About this Episode

Website: Original Games

In this insightful episode of the Player: Engage podcast, we had the pleasure of hosting Arseny Lebedev, a gaming industry veteran and co-founder of Original Games. Arseny shared his extensive journey from his early days as an intern at Large Animal Games to founding Signus Labs and eventually leading a studio at MZ. His entrepreneurial spirit has been a driving force throughout his career, and his unique, opinionated perspective on the gaming industry is both refreshing and thought-provoking.

Arseny’s experience is not just limited to gaming; he also worked in his family’s renewable energy components business, which gave him a solid foundation in sales and contract negotiation. This experience proved invaluable when he later ventured into the gaming industry, where he successfully managed large deals and partnerships.

Arseny Head Shot

During our conversation, Arseny emphasized the importance of throwing oneself into challenging situations and the value of travel in gaining diverse perspectives. He shared anecdotes from his time in Southeast Asia and how those experiences shaped his approach to business and life.

We also delved into the challenges and opportunities of remote work and office dynamics in the current landscape. Arseny provided insights into how Original Games manages a remote team, the tools they use for communication and project management, and the considerations they’ve had to make when setting up their office space in Lisbon.

Arseny’s approach to game development at Original Games is particularly fascinating. He discussed the company’s focus on merge games and their strategy to improve player experience and retention without expanding the team size significantly. He highlighted the importance of personalization and segmenting players to increase long-term value and shared his thoughts on the future of monetization in mobile gaming amidst changing privacy regulations.

Lastly, Arseny shared his passion for gaming as an art form and the unique experiences it offers, drawing comparisons to other forms of media. He also touched upon the future of office design and the importance of planning for the unknown in decision-making.

Original Games Logo

Overall, this episode provided a deep dive into the mind of a seasoned gaming entrepreneur and the strategies that have contributed to his success in the industry. Arseny’s story is a testament to the power of adaptability, foresight, and a player-focused approach to creating engaging gaming experiences.

Be sure to catch Arseny at Pocket Gamers London, and for more information on Original Games and Arseny, visit our Player: Engage website.

AI Transcript: Arseny Lebedev

Intro: 00:00: 00:15: Welcome to the Player Engage podcast, where we dive into the biggest challenges, technologies, trends, and best practices for creating unforgettable player experiences. Player Engage is brought to you as a collaboration between Keyword Studios and Helpshift. Here is your host, Greg Posner.
Greg Posner: 00:16: 00:56: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Player Engaged podcast. Today, we are joined by Arseny Lebedev, a seasoned veteran in the gaming industry. With over a decade of experience, Arseny’s journey began as an intern at Large Animal Games, later finding Signus Labs in 2009 and making a mark by developing casual games and partnering with top publishers. Arseny’s expertise spans over managing live top grossing games, leading game strategies at EPAM, and heading a studio at MZ. Currently as the co-founder and CEO of Original Games, Arseny continues to innovate, especially in mobile games. Arseny, welcome to the show. I’m excited to have you here and about this conversation. Anything you want to say about yourself?

Arseny Lebedev: 00:57: 01:20: I mean, I think the biggest thing about me is I’ve been an entrepreneur and kind of a founder my entire career, essentially, right after college. And I think that gives me a kind of a unique viewpoint and a unique opinion. I’m very opinionated. So if you’re listening, keep in mind that that’s my point of view. I’ve always worked for myself or some investors.

Greg Posner: 01:21: 01:59: I love it and it’s not often I get someone that has resided in Jersey for a period of time like myself, lived in Hoboken like myself, so it’s nice to be talking to someone from that perspective. But I like what you said, you were business-oriented from the beginning and listening to some of your background. After your first job at Large Animal Games, where you were an intern, it’s an interesting story whether we have time to talk about how you got that job or not, but you then went into your family business, which had nothing to do with gaming, but you learned a lot there. Maybe you can give us an experience on what learnings you’ve got at an early age from that family business.

Arseny Lebedev: 02:01: 02:07: By the way, I think we were neighbors in Hoboken at some, we were very close. I mean, everyone’s a neighbor. It’s a small town.

Greg Posner: 02:07: 02:13: Everyone moves from like 10 apartments, one to the other, to the other. It’s a wonderful little town. That’s way too expensive now.

Arseny Lebedev: 02:13: 04:10: Nowadays too expensive. Yeah. So I think like one of the, one of the key, so there’s, there’s, there’s two takeaways and I don’t really, I don’t talk about this a lot, but right after college, um, I had a period when, when I worked for a family and the business was components for renewable energy for solar energy. But for me, it was like you come out of business school and you go into essentially like a sales a full like turnkey sales role. So prospecting, doing the legal piece, and then going through the contracts are actually done. And it’s a very tricky kind of scientific business. So a lot of times there’ll be disputes on quality and all that kind of stuff. So that was a really cool experience where you just get thrown right in. And, you know, I’m thankful And at the same time, you know, not thankful that that level of stress right after college. I think that the second piece, though, is that that afforded me a lot of travel. I had to travel a lot just because the business was international. And it’s like, you know, you get hit you get hit in the face with a bat. But it really was good. Like it’s it’s a it’s very good. And I recommend anyone that is starting out, throw yourself into the deep end or just travel as much as you can to places that have a good standard of living. So the same standard of living that you have, but like the, the mindsets are so different. So for me, that was like Southeast Asia and Asia in general, where, you know, high standard of living, same as same as in Hoboken. Um, but, but how they got there was just, very different from how we all got there. And that really set my path and set me thinking that there isn’t just one way of doing anything. If all these places have the same stuff we have, but it’s like everything’s different.

