Big Data

How Elena Grigorian plans to guide European game publisher My.Games



Elena Grigorian recently took over as CEO of My.Games, the former Russian game company that moved to Amsterdam after a buyout in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

Grigorian, previously chief strategy officer, took over from Vladimir Nikolsky, has stepped down from his CEO role at My.Games in September. The company has been through a lot of change.

Before the war in Ukraine started, My.Games had a lot of people working for it in Russia. In September 2022, Leta Capital managing director Alex Chachava acquired My.Games from VK for $642 million and proceeded to move it out of Russia. The remaining part of the company that stayed in Russia, including the Warface property, became a separate company dubbed Astrum Entertainment.

The new My.Games has most of the core of the old company, with more than 1,500 employees. Nikolsky credited Grigorian with having exceptional management skills, deep experience in international business, strong strategic vision, creativity, and inspirational leadership.

Event

GamesBeat Next 2023

Join the GamesBeat community in San Francisco this October 23-24. You’ll hear from the brightest minds within the gaming industry on latest developments and their take on the future of gaming.


Learn More

Grigorian was part of My.Games since its exception, serving first as chief mraketing officer. She has over two decades of experience in gaming, including eight years in a top games position at Disney. She was part of the team that launched 70 games and saw a 14-fold increase in effective marketing investments and four-fold growth in overall business. The company has opened new offices in UAE, Serbia, Georgia and Armenia, and it unveiled titles like War Robots: Frontiers, Little Big Robots, and Hawked.

Key existing games include Rush Royale, War Robots, Hustle Castle, Left to Survive, and Grand Hotel Mania. Rush Royale achieved over 63 million installs and generated $230 million in revenue, while War Robots boasts a remarkable milestone of over 250 million registered players and lifetime gross
revenue exceeding $750 million since its launch.

I spoke with Grigorian about her plans. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Elena Grigorian is the new CEO of My.Games.

[GamesBeat: How is it going?]

Elena Grigorian: For the moment my schedule is pretty hectic. I believe that in two or three months it will be a little easier for me. But right now I need to talk with everybody, all the key members of my new team, to align our strategies together and so on.

GamesBeat: How many years have you been at the company now?

Grigorian: It’s about nine years, very close to that.

GamesBeat: How do you see this opportunity as far as what My.Games can do more of?

Grigorian: Before My.Games, I was part of the Disney Interactive family. When I had the opportunity to become the CMO of My.Games, I was very surprised at that moment. Marketing wasn’t my key competence at the time, my key expertise. For all these years, though, I haven’t felt one moment of regret about the decision that I made nine years ago. I think about the main reasons why. Nine years ago I believed in My.Games and decided to change my path. It’s a very professional team. I wanted to be a part of it.

It was a huge challenge for me, because this wasn’t my key competence, but at the same time, for game companies marketing is a crucial condition for the significant growth of the game business itself. I think you’ve heard the statement that game operations are a direct derivative from productive marketing costs. The role of marketing in the growth of a game company is incredibly high. That’s why I took the role. It wasn’t just a digital marketing role. It was a strategic role to grow our business. That’s why, nine years ago, I believed in My.Games, and that’s my belief still today. Our team has done an excellent job for all these years. We’ve succeeded in growing our business about 10 times within the last six or seven years, from 2015 to 2022.

It’s not only a marketing achievement, of course. It’s a combination of our product lineup, our development of a successful team, and the marketing itself. We’ve been able to grow our business internationally, entering different regions and territories. That’s why I think we did an excellent job for all these years. Nine years ago I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I would be successful in this role, but I believed in the company and believed in my efforts.

Some of My.Games' titles.Some of My.Games' titles.
Some of My.Games’ titles.

GamesBeat: It feels like marketing has changed a lot, especially in mobile games over time. It’s gotten to be much more scientific, much more technological. It’s more elevated in importance for game companies now. It’s a key differentiator if you do it right.

Grigorian: You’re absolutely right. That’s why that CMO role was so important for the company. It was essentially a new position for the company at the time. We had only a small team for marketing with a centralized structure, centralized expertise. The company decided to involve me and new professionals in this area to help My.Games to grow that structure and the total business of the company.

