Kevuru Games' Oleksandr Maniliuk, Anna Vorona, Ivan Sheremet, and Lena Petrova discussed how the games industry evolved in 10 years, spoke about the studio’s main strengths, and shared the details behind the recruitment process.
Oleksandr Maniliuk, Anna Vorona, Ivan Sheremet & Lena Petrova: Kevuru Games started as a small studio of a few people developing their own mobile games. As the popularity of gaming products increased, we began to acquire clients who needed help creating 2D and 3D game art. Later, clients began to request full-cycle game development from scratch or in partnership. And so the history of the company began. After 5 years, Kevuru Games has completely immersed itself in the client business and expanded its expertise to meet the demands of various art styles and game genres.
Our first major client was the American corporation EA, which believed in the young team and gave us the opportunity to work on art for their well-known HOG projects. The collaboration proved so successful that it continues to this day. Over the 10+ years of our work, we have also had the honor of working with the largest players in the gaming market: creating 3D characters for Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge by Lucasfilm, drawing concept art for Fortnite by Epic Games, etc.
Now our company employs more than 400 specialists in the following areas:
- full-cycle game development;
- art creation (2D, AAA);
- animation (2D, 3D);
The ever-changing and evolving gaming market requires constant close attention to keeping track of new trends and putting them into practice – otherwise, any game studio risks being considered outdated and inefficient. Therefore, we always keep abreast of the latest gaming trends and expand our expertise accordingly in order to be able to offer our customers the most relevant services.
At the moment, these are blockchain games, NFTs, and metaverses – we have already formed a strong backbone of blockchain-savvy specialists who are well versed in the most relevant features of crypto games. The famous NFT games we are currently working on are MechaChain and Guniez Gang. Our experts also had a hand in game design and 3D art for the world's first AAA FPS play-to-earn zombie survival game Undead Blocks. Its beta version is already available for download.
The VR sphere also does not give up its positions, both in the gaming and in the educational niche. So, one of our latest projects was the Birdly VR simulator, for which the 3D team created models of birds, insects, and plants. The simulator was the highlight of a number of Swiss exhibitions dedicated to the issue of insect extinction and the accompanying environmental disaster. The ultra-realistic models created according to the references of real animals and plants allowed visitors to the exhibition to completely immerse themselves in the environment of the meadow and feel like a butterfly in a world full of dangers and obstacles.
Gaming Industry Over the Past 10 Years
Oleksandr Maniliuk, CTO: The gaming industry has undergone many different changes over the past 10 years. New trends in gaming technology and design have come and gone. But the main change concerns game engines.
In 2012 there were no public alternatives for the production of AAA games: each giant had its own super engine, which was supported by very big engineering teams.
Since then, the situation with engines has changed a lot. Unity and Unreal Engine have become very popular in game development. I'd say it's the game development standard now. And, importantly, all companies use these engines, from AAA giants to indie developers. This is because the engines are very flexible and offer tools for creating both simple casual games and large-scale AAA titles with ultra-realistic graphics. This is the main difference between the gaming market 10 years ago and today's gaming market.
Anna Vorona, Lead PM: The question is quite complex and multi-component, so I turned to our colleagues from the 3D character department (Anatoly Didok) and the game design department (Oleksandr Pankov) as they have more experience and can analyze changes over the past 10-15 years.
Now large companies are taking a conservative approach. They hold on to their successful projects and release a string of sequels while avoiding the risks that come with doing something new. This is due to high competition in the market and the desire to minimize all possible risks. The budgets and staffing of AAA games remain huge, and the AA segment is underfunded.
10 years ago it was the other way around. There were quite a few AAA projects, and almost all of them were hits. At the same time, indie companies from the AA segment also made a lot of good games, there were a lot of all sorts of unusual ones. That is, we can say with confidence that at the moment the reuse of existing ideas takes precedence over the search for something new.
If we are talking about the creative component, then the breakthrough is the use of PBR pipelines for 3D characters.
