Do you have any stories about mistakes? I did have this one case.
A Chinese company made a request for art. I posted on Facebook saying there's a Chinese company with such-and-such a budget. I won't mention all the details, but I ended up as something like
an intermediary and client. Basically, I couldn't get a single regular brief from almost any company on the market. Only one company more or less pulled it off. I asked them to just send me a list of questions, because I can't ask general questions. They had already made the request, so we just needed to do some structured negotiations!
The other companies were asking things like, "What kind of project is it? Please tell us what you'd like and how."
Perhaps, as a bizdev, I failed that Chinese company. But at least for me,
I came to the conclusion that my business needs bizdevs. Later I posted about that too. Bizdevs are the main drivers of development. I agree with you that they should transmit the company's mission and values.
There are certain basic, standardized, even formulaic things. I mean, besides creativity, you need to work with a client's requirements and worldview, at a minimum. But I still think it's 70% basics you can't do without, and 30% creativity. That's my take. The key to growth at my company lies in the fact that there used to be almost no bizdevs in the localization market. And I got here hungry, after gaining experience at the electronics company Eldorado, which we have in common.
Yes, we share an alma mater. And that gave us a boost. Did you have a similar experience or is it hard to remember now?
From my standpoint, I can mention how companies that provide outsourcing services come to be. As a rule, they have an art director, an artist. They're great at drawing, they can attract other artists, and they can even sell the art they've created. They can give feedback and overlay things. They can do it all. But it's rare that they're also a businessperson. It's very hard to understand how to sell services properly. Generally, people can do either one or the other. The opposite also happens a lot. A person is full of energy, knows everything about business, and can negotiate, but here's what can happen. We had this incident... I won't name the company. We provided a brief saying we needed this and that for a test assignment. The person responded and said they'll get it done right away. Then they started looking for someone to do the task and presented our team with our very own employees' resumes.
Five stars, that's high-level stuff.
Now, I trust my employees. They said they had no idea. They probably posted their CVs somewhere at some point. So, we decided to take a look. We saw how the person solicited one of our employees and offered them an art assignment to make some money. Oftentimes, if an artist, a creative person, tries to become part businessperson, it ruins everything. The test assignment was done well, because it was entrusted to a top specialist. After that, the person started to optimize their business by looking for cheaper workers in an attempt to turn a profit. If someone wants to use an assembly line to give you a product that you're producing differently, then your goals don't match. No matter how reputable that person was, they didn't get anywhere. There are lots of cases like that. When the test assignment is good, and everything after it is bad. You think: is this really the same people?
Not producing on an assembly line, focusing on a personal approach, and getting deeply involved in the process. I will keep those insights
in mind for my own work.
For me, outsourcing is scaling, but not by using an assembly line. It's making a unique product. For example, is it better to outsource a character or items? All other things being equal, I'd sooner outsource an item. Because a character is more important and takes priority. A character and their appearance play a more significant role in the game.
I suppose this is a different subject entirely, but anyway. You're currently working with a group of companies from Asia. Are there any special considerations you have to keep in mind?
My question would be: is there any realm that doesn't have its own special considerations? No. Everything has them.
I'll rephrase the question. What are the special considerations?
There are special considerations all over, but the most important one is the crossroads between cultures. The difference in culture and how people perceive the world around them. There's a language barrier.
Chinese and English?
Right. I'll put it this way: you and I are having a discussion in Russian. It's always easier in our native language. If we switched to English, that would probably be fine, but there would be something off. When two parties who aren't native English speakers are talking, some little issues arise. But we can put that aside. It's a practical question. The difference in approaches and cultures, however, is something else. I've gotten very lucky because the other party has a good understanding of these considerations.
In other words, they also understand that there are special considerations.
Andy, our CEO, understands that. That was one of the main reasons why he was interested in us, a team from Russia, without workers from other places. They had experience hiring international teams from all around the world. The language barrier was a big problem for them. Relocating there is also very tough. I mean, the number of candidates you have dwindles down to nothing. Andy had the idea of us working globally, not for an Asian market. He said if we make a good game, they'll definitely be able to promote it in the Asian market as well. And we aren't the first example. Two of the King's Group's most popular games, Guns of Glory and King of Avalon, are made by a studio in San Francisco.
Once again, this involves understanding the mentality of a potential user, the player, as well as the opportunity of working with professionals in a particular field. We also added the ability to work remotely, which freed us up to work in one language. It's also funny: when I talk to another party in another country, whether it's about business or not, I'm able to find the answer to a question that tormented me at Playrix.
Playrix says it doesn't hire foreigners because the language barrier prevents them from integrating into the company culture, which is a very important thing. Now I realize we too have our own company culture. The Chinese office has its culture, and these cultures almost never intersect. The only common thread is me. I'm the bridge that connects this big corporation with its culture to our little studio with our culture, and brings the needs and wants of these two sides together. A great product should emerge from this crossroads, and it's already coming to fruition. I truly believe in this success story. There are difficulties, of course, but they are being overcome.