GamesBeat: How did you adapt to the difficult transition involved in pulling the company out of Russia? Leaving so much behind. People who couldn’t move, things like that.

Grigorian: During this year, and through all the restructuring in 2022, My.Games has ceased all operations in Russia. The company now has no legal entity or any ties with Russia. But it’s not been a key challenge for us. We were already starting to think about the “work from anywhere” setup some years before that, since 2020 and the pandemic time. At the moment more than 90% of our company’s employees have been working outside of the office in countries around the world.

We’re investing in a lot of efforts to help our teams work together, preparing working spaces in the teams’ key regions. 2022 and 2023 saw a lot of work for us in that direction. We opened a lot of hubs all around the world to help our people meet each other and work together in one building. We have offices in Amsterdam, in Kyiv, in Cyprus. This year we opened additional hubs in Abu Dhabi, in Serbia, Georgia, and other countries. It’s been a tough task for us, but it’s important for us to provide our employees with high-quality support and high-quality working spaces in the territories where they live. We believe we’ve succeeded.

GamesBeat: I talked to Victor Kislyi at Wargaming about doing the same thing. I think he noted that they left about a third of their revenues and a third of their employees behind in their transition.

Grigorian: At the moment, our investment in Russia wasn’t so high. We’re at a different stage as a company. For us it was a much smaller presence, and so it wasn’t so significant when it came to our financial matters.

Getting by a trap in Hawked.

GamesBeat: How many people are at the company now?

Grigorian: We have about 1,500 people full time.

GamesBeat: Speaking of marketing changes, how do you view mobile marketing after Apple’s big change, focusing on privacy over targeted ads?

Grigorian: It’s a very challenging situation for the industry. We’re facing increasing competition for users’ time spent from other entertainment products. The growth rate of time spent in games is lower than the growth rate of time spent in other entertainment products like video and music. But at the same time, game companies need to rebuild our marketing and production strategy due to issues around privacy. It’s time for all of us in the game industry to learn how to work with a mass, non-targeted audience. We need to think about how to reach this audience, how to build our products and how to monetize them. We need to think about how to mix our gaming experience with other forms of entertainment products.

My.Games has some important marketing conditions in this case. We have more than 20 products in our portfolio at the moment. It’s a huge portfolio. We have more than 10 games in development at different stages. Also, we have our own investment arm. They work with dozens of studios where we’re a marketing partner. It’s clear for us that the current difficulties are not situational in nature. They’re part of the new tectonic shifts in the game industry. Dealing with these changes is taxing, no doubt, but also very inspiring for me. I believe that if the game industry has the ambition to return to its earlier growth rate, we need to update our approaches to development and marketing.

We shouldn’t think about competition between different game companies now. Our challenge is now much wider. Only by uniting our efforts will we be able to influence the situation. I’d appeal to other game companies out there to join forces and find a way to overcome the current situation. We need to be ready to share the results of our experiments, both successful and unsuccessful. I personally believe that it’s important for us to unite our efforts in this moment, not necessarily to compete within the game industry.

GamesBeat: Have you disclosed anything lately about where your current user base is at My.Games, numbers like monthly active users?

Grigorian: At the moment I don’t have any figures at hand, but as far as I can remember our current monthly active users are about 20 million. My colleagues at the PR department can update me. But nonetheless, the growth rate of this audience is not so high at the moment. We’re waiting for the launch of our new products. We have a lot of launch plans for this year and the beginning of next year as well. We’re expecting to launch our new PC and console products. It’s a crucial launch for us, and we’re hoping for success from those games.

Alex Chachava bought My.Games last fall. Alex Chachava bought My.Games last fall.
Alex Chachava bought My.Games in 2022. He is turning over the CEO job to Elena Grigorian.

GamesBeat: Does the PC market make more sense now for particular reasons? Maybe because there’s so much turmoil on the mobile marketing side?

Grigorian: Yes, you’re right. But I think the question is much wider. The diversification of our business is one of the key reasons why we’re so successful over the past several years. It’s the reason why we succeeded in growing our business every year, despite a hit-driven market and less predictable marketing. Diversification is very important for us. It’s a key part of my work. 