The arsenal of artists has been enriched with tools that allow them to make absolutely realistic bodies and faces (transfer of the smallest elements of the face, skin quality, pores, etc.), as well as clothes. With the help of motion capture technologies, work on animation has reached a completely different level.
If earlier, in order to become a good Character Artist, it was necessary to study anatomy in the first place, now it is absolutely important to understand the pattern of clothes in order to make their curves look as realistic as possible.
Also, an important point now is working with hair and using tools to work with them.
It is impossible to say for sure whether the work has become easier or more difficult, it has changed.
If we are talking about mobile games, then here the situation has reached a new level – mobile games have begun to cover an ever-larger audience and have ceased to be a kind of niche segment.
Special attention can be paid to hyper-casual games and their life cycle, but this is a rather extensive and lengthy topic, which probably needs a separate series of articles.
Blockchain Games, NFTs, and Metaverse Projects
Oleksandr Maniliuk: We have several NFT and blockchain games currently in development. They are all really interesting and ambitious. For example, Undead Blocks is an FPS play-to-earn game where players get in-game tokens for killing zombies. They can be spent on weapon upgrades. For this game, we implemented 3D modeling and game design. Its beta version is already available to players.
There is also Gooniez Gang, this game is only at the beginning of development. This is something like a vehicular combat game where special genetically modified Gooniez ducks race and use weapons to defeat rivals. The idea received a very warm welcome among the players, and the first Gooniez NFTs were sold out within hours of the auction start.
I can also tell you more about another promising game under development – MechaChain. This is a very interesting project from a technical point of view. It's basically a video game about space exploration and robot battles. The robots are called Mechas: each Mecha is a collection of parts that are NFT collectibles and can be purchased online with an in-game cryptocurrency called Mechanium.
After being fully assembled, the robot gets the opportunity to participate in PvP battles alone or in teams. Players can earn Mechanium by winning battles and bidding, as well as upgrade their robot by purchasing new parts. They can also rent out their robots to other players and thus earn Mechanium.
The technology behind this game is interesting because it covers many areas, such as blockchain, multi-user synchronization, cloud hosting, and procedural generation of parts. And we all love robots.
Anna Vorona: Last year's NFT boom was one of the biggest stories in crypto. In January 2022, OpenSea reached a $13.3 billion valuation due to its role as the leading NFT market. Visa bought CryptoPunk. New NFT marketplaces from Coinbase, FTX, and Crypto.com emerged.
At first, images, videos, and music were the most frequently tokenized objects. Now the spectrum has expanded – NFT can be:
- Tweets (Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sold the NFT token of his first tweet for $2.9 million);
- Domain names;
- Tickets for any event;
- The right to physical assets (real estate, cars, art, etc.);
- Stamps, coins, and other collections;
- Licenses for books, musical works, and films.
Global brands use NFT to promote their services, increase sales of their product, and even draw attention to socially important topics.
In Ukraine, the NFT trend is also gradually gaining momentum. The first Ukrainian NFT simulation game is in the process of development – it will offer the player to grow and select fictional fantastic plants. The first Ukrainian NFT marketplace ArtBay sells paintings by Ukrainian artists and donates the funds raised to charity. And the National Art Museum of Ukraine was the first in the country to create the NFT collection based on works of art, the originals of which can be seen in the museum itself.
After the hype of phenomenal buying and reselling pictures and tweets subsided, the NFT field stabilized and more fundamental projects came to the fore. First of all, these are blockchain games with more interesting mechanics that go beyond the previously popular primitivism. To replace it, the creators are trying to combine the mechanics that are already working well and are understandable to a wide audience and add a play-to-earn component.
Our team is currently working on the implementation of such an idea: it will be a story about exciting battles between robots that will fight for resources and territories. The game will be called MechaChain and is expected to release in the second quarter of 2024, but already more than 150,000 people are on the waiting list and follow updates regarding the development of the game on Twitter. A feature of this project is a high-quality and rich visual, which we plan to implement with the art team.