Greg Posner: 04:11: 04:36: One thing I always like to talk to people about is what they aspired to be when they grew up, when they were in grade school. Not everyone plans to do what they’re doing. And you, for college, you went to Stevens, which is a really good technical institution. Did you imagine that you were going to come out of there doing contracting and QA work for your family? Or was that out of left field? Like, oh, now all of a sudden, I learned all this technical stuff. I’m doing contracting work.

Arseny Lebedev: 04:37: 05:16: I think the point was, I’ve always played games and I really liked games. And I told myself, so when I was an intern back in the, so I was an intern still in college. And then I had a couple months after where I was still at Large Animal. But I think I told myself at some point, it’s like, hey, if I can do these three things at this company, then like, this is probably what I should just do. And I kind of fell in line with what I’ve always wanted to do. I think it’s more about it’s not like, you know, I want to be an astronaut because I like space. I think it’s like I want to do games because I like the people, like I like the atmosphere.

Greg Posner: 05:16: 05:26: Yeah, it makes sense. Is there a game going back to your childhood that you first played that was like, I need to do this for a living? This is the hook that you got.

Arseny Lebedev: 05:26: 06:19: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I always think back, what are the things that you’re into? For me, it was all the point-and-click adventure games. I like to tell people that I learned how to speak English playing LucasArts games. It’s funny, over this holiday, I was replaying some of those games and I wrote one of the designers an email. just cold email. And he responded like, thanks. You know, that was really cool. So I think it’s I think it’s these like linear old school adventure games. And it’s also the Doom or like the Build Engine games. They were just so extensible. And you could just you could change them in their lives. Or, you know, I still play Doom. I was playing Doom on Friday. I think those those are super inspirational games. And I don’t know if that’s like a sign of the times, but like

Greg Posner: 06:20: 07:18: Roblox is basically the same thing and you know, there’s kids growing up on it now Yeah, a lot of cool games are starting to come out I feel like it’s platformers for kids that are both educational as well as a great way to kind of just get them playing I have a Five-year-old and we’ve been playing Lego fortnight and there’s just a great opportunity to teach them the mechanics and teaching I think it’s a great way to bring the younger generation into playing games. I think I think our doom is there, Fortnite and whatever is coming out these days. You like to travel. You mentioned travel. So, you’ve traveled for work. You traveled for your parents’ job, right? You are now from New Jersey. You’ve moved to Lisbon, which is quite the hike, quite the jump across the ocean. What is an experience like going from both New Jersey, New York, which is a fast fast pace of life to a place like Lisbon, where maybe it’s not? Was it a shock to you? How did you manage that?

Arseny Lebedev: 07:18: 09:32: We should back up. So, in my career, after the States, when I sold that business, my first business, I was spending more time in Russia and in Eastern Europe than I was in the US. And I eventually ended up moving And I mean, I get I like I have a bunch of property there. So I guess I lived there for a while, a couple, couple years of full time. And then then when the war started, we moved here. So it’s a really interesting kind of lesson is okay, so you’re used to this pace of, you know, East Coast, US, everything’s fast, people are selfish, but people are still recognize that there’s other people in the world, or around them. And then Then in Russia, it has its own issues. Standard of living is different. Economic situation is different. And then, I guess, Western Europe, where it’s very, very different. So I thought I was pretty good with moving and all that. And it’s a challenge when the pace… It’s like when standard of living, pace, folks, economic situation, all that stuff, That’s actually really important. And I think that’s the answer to your question. It’s a challenge, not for, oh, like, okay, I’m living next to the ocean now. It’s like, no, it’s a challenge on how the people here grew up and what are norms for them. And I wanted to use this example. So in New York, and if you’re from the East Coast, when you line up, like crossing the street, waiting for the light, it’s completely fine in the States to just skip the line because you want to get across fast. In Russia, that’s rude. What are you doing? Even though everyone’s still in a hurry. I don’t know what it is in Portugal. I think people just hang out waiting whether it’s red light or not. But that’s the point. It’s like even those little things you got to notice because I’m not intending to be rude. I just want to cross the street, you know? And you might get an earful from somebody, hey, what are you doing? And those kinds of things, they add up.

Greg Posner: 09:32: 10:02: Yeah, it’s just different paces of life, understanding what it’s like there. And not only that, right? So original games, you relocated to Lisbon. It’s not just you that you’re – I mean, I guess it’s just you you’re responsible for, but you have a whole team of employees that have relocated as well. Do you feel the pressure of, I guess, succeeding because you’ve moved these people or these people just believe in your mission? They want to be a part of the team. Does that weigh on you at all?

