We have already written that Kharkiv city is currently the leader in IT-outsourcing in the whole Ukraine. Plarium, the popular game development company, is now the biggest and the most well-known IT company in Kharkiv. It was also named as the best IT-employer in Ukraine-2014 in the range of companies with 200-800 employees, according to the ranking with anonymous voting by the IT-portal dou.ua. Thus we decided to dedicate our first interview in the new rubrics to these guys.
We were talking with the Plarium’s Creative Director Maxim Yeremenko, the head of Kharkiv office, who now manages the CIS countries market.
Maxim, please tell us about how it all began for Plarium – the people, the planning, initial strategies, that kind of thing.
In 2009 Plarium HQ in Israel initiated the incorporation of studios in Israel, Kharkiv, and Simferopol – all of which were previously independent developers – and gave each their own unique angle on game design. Each studio was supposed to be autonomous and self-sufficient, and while Plarium HQ is in Israel, each of Plarium’s studios develops their own products and enjoys creative freedom.
We were very pleased with the success even our early games had. Poker Shark became the most popular poker game on Russian-speaking social networks, and Farmandia was the first farming game and one of the first social games in general to introduce 3D-graphics. Many of our games have city-building strategies, such as The Great Empire and Big City, both of which were quite well-received on VKontakte. Plarium’s Total Domination has had a similar impact on many of the genre games that came around later.
We soon decided that we wanted to expand beyond the Russian-speaking market and make a splash on Western social networks. We began discussions with some household names like Facebook, Apple, Google, Kabam, and now have fully integrative partnerships with them all.
When you started, did a powerful marketing mechanism exist, or was it just a viral marketing buzz?
Plarium has assembled an amazing Marketing Team entirely from the ground up. Along the way we faced some difficulties, especially on Facebook – which requires an entirely different marketing mentality. But as a result of our patience in assembling so many talented individuals, our marketing department now consists of several teams with a total of 150 members. As far as I know, many experts consider our business analytics among the best in the world.
As for virality, we found a really good out-of-the-box solution for implementing social features in Total Domination. At first, we had this unique clan system called “matryoshka”, which dramatically increased the number of our players. But if anyone ever asks me whether I would recommend viral marketing, my answer would be most certainly not.
Tell us a bit about how the decision-making process works. Who is responsible for generating ideas? How do you select and test them?
At Plarium, everyone is encouraged to contribute their thoughts and ideas. In our Kharkiv studio, we don’t have game designers in the traditional sense so much as a special group of people with different areas of expertise who are responsible for making decisions. This process consists of veterans and newbies alike. In fact, the whole work process at our company is built upon communication and constructive criticism. We put a lot of time into discussions and listen to everyone, regardless of their seniority or expertise. If people stand up for their ideas and get them across successfully, these ideas are likely to proceed to the game analytics department for further consideration.
We have a complex system for gathering big data, so we can analyze player reactions literally click by click, tap by tap. If an idea holds up to the scrutiny of our expert analysts, it becomes a feature in the test application. From there, it may go to production where it is once again processed by game analysts. However, many features are deleted at this stage – after all, it’s the user’s opinion that matters most.
What are the most important requirements Plarium imposes to the staff before employment, what are the core values of the company?
The main criteria is the awareness of choosing this profession, the desire to be cool is an expert in this field. We are looking for people with the fact that Stephen King called “spark.” Those who have it are easy to notice: by their look, by the way people speak passionately about their work. We believe that when people with a shared vision and passion come together, there is no limit to what they can achieve.
We try and bring in an assortment of individuals with different talents, opinions, and personalities in order to create games that everyone will love. What we all do have in common is a shared passion for making games, as well as a milder form of creative insanity. I’ve always thought that in order to make games you have to be a little out of your mind.
What the company’s plans for the nearest future, are you going to develop new directions, etc.?
We want to strengthen our positions in all three markets – mobile, browser and social – as the leader of these areas. We will expand our global gaming community, attracting new game audience – first of all, we are talking about Asia. In Ukraine, we are also planning an active growth and development: for example, this fall we are opening a new studio in Odessa, as well as actively expanding Plarium Kyiv and Plarium Lviv.
Talking about the creative process, currently we are finishing the construction of Motion Capture studio on the roof of the Kharkiv office. This technique is well known to all of us from the cinema: actors wear funny costumes with balls, and then their movements turn into motion of 3D-characters with a very realistic animation. Now our Video Production Department is going to use Motion Capture very actively to create game intros, but we are also seriously considering the establishment of our own animation studio.
What is Plarium today? What is the number of employees you currently have working in the company?
Today, Plarium has multiple offices across three continents and well over a thousand employees. Our Kharkiv studio handles nearly all aspects of game development independently. Last year we established our very own Sound Design team, and this year we are about to complete the construction of a Motion Capture studio for our Video Production Department right on top of the roof of our Kharkiv office. This is a rather unorthodox approach to mobile game development, but once you start raising the bar, it’s really hard to stop.
In relation to the recent events concerning tax audits and searches in your Kharkiv office, we would also like to find out your views on the prospects for IT sphere in Ukraine: is it worth changing something to in tax legislation in order to allow outsourcing to grow more freely?
We are a product company rather than outsourcing one. In our opinion, changes should be based especially in this field: it is better to develop not outsourcing, but product companies in Ukraine. This concerns IT and any other sphere.
Note: Plarium Global Ltd. is an international developer of browser-based, mobile and social games. The company was founded in 2009 and currently brings together more than 600 experts of gaming industry with offices in Tel Aviv, Kharkov, Kiev, Nikolaev and Simferopol. The company is popular by such game products as the “Poker Shark”, “War of Thrones”, “The Law of War”, “Code of the Pirate” and “Conflict”. Currently, there is a portal Plarium.com, that hosts the most famous projects of the company. Also games by Plarium are available in social networks like Vkontakte, Facebook, Odnoklassniki, MoyMir. Games are localized into 11 languages and integrate more than 90 million players in over 150 countries.
The big fan of “Poker Shark” Kate Sukhopleshchenko