Another example of an NFT game we've been working on is Undead Blocks. For it, our artists created 3D models of weapons, and the game designer thought through the basic mechanics. It will be the world's first AAA FPS play-to-earn game with a gameplay-first approach and a well-thought-out token earning system that eliminates the possibility of abuse of the pay-to-win approach.
The gameplay is simple – players will have to defend themselves against hordes of zombies using special NFT weapons. For each zombie, they will earn a ZBUX in-game reward that can be farmed to upgrade weapons or purchase useful items. The release of the game is planned for the third quarter of 2022 and more than 50,000 people are looking forward to it.
It is important to understand that the growth of NFTs will not only take place in the gaming field. Research by information technology marketplace Gartner suggests that by 2024, 50% of public companies will use some form of NFT to reinforce their brand presence or digital ecosystem. NFT will become a massive marketing tool to grow the value of companies.
Introduction of New Technologies for Working on Atypical Projects
Oleksandr Maniliuk: To introduce new technologies, you need to be brave enough. Programmers must be able to go out on a limb to try and see how it works. This is how you integrate new technologies into your company. For example, I’ve mentioned MechaChain. We added a senior .net developer to the project to do backend work. But occasionally he also performed blockchain-related work. Because it was interesting for him. And we are lucky that we hire such motivated people.
Effective Development of Innovative Expertise in the Company
Oleksandr Maniliuk: You really don't need to manually develop new competencies in your company. You have to find good engineers first and then just give them a goal. That's all. They will do the rest. Because every good engineer has a soft spot for self-development and finding the most effective solutions to new challenges. In addition, our team has recently been replenished with a Learning and Development Manager who will be responsible for training employees.
Difference Between the Process of Working on Standard Projects and Innovative Ones
Oleksandr Maniliuk: There is a difference between the process of working on standard projects and innovative ones (such as NFT, metaverses, etc.). So-called innovative projects are extremely limited in time and technical constraints. Sometimes NFTs are sold before the game is actually released. This is the modern reality, a new way to finance game projects. I fully believe that this is the future of the game development industry.
Anna Vorona: Definitely, everything that has no analogs yet has absolutely explainable difficulties:
- Long investigations;
- More risks in getting the expected result.
In such projects, all processes need to be built from scratch.
The Structure of the Company
Anna Vorona: The current structure of the company allows for efficient management and implementation of fairly large projects. Each department has its own head, and if the department is large enough, then there are some more team leaders who are directly responsible for the quality and art direction of a particular project. This structure allows us to be aware of what is happening on various projects, and what lessons we can learn from the mistakes made, and also allows the head to concentrate on building a high-quality and cohesive team, as well as mentoring leads, if necessary.
We have an open-door policy in the company, that is, any employee can write directly to the CEO with his or her request, if any, and if his or her lead, head, or people partner could not solve the problem. This transparency allows us to find bottlenecks and any weak points much faster and eliminate them, without bureaucratic delays. We also conduct NPS surveys on a regular basis to understand feedback from our employees. There they can not only assess certain processes in the company but also write their suggestions and comments.
Several times a week we synchronize with leads, heads of departments, management, and the sales team, which allows us to very quickly resolve all the accumulated issues between departments.
We also understand that this structure is predetermined by the size of the company and the number of employees. And when there are many more of us, these methods will not be applicable, so we are already looking for ways to optimize processes for interaction between departments.
If we talk about teams on projects, then Agile methodologies and all related tools help us to work effectively. In any case, we strive for this.
Establishing a Process that Allows to Give a Guarantee of Quality
Oleksandr Maniliuk: At every stage, we ensure high quality of projects. For example, at the stage of communication with clients, we make sure to fix their key business goals, define requirements, and provide them with an approximate project estimate based on the composition of the selected team and time resources.
As far as operations are concerned, we have well-defined policies and procedures to ensure stability in the implementation of projects of any complexity. We also guarantee the protection of all confidential materials provided by the client, using a set of measures for the security of data, network, facilities, and hardware. This makes cooperation with us reliable and stable.