Arseny Lebedev: 10:03: 10:56: So, I mean, yeah, this is a multi-part question. So I think, and we can talk about the, our decision-making process, why we picked Portugal and all that. But I think it, my biggest motivation for staying here right now is because I, you know, we moved all these people. The company, we have a very kind of remote, you know, workflow. We can talk about that as well a bit later about my whiteboards that are standing there empty. But it’s like, there’s, you definitely are way to stay here. And it’s not like take care of your flock, but it’s like, you know, if, if this is our mission, then, then I gotta be here as well. Um, we, we moved about, um, like it’s going to be like 25 people this year. So we moved 22 and I think two more moving, um, slowly trickling in. Um, but I think overall for the business, it was, it was a good decision for my mental health.

Greg Posner: 10:56: 10:59: I don’t know, but you have time to resolve that.

Arseny Lebedev: 10:59: 11:02: That’s a lot of, a lot of time here.

Greg Posner: 11:02: 11:21: We kind of jumped ahead and I want to keep talking about original games, but let’s back up to Arseny kind of going through his career, right? So you worked at Large Animals, right? Then you started your own company, Cygnus Labs in 2009. That’s not the Solar Company, just to be clear, right?

Arseny Lebedev: 11:21: 11:24: No, no. The Solar Company, I was there for like two years.

Greg Posner: 11:25: 11:49: Cygnus was more of an outsourced, kind of a co-development type of… Yeah, it’s like an agency that, you know, Keywords could have bought a couple of years ago. Yeah. So what was it like starting that? And like, do you feel that working with your parents or your family’s company set you up for success because you worked on contracting, you worked on all these big deals, like international travel? Was that all kind of helping push you towards… Yeah, yeah.

Arseny Lebedev: 11:49: 12:58: I think the biggest takeaway, and for folks that aren’t deep in business, may not agree or may not or maybe whatever. But the point is, business is business. It’s very transactional. Goodwill only goes a long way and goodwill expires fast. And I feel like business is about transactions. So when you’re starting your own business, it’s, you know, it’s all about transactions. And I jumped. I had a good I had a good foundation because, again, like I was doing like seventy five million dollar deals from Europe to China. you know, and I was 22 or something. So I got in very, very quickly with Cygnus. Our first client was, well, one of the first clients was Zynga. I don’t want to, I think we had, it was iWin, if you guys remember, and then Zynga, very good, you know, incredible people that trusted me. And I think we did a good job, but that was a lot of money that I hadn’t seen, you know, in a bank account that I had access to. So, uh, that was, that was good. And I think like, I just, again, I just took a plunge. Um, and it, it worked out.

Greg Posner: 12:58: 13:12: So you sell that business to E-Pam. E-Pam, you work for them for a couple of years. You decide, Hey, I’m going to go work at a studio. I’m going to lead a studio at MachineZone or MZ at the time. Uh, how, how has that experience had?

Arseny Lebedev: 13:12: 14:55: So I think, um, with E-Pam is like, it’s an incredible company. Uh, For me, it was like, hey, we had 50 staff and then now, you know, it was like 20,000 at this company. It was very different. And I wanted I wanted that fast pace. I was just turned 30. So I just, I wanted that fast pace and it was slower in this kind of corporate environment. But like, you know, the clients there were, you know, massive. And the budgets were just, you know, we had, we were like, I can’t say how much they were billing, but it was like, you know, you’re billing four figures an hour. It’s like, oh my God. Um, so that, that is, that was a very different, um, atmosphere. Uh, but my personal growth was, was super slow. So, um, we, you know, we kind of struck up a deal or an understanding at machine zone wanted to, so at the time, like it was, it was peak MZ and, you know, like performance marketing was, was very, was just beginning. It was like performance marketing 2.0, you know, if we’re at three or 4.0 right now. So, um, really interesting opportunity to try to. find channels or find new game genres. And eventually what we were doing turned into a hyper casual before that didn’t have that name. And that was, you know, I was controlling a PNL. So, you know, and the company itself was kind of run like a separate PNL. So that was interesting. And for me, it was like, okay, well, I get to do something new and someone else is paying for it, you know, as long as we show performance. So then I took a bunch of the, you know, kind of top guys that I knew. And we quickly put together a quick like a 15 person team and went from there.

Greg Posner: 14:56: 15:24: So, from Machine Zone, you start Original Games. And at this point, you have a lot of background. You’re technical, you’re business savvy. As the co-founder CEO of a gaming company, and this is gonna be kind of a hard, maybe hard question, I don’t know. Which skill do you think comes into the most, is the most important for you? The one that you kind of exercising the most as a founder of a game studio?

