The main cultural export from Russian-speaking countries isn’t movies. It’s not literature. It’s not ballet. It’s videogames. Millions upon millions of people from all over the world play games made by people from the former Soviet Social Republics. There’s more and more money coming in the gaming industry, and according to some estimations the yearly game sales in Russia amount to around 2 billion dollars. The gaming business is already bigger than the Russian movie industry.
The industry grows thanks to people — visionaries, entrepreneurs, popularisers. They are the most influential people in the Russian/CIS gaming industry.
“Kanobu” asked several industry experts (who chose to remain anonymous because they still work in the industry) to help compile a list of the most influential people in the CIS game development community. The main criteria we chose were the revenue of the company the person works at, how much media coverage the person got and their influence on the actions and the trajectory of the gaming market, both local and worldwide.
Viktor Kisliy is the head of ‘Wargaming’, a company founded in Belarus. He’s also the creator of the free-to-play phenomenon ‘World of Tanks’. Today over 2800 people work in 16 company offices around the world. Wargaming’s revenue in 2012 was 217.9 million euro (~300 million dollars) and, according to experts, in 2013 the revenue was over half a billion dollars. The Wargaming.net game universe, which consists of the tank MMO action World of Tanks and the areal World of Warplanes, already has 80 million players.
First place goes to Victor for several reasons, among them his phenomenal charisma and the devotion and love he shows towards his job. He doesn’t shy away from talking to the press and the players; in fact he’s the main spokesperson for his company. He also loves to play his own games, unlike most “professional managers”. And, most importantly, he’s a major motivating factor for his employees, as he has the capacity to infect them with his energy and love for the job. This is an extremely rare quality for a manager from the CIS.
Viktor Kisliy is the person who released the most popular game from a Russian-speaking developer. He’s proof that the gaming industry in the CIS is alive and kicking.
In 2010, when Astrum was taken over by Mail.ru most top-managers from Astrum left Mail.ru, but Nikolskiy stayed. And Mail.ru has Nikolsky to thank for weathering the crisis the company faced.
As part of his strategy of localising popular foreign games, he released several highly popular games in the CIS, among them the free-to-play FPS Warface produced by Crytek. Its revenue in the CIS is over 80 million dollars per year. He also finalised a highly complex deal to release Archeage, a very popular MMORPG in Korea from the creators of Lineage. According to Kanobu’s sources, the deal was valued at over 10 million dollars not including the percentage of revenue. The deal was very difficult to produce and up to the moment of finalisation Mail.ru had to battle Innova and its CEO Gevorg Sarkisyan (no. 4 on our list). In the end, Nikolskiy and Mail.ru’s CEO Dmitry Grishin proved to be more persuasive.
Thanks to the work he did in the gaming division of the company Nikolsky was announced as the COO of Mail.ru Group in June 2013.
It should be noted that when World of Tanks was on the rise, but when nobody could predict the awesome popularity it would have in the future, Mail.ru had the chance to purchase Wargaming, but Kisliy (no. 1 on our list) and Nikolskiy couldn’t find an agreement suitable to both parties.
1C-Softclub, the company Dmirty Martynov runs, basically has the retail sales and localisation market to itself. It accounts for 80% of sales. 1C-SC works with the biggest publishers in the world — Activision-Blizzard, EA, Sony, Bethesda, Capcom, Konami, Rockstar, SEGA, 2K, Ubisoft and many others. Besides that they release most Russian games. 1C-SC either bought out its competition or left them scraps of the market. Its old competition is utterly defeated. Buka, another publisher, was bought out by 1C-SC’s parent company, 1C. Noviy Disk and Akella, companies who used to be in competition for the market, basically stopped publishing games by big publishers. In september 2013 1C-SC released GTAV in the CIS. Even though the game was only released for consoles, which are far less popular in the CIS than PCs, since the day the game was released, over 200000 copies were shipped of to stores, adding up to over 16 million dollars, a huge number and sum for Russia and surrounding countries.
Not all these accomplishments are the direct result of Martynov’s actions, but he created a structure in which amazing success stories like the sales of GTAV and the launch of the PS4 can happen (for more details on the launch of the PS4 in Russia see Sergey Klisho, no 8 on our list).
Gevorg Sarkisyan is the CEO of Innova, one of the old competitors to Mail.ru Group, especially in the market of Korean online games localisations. For example, in 2008 Innova brought the popular MMORPG Lineage 2 to Russia. The new game from the same developers, Archeage, was nicked by Mail.ru from under Innova’s nose, even though the company and Sarkisyan himself did everything they could to get the contract for themselves.
