In this article, our representatives Svitlanka Sergiichuk and Nikolay Minaiev discussed game development in Ukraine through our company.
Nikolay Minaiev is a CEO and Board Member at iLogos. He started working at gamedev as a 3D artist, was promoted to Head of Production after tripling revenues for a few games of our clients, and became CEO of iLogos.
Svitlanka Sergiichuk is a CBDO and Board Member of iLogos Game Studios: she controls and manages the company’s client-related operations.
They discussed a variety of topics, including the dilemma of starting a business, and what it's like to work during a crisis and war times.
Svitlanka and Nikolay mentioned the relocation process and how it influenced the company and also explained how we built remote pipelines in game development.
Furthermore, they shared their emotions and thoughts about the future of Ukrainian gamedev, since many investors left Ukraine.
How iLogos Game Studios was created
Svitlanka: iLogos started with one person - Maxim Slobodyanyk - he started the company in Luhansk in 2006.
Nikolay: It all started from a small web design studio. At that time, browser games for social networks were popular, but no specific things to work with. And since many workers in the IT sector love to play games, trying their hand at game development was a logical evolutionary step. When the company formed the backbone of web developers, some of them began to gradually switch to games. We also were recruiting postgraduates, who were seeking their first job.
Svitlanka: Those were tough times. People needed work and we - access to inexpensive IT specialists. It was a win-win. But this win-win was only until we gained a specific size of the company.
Mykola: There was one office in Luhansk until 2014. The 2014 year pushed us to become a remote company. What happened 8 years ago was as unpredictable as the full-scale invasion in 2022. It was impossible to predict exactly how things would turn out. After all, if we could predict the future, I think we would be on another planet now.
The first war time experienced by our company
One day in 2014, a Russian rocket hit the iLogos office. Hopefully, for all of us, it was a day off, and none of our employees were in that building. That day the founder received an SMS: "You no longer have an office."
Svitlanka: I am originally from Donetsk, so I remember 2014 very well.That time, until the last minute, even when the Russian troops were standing very close, there was confidence that it was only for a week or two, that everything was about to end. We even sent my grandmother to a sanatorium in the Carpathian Mountains, the west side of Ukraine, for three weeks. We thought that everything would calm down soon. But she could not return since the railway tracks were already mined at that time. And so many people from Donbass believed the same.
Nikolay: The 2014 year pushed us to become a remote company. There was one office in Luhansk prior to that.
Remote and teams scattered around the world are our trump card today. But in 2014, he was not there. When the whole team is local, and there are no backups, and war comes, a severe crisis ensues, from which it is difficult for the business to recover for a long time.
Business began to shake very much - this is a logical consequence of any war. But there is nothing left but to apply standard crisis management because no one understands what to do and people panic. In such situations, the main thing is to coordinate everything correctly and stay in touch with your team.
Svitlanka: After the start of the war in 2014, there was a threat to the company's existence. But no one gave up; on the contrary - everyone tried to adapt quickly to new circumstances.
Then we had to completely change the whole strategy of business development, including pipelines and the hiring process. We started hiring in the Kyiv, Odesa area - different from the market of Lugansk because of other requirements, value proposals, and salary levels.
That period was a strong impetus for beginning new international projects and cooperation with world-class companies. We got customers like Electronic Arts and Sony Pictures Entertainment, with whom iLogos works today. Nothing can encourage you to reform your business as quickly as possible and start large-scale projects like a huge shock.
The war from the standpoint of business, like any crisis, can have two consequences: either the company ceases to exist, or it uses the crisis as an opportunity to rebuild, open new horizons, strengthen and become even more powerful.
Our company existed as a stable outsourcing company until 2020. The business was consistently profitable, but profits were always plus or minus the same. Therefore, in 2020, together with the board of directors, we decided to embark on a path of severe scaling.
That year we quadrupled, and since then we continue to keep growing according to our plans. Now we have about 300 people on the team, and in the next two months, we plan to hire another hundred. This year we want to get closer to a team of 500 people.
Working remote at iLogos Game Studios
Nikolay: Since 2014, we have had a completely remote pipeline, so we have no geographical restrictions on scaling. Initially, our employees were focused on the main development hubs that were then in Ukraine: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Kryvyi Rih. And we started to expand to other countries, so now we have small teams in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary.
We do not intend to open a hub or an offline office in every country. We migrate between countries and work from different parts of the world every month. Therefore, all geographical references are quite conditional. But the way the company is doing now is not least due to the fact that the second war for iLogos is underway.
We were prepared when rumors spread that something might happen. But it is impossible to prepare for absolutely everything. In our, even the boldest, forecasts, there was confidence that everything would start directly from Donbas and last there for some time. But in reality, things went differently.