Arseny Lebedev: 15:25: 16:50: Yeah, I think it’s a good question. It’s like, I always think about decision making and like risk taking. And what does that mean? Like, well, risk taking doesn’t, you know, it’s not like gambling. It’s like you have to take, you have to make decisions and calculate whether that’s just in your own head or deeper. What a subordinate can’t do is what the founder does, or what the leadership does, if that’s how you say it. So I’ve developed a skill about how to kind of make decisions when there’s too many unknowns or like, well, I have no one else to depend on. If I make this decision, if I make like this process of relocation, if we make this decision, what is the possible fallout and all that? And how do we live with any mistakes we make? So that’s a skill that I’ve kind of honed in a lot of A lot of the unknowns, that’s the skill. It’s like, how do you account for the unknowns? And some people call that wisdom. There’s a morality to making decisions based on unknowns. I think that’s just something that you really have to cultivate over time. And you look at junior folks, and they don’t know what to do, and they’re going to ask you for a list of actions. And you can’t do that as a leader.

Greg Posner: 16:52: 16:56: There’s no one else to look at. You need mentors at that point, right?

Arseny Lebedev: 16:56: 17:02: Yeah. And I mean, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s, that’s another one. Yeah. That’s another interesting point.

Greg Posner: 17:02: 17:08: So question does come up, like, how do you come up with Lisbon?

Arseny Lebedev: 17:08: 18:54: Yeah. Yeah. So I think like we had a couple, um, we were limited in certain things. Um, so like there, there were certain dependencies. So like we needed to make a decision quickly, um, because you know, there’s, there’s this conflict. Um, and, and we were in the conflict zone and. We just, I don’t want to participate in it at all. We needed to get out of there. And of course it would probably hurt. We needed to go fast because like rapidly, the banking system was falling apart rapidly. They might’ve been starting closing borders and things like that. So, so like conditions for operating a business. were rapidly degrading. And again, there was too many unknowns, like, is that gonna be tomorrow? Is that gonna be like, okay, well, they shut off banking, but it still works, like all this stuff. So put together like a giant list of sort like country countries and cities that may support tech. And I think the biggest one was, okay, well, these guys are coming out of Russia and Eastern Europe, you know, which immediately is like a black mark. So which countries we’ll be okay with that. So it was basically down to like, you know, Spain or Portugal, you know, we looked at a lot of other places, it was basically down to those two. And I think the decision I made, telling myself that I’m going to live with, you know, if this is a mistake, I’m gonna live with it is that Spain is kind of oversubscribed. I know a lot of folks in Portugal, let’s just go there. But I just want to underscore that like any decision like that, you need to get as many inputs as possible. So I had like two law firms looking at tax structure on all these places. And it’s interesting what mistakes we made, actually. We can talk about that later. But it’s like the decision ultimately was just a wisdom thing.

Greg Posner: 18:55: 19:36: Yeah. And first of all, I mean, credit to you and your whole team, right? You acted quick, you move quick. It’s a terrible situation that’s happening. And it’s fantastic that you were able to kind of get that team, everyone bought in, find a place and relocate because that’s the healthy thing to do. And You might be having your own little growing pains now because of that, but it’s probably better than the pains you would have if you weren’t doing that. So that’s fantastic. And when it comes to kind of original games, right, you’re making match three games here. How do you, was it because of the hyper casual experience you’ve gotten previously at MZ? Why do you decide to go the match three route? How does that come about?

Arseny Lebedev: 19:36: 21:29: Yeah, yeah. So we make merge games. Oh, merge, sorry. It’s match two. But I mean, we actually started thinking about it as a match three. I think my idea, and again, like, you know, hindsight is 20-20. My original idea was let’s look at the loops of hypercasual games. Core loops, they’re very simple, but they get you hooked fast and then build a deeper game around that. I think we spent a year looking at different game mechanics. We even had some games published with hyper-casual publishers, and it was like, you know, it was always, okay, well, we’re not going to go deeper with this game. Just do the next one. But my thesis was, wait a second, but they should be a hybrid. You can’t just have either hypercasual or casual. It has to be something in the middle. So nowadays, that’s like all the hypercasual developers are now hybrid casual developers, and they’re all trying to find a great, sticky core game that they can build out that’s not a traditional puzzle game. So for us, it worked out with Merge. And we spent kind of two and a half years now, I guess, honing how to do those games well without turning them into these massive expensive casual games. We still to this day argue, should we do this complex meta? Our lead game has animals as the main characters, which all marketers will tell you, no, make them people. So I’m sticking by that, no, we should differentiate. It doesn’t look like a cartoon. It just you know, their animals. So, yeah, I mean, it’s all numbers. The easy answer to your question, it’s all numbers. We tested, this is the one that tested. It had incredible retention. We were able to find a visual for it that kind of tested well on Facebook. And it went from there.

Greg Posner: 21:29: 21:41: So I think this is all cool stuff. You are clearly monitoring different analytics and kind of player data. How do you capture that? Are there specific KPIs that are important to you and your team?