Innova has an impressive portfolio of games. Linage 2 is still popular, the FPS Point Blank is raking in millions of dollars for the company (although in all likelihood it would bring in more if not for Mail.ru’s Warface), and Planetside from Sony Online Entertainment, which was localised and released for Russia by Innova, is one of the biggest MMO-hits of the last few years.
All the company’s games use innovative protection systems, which originally caused an uproar in the gaming community, but in the end most players admitted that the systems were beneficial. Sarkisyan doesn’t often talk to the press or the players, but he has great influence in the online-game market. It is because of him, for example, that Russian-language online games have world-class monetisation and protection systems, and thanks to him players in Russia have the opportunity to play certain games they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Igor Matsanyuk, previously the CEO of Astrum and shareholder in Mail.ru Group and currently head of the board of directors at Game Insight. Game Insight is one of the principal developers of mobile and social games in Russia and one of the fastest-growing IT companies. Matsanyuk sees new trends in the industry and almost always knows what kind of game to release to ensure its popularity and profitability. If Game Insight releases a game, you can bet that similar projects will be released by other companies. Besides that Game Insight is one of the very few Russian companies that has a worldwide presence. Their games are released simultaneously on several popular platforms and in several languages, and their release is covered by American and European websites.
Matsanyuk, along with Alisa Chumachenko (no. 13 on our list) built Game Insight into a big mobile and social game company in just three years having started from scratch.
A true veteran of the Russian gaming industry, Sergey Orlovskiy has been creating games for almost 25 years. He’s been the head of Nival since 1996, and in 2013 he jonied the board of directors of casual game developer Alawar, founded by Aleksandr Lyskovsky (no. 19 on our list). Orlovskiy has taken part in creating dozens of successful games, including the Blitzkrieg and Allods series of games, as well as the fifth installment of Heroes of Might and Magic. Since the buyout of the MMO division of the company, Astrum (as part of the takeover Dmitry Devishev, no.11 on our list, left Nival for Mail.ru), the company has mostly worked on cross-platform projects. For example, there are three different games united under the Prime World brand. A strategy game called Prime World, a tower defence called Prime World: Defenders and a puzzle-game called Prime World: Alchemy. The company expects to release the third installment of Blitzkrieg in 2014. A lot of the company’s games are popular in the CIS. And now, after receiving 6 million dollars in investments from Almaz Capital, Orlovskiy is planning to move on international markets.
Nikolai Katzelapov represents the “oldschool” Wargaming, and he’s greatly responsible for its success. Recently Wargaming purchased several ambitious studios (among them Gas Powered Games founded by the legendary Chris Taylor), and the decision on each purchase is made collaboratively by Viktor Kisliy (no.1 on our list) and Katzelapov.
According to a decision made by Katzelapov the company is working on a platform on which all current and future projects will be based. This platform wouldn’t exist without the purchase of BigWorld, the creators of the game engine on which World of Tanks and World of Warplanes are based.
In the last two years the company has been experiencing a powerful growth spurt. No one could imagine the scope just a few years ago. Katzelapov is responsible for this growth, and never has a CIS based company reached such volumes so quickly.
Sergey Klisho is Playstation’s general manager in Russia. Since the PSone,the Playstation has been the biggest console in Russia, dominating the market. Thanks to the work that Klisho has done, Russia was among the first countries in which the PS4 was launched, earlier that in its native Japan, a few days after the North US launch and at the same time as most of Europe. The PS4 turned out to be the fastest-selling console in history and at the time of print in January 2014 the console had more demand than supply in most territories, including Russia. The fact that Klisho managed to convince the head office that Russia should receive the console so early, even considering the fact that the company expected shortages all over the world, shows the scope of Sony’s plans and ambitions for this market. It seems Microsoft doesn’t have the same plans and ambitions, there is still no release date for the Xbox One in Russia. The time of Microsoft’s inaction is a great time for Klisho to prove his worth and use the situation to set his own rules for the new console wars in the CIS.
Misha Lyalin is the CEO of Zeptolab, a mobile game company. Unlike a lot of other studios, Zeptolab has just a few projects. But among them is the mega-hit and one of the biggest iOS and Android games, Cut the Rope. Cut the Rope and its main character, the green candy-loving monster Om-Nom is a symbol of modern mobile gaming, like Angry Birds and the Red Bird and Plants vs. Zombies’ Peashooter.
Unlike the head developers, Efim and Semyon Voynovy, who are responsible for the creation and production of game concepts, Lyalin promoted brands: Zeptolab, Cut the Rope, Om-Nom. Thanks to his work, Zeptolab has become a rare Russian company in which people the world over would love to work ate, Cut the Rope has become extremely popular, and Om-Nom outgrew the typical game character constraints — now he’s a cartoon character, a plushy toy, a key-chain, a board game and a lot of other things.
