It is the year 2015 and some may be wondering: Where is my hoverboard? In his session entitled “Back to the Future! Gaming Startups Then and Now”, Valdimir Funtikov reflected on the fact that the future is different than we may have expected, but it is still exciting. Join him as he takes a look back at his startup days and examines what it would be like to do it all again in 2015. “If I were creating a startup today, I would still choose to produce mobile games”, Vladimir Funtikov revealed at the Casual Connect Europe 2015 conference in Amsterdam.
For Vladimir Funtikov, playtests are a very enjoyable part of his job as co-founder CEO of Creative Mobile Games. He says, “Live playtests never disappoint. Players ignore all the obvious clues and do some really dumb things over and over, then beat your score by a large margin and leave you wondering what the hell just happened, and whether you know a thing about game design after all these years.”
CM tries to playtest as soon as there is enough of the game to test. Playtests are key in trying to uncover issues early on in development. As soon as there is a basic gameplay loop, internal testing begins. External testing comes later at 3-6 months before the intended release date. This process includes gameplay recordings as well as questionnaires. Once as much data as possible is gathered, CM has “a dedicated and impartial group analyze the data and deliver feedback to production teams”. Vladimir sees it as super effective in evaluating a game.
The most interesting reaction Vladimir ever witnessed has happened several times and in numerous games. Picture this: “A person desperately tapping every element on the screen except the BIG GREEN ANIMATED BUTTON with a call-to-action”. He divulged that it boosts his ego when people ask if they can play Nitro Nation on their PS4/Xbox. It is a sign they have made a good game. The fact that we are dealing with mobile games makes such a request to play it on consoles a very big compliment.
Vladimir founded CM in 2010 by teaming up with his colleagues from his previous job. Together, they had €10,000 to finance the new company. Fortunately, their one year of time and money spent were not in vain. They accumulated a quarter of a billion downloads for the games they created. Within a mere two years, they achieved an astounding seven digit profit. Vladimir admits to feeling like he had virtually zero experience, stating, “I was brave and stupid, with a bit of programming skill, and that was just the right mix to start a project like CM”. His bravery was inspired by his parents’ example when they quit their jobs in order to run a business when he was a child.
Passion for life is a key attribute Vladimir searches for in future employees. He explains, “I enjoy working with hustlers who don’t take “no” for an answer, fight until the end and assume personal responsibility for anything that happens around them, rather than high profile folks who know there will always be another job for them”. This is what he refers to as staying hungry. People need to be able to stay hungry in order to stay driven in this industry. He says, “I guess I can call it ‘passion for life’. It’s much easier to teach someone programming or art rather than teach them to be driven, energetic, and kind.”
When asked what he does when trouble arises within the company, he jokes, “We lock troublemakers in the room and get them drunk. Did I mention we are hiring?” Vladimir points out that the hardest jobs to fill are ones that shoulder the most responsibility, such as producers and lead game designers.
In fact, one of Vladimir’s favorite things about his job is when he gets to see someone he trained or hired perform better than he does. He loves the fact that he works with a great group of people and that CM has a massive audience. His second favorite thing about his job is seeing players enjoying one of their games. He explains that the ultimate form of inspiration to pursue his career was born through “seeing millions interact with the product of your creation”.
In reflection of what his staff may say about him, he responds, “My job is to be fair and to help others do well, not to be everyone’s friend or the smartest guy in the room. I’m happy to be the least appreciated member of the team if, by the end of the day, the company is profitable and people are enjoying themselves”.
Launch Point and Beyond
Vladimir became involved in the game industry at a young age, making content such as 3D models and Counter-Strike maps. He never dreamed it would be a real job one day. He reflects, “At some point I impressed a classmate with my coding skills and he encouraged me to apply for a Java position in a post-production studio. I got in and never looked back.”
Part of that never looking back includes facing up to the challenges that come in the game development industry. For him, “the biggest challenge is transitioning from working on a product in a small team to working with dozens of people and processes on a larger scale. It may sound like a luxury problem, but mismanaging this transition has killed many good businesses.” In working to overcome this challenge, he finds taking a break from the 24/7 work and changing something about his environment in order to remove himself completely. He then approaches the old problems as if it were the first time. This exercise gives him a fresh start.
Although there have been a few, his proudest moment in his career happened just this last December. At this time, a small group from within CM decided to make a movie about the company. He reflects, “The soundtrack song was titled ‘Work Bitch’ and this was when I realized our corporate culture is awesome.” Some other proud moments were when the company was awarded the prize for best start-up of the year on national television.
As a child, Vladimir had never expected a career such as this. Now, he does feel that he would have taken a similar career path. No matter what industry he was part of, he always wanted to start a business. When he is not working, he still loves to travel, despite it being necessary for his job. He strives to have at least a partial day to himself while traveling for business. During this time, he avoids tourist traps and goes on foot as much as he can. Thus far, his favorite place to drive abroad was the Hahntennjoch pass in Austria. At home, he keeps it simple by either playing FIFA, going to the gym, and/or kicking back with a glass of a nice single malt.
Moving Forward into the Future and Beyond Your Fears
Vladimir emphasizes the importance of listening for any trade, including public speaking. In spite of being a frequent presenter at industry events, he is still haunted by shaky hands, dry mouth, and occasional panic attacks while on the stage. His approach to countering these moments relies on thinking about himself and the audience as parts of the same team. “They want you to say something useful or entertaining, even if their faces say ‘you suck’. They want to take notes and tweet your statements. If you don’t know what to say to them, just ask what they want to hear. Keep that in mind in the future, the next time you are about to speak in public”.
In the future, Vladimir imagines there will be more specialization, which means fewer developers’ with only one aim, success. He says, “The industry is maturing and becoming more competitive; at the same time players are expecting more from their games”. This push will be due to indies trying to make something truly innovative rather than mixing and matching top ten games. He also envisions, “clever marketing will become more important, and I don’t mean only UA, but listening to the consumer and tailoring content to their expectations”.
Emily Baker is the Production Supervisor for www.gamesauce.biz. Emily loves learning about cultures, taking care of her hobby farm and spending time with her two kiddos.