We informed the staff about the priority actions to be taken in the event of an attack. We prepared the infrastructure and logistics. Since we are on a remote, we could not organize a collective evacuation. But all collectively, like ants, engaged in the processes of coordination, information, search for vacant apartments in western Ukraine, and safe routes.
Svitlanka: HRs have become a hotline that works 24/7. During the first days of the war, some bought tickets to the railway as soon as they appeared and then distributed them to the team.
We also organized a coordination center that checked where everyone was. Finally, we made a slack bot, and with its help, we tracked the geolocation and the team's necessary help to people at different points of their movement.
The recruiting department also became a relocation mini-agency that found apartments for exemplary volunteers. At first, this applied only to our employees, but it quickly became a general aid to all families.
Also, our financial department worked almost without days off at the end of February and all of March. We gave urgent advances to help our employees. If someone had an emergency (such as the death of a loved one or a home loss), we provided individual assistance.
How iLogos experienced the beginning of another war
Nikolay: This year, the company has a well-being assistance program, i.e., we have a contract with the online platform "Rozumiu", which provides online assistance in four areas: psychology, finance, legal advice, and healthy eating. We have also extended this program to families of workers to make it easier.
Part of the team remained in the Kyiv office, and from there our system administrators sent equipment by mail to those who left. We tried to cover all the needs of employees as much as possible.
Svitlanka: Every three days, we conducted surveys to collect information on who and what was missing. When everything calmed down a bit, the question "What can help you now" and we received funny answers. For example, some said that a beer bottle would be very appropriate. 😊
We do not have a law enforcement policy. We have mature people that can decide where to stay. We need to know about it to plan and calculate the risks correctly.
For example, our developers still consciously remain in Kharkiv. But, on the other hand, people did not want to leave but managed to work and volunteer for the benefit of their hometown. In such cases, we do our best to fund their volunteer initiatives.
In addition, our guys went to TPO: artists and developers. We provided them with financial aid for ammunition and saved jobs for them.
About financial and gamedev volunteering at the studio
Svitlanka: In the first days of the war, top management decided to create two funds within iLogos. One is the Humanitarian Aid Fund for our teams and their relatives. Another is the military aid fund, and fund volunteer initiatives of our colleagues regarding ammunition, military transport, etc.
Nikolay: We have a joint chat where each employee can write about one or another fundraiser. When we make sure that this is a proven initiative, part of the request is covered by the company, and employees can cover some detail if they want and can. There is no transparent business process for applying for funding or anything like that.
Svitlanka: In this format, for example, in March, we had five volunteer initiatives from our employees related to assisting children who have lost their parents, humanitarian aid, etc. In April, funds were allocated for six team volunteer initiatives: funds were raised for several cars for the front to help doctors in Mykolaiv region who are obliged to work in full force.
But now, we are gradually moving towards systematizing such assistance. We want to create a joint bank of iLogos volunteer initiatives. We have never desired to use good deeds as a PR resource. But we want to support our employees' initiatives, so that other employees are inspired and want to start volunteer projects personally, so they can see that there is someone to help them.
For example, iLogos created the mobile game eBayraktar for DIIA, the ukrainian government, which has more than 13 million users. But then our activist and project manager Maxim Mathiash developed his own game, "Steal a Russian tank." Only his initiative and the success of eBayraktar inspired him, so he decided to take part in gaming volunteering, as we call it.
Nikolay: Every business must pay taxes and create jobs, even though time is hard. Everything else is optional, but it should also be aimed primarily at their own.
The difference between war in 2014 and 2022
Svitlanka: There is a difference between the war in 2014 and the war in 2022. None of us think that the war will last only a couple of weeks. But in February-March of this year, I recognized all of us in Kyiv in 2014. The team was looking for a hotel for two weeks or an apartment for a month today, hoping that it would be over - we did the same.
After the happenings of 2014, I had no illusions about the current war, but I realized that it was difficult and lengthy. Therefore, optimism must be maintained, but at the same time, it is necessary to keep in mind all the accompanying circumstances and build a working pipeline following the new realities.
We have a large international team. That's why we managed to build such a pipeline so that no project would stop. Moreover, international teams voluntarily took overtime when our colleagues relocated from hotspots (and the journey even from Kyiv to Lviv could take several days). They agreed to work for two to save projects.
Everyone understood that the business should continue to work. So instead, the company never withheld salaries. As a result, we have reached 90% of our capacity, and I think we will be even closer to 100% productivity by the summer.
We noticed that communication with clients changed a lot. First of all, their perception changed. In 2014, the whole world thought that something frivolous was happening, and now everyone has understood the scale of the problem.
