“It's hard to say what will happen next”

Team lead game designer about what is happening with Russian game development, prospects, and mentoring
Today's dialogue is with Grigory Lysov. Grigory has been engaged in game design for six years, during this time he grew from a junior specialist to a cross-platform team lead game designer, and also tried to mentor junior talents before the current situation in Ukraine.

We talked about what the situation is in the Russian game development market today and what can be expected in the near future, how important mentoring is in game development, and what those who have been fired can do now.
  • Grigory Lysov
    Team Lead Game Designer

— Hi! Thank you for agreeing to visit us virtually. Please tell us briefly what you do so that our readers can also get to know you better.

— Hi! My name is Grisha, I've been doing game design for the last six years. Before the current crisis, I worked in two places at once: in a company that deals with game outsourcing (this was my main employment), and also led my pet project as a team lead game designer.

At the first job, sometimes I worked on projects alone as a senior game designer, sometimes I supervised other colleagues, if there were any. In general, my responsibilities included drafting and maintaining documentation on the project, interacting with the team and creating a common vision.

The game designer always tries to make sure that everyone works in the same direction, no one gets confused about what needs to be done, and that the game is played, sounds and looks as it was originally intended

— You mentioned a pet project. Do I understand correctly that this term means a certain project that is done mainly for pleasure in your free time from your main work? Can you tell me briefly about it?

— Yes, that's right. We can say that this is a project that we did more for pleasure than for money. Therefore, the rhythm and pace of development there is generally a little different than in full time employment, I was engaged in this project when I had time and money. In general, this is a fairly large-scale PC project for a certain audience.

— How did you come to gamedev? Was it a meaningful intention — maybe inspired by a favorite game, for example — or just the circumstances?

My path turned out to be quite funny: at some point, while studying at the university, I realized that I was in a crisis, and I began to actively look for a hobby that I could get really carried away with. I looked at what hobbies people have in general, and found out that some people make games.
In general, games have been with me since childhood — at the age of three I got my first computer, and I played a lot.
Therefore, when I found out that people make board games for themselves, I thought that I could probably do it. I tried to make my first board game, I liked it — especially the fact that I was able to apply all the knowledge accumulated over a long time of gaming. So I started looking for what it's all called in general and whether there is something similar in the “big” game dev.

At first, I didn't take this concept seriously a bit, because I know that I don't have a technical mindset at all, which, as it seemed to me at the time, was needed to build a career in IT and game development in particular. Everything turned out differently: on the contrary, there are just a lot of positions in the industry for people with a different set of skills and talents. That's how I found out that there are game designers, fell in love with it and started moving in this direction: first self-education, then courses from Wargaming, where I met people with similar interests. Among them was the one who had a job opening for a game designer: so I passed the interview, got an offer, and it started spinning.

— It turns out, how many years have you been working in game development? If I understand correctly, then you started with a junior game designer and was promoted to team leader?

About six years. If I really showed off, then I could say that I was promoted to the cross-platform team lead :) In fact, it's not always a thrill and sometimes I want to go back to the past, when there was less responsibility.

— Before the war, you mentored game designers. Why did you decide to come to mentoring?

Many who come to game dev have a very shaky base, there is no systematic training.
At work, I periodically interviewed game designers, including middle and senior, and every time I was horrified when I caught people engaged in game design for more than 15 years on some elementary mistakes or ignorance of the basic rules, which, in theory, should be fixed at the pre-junior level — for example, misunderstanding the difference between what is good for the game designer and what is good for the player.

Many who come to game dev have a very shaky base, there is no systematic training. It seemed to me that I could solve this problem and make a program that just covers this very base — as a result, in six months I created a training program along with lectures, presentations and training materials (it took me about 400 hours in total), and recruited the first group.

— In what format did the training take place and approximately how many people were in the group? Or maybe even individual classes?

These were online classes in a group: mostly they were friends of my friends — those who wanted to start their careers in game design. But there were also those who were just interested in this topic, who did not want to build a career as a game designer, but to find out how everything works: for example, software developers who were interested in how game designers work. In total, I had six people who consistently attended all classes and did homework, and five or six more went just the same as “free listeners". 2 times a week for two hours we gathered in discord and studied game design.

— At what stage did you stop and do you plan to finish the course?

In fact, everything stopped at a rather important stage for the group: we had to go through the last couple of topics, and then the students had to try to find a job — the final of mentoring was planned exactly like this.

But now everyone is as emotionally exhausted as possible, and job search in general is always quite a stressful process: especially for juniors, because there are a lot of rejections, and the search can take a long time.

