Interview
Tim Fadeev
Business Development Director, Awem Games
"The most important thing in the game industry is people": an interview with Tim Fadeev, Business Development Director at Awem Games
Inlingo CEO Pavel Tokarev interviewed Tim Fadeev, Development Director at Awem Games. Awem publishes and produces match-3 projects like Cradle of Empires.

They spoke about partnering with EA, working with Wargaming and Ubisoft, salesmanship, and how to avoid burnout without taking vacations.

From starting a marketing agency from scratch to meeting the head of EA Games Russia
Pavel Tokarev: Tell me about how you ended up in game development and what are the major turning points in your career.

Tim Fadeev: It's been a long bumpy ride. It all began when I found my own marketing agency. I quickly realized a no-name company made up of me, a CEO, and a designer couldn't compete with big firms and agencies. Besides, I was always playing games, so I figured, why not start working exclusively in gamedev? At that time, there were very few agencies that devoted themselves entirely to gamedev in Russia.

We offered clients a full range of marketing solutions, ranging from social media and traffic handling to event planning, banner production/printing, etc. This obviously turned out to be a tall order, but I immediately took a liking to the people who work in gamedev. For example, Tony Watkins, the head of EA Games Russia, happily agreed to meet with me, even though I was just some random nobody. That was sometime between 2010 and 2013.

How did you get in touch with him?

I wrote to him on LinkedIn and said we were a small agency with a few ideas about how to help launch the next game from the FIFA series, and I gave him a brief overview. He suggested we meet. I didn't believe something like that was even possible. He just said he'd be in St. Petersburg, so we should meet up and chat. I hadn't even provided any details—all I did was float my idea and describe it in a few words.

Working with Wargaming and Ubisoft
I was left in debt with loans and realized I'd had enough of being an entrepreneur. I had to look for a job.
Later on, we got the opportunity to work with Wargaming. We did an SMM [social media marketing] campaign with celebrities for them. In that case too, I just wrote to someone or other, got introduced, and started networking. Then I started to level up my most important tool: Facebook. I realized there's no audience on VK [Russian social network]. That's how I ended up working with Wargaming. We partnered with their SMM department. It wasn't a lot of money, of course, but they believed in us and gave the chance to do something for a big gaming company.

Unfortunately, my whole entrepreneurial venture ended up being a fiasco. I didn't make any money. Some businesses just didn't have the budgets in Russia. Large companies like Ubisoft have their own "pocket" agencies. You couldn't just come in off the street—they kept you standing in the doorway, so to speak. I was left in debt with loans and realized I'd had enough of being an entrepreneur. I had to look for a job. In the end, my business lasted all of two years. But at least I had tried my hand as a business owner: I learned what it meant to support myself and pay a salary to employees—we had about 15 of them at our peak. I ended up in the red, of course, but I gained experience.

Next, I started looking for work. I knew I wanted to get into the gaming industry. But it turns out it's almost impossible to get in unless you know someone or there's someone to vouch for you. I already had a "hobby," even before this, of sending my resume to the world's top gaming companies, like Naughty Dog or Rockstar Games. And I was totally serious about that. I really did dream of working at those places.

Eventually, some attempts succeeded. For example, I interviewed with Facebook and got called to lead their gaming division in Russia.

On working for IGG
At that time, I didn't know anything about the company. I wasn't even paying attention to the mobile market because I was a PC and console gamer, and I had never even thought about mobile gaming.
Then I got an email from the Chinese branch of IGG [I Got Games]. At first, I thought it was from those Nigerian scammers, since the email was worded in such a weird way. We scheduled an interview, but the Chinese HR rep said she had a sore throat and suggested we conduct it in writing instead. Later I learned she just didn't speak English all that well, so it was just easier for her to write.

At that time, I didn't know anything about the company. I wasn't even paying attention to the mobile market because I was a PC and console gamer, and I had never even thought about mobile gaming. The interview itself was also strange. The first thing she asked me was how old I was. I said I was 30, and she laughed and said I was older than her. Anyway, we ended up scheduling a second interview, this time with the company's vice president. I was given a test assignment to come up with a plan for promoting their project in the Russian market. They liked my ideas and offered me a job. A contract with Singapore, a salary in dollars—I was totally convinced I wouldn't be getting a dime. Ultimately, one other guy from Russia and I became the first IGG employees. After that, things just sort of happened: someone added me to PR in GameDev, and I started getting to know everyone and hanging out with them.