Are there any examples you can give?
For instance, we have taxes, like the tax on compulsory health insurance. When I was expanding my employees' benefits, I went to my Chinese colleagues and said, look, these companies offer health insurance. It's a good thing for employees. And they said, "There's a health tax you'll have to pay."
I said that's for the mandatory health insurance, but the paid healthcare is good here. They suggested I don't pay the tax then. I said you can't do that. They told me, "Then let's put that tax toward the good paid healthcare."
You can't do that either! So, everything exists at that crossroads between us... Here's another example that illustrates how Asian companies work, how they relate to instructions, wishes, and directives.
This is the most important part of the interview.
To directives from management. The CEO gives me a tour of the office, and I'm wearing a Playrix t-shirt. It's got a picture of Austin dressed in the hazmat suit from Breaking Bad. It's a reference to the TV show. We're walking around leisurely and bump into a producer, a young Chinese lady. We're talking in English and the conversation turns to my shirt. I say it's from a famous TV show and ask if she's seen it. I say you have to watch it to understand American culture. And she presses her hands together, lowers her head, and switches to Chinese. The CEO asks her to switch back to English. She says sorry, she hasn't seen it. That's where the conversation stops. These things happen. The next day, we went on a trip to the Great Wall of China with her. She could ask me questions and learn about me. I look at her, and she's half asleep. She clearly didn't get much rest. I ask her why she's so tired. What's the matter? She says she finished watching the third season of Breaking Bad. Yesterday he asked her why she hadn't seen it, and by morning she had already watched it.
And you didn't have any contact with her after that?
Nope, nothing. There are also certain parts of running a business that we long ago acknowledged to be faulty and unconstructive, so we delegate them. But at some Asian companies I've worked with and interacted with, that's not the case. For example, the CEO approves each company employee in writing. He gives the OK for every candidate. It's a formality, but it's there.
I still do that too. I haven't delegated it yet. But my company's not that big. Or are there already a thousand employees, and he's still doing it?
He's still doing it. I CC him on every hire, and not once has he not approved someone. Of course, we also choose suitable candidates. There are also certain internal rules that Asian companies work by. I've noticed that the higher up someone is in the company hierarchy, the more they can afford to deviate from a rule. The lower they are, the more directly and clearly they operate. I also have an example of this, which we'll call "Tower of Babel syndrome."
I'll make that the title of our interview.
I don't know, it's actually a negative thing. Say someone's outsourcing the Tower of Babylon. If they were to hire contractors from one organization instead of several different ones and integrated them into their company, they might build something, but I doubt it.
In that case, you have too many people with experience that is too dissimilar. It's not just the language barrier. Different experience means a different approach. Playrix has one approach, King has another, and the guys from ZeptoLab are have something else entirely. If you don't line them up around a pillar and tell them this is how things are supposed to be, they'll end up tripping all over each other. It's more than just the Tower of Babylon. The Tower of Babylon is more about language, but I'm talking about different experiences and the absence of someone to unite people. Someone who has a strategy. There are lots of examples in the industry. When this one person is changed, the project comes to nothing.
Here's another interesting case regarding the rules. Take the position of office manager as an example. It makes sense. If you have an office, there should be someone to manage it. It's great when they take care of other important duties as well, like personnel records. I found just such a sorceress. She's my right-hand woman. She needed to be approved by China. It's a formality. I sent the email and got back my first and, to this day, only refusal. No. I start to "bizdev" a solution. I try to make sense of it, identify their needs, present the product, look for solutions. The classic stuff. It turns out there's a rule that allows me to have programmers, artists, animators, etc. But "office manager" isn't on that list because the company's past experience presumes their office managers are located in the main office and belong to a separate department. And administrative workers can't work anywhere but the head office. So, this broke the pattern, and it's pretty difficult to get it across.
So how did you end up hiring her? As a programmer?
No. The solution was the most obvious one, a quick fix. I actually tried to explain the office manager's duties. I tried to say it doesn't matter what an employee is called, and that I have my own internal processes that they have no influence over. I said their refusal would influence my processes, and that... doesn't quite breach our agreement, but it's not right. I managed to persuade them. That, of course, took more than one conference call. But I got my rush by overcoming the obstacle. I did it.
And if you think about it, that's nothing. I hired an office manager. Not a tough task. What's there to be proud of? But the patterns that this task put in place can help me resolve bigger challenges, even budgeting issues.
Some big challenges can be resolved according to this pattern. When you show that this is the right way, that it's a characteristic of our processes, you're sending a signal. These are processes I use when working with my partners and my parent company.
Great interview. Thank you.