Arseny Lebedev: 21:41: 23:50: Yeah, I think so. I want to back up to say that like, you know, where are we at with, so we have two games merging and merge them. The past, maybe six, six to nine months, we’ve been thinking about, again, this, this question about how do you, like, how do you make the KPIs of this game look like a traditional casual game? but maybe not commit that same team size and all that because we’re much smaller and our strengths are elsewhere. So we’ve been looking at LiveOps and LiveOps meaning how do we deliver content at the right moment for the right amount of time and then personalize it for players to maximize kind of like, you know, LTV. So we’re looking at, of course, we’re looking at long term retention, but we’re actively looking at like ARPU, but maybe even like, we’re thinking about everything as segments. So we have like eight segments. And it’s more about like, how do you get the lower paying segment up to the higher paying segments? That’s kind of what we’re looking at. So it is kind of check size. We call it kind of transactional value. The second piece is, are games heavily monetized with ads? There really isn’t much traditional experience with personalization and ads. That’s another challenge is like, how do you, how do you factor ad revenue into transactional value? That’s kind of what’s in my head all the time. And we’ve had tremendous growth this past, like these past two months, just, just on player personalization and all that stuff. And we haven’t, we haven’t had content added to the game in such a long time. We’ve just been personalizing, adding, just like segmenting how much time users get in certain things. And that is providing such tremendous growth on LTV that I don’t know if I want to do a big meta. I don’t know if we need to. I think we need to figure out what players want.

Greg Posner: 23:51: 24:35: That’s a cool approach. And going back to the first point, you’re kind of talking about how you take your, your big spenders, your VIPs, and how do you convert some of the lower spending users into those VIPs? And I can tell you that keywords, right? That’s a big thing we’re looking at in 2024, as well as kind of the VIP program. How do you, you know, there’s a year. 80% of your revenue is probably made up by your VIPs. How do you start tapping into that lower percentage and getting them to commit and play more and do all that stuff? So I think it’s fascinating to look at it that way. And I love the fact that you’re just tinkering with the game’s mechanics, the timing and stuff like that and building tons of updates to the game. It’s almost like you’re polishing off what needs to happen to allow players to kind of experience different parts of the game. So I think that’s a really cool way of looking at it.

Arseny Lebedev: 24:35: 24:38: Yeah, we call it the Valley of Pain. There you go.

Greg Posner: 24:38: 24:55: It’s going to take some time. I mean, your audience is obviously adopting to it real well, right? So that’s a cool way to look at it. Do you often think about what you want to build next? Or is that getting way too far ahead?

Arseny Lebedev: 24:55: 26:15: I mean, it’s like, the constant struggle I have is, we all have very kind of passionate ideas about another puzzle title that has a more traditional meta. Because I think, just like with every genre, the stuff in Merge is just so derivative. There’s nothing like original, but it’s like, I want to get into that, but on the other hand, building more games is just going to build short term profit, short term revenue and if I can figure out in one of these titles, how do we with a team our size, like you said, VIP management. I have some crazy ideas on that. I don’t think it involves changing prices every five seconds depending on X, Y, and Z. I think it’s deeper and we need to make sure it’s fair for everybody and find a cadence that we don’t need a 60-person LiveOps team. I think that’s what’s more interesting and it’s not a lower hanging fruit. A lower hanging fruit is releasing 20 more games, just copying everything that’s on the market. I’m not there right now. I don’t want to do that. I would rather figure this out.

Greg Posner: 26:23: 26:57: you’re crafting unique experiences for them, right? It’s not about changing prices. It’s not about doing that. It’s about providing different experiences. We learned about Eve and Eve, for example, treated all players in the first 30 days as VIPs, letting them know what that experience is like, and then kind of mitigating and doing different things from the players from there. So I think it’s a lot of fun kind of guessing and checking. It doesn’t require much change to the game, right? It’s more about the dynamics and how you handle that. So I think that’s really cool. And I think it’s a great way to take a look at it without having to build more games because then that’s just going to be more and more to manage. Right. It’s kind of a pain in the butt.

Arseny Lebedev: 26:57: 27:20: It’s just I want to underscore how tempting it is to launch something and just raise your raise your revenue every month. But it’s again, it’s like it’s much sexier to get. Like we had we had such a our ARPU doubled over the holidays because we launched kind of very selective sales and we tuned up our holiday balances. That’s like such a bigger win, I think.

Greg Posner: 27:20: 28:24: Yeah, for sure. It’s cheaper for you in the long run too. It’s funny that your first client you were talking about was Zynga. And I went to school in Maryland. It was in town next door to where Zynga started. It kind of almost reminds me of Zynga because Zynga for the longest time, I think, was just FarmVille. And for years and years, it was just FarmVille. And then eventually, they just made so much money from it. Then they kind of branched out into other things. But you focus so much on your core IP and you make it work and you get players to love it. And rather than releasing more and more and more crap, you kind of polish it until you’re ready to go and then, what Zynga did was release a ton of other games, right? But I think that’s a great strategy, is polish what you have rather than continuing to build new. Your experiences with your kind of, you know, you’ve relocated a lot, you have remote workers, you manage that lifestyle here, right? What are the challenges you’re facing when it comes to remote work? Do you have employees that basically, obviously, you got to help with furniture and stuff, but like, how do you manage a team remotely? How do you guys keep in contact? I always find that interesting. What tools do you use to kind of communicate with each other?