Oleg Sambikin founded Innova with Gevork Sarkisyan (no.4 on our list), then left Innova to found Syncopate, an online-game publisher. Their main advantage (and innovation) is GameNet, a gaming social network of sorts and it’s Sambikin’s creation. There are different games on GameNet — Aika 2, an MMORPG, Firestorm and Combat Arms, shooters, Jane’s Farm, a social Farmville-style game. Players of these and other games can interact with each other. Syncopate hopes that this will draw people who like different types of online games to their network. Considering the fact that in the four years since its founding Syncopate has managed to overtake Nikita Online and Game Factory Interactive, companies that have been in the online games business much longer, Sambikin’s idea is a good one.
After Nikolskiy’s (no. 2 on our list) promotion to COO of Mail.ru, it’s assumed that Devishev will become the head of games at Mail.ru. Devishev’s main focus is original games. For example he’s partly responsible for a once popular in the CIS game Allods Online. For the last few years he’s been working on Skyforge, a big-budget MMORPG, with ambitions to match the funding. There are two unannounced projects besides Skyforge, which Mail.ru is planning to use to enter the international market and have a go at the biggest players. After the phenomenal success of World of Tanks and War Thunder it’s become obvious that copying popular foreign games isn’t the best way to go — you need true blockbusters that can become popular all over the world. Creating such blockbusters is now Devishev’s goal. Hence he’s one of the key tools in Mail.ru’s strategy of growth and evolution.
Anton Yudintsev founded Gaijin Entertainment in 2001 with his brother Kirill. Since then the company has managed to become one of the very few successful developers in the CIS that create games for consoles. The first big break for Gaijin was Il-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey for last generation consoles, published jointly with 1C. The game was very favourably received (it still has 80 points on Metacritic) and loved by fans. Since then they have released several big project for consoles, mostly air-based, such as Apache Air Assault, Birds of Steel. Right now Gaijin is working on fully releasing their most ambitious project — a free-to-play war flight sim War Thunder. More than 5 million players are taking part in the open beta on PC and Mac, while the PS4 beta-version was released at the console’s launch. Never before has a CIS-produced game been launched alongside a new generation console. War Thunder still has a ways to go to catch up to the king of the war free-to-play games World of Tanks, with over 75 million players. When talking about the monetisation format for its games, Anton said the phrase that Kanobu considers the “Quote of the year”, “We’re not greedy bastards here”. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for Gaijin’s success. If Anton Yudintsev continues to interact with the world’s press and continues to effectively control the company, then the race with Wargaming is his to lose.
The story of Alisa Chumachenko’s success reads like a fairy tale. She worked as the secretary for the cofounder of IT-Territory (and famous Russian singer) Sergey Zhukov. When the company’s PR spokesperson quit the company, Chumachenko managed to convince the company’s heads to let her have the job. Three years later she was the vice-president in charge of marketing at Astrum and founded Game Insight just two years later. Today it’s one of the major players in the social and mobile games market. Chumachenko’s vigour and marketing skills, combined with Igor Matsanuk’s (no. 5 on our list) intuition and, according to some sources, money, made the creation of the juggernaut that is Game Insight possible.
It’s important to remember that Alisa’s success is not just luck. She reached her goals because she’s a very talented marketing specialist and knows her business very well. As if to prove that point, Forbes placed her and Matsanuk on the cover of the april 2013 issue of the Russian edition of the magazine.
In 2003, after several years working on The Daily Telefrag (DTF.RU), which at the time was the top Russian online publication about the gaming industry, Maksim Maslov started working on organising gaming industry related events in the CIS, both for businesses and gamers. That year was the first Conference of Game Developers (KRI), the oldest game industry-related event for professionals.
Since 2006 Maslov has organized the interactive entertainment expo Igromir, the biggest videogame expo in Eastern Europe. In its first year 28 thousand people visited the expo in two days, and since then it’s gotten bigger and bigger. Big European game premiers take place there, and industry stars take the stage. In 2013 it was visited by 130 thousand people. They came to take a look at the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, which were shown at the expo before launch.
Nikolai Baryshnikov is the reason why some Russian games are loved abroad. Il-2, Faces of War, Hard Truck — these games managed to find a niche in Europe and the States. He motivated developers to create games that would be appreciated by non-Russian players, he organised its marketing overseas (including the sale of games on Steam, which is responsible for tens of millions in sales), and for many important outlets like gamesindustry.biz he’s the personification of the Russian game creator. Industry insiders also claim that he’s responsible for handling a lot of important questions, which may not be clear to an outsider, but are massively important both inside 1C and the Russian-language industry in general.