At the production stage, we provide clients with full tracking of the project implementation using a traceability matrix to understand how the requirements correspond to the implemented functions. The client has constant communication with a dedicated manager who is always ready to provide information on the latest project updates and full reports on the project progress, status, and defects. It is important that before the start of the project, clients know the approximate date of its release and have complete data on the resources spent.
As for project quality control, we have a separate department for this – QA. This is their direct responsibility. And yes, we love to divide processes by areas of responsibility – this, I think, is the root of quality. Everyone is doing their own thing, ensuring the highest level of quality in their area of responsibility.
All our development processes always go through the QA stage – we clearly calculate deadlines so that there is enough time for QA in any case. Having a well-defined test strategy and planning ensures that the quality of the product being developed is properly managed. Our QA team applies all kinds of manual and automated testing in order to polish the product from all sides and ensure its flawless operation. And, of course, we develop detailed quality assurance documentation, which contains all the necessary records and reports.
Anna Vorona: As I already said, the structure of the company allows us to produce art direction in the person of the lead of the project/direction. Also, the head of the department has the opportunity to connect and control the progress of work on art/animation/modeling.
The Recruitment Process
Ivan Sheremet, Head of Recruitment: In a month, the recruiting department deals with hundreds of responses to open vacancies. The team tries to process all letters within a day. If a person applies for a position that is not currently relevant, recruiters record the appeal and promise to contact the candidate if a corresponding vacancy appears.
In general, the recruitment process looks like this:
- Posting a vacancy on the website and external resources while simultaneously searching for suitable candidates in the database;
- Getting to know a recruiter;
- Test tasks for certain positions. If it is not needed, then there is an automatic transition to the next stage;
- Interview with the head of the department and a representative of the HR department;
- The result is an offer or a detailed explanation of the refusal.
The online interview is conducted using Google Meet. The first interview with a recruiter is introductory – the candidate learns about the company, vacancy, and upcoming responsibilities, talks about work experience, etc.
The second interview is a more detailed and in-depth conversation with the recruiter and a conversation with the head of the department, which may include more narrowly focused specific questions on the candidate's specialization. After it, the company indicates the date by which the result of the interview will be ready. In case of a positive outcome, the newly minted employee moves on to the next stage.
Skills a Specialist Must Have to Work in Kevuru Games
Oleksandr Maniliuk: As far as hard skills are concerned, a person should have good engineering skills: programming, debugging, and analytical thinking. And if we talk about soft skills, then it is important for a specialist to be independent and proactive. You need to be able not only to complete the tasks set according to classical methods, but also to offer your own solutions, take the initiative, participate in brainstorms, and not be afraid to apply new approaches.
Assembling a Team of Rare Specialists
Oleksandr Maniliuk: Assembling a team of rare specialists is a fairly serious challenge that our recruiting department regularly works on. To find a rare specialist, you need to make a lot of effort and, most importantly, be able to motivate him or her to work with us. But our recruiting department is hardworking. There is no doubt here. For example, positions such as UE VFX artists and UE technical artists are quite difficult to hunt. But we are working on it.
Anna Vorona: Our beloved Agile will help us here, which says that in order to assemble such a team, the best-available-best-fit approach will do instead of first-available-first-fit.
Here we look at the experience of employees, their successful projects, their successful projects in our company, in conjunction with whom they perform the best, whether the skill set suits the project we need, etc. The process is quite painstaking and not always perfect, but our recruiting team works tirelessly on it.
Making Beginners Feel Welcomed
Ivan Sheremet: In remote mode, onboarding requires especially close attention and focus on all the little things, from providing access to work accounts and mail to an instant answer to any question that a person has. Thanks to the formed database, answers to the most common questions no longer cause problems, and the well-established procedure for the technical introduction of an employee into the company's ecosystem makes them quick and easy to appear in all work chats.
The arrival of new people is always accompanied by the placement of an image in the work chat with their name, job title, and interests that they consider necessary to tell about themselves. Of course, they also get to know their team, for which a separate call is organized, where even in remote work mode, new employees see the faces of their colleagues and communicate with each of them personally.