IGG office in China
What do you like most about your job?
The most important thing is the people. The key to my job is communication. And I've never met cooler, kinder, or more understanding people. There are rotten apples everywhere, of course, but there are more good people here. Everyone here is happy to engage with you and collaborate on projects.
On diving into corporate culture in Asia
Can you talk about a few differences between Asians and Europeans or people from post-Soviet countries?
There's really too many to list. Okay, here's one small but important example: in Asia, you have to give and receive business cards with both hands, or else it's considered disrespectful.
Is there a big difference in conceptual thinking? Is that something you have to be aware of?
The corporate culture in Asia is completely different in its subtleties and nuances. For example, a line forms to scan a fingerprint to get into work in the morning, and God forbid you're marked as late. Likewise, at 5:59 pm, there's a line to clock out. They leave regardless of what's going on or if there's an urgent project. They've finished their job and gone home. Upper management, of course, works overtime. They work with people in other countries and have more responsibilities. But the rank-and-file are just like factory workers: they come, bang out their work, and leave.
On sales and procedures
What projects are you currently working on?
My main concern is developing Cradle of Empires. I'm responsible for its relationships with platforms, among other things. I also do publishing for other markets and stores. Right now, we're entering the Chinese market and getting all the documents we need. We've also found a publisher for the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region.
What kinds of connections do you seek out?
Since we've already found a publisher, I no longer have an urgent need to attend conferences. Generally speaking, marketing agencies who make good creatives are always valuable. That's who we're interested in getting in touch with now.
Aside from marketers, who else do you work with? Do you outsource art or anything like that?
Right now, we're actively recruiting all sorts of employees, but as far as art goes, we currently don't need to outsource, since we have our own team, and it's pretty big. Of course, we do sometimes outsource some things when we can't handle the amount of work we have. Sometimes it's quicker to give the art to a third party.
In your experience, what typical errors do vendors make that hinder their sales?
There was one example recently—I even wanted to post it online, but we ended up just laughing about it in group chats. I got a mass-marketing email that said "Need a CPI or CPA traffic?" No "hello" or anything. I can safely say that sales will be low here. I just sent it to a group chat, and it turned out that company's owner was in it and apologized to everyone. I hope that sales rep got fired, or at least a slap on the wrist.
White Nights pre-party
At the last White Nights Conference, when I was hanging out at the Flying Dutchman, some guy tried to pitch his service to me while I was in the bathroom. Then he caught me on the way out and kept going. Now he writes me follow-up emails, but after what he did, I'm certainly not going to respond.

In your opinion, what is the best approach to sales?

First, you have to study the client and figure out how interested they are actually going to be. Find out their weaknesses so that you can offer to solve them. In other words, do your homework. Don't just shoot from the hip. I've learned that from experience.

Actually, I have an example from another conference. These people met with me and began to propose some promotion for Steam or a PC program. They hadn't even bothered to notice that we make mobile games and tried to sell us something completely unrelated. Ultimately, they just wasted both their time and mine. But if you provide a useful service and offer it to someone you think it might help, then things will probably work out, and talking to them will be worth your while.

On networking
Awem’s booth on a conference
What is the most important mode of communication?

Definitely conferences and face-to-face meetings. Working with China is a prime example. Chinese people are so polite that it's one thing to send messages through Skype, and quite another to meet in person. You can go to dinner with your partner and come up with a unique solution or address an issue in a way you never would have achieved online.

Is renting booths at conferences worth it? Or is it easier to search through the crowd?

It depends on the product, but a booth is always easier because you can invite someone to come to you. That immediately inspires confidence and poses a clear advantage over a lone wolf who is walking around with a backpack and offering something to everyone. You can invite someone to your booth, sit comfortably, drink some water or coffee, and show them the product right there and then.

