the future, when we start thinking again about where we want to live, we’ll definitely think about Russia, 100 percent.

And in your industry, what’s happening in the video game market in Russia right now?

D: It’s obvious that a lot of companies have appeared lately in Russia that have been successful in the mobile market. We see that they’re growing and that the region is getting stronger. Generally, it’s the mobile market that has to be followed now. If you take the entire game industry, its revenue is more than $100 billion per year. The mobile market is more than half of that, and it’s growing.

Did you think about making games for classic platforms? Making your own Witcher?

D: No, we like working in the mobile market, which is very large and growing fast. More and more people are playing on mobile devices, and there are hardcore games showing up on those platforms too. We don’t play much ourselves nowadays — there’s no time — but when we play, we do it on mobile platforms. But that doesn’t mean that PC doesn’t interest us at all. We’re thinking right now about reaching out into different platforms. It’s possible that we’ll buy a studio that will work for PC.

When will your next game come out?

D: Last year, we didn’t put out a single new game. We were developing new games, but the process dragged on a bit because we only release games when they’re completely ready and we think we’ve made a hit. We don’t put a limit on our budgets that mandates we release a game when we pass a certain amount. We spend various amounts on individual games from the early development stages up to the release date — usually 5 million dollars. It’s hard to calculate, even, because we don’t stop working on our projects [after they come out].

This year, we’re planning to release three or four new games. If you take into account the fact that we’ve released only four new games since 2013, that’s a lot. We’ve released five games in total, but one of them failed. We started making it a long time ago, and when we finished, the market had changed. It might have made a little money, but we closed it down. So no one can guarantee anything even though more and more people play games. That goes for Russia too. But in terms of the size of the audience, of course, it will never reach the levels you get in the U.S. or China.

(source: medusa


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