Dmytro Kovtun has shared how the work at Pingle Studio is organized, told us how the studio helps developers with porting games to various platforms, and spoke about the future plans of the company.
My name is Dmytro Kovtun. I am a mining engineer by education, but I have always loved games. Before coming to the game dev field, I tried my hand at retail; I started a chain of clothing stores when I was 27. At the peak, the number of outlets reached 140.
The game industry has looked really appealing to me since I was a kid and meeting a like-minded person who loved games as much as I did gave me the push needed to try my hand in game development. We wanted to turn our hobby – for which we had passion – into a full-time job. We established our product company – the Black Wings Foundation.
We started to make our own product but after some time, it became apparent we lacked experience, knowledge, and overall understanding of what it meant to build our own product, and what to do with it. We went bankrupt trying to transform a passion into a sustainable business; this experience became the foundation for me and taught me what it really meant to lead a business.
Armed with quite a bit of experience in game dev, and with our new partner Kostiantyn Shepilov, we established Pingle Game Studio. The whole BWF team and portfolio of orders moved to Pingle as well.
Today, we have over 350 people at Pingle. We have offices in several big cities in Ukraine and a representative office in Los Angeles. We’ve completed over 75 projects since the start of the company, and we have people who have been working with us for 7-9 years. They all grow their skills continuously. These people love interesting non-trivial tasks and projects of varying scales.
Most of our people are experienced developers with 3 to 5 years in game dev behind them. We work with both Unity and Unreal Engine, and we sometimes take up projects with custom solutions. Our people can also move between projects within the company to try their hand at new technologies.
Each project has a manager. We decide on the best course of action depending on a project's complexity, scale, and people’s initiative. We try to make it as easy as possible, bureaucracy-wise. Teams have daily stand-ups.
The game industry is notorious when it comes to winning over IT specialists for your company. And without a strong team, you won't get anywhere. For a full-cycle development of an AAA game for a globally famous franchise, you need 30+ people on the team at the start. This means senior-level developers, artists, and game designers. So at the moment, we’re reaching out not only for new projects but for finding and upskilling specialists. We have an internal system for upskilling, and we also cover 50% of external education for our people.
For me, freedom is an integral part of work processes. One person can’t be a jack of all trades in any meaningful way, but we can build a team where each person’s skills contribute to reaching the best result. It’s possible to try and control every little thing in the company’s life, but when you’re building a scalable business, it’s not an easy task.
Alternatively, you can set the goal and offer your team the freedom of choice in how they’d rather reach it. I prefer the latter option as it is a strong belief of mine that freedom pushes people to evolve professionally and personally. The company can only benefit from this.
We also value team input in choosing our projects. When we started collaborating with big-name companies, our approach to client acquisition changed a lot. When we started, the main issue was to find projects; now, we have the luxury of choosing the most interesting offers. In these situations, it’s important to listen to people who will be working on the project since the best work is done when you’re fired up and burning with enthusiasm.
Pingle Studio's Services
Our focus is on AA and AAA games; these are games with budgets that start at $1 million. Deals for porting these kinds of games can be compared in numbers. Among our clients are Disney, Lucasfilm, Embracer Group, Square Enix, Epic Games, Team17, and Zynga.
Our journey to this market was long and full of expenses. For example, it took us two years of negotiations to make a deal with Embracer Group, a Swedish game holding, and with Japan’s Square Enix. With the US-based Zynga, we circled each other for five years.
Helping Developers with Porting
We work with globally recognized publishers who trust us and for whom we’ve launched numerous games. Usually, the publisher reaches out to us and we discuss a possible partnership with them and with the developer.
The developer and publisher always have a list of requirements for porting. Additionally, different platforms have specific requirements too. The main task for us is to satisfy all certification requirements.
The porting process heavily depends on project specifics and the platforms we’re porting to. When it comes to consoles, each console has its requirements for projects. Mobile platforms are easier to deal with in this context.
Apart from the platform requirements, there are two other important aspects: project optimization for the platform and adapting the game for controllers or a touchscreen (for mobile devices). The team is also a case-by-case situation.
If you want a specific example, let’s see. If we have, say, a small indie game for a PC, build with UE4 or Unity, and we need to port it for Xbox/Xbox Series consoles and for PS4/PS5, we can manage that with a team of up to five people and it will take 2-3 months or so. If we’re talking about a big PC project, its porting to consoles might require 20+ people and considerably more time.
The hardest thing to do when it comes to porting is optimization. The most frequent issue is RAM limitations. When it arises, as a rule, we need to work on picture quality, and it’s always a topic we need to agree upon with the publisher. The initial message is to "keep the picture as high-quality as possible while staying within the 30 FPS limit."
Pingle’s portfolio has the following titles: co-development of Beyond a Steel Sky, X4: Split Vendetta, and Undungeon; porting of Hello Neighbor, Lost Ember, Eldest Souls, and My Time at Portia for consoles.
The general plan now is to grow, both in numbers and geographically. Ukraine is rich in game design artists, and we can hire them fairly quickly, so we’re planning to expand our art department. We think ahead on our workforce development. We want to make Ukraine even more appealing to global game publishers, so now we’re investing in developing professionals. We collaborate with Ukrainian technical universities to create a practically applicable curriculum. Some of our specialists become teachers. It’s not an easy thing to do but we believe the results will be worth it.
As for geographical expansion, we’re in the process of opening more branches in Ukraine and abroad. The US, UK, and Scandinavian countries are exceptionally attractive for finding new game dev partners. These are the countries with a similar approach to games. Japan-aimed games, like anime-style games, pose a greater challenge for us than coming up with a shooter or a racing game.
We have many partners in the US, which is why we’ve opened an office there. This year, we plan to open an office in London, also because we have several partners there and we’d like to be closer to them. A Scandinavian office is more of a long-term plan for now.
We have enough expertise for full-cycle and remastering projects so this is another direction we see as possible for growth. We plan to have more contracts in this niche.