At which three conferences have you had the most productive meetings?

White Nights, Pocket Gamer, and one other more specialized conference in Helsinki that all the top Chinese companies and publishers attend. At that conference, I was able to demonstrate my product and metrics right away and give my pitch. In response, publishers provide immediate feedback. Some people even made a simple analysis, saying right off what needed to be added to make it in China. So, to me, that was perfect.

More generally, my personal top three are White Nights, Pocket Gamer, and maybe Gamescom, although Gamescom is a big B2C event, which has its own nuances. I would also add Casual Connect and DevGAMM.

What helps you build relationships with your partners?
That's a tough question. Maybe it's my charisma. I have a lot of experience talking to people and selling myself. I've worked in TV and radio, I'm good with words, and I generally try to get along well with everyone. I don't have any enemies (I hope :)).
What is your strategy to avoid making enemies?
I'm a real diplomat, and I always make it so that everyone comes out a winner in the end. Once when I was still living in my hometown, some bullies came up to my friend and me and tried to take something from us. My friend knew karate and said he'd fight them, but while we were looking for a good spot for a scrap, I found a common language with them, and we ended up chatting for a long time at a bus stop. They bought us beer, and at the end of the day we all but hugged goodbye.
I don't like to use pressure to make deals.
I don't like to use pressure to make deals. I prefer to make friends with someone—then they'll give me a discount because I'm a good guy and we enjoy each other's company. I try to make it so the other person voluntarily gives me a discount just because we get along well. I think that's a better approach than twisting someone's arms and giving them ultimatums. That may work once or twice, but it's a small industry. Word travels fast, and nothing good will come from it in the long run.
How much can a top-notch business developer earn?

I've heard it's possible to get as much as 10,000 euros [11,000 USD] a month. It's different everywhere, but the range is 3,000 to 10,000 [3,300 to 11,000 USD]. There are also bonuses, stock options—every company has its own perks.

How does your company train its employees?

Right now, our priority is cultivating our star talents from within rather than recruiting from outside the company. That's why any of our employees can choose what they want to learn and how, and we take care of the rest. We're constantly buying books and conducting classes, workshops, and employee-only events. Upper management also schedules one-on-one meetings. Plus, we have a QMM (quarterly management meeting), where we gather all the C-level employees, directors, department managers, etc. in one place. Besides chatting and addressing current issues, we use these events to conduct training sessions and level up our employees' soft skills.

What is your strategy for time management? What self-organization apps do you use?

Usually my random access memory is enough to keep my time management on track. But it gets difficult after a conference when I have a lot of information to process. You get a never-ending stream of follow-up emails when you get home, so it's easy to miss something. To deal with that, I got myself Asana, which is where I keep track of my personal tasks. There's also Jira. We use that within the company, along with other internal scheduling systems.

On relaxation
How do you relax? What tools do you use to avoid burnout?

I work from home most of the time. I only go to the office when I need to, so I have time to do some reflection. For me, conferences are a way of getting out and socializing. When I don't have any work to do, I can take a break in the middle of the day and play a console game or go down to the sea. It's really easy to relax here in Cyprus. I've been here almost two years, but I haven't taken a single vacation the entire time, because it's just not necessary here. If you approach your work in a deliberate fashion and take care of everything promptly, you can find time to take a load off, go for a walk on the beach, or stretch out on the couch with your laptop.

What are the pros and cons of living and working in Cyprus?

I have an unbelievable number of friends and acquaintances here—more than I've ever had before. There are a ton of things to do every weekend. The mountains, the ocean, barbecues at friends' houses—after weekends like that, I feel like taking a break! In other words, you don't have to get stuck sitting at home. But there are some weekends when we just turn off our phones and chill at home on Sunday, because there's just so much going on. After that, you start work on Monday fully recharged, so you don't even feel the urge to take a vacation.

You get used to the ocean after a while, and the wow-factor goes away.
I used to think this environment is so relaxing that people in Cyprus don't want to work. But you get used to the ocean after a while, and the wow-factor goes away. You can still go there whenever you feel fed up with everything. Some people have their office right by the shore. They just cross the road, and there's the beach. And yet everyone is calm and productive at work. No one gets distracted.