Dmitry Bourkovski is the vice-president of Xsolla and is responsible for company’s global expansion. Xsolla specialises in optimisation and safety of payments, working with major developers and publishers the world over.
It’s thought that Bourkovski’s main advantages are a great industry knowledge and the understanding of the specifics of different countries and markets. His “little black book” is also very impressive; people think that you can find any developer and publisher from any place in the world in it. Kanobu saw proof of his reach when we found Gabe Newell among his Facebook friends.
Before working at Xsolla Bourkovski headed the publishing division of Mail.ru Group and helped them build the gaming division of the company. Bourkovski’s been working in the industry since 1996, he created and led the gaming division of Novyi Disk and headed up ND Videoigry.
The Ukrainian developer and artist Andrey Prokhorov has been working on AAA-titles for many years. For example, he’s responsible for S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007) and the Metro series, Metro 2033 (2010) and Metro: Last Light (2013). One of Prokhorov and 4A’s main triumphs is the release of Metro: Last Light despite the very harsh time and financial constraints set by the game’s publisher THQ. In January 2013 THQ filed for bankruptcy and Deep Silver took over as publisher. Typically games produced in difficult conditions end up being very low-quality, similar to what happened with the 2013 game Aliens: Colonial Marines. Against all odds Metro:LL came out and was adored by critics and players alike (the Metacritic score for the game is 80 points). The sales of the game have not been announced, but the publisher is happy with them. Prokhorov and 4A games are rightly considered to be some of the most talented and ambitious teams in the industry.
Sergey Klimov is a veteran of the gaming industry, he has been blogging for many years, and his blog is set apart from many others by being deeply analytical of the industry. He also hosts a popular podcast with Mikhail Kuzmin and Sergey Galyonkin (no. 20 in our list) called #КакДелаютИгры (#HowGamesAreMade) as well as being a regular contributor with Kanobu. In 2012 Klimov launched a series of informal meetings of industry professionals called #GameNight (there have been 13 meetings in 2013 in 10 different cities). Klimov is a great influence on the the people who want to make games development their life’s work. He helps them choose the ways they should proceed and how to tackle problems. He does that by sharing his own experience and giving exposure to positive examples. Klimov is also one of the main lobbyists of the CIS/Russian game industry abroad. He’s one of the very few professionals from the region who is regularly asked to be a speaker at many conferences like GDC Europe, Game Connection Europe, Game Connection America and Game Law. In his professional career Klimov cofounded three game companies — Snowball, Snowberry and Snowbird. In 2013, after a year and a half working in the European studios Larian and Daedalic — he founded his own company, Charlie Oscar. It’s several veteran developers from Russia and Ukraine who are planning not only to streamline the new IP creation process, but also the process of publishing your games on different platforms all over the world. The plans are very ambitious and we’ll find out soon enough if Klimov is up to the task.
Aleksandr Lyskovskiy is a pioneer of the casual games market, not only in the CIS, but all over the world. Alawar’s hidden object games — a sort of casual quest with the goal of finding objects in the environment — are a world standard in terms of quality. One of Lyskovkiy’s main achievements is his never-ending search for new developers, giving them the opportunity to prove themselves and release a project. The gradual transition from developing for a single platform (PC) to developing for all the popular platforms (Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Phone) was handled exceptionally by Alawar. The casual games market might not be evident to the rest of the gaming audience, but there is a lot of money in it. Alawar makes tens of millions of dollars every year (although the exact sums are unknown) and, according to Lyskovskiy himself, their plans are even more ambitious, which in part is proved by the company’s emergence on the free-to-play market. Ultimately Lyskovskiy has managed to quietly create one of the biggest gaming companies in the country and region.
Sergey Galyonkin is one of the most influential gaming bloggers in the region. He ultimately became the go-to person for foreign outlets, when questions about game development in the CIS arise. For many gamers his blog became more than just a snapshot of the day, but a more influential outlet than many professional gaming websites. The podcast he produces, #КакДелаютИгры (#HowGamesAreMade), with Sergey Klimov (no. 18 on our list) and Mikhail Kuzmin, is frequented by some of the most influential people in the gaming community, like Viktor Kisliy (no. 1 on our list), Sergey Orlovskiy (no. 6 on our list), Sergey Klisho (no. 8 on our list) Andrey Prokhorov (no. 17 on our list) and many others. In the end Galyonkin is an insider of the industry and the channel through which information about gaming and game development in the CIS is transported abroad.