Arseny Lebedev: 28:24: 31:14: Yeah. I mean, I’ve always been you know, first business, I was remote for years and years. You got to recognize that not everyone is built for that and not everybody understands the value of like having freaking normal, you know, furniture. I mean, I felt that again, When we moved here, I still don’t have a freaking proper desk. And it’s, you know, it’s been like a year and a half. Luckily I have an office, you know, 15 minute walk, but like that stuff is important. So we started kind of lightly auditing to see how, like what equipment are folks using? Of course we would supply basic hardware, but, but in terms of like software, right. So, you know, Slack, uh, we use Google Meet and we use kind of Google Suite. We’ve been on Atlassian, so JIRA and Confluence forever and ever. Recently, Atlassian launched Project Discovery or something, which is like, I think it’s like they cloned air tables, basically it’ll take your entire backlog and visualize it for like a human being. And it’s, whenever you have stuff that like just immediately starts working, you know, that stuff is good. So our team has always been using kind of, you know, a virtual backlog, meaning it’s just in Jira. There isn’t like the cards don’t exist in real life. I remember back in the day when all of that software was, you know, like fog bugs and all that stuff was still starting. You could have, for example, you could have the physical backlog and you would have a digital one. You know, we’ve been we’ve been on digital all the time. And I’m always pressuring, like, do we need to have this physically somewhere? Because big parts of our team are in one place, but they’re sticking to digital. And I guess, again, this is a long answer to a small question, but it’s like you have to get everybody used to that everything is digital, like Miro is another one. So that one was like, hey, guys, should we use this Miro thing? It’s a virtual whiteboard for folks that aren’t aware. And it’s like that was immediately everyone’s doing everything in that now. The challenge is just folks that are just starting work don’t know any of that. And I think that universities are behind. And it’s actually like, how do you, how do you teach, uh, how do you teach Microsoft office or Microsoft Excel if everyone’s on Google or like, is there a class about like permissions? I would love to talk to those professors because nobody knows anything about permissions. Uh, like how do you make a folder where you share your work in case you’re sick? Like all that stuff. Those are the stupid challenges that, you know, unfortunately sometimes even the CEO has to remind people about.

Greg Posner: 31:14: 31:19: throughout your career, are there things that you miss about the States now? Or New Jersey?

Arseny Lebedev: 31:19: 33:11: I mean, look, I think it’s like, again, it’s like looking back is always a mistake. But one of the things that hit me really by surprise, there was like, there’s two things that hit me about Europe by surprise, maybe I just need to change the way I think about it. So like banking in the US, business banking was just so easy. It’s like, you know, I, my, my first business was, it was incorporated in the States. We had first Republic before they went under, uh, everything was just, you know, it was just easy. There was never like, who is this person? Like it was, it was easy. And then, um, in Europe, it’s like, it’s just, you know, who is Google? Like this kind of thing. And that just stops your business until you respond to just some employee at the bank. Original Games is incorporated now in Singapore, and it’s like, oh, we’re back to normal. No business disruptions because of policy or whatever. Everything’s great. UoB is a great bank. So I think just banking and business culture, it’s very different around the world. But how do you know? you know, that UK banks are awesome and, and, you know, Portuguese banks are awful. Um, and then it’s like, well, how are Russian banks like functional? They’re communists. Like they don’t know how to do banks. No, they’re fine. Um, everything’s fine. I think like, uh, U S business culture is so fast paced and it’s like, it’s just transactional like business should be. I think, I think I like that. Um, You know, people are into value more than they are. You know, I need to get off work and, you know, have a beer with my friends. I feel like that. I miss that a lot.

Greg Posner: 33:11: 33:20: That’s the beauty of Hoboken, you know, sitting right on the corner by the path station, seeing everyone come out. It’s just prime people watching.

Arseny Lebedev: 33:20: 33:22: That used to be fun. Yeah, I used to live close to there.

Greg Posner: 33:22: 33:28: What about for original games? Do you have like a 3, 6, 12 month plan going on right now? Is it…

Arseny Lebedev: 33:29: 34:55: I think I feel really good about the state of legally, you know, we have an entity here that employs the local staff and employs certain contractors, all that stuff. We have a nice office finally. It took a while. So, I feel really good about that. So, I just want to like again, I want to get through the valley of pain and figure out exactly kind of what these hybrid monetization, high, you know, ads, IP folks are doing and increase our, our KPIs to kind of the key, the goal metrics that we wanted to get to. So I think that’s, that’s the plan. Do we want to do another product? Do we want to roll up another product? I think that’s all up in the air. But the most important is just make sure that Things are stable. If you’ve been following mobile, there’s going to be a lot of changes to privacy and ad-based revenue. So those are challenges that I’m willing to meet. I mean, this Unity thing, I know that those guys are trying to find a way to start making money. And that’s also, should we change what we’re developing on? That’s a big question for us. Because it’s like, if you have a monopoly on the platform, how are you not making money? Maybe there’s something wrong in the enterprise or in your pricing. And that’s kind of what we’re looking at.

Greg Posner: 34:55: 35:03: As a fan of the gaming industry, are there any trends that you’re seeing that are exciting you as a player, not necessarily as an owner or founder?