During the trial period, HR holds regular meetings with the newcomer to keep abreast and correct various issues that arise. Calls are scheduled after the first 2 weeks, a month, two months, or more, if required.
We also have a fairly common mentoring system. Each team has mentors and senior specialists.
There are also middle experts who are quite willing to take on the onboarding of new people. We closely monitor the coaching process in order to notice a potential team leader in time. This is a pretty cool scheme, we already have it working and we plan to continue.
Lena Petrova, Lead HR People Partner: In addition to the above procedure for introducing newcomers to the team and controlling their level of comfort during the first months of work, the corporate culture of Kevuru Games promotes a special scheme of interaction between the lead and the team. Leads motivate their employees, personally communicate with each of them, and always meet them halfway when questions or difficulties arise. For studio leads, the mood of each team member is important, and they are ready to deal with each specific case.
Joint events are a separate component of the corporate culture. It is difficult to imagine a more opportune moment to meet, chat, and just feel like part of a large team in reality. Teams often get together and go out for picnics, movies, or just outings with their closest colleagues.
Making Friends in a Multinational Team
Anna Vorona: Probably, if we are talking about a super-multinational team, where the mentality and life experience of everyone is very different, then the biggest bond for everyone will be only working on an interesting idea. We know what we are talking about because we have a very multinational team, people from all over the world work in the company.
Whatever one may say, no one has canceled the language barrier and local memes that are understandable only to a narrow circle of people. We try to deal with the language barrier as much as possible by introducing English courses for employees. People are divided into groups depending on their level of language proficiency and improve mostly verbal skills, which are most often the main trouble spot for most students.
Therefore, I believe that the best result can be achieved, nevertheless, by combining the needs that are close to each other as much as possible.
But, if it already happens that you are as different as possible, then you have to work with what you have: be as interested as possible in the culture and life of your colleagues, communicate with them respectfully, and try to avoid inappropriate jokes, because you never know what serious consequences it can lead to.
Also, no one has canceled informal meetings. It is sometimes useful to conduct them, to communicate on non-working topics, and to get to know each other better. Now it is becoming a very important and necessary tool of socialization.
In addition to regular calls within the team or with the HR department, we have the so-called Friday call. This is our tradition and we are proud of it. In addition to discussing official moments, we like to just chat on such calls and listen to ideas and suggestions. In addition, a few months ago we launched an anonymous feedback form, where everyone can leave a question or wish.
Every other week on Friday calls, we try to answer these anonymous questions. So that people who are embarrassed to ask something directly know that there is a safe place to come with their feedback.
Education and Training
Lena Petrova: Work takes up most of the life of every person, and it is important to understand that in addition to interesting tasks and a comfortable environment, each employee needs support and motivation. The company has special programs, the purpose of which is maximum care for employees. One of them is the training and development program. Everyone in the company has a personal training budget that can be used to pay for professional courses, seminars, and conferences.
Constantly improving your skills and following the latest trends is very important for game industry workers. For example, some of our teams organize interactive courses in which each artist with some unusual or exclusive skill gives lectures to the whole team. This happens several times a month. The artists talk about some unique tricks and pipelines that they successfully practice, for example, the features of sculpting organic structures, texturing, etc.
Another interesting innovation in our company will be the development of the educational component with the help of a separate specialist – the L&D Manager (Learning & Development). This expert will create a special professional school within the company for leads and core staff. This often works as a good motivation tool so that a person can gain interesting knowledge not only in the external market but also in the domestic one.
At Kevuru Games, no one is left alone with burnout: an employee can be offered a transfer to another project that is more interesting to them, or, in case of exclusivity and indispensability, they can create all the necessary conditions for comfortable work. It can be a special schedule, special conditions, or even a kind of psychological help from the PM. When interacting with a customer in an inconvenient time zone, teams use the individual duty format for calls.