The only major downside is the flights. They're all very expensive and have layovers. To get to the yearly IGG meeting in Fuzhou, I had to complete an entire quest. The route went through Qatar and Guangzhou. Another negative is that the internet is slow and expensive. 50 Mbps costs about 55 euro [60 USD] here. Comparatively, internet in Russia is fast and cheap. Uploads can sometimes be only 5 Mbps. Uploading a video to my YouTube channel Typical Bizdev can sometimes take several hours.

What made you choose this company?

First of all, because it's in Cyprus. All I knew about Awem Games is that they make casual games. I had never gotten into the details beyond that. But after I started thinking about changing jobs, I met Mitya, who was the CMO then. We just got lunch and had a great talk. It wasn't even an interview. I found out more about the company and its games and met my future colleagues, and I liked everything I saw. Before long, I was invited to join the team.

Why did you agree to take the job?

I liked the team. Despite the company's rapid growth, they had retained a unique homey atmosphere where everyone is family and added elements that Western companies often have. Of course, I also liked the product the company makes. Besides, I really wanted to return to the game industry, since I had left to work for startups on projects that had nothing to do with games. I also liked their approach and the challenges that they asked me to tackle—it's the same stuff I've always been doing and always wanted to do. Simply put, everything came together perfectly: the work, the team, the product, and the location in Cyprus.

What helped you forge a successful career?

I often think up challenges for myself, solve them, and produce the results. I don't wait for a task to fall in my lap. For example, back when I was working for IGG, I remembered I had a friend who produced kvass [a traditional fermented Slavic beverage], and I recommended he release a batch with a promotion for our game—with a code under the cap and all that. It worked, and we became the first game released in Russia in collaboration with a soft drink. New games joined the project, we cultivated a VK group, and we played around on Apple Watch every week. And that all started with me just floating my idea to the vice president. He agreed, and the rest is history. Eventually, the company wasn't spending a dime. The producer was handling all the costs.

We decided to do an awesome fundraising event in Cradle of Empires to help save Notre Dame. Everyone got things ready in literally two days. Everybody on the team was excited about the idea.
Basically, you have to be proactive and not be afraid to assume responsibility if you have a cool idea. Here's another example. One day, I was bored because I had nothing to do for IGG, so I thought I'd write to Tinkoff Bank. As a result, we got a project going with them, a gaming card. For the first 1,000 rubles [15 USD] spent, the bank gave back 3,000 [45 USD]. In the first month, we earned more than 1.5 million rubles [23,000 USD].

Another example from a very long time ago: we decided to go on a vacation where we drove from St. Petersburg to Venice and back in two cars. The idea was to get by as cheaply as possible by spending nights camping, etc. But I decided to make a project out of it. We prepared a presentation and came to an agreement with Tinkoff and the website Yaplakal.com for support. The bank issued us their new credit cards, and Yaplakal.com gave us a free spot on their homepage. We traveled around in branded cars, paid with the bank's cards, filmed it all, and kept a complete videoblog.

More recently, there was this idea that just came to me on my way to work, after I heard the news about Notre Dame burning. We decided to do an awesome fundraising event in Cradle of Empires to help save this great cathedral. Everyone got things ready in literally two days. Everybody on the team was excited about the idea, but, unfortunately, we couldn't do it because of certain things in the app stores' policies regarding charity.

Anyway, just keep coming up with ideas and don't be afraid to bring them to your team to try to make them happen. The only kind of person who doesn't make any mistakes is someone who doesn't do anything. :)

Do you have any job openings currently? Now's the time to plug them.

Our most important opening right now is for a game design director. But, generally speaking, we are always willing to take on top-notch game designers, programmers, artists, and analysts. We want awesome, talented people, so even if we don't have a vacancy listed that fits you, send your resume to job@awem.com and our supergirls will be sure to have a look at it. :)

What are your plans for 2020?

My main plans are to finally get an ISBN or to get as close to it as possible and publish in China and alternative stores, like in the MENA region. And, most importantly, to release a new project and make its launch a success.