Arseny Lebedev: 35:03: 37:27: Yeah, I think like if you want to talk about games like I’m a big gamer, I’ve just I’ve been playing. Like I said, I’m on vacation this week, so I’ve just been taking it super, super slow. I’ve been playing Cyberpunk again from from zero. I played it a lot. I thought it was a good game. I don’t know. I didn’t see what the problem was. Then you play it from starting again with all the updates, and it’s like, OK, this is a much more polished experience. All the key beats are still there, but it’s just so much. So I’m completely fine replaying it again. And I never play games twice, especially linear games. This is kind of a linear game. What’s the point of playing it again? what Epic is doing with Fortnite. I really like Roblox. I don’t really look at those as, well, I look at games as art, and it’s almost like if the game is really well-made, you’re experiencing emotions that, you know, they’re like planned, or at least there’s a beat that was planned here, and you can react to it how you react. I think one of the ways I justify playing a lot of games to myself is that, you know, if you watch a movie, you will rarely form a memory about the movie. But in the game, you actually form memories. You can dream about your experience in the game because there’s some level of interaction. And, you know, I love linear games, but it’s still, it’s like, I think that makes it worthwhile. You are building memories and it’s like that kind of art form. So if you look at something like Roblox and Fortnite, there is an art to it because it’s, it’s, you know, player made stuff. Some of it’s fun, some is trash, but I mean, it’s like, it’s like the next generation. of all this stuff. And you can see the same old trends that you and I used to play when we were little Hoboken kids. So I love that. I think the final one is more, again, it’s like you’re seeing more and more indie games that matter. you know, versus these giant ass, you know, behemoth multiplayer games. They’re just like, they don’t even make it past launch. I love that. And as, as a gamer, I think the mobile stuff that we do, I take a lot of pride in it because it helps folks that aren’t really into kind of these big, high budget games still form those memories, you know, that I mentioned.

Greg Posner: 37:27: 38:20: Yeah, there’s a few things you said there that I love and I think the biggest one to me is just the experience, right? You can go see a movie at launch, right? In IMAX and yeah, it’s going to create a cool experience for you but like within a couple weeks, it’s going to be gone. But I mean, like I said earlier, I’ve been playing Lego Fortnite with both my son and my wife and we have the Switch and I play on an Xbox so we’re playing cross play next to each other and it’s just like It’s just a fun experience to be able to play a game with someone. It’s old school couch co-op, right? But each on our own system. And I feel like for a few generations, couch co-ops start to die because of online co-op. And it reminds me of sitting in my dorm or my house playing Halo LAN party, where we all just kind of plug in central location. It’s just like, we’re going to form these experiences. And years later, you could talk about those experiences because you remember them like they were yesterday. It’s just an awesome place and I like the way you put that.

Arseny Lebedev: 38:20: 40:19: And then with movies, it’s not a very different. Like, so we have like, I love whiteboards because I love drawing, but like you have Mira. you have Miro that replaces that. And now whiteboards are like this, this thing that you see on a TV. So that really got me thinking about what is, what is the office of the future? Like, is it just someone’s house? Like, I really hope not. So we started renting our office here. This is, I guess this is my, my fourth office that I’m like participating in building, putting together. And, you know, We have the money to do kind of whatever we want to, of course, if I’m doing it, it’s going to be as scrappy as possible. But like, is an office just a bunch of meeting rooms? Like, is that what an office is? Maybe. It’s annoying to have to create policies for folks to visit. But then whenever they do, it’s like, oh, I get to see my teammates. They’re human beings. There’s a certain value to it. And it’s just unfortunate that it looks like in the future, companies are going to have office visitation roles. But then what else? We have a problem that everyone wants a dedicated desk. Well, dude, you’re coming in two times a week. Do I have to buy four times as many tables and workstations because we have to accommodate everybody? That’s a weird question and it’s kind of a sensitive topic. It’s like, of course everyone should have their own dedicated space, but of course you don’t have to carry… So it’s like, okay, fine. Well, I’m not going to use a monitor and the mouse and the keyboard and all that. I’ll just bring my laptop. It’s like, well, are you just going to be sitting on your tiny screen laptop? It’s also, it’s just like a very weird question. Maybe one day someone will answer it, or maybe just buy everyone a workstation that sits in the office. It’s an unusual future for us.

Greg Posner: 40:19: 41:38: I’m starting to sense, and maybe it’s obvious at this point, that at least here in New York, back to office is pretty much going to be a standard. I know I have a couple of friends that work for Bloomberg. They’re back in the office five days a week now. You know, it’s funny. I was, I was working remote before the pandemic hit. It’s tough, man. Like I could have baseball on my TV right over here. Like when we’re sitting in a meeting, right. I might be doing multitasking and there’s to your point, the power of the whiteboards, like let’s just whiteboard this and game plan it. And there’s just so much knowledge share that happens. I did a podcast with a girl, Lauren, she’s from Colibri Games, and she said there’s just a power to having a pen and paper. It’s a powerful tool that people don’t utilize anymore. And the same thing with the whiteboard, where we can collaborate, we can be together. If I had a whiteboard right here and we were working together on Zoom, you might be watching, again, the baseball game on your laptop. How do I know what you’re actually doing? And I am not an advocate for forcing people to go back into the office full time. But just having a conversation with my boss yesterday, it’s like, it would be nice to start seeing each other a little more often in person. And I mean, we’re remote completely. We’re not just, we’re in the States, all over the States. But like, you need to be able to get with people once in a while, or else you go stir crazy. And it’s just not a pleasant experience.