We had four cases when customers just cried during the call when they heard what was happening. On some projects, the iLogos team communicates very closely with customers. Therefore, the team could tell how they relocated, for example, how they stopped on the road to wait for the shelling. Hearing this, people could not hold back their tears.
Or another case. One of our biggest teams was in Kharkiv, which became a hot spot from the first days of the war. We could not evacuate some people for two weeks because they lived in areas where it was physically impossible just to leave the house - something was constantly flying outside the window. But they decided to use this time productively - for work.
When the client found out about it, he cried. The clients took the initiative themselves this time: they asked how they could help the team, the country - we feel the maximum support. Compared to 2014, it is heaven and earth. We have not lost a single customer since the beginning of the 2022 war. There are only those with whom they deliberately stopped cooperating.
Our position on Russia employees and customers
Svitlanka: We made the decision to leave Russia and Belarus in early March.
Nikolay: Because we spent the end of February trying to understand banally who and where the employees are, who needs what help, that is, we took care of more internal affairs. And when they exhaled a little, they began to watch what was happening around.
In March, we met on board, discussed the situation, understood what was going on, and decided to stop working with customers and employees who were part of iLogos, but for some reason did not want to relocate outside Russia.
There was an absolute understanding on their part, because these are adequate people who do not support the fool of what is happening, but due to certain objective or subjective circumstances continue to do business there.
This was a small percentage of projects, so iLogos didn't have big problems or generate a bench for half the company.
About Ukrainian Labor Market
It isn't easy to say how the labor market has changed in the game in general. At first, it seemed to freeze, but now it is beginning to thaw. But from my observations, no significant changes occurred due to the war. There is no such thing as, for example, in the classic IT sector, when many developers lose their jobs. In the gameplay, everything is about the same as before February 24. But iLogos has plans to expand - we want to hire a hundred new people in the several months.
Svitlanka: First, we signed contracts for three new projects. And we are expanding with existing projects. For example, we are currently working on the hit product Rumble Kong League - a basketball web 3.0 simulator, a world-famous brand - where new specialists will be needed. Third, albeit minor, we lost part of the team in Russia. So now we need a replacement.
Nikolay: We are looking for different specialists, but there are two areas we are always happy with Unity Senior Developers and Game designers.
Svitlanka: We are also expanding to Unreal Engine: this is currently a minor part of our projects, but we want to have more. We are also looking at the AAA segment - we are already working on it, but we want to increase the scale. We run our own NFT department.
Feelings about the future situation
Svitlanka: On the one hand, I never expected to feel so much anger and pain. On the other hand, I didn't expect to be so motivated and do my best to help the country save the business. It seems this war has turned us into iron supermen. And I would never have thought how much we unite, the love we will feel for the inhabitants of towns and villages we have never been to, and what pride we will feel for them, for going out on tanks with their bare hands and doing other heroic behavior.
Nikolay: Until February 24, I was vacationing with my family near Odessa. We were on vacation. And on the morning of the 24th, we immediately got in the car and went to the border with Moldova. I remember holding a one-and-a-half-year-old child in the car and writing messages to everyone on the phone, saying, colleagues, it's not a good morning. All of this has changed the mindset a lot regarding which things should be focused on and which should not. My job, like that of any top manager, is stressful. But with the advent of war, new horizons of stress open up, making you much more resilient. Because the topics you were interested in a week ago are no longer a problem at all - and everything is easier to solve. The pain threshold increased.
I do not remember, but somewhere, I read a thesis that this war will end as abruptly as it began. I am very impressed by this thesis. There was a feeling that the day would come when someone said: it's over. However, I do not believe that the conflict will be frozen, given the rhetoric of the authorities and Ukrainian partners.
Now there is a gradual breakdown of forces. According to analysts, we will go on the counterattack in the summer. But the endpoint will come very suddenly. Given that we are fighting against a system where the system is one person, when it fails, the whole system will fall apart because others do not know what to do.
And the business will continue to adapt. Because war, among other things, is a global change in the market. And if you reject emotions, the war for business is just an external catalyst that forces a business to rebuild in all aspects. So some companies do not survive, and some get better. And gameplay and IT, given the possible remote-format of work, are the least affected.
I don't think the war will affect the entire gameplay globally. If you play a little visionary, most likely, the theme will change a little: I think the military will be less. And in everything else, the company has already realized that it is possible to continue working and even grow.
Svitlanka: When I think about the impact of the war on the industry, I immediately think of Activision's statement when they said: "We would like to officially apologize for using Russia in the Call of Duty series as an antagonist. If we knew the truth, we would use a much more capable army, like Cuba or Laos.