If people no longer really have the strength or creative enthusiasm, then they can use the sabbatical option. This is an individual career break that allows you to completely turn off the processes for a certain time, relax, reboot, and then return to your workplace fresh and full of energy.
Oleksandr Maniliuk: Managing burnout is a rather complex and important question. If employees are tired, you need to give them a rest. If they are very tired or burned out, you need to send them on vacation or a sabbatical. This practice is quite common in our team, and after the sabbatical, employees become much more cheerful and productive.
Employees who experience burnout will not be able to work effectively, it makes no sense to force them to do anything in order to meet the deadline. It will not be effective work and neither the team nor the client will benefit from it. Our company understands that cases of burnout are possible. We've had that happen.
It may make sense to leave the company you work for. Try something new. And then come back again. We are also open to such scenarios.
I’ve personally burned out many times. Listening to good music helps me in such cases.
Anna Vorona: I am not a fan of methods when at work absolutely all conceivable and inconceivable resources are squeezed out of employees, which leads to exhaustion and constant stress bags under the eyes.
I consider the need to give the client the most realistic deadlines, and not the most compressed ones, as a preventive measure for this. Very often, if everything is transparently communicated to the client, deadlines can be shifted, and the scope can be cut.
But if there is a need to pick up a fairly high pace of work – this is also quite a real case – it is necessary to keep the team in a healthy tone, give clear, understandable tasks and goals, and receive a clearly completed task on time. And if not on time, then we understand how much the implementation is delayed.
If people are tired and burnt out, then they really need a rest, and in this case, you can organize a backup, add resources, etc.
A very valuable quality in the work of the PM – try to structure the workflow so that people have a desire to come to work and that they look forward to the daily meeting. Not so that it passes quickly and no one touches them more during the day, but because you have a pleasant and interesting atmosphere that stimulates the desire to create.
Therefore, I repeat that informal, sometimes spontaneous meetings, and internal chats that give the feeling to colleagues that the company appreciates, respects, and protects them are priceless.
Also a few months ago we introduced the service of a psychotherapist. Colleagues are very pleased with this initiative and book their places for a month in advance. Such sessions provide an opportunity for people to discuss work and professional aspects of productivity and efficiency, as well as purely personal issues.
Communication Process Between the Company and the Client
Anna Vorona: It is optimal when managers have a communication plan and stick to it. There is a RACI matrix that allows you to define roles and responsibilities. When all this is already there, you can follow simple recommendations: communicate as often as possible and convey the maximum amount of information (but without going too far – not every day and not for three hours of meetings), and give out information in portions, pre-write agendas, and attach links to all the docks that you need to familiarize yourself with BEFORE calling.
It is advisable to make calls no longer than 45-60 minutes, so as not to tire either the client or the team. You also need to separate topics for discussion (art, tech component, game design, for example). It is better to take breaks between calls for at least 15-30 minutes so that the client has the opportunity to exhale and switch.
It is important not to bring into communication people for whom it causes stress (I'm talking more about co-workers).
Be sure to have 1:1 meetings with the client and the game producer, who will be able to determine the vector of operation, generate ideas, and collect feedback on the work of the team. If such a role is not provided for in the project, ideally, the account manager should conduct surveys (they can be presented in various forms and formats, this is not a topic for discussion at the moment) and monitor client satisfaction, expand areas of responsibility/pool of tasks, if we are talking about outsourcing.
And one of the most important concepts for me personally is to maintain a pleasant and friendly atmosphere at meetings. It seems like a very clear and simple point, but so many people underestimate the power of personal and pleasant communication at work.
Tricks on Being on the Edge and Offering Clients the Latest Approaches
Lena Petrova: To stay on the edge, you need to constantly monitor the latest trends in the gaming industry and learn new technologies and approaches. For example, last year we received a lot of requests to create blockchain games or art for them. Therefore, first of all, we ensured the availability of blockchain specialists in our team. In turn, they passed on knowledge to other team members and helped us expand our range of services. The company can also organize training for employees on new technology if the team leader deems it appropriate.