Arseny Lebedev: 41:39: 42:47: The Apple vision thing is coming out, right? I think it’s shipping in the US soon or whatever. I don’t care at all. I’m not following it, but it’s like, do you imagine like we had, we had an EPAM project back in the day to pitching to a pharmaceutical, essentially that device. Um, and it’s like, I don’t know how to make it. I just like put a concept together. Um, and it’s like, is that the future of work? We’re all sitting in there in these goggles. Like, I don’t know, crazier stuff has happened. Especially with the younger generation is like, they’re much more virtual kind of feeling and insensitive than we are. But I mean, isn’t it kind of silly to force folks to come into an office? I mean, so and the reason this is, I want to underscore this, that like, some companies are completely fine being fully virtual. So when you’re hiring, it’s like, well, if I go work at this other company, it’s like, I don’t have to come into it. I just sit at home, you know. And I’m not saying that people are, you know, watching baseball or whatever. I think it’s like, It’s a human factor and you forget that like, the people in Slack are humans. They have a soul just like you and they need to be respected.

Greg Posner: 42:47: 43:46: It’s also, you know, I mean, our generation, maybe I want to work remote. I know once I had my children, I was just like, I don’t want to be commuting an hour and a half to the city both ways. And everyone’s like, yeah, why would people want to go back to the office? But there’s also the people coming out of college. My first few years out of college when I was working down by Wall Street, were some of the best experiences of my life. We’d go for happy hours. That’s how you meet people. That’s how potential people meet their future spouses. Yeah, yeah. That’s a good point. Just because we’re in the mindset like, no, I’m never going back to work. That’s silly. Who would want to do that? There’s a whole younger generation that’s coming out of school or young, right, that want to be able to go back into the office. And then companies are going to look at the two people like, well, Greg doesn’t want to come to the office and this new guy does want to come to the office who are we gonna hire and it’s It’s a shitty place to be in but at the same time there has to be like a flexibility where it’s like Alright, well a couple days I think makes sense But who knows it’s gonna change consistently at some point Rent is gonna be due at an office in the city or in San Francisco and they’re gonna be like, oh, well, we’re keeping our lease So get back in the office.

Arseny Lebedev: 43:46: 44:48: I think like maybe my final thought on this is I I’m very interested in office design. And I think in the 60s or something, there was some study about what is a proper office? What is it supposed to be? Three zones. So you have a private work zone, basically like a cubbyhole in a library. Then you have a standard work area like we’re used to. And then you have some kind of space, like a teamwork space, like an engagement space. I’m very fascinated about that idea. I mean, for me, like, I’m just sitting there with my headphones trying to not hear anything, I guess, you know, white noise, but there’s some folks that may be like that. I mean, but also to keep in mind, like, you know, digital artists, we have those tablets, just these massive tablets. So they’re, they’re always stuck to kind of how they’re working. And I wonder who’s gonna, who’s gonna find the, the new Office of the Future. Very curious what that’s going to be like.

Greg Posner: 44:48: 44:55: Yeah, especially how we all work together. I don’t think the Vision Pro is the way to go. I soon to see that with people sleeping on the flight, just watching a 150-inch screen movie.

Arseny Lebedev: 44:55: 44:59: It’s got a two-hour battery life. It’s a quick flight.

Greg Posner: 45:02: 45:29: Arseny, I appreciate you coming on today. I’m hoping the whole thing got recorded, but it was a really great discussion. I love hearing your perspective and not only that, again, going from Stevens to working with your family business, to starting your own business, to selling it, to starting another gaming company, to relocate. Tons of cool stuff and credit to you for making the hard decisions that you had to and doing all that. Before we end for the day, is there anything you want to share with our audience?

Arseny Lebedev: 45:29: 45:49: Yeah, I think like, I had this sentence in my notes. I think the most important thing is to plan for the unknown in any decisions you make. So you know, there’s things you don’t know. And I think that those are the key. Planning, planning for that is kind of the key to any big decision. That’s my, that’s my final thought there.

Greg Posner: 45:50: 46:12: I’ll also add that Arseny will be, I believe, at Pocket Gamers London, which I think by the time this airs will be in about a week. We’ll have information for original games. We’ll have information about Arseny. We’ll have all information available on our Player Engaged website. Again, Arseny, I really appreciate you coming on today and making time for this, and I hope you have a great rest of your day.

Arseny Lebedev: 46:12: 46:13: Thanks. See you around.

Greg Posner

Avid gamer with a passion for storytelling. My goal is to unpack the narratives of customers, partners and others to better understand how industry-leaders tackle today's challenges.

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