In addition, there was another important problem: I was overloaded. At some point I realized that, in fact, a third was added to my two existing works in the form of mentoring: the lectures themselves, checking homework, and so on took a lot of time. Considering that I also recently moved to another country, a lot of resources were also spent on adaptation and various organizational aspects, including temporary ones, and it would be difficult to combine all this with mentoring. Plus, I found out for myself that I still like making games more than communicating with people :) I can spend all day developing a game and get tired in less than a whole day talking to someone.

In general, I really like the concept of mentoring, although I can't answer the question unequivocally whether I want to do it again. It will definitely be necessary to think about the optimal format: it seemed to me that the format of lectures for two hours is quite difficult to combine with the rhythm of life of current working people, so perhaps it makes sense to do something more relevant and adaptive — for example, short videos on YouTube or something like that.

— So in general you loved the idea of mentoring, didn't you?

Rather yes than no. Again, I saw the results and successes of my guys: I don't want to embellish and say that the device of each member of the group is my merit, someone got a job and someone didn't, but there were guys who found a job at the end of the course, and that's cool.

— How important do you think mentoring is in general important in game development? In IT industry it is now very popular.

Mentoring in game development is very necessary (if it were possible to become an evangelist of mentoring, I would promote it!), but so far it is a luxury that many teams simply can't afford: for example, they take junior as the first and only game designer, and then a producer comes to them and says that they does everything wrong and this is not what is needed at all. As a result, the person does not pass the probation period and leaves completely disordered. Roughly speaking, a tree standing alone will grow as you like, and the trees in the forest all grow more or less evenly, because they know how to do it :)

It's the same with game design and mentoring: to avoid this, it is important to have systematic and comprehensive training, when a beginner will be shown in which direction and how to move, and will be able to suggest some points. But so far this is really not the case, so the teams are trying to look mainly for experienced talents.

— What do you think, what kind of person will definitely not be able to build a career in game development, and, conversely, what is a must have for a game designer?

A person should be able and love to get to the bottom of it: for example, you don't just play a game, but then you sit and sort out what you liked and why, what, on the contrary, didn't go and why, how it could be improved, why the mechanics work that way.
When I hire game designers, I always ask what their favorite game is, and I expect that the candidate will not only name it, but also explain why.
Game Dev is like TV shows: you can just watch and forget, or you can go look for articles and analysis, why this or that reference was made there, study the intricacies of storylines and that's it.

And it is also necessary to regularly play games, and not in one, but different, even in the same genre. Otherwise, a situation arises, as if you call yourself a traveler, but at the same time go to the same city in the Moscow region every weekend.

— Speaking of games, what's your favorite game?

Gothic 2. I'm ready to talk for hours about why it's my favorite, but it's not the best game of all time. Sometimes at interviews people like to say that it's not very popular — so it shouldn't be mega popular, because the question is about the favorite game, and not the most famous or the best.

— Finally, let's talk about what is happening with gamedev right now. Please tell me if all the negative changes have affected you and your companies directly?

The project I was working on has ended, it is unclear whether there will be a new one, so now I am looking for a new job.
Everything that is happening has greatly influenced my past work — this is a Ukrainian company, and we found ourselves literally in a situation where the project is on fire, and we don't know if our team lead will get in touch tomorrow. There were situations when he did not appear online for a week, which, of course, is very difficult — you worry about colleagues and are very nervous. The project I was working on has ended, it is unclear whether there will be a new one, so now I am looking for a new job.

And, of course, current events have negatively affected the pet project — we have dollar investments there, we planned to launch the product on Steam, which is now most unprofitable. After Steam was cut off for the Russian Federation, blocking, if desired, can be bypassed (for example, paying with a tenge card, etc.), but most users do not complicate things for themselves like that, so sales fell by about 80%. In addition, due to the unfavorable exchange rate, sales have also become not very profitable.

— About finding a job now. How are things going with this in game development today, maybe you can give some advice to those for whom job search is also relevant now?

It may sound obvious, but, first of all, I would advise you to be prepared that the process will take a long time. For example, before the war, being an experienced professional, I found a job in three days: on Friday I started searching, on Monday I already got an offer. Now the number of vacancies has decreased significantly, plus, game designers, in my opinion, were particularly unlucky, they massively fell under the reduction in the first place, so now there are a lot of candidates, and the competition has increased.

Also be prepared for the fact that if you are trying to get a job in European companies, the selection process can be very long, this is a normal topic: they usually say that passing all the stages can sometimes take a month. If you're on fire and you realize that you can't afford to wait that long, it's better to look towards the CIS studios — as a rule, everything is faster there.

And finally, an important piece of advice: adequately assess how much you are worth as a professional, and be prepared for the fact that you may lose a little in salary when applying for a new job.

Conditionally, it seems to me that if you have grown a lot in wages over the past year, you can throw this year off the accounts, because there is no such amount of money in Russian game development now.

Recently we have also published useful article about possible ways of relocation for IT specialists today and discussed where you can relocate your business.

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