Diversification happens in different areas. One of those is definitely platform diversification. We have mobile, PC, and console. It’s important for us to keep the balance from different studios and platforms at the same level it is at now. It’s important for us to have all three platforms in our portfolio, because as you say, sometimes it will be difficult in the mobile business, but at the same time it will be slightly easier in PC and console. At the same time, console diversification, for example, is also a territory diversification into key markets like the U.S. and Europe. About 60% of our operations are concentrated there.

Now we’re looking into new markets as well as growth points for our business, primarily the markets in China, South Korea, and Japan. We feel that these markets have a lot of potential for us. At the moment these regions are only 7% of our revenue. It’s pretty small. In China, for example, there are a lot of conditions we need to meet before launching products there in terms of government regulation and so on, but currently the way is opened for one of our key products, War Robots. We obtained approval for War Robots and now we’re getting ready for a full-scale launch in China. I’m very excited about this opportunity. It’s a very good fit between the game and the territory.

We’re trying to think global, but act local. At My.Games we want to go beyond a one size fits all approach. We have to acknowledge the diversity of gaming communities and player preferences around the world. We want to build a strong global presence, and we believe that by acknowledging and respecting the differences between territories, we can develop games with great experiences that truly resonate with local audiences. That’s why it’s so important for us to work with the Chinese audiences and local communities to launch our products there.

Another example of the local approach for us is Rush Royale. Rush Royale is a pretty successful game for us in terms of revenue and growth rate. It’s our latest hit at the moment. South Korea is now a key territory for us in terms of the revenue or Rush Royale. The growth potential there is good, and we’re working hard to adapt our marketing strategy to South Korea in particular. We have a lot of local companies there that are planning to participate in a significant marketing campaign in February, a lot of local celebrities and so on. We’ll see the results. But it’s one more example of how we’re trying to think global, but do local things, work with local communities and local partners in a local approach.

Part of the My.Games team.Part of the My.Games team.
Part of the My.Games team.

GamesBeat: The current environment seems a bit hard to figure out on a large scale. We’ve had a lot of layoffs in the game industry, but there are a lot of interesting opportunities around things like AI. What’s your view of the industry in light of those trends?

Grigorian: At My.Games we’re not planning any layoffs at the moment. We’ve successfully gone through this year and the previous year without any changes in this area. We definitely have some products that have been more successful for us and some that have flattened out, but we’re trying to move our people and our teams from one product to another. At the moment we have people who are very talented and very experienced. We want to make the best use of them by moving them to other products. That’s why we don’t plan to have any layoffs. We’re trying to move our teams inside the company, to work together with our teams and build an environment where everyone has the opportunity to do what they love to do, developing great games and moving My.Games forward. It’s crucial that we create that kind of environment for the whole team.

Talking about AI, we’ve definitely done experiments in this area in different divisions like creative production and marketing campaigns. But at the moment I don’t feel that for us, it will be a crucial aspect for growing the company significantly or moving it further. For us, it’s just a small percentage of efficiency in our P&L at the moment. That’s why we’re doing these experiments, but we don’t treat them as a key point of growth for us.

GamesBeat: How do you see the next couple of years in the game industry? Do you have any further observations about the future?

Grigorian: I hope that we will succeed in changing the trend around losing time spent. That’s crucial for all of us. We have a number of experiments going on in different types of marketing, for example branded marketing. It’s a different approach compared to the performance marketing campaigns that we used to use. I know that all game companies are doing the same. We’re trying to find opportunities to increase our business using different marketing formats. We have a lot of chances to return to normal rates of growth, and we’re hoping for that. I’m doing everything in my power to lead My.Games to this success. We’ll see what happens. Some approaches will be more successful and some approaches maybe not, but nevertheless, we’ll keep going.

My.Games' Conqueror's Blade.My.Games' Conqueror's Blade.
My.Games’ Conqueror’s Blade.

GamesBeat: I know you used to have a lot of corporate investments. Are you still doing that? What are the priorities like?

Grigorian: Some years ago I was in charge of the investment arm as well as marketing. We’ve made some steps back, definitely. In the last couple of years the investment market has changed. We launched our investment part about five years ago, at a time when VCs and private equity considered the game industry too risky. There wasn’t a lot of significant investment in games. Our experience helped us to suggest the best options in the market, not only for investing our money, but also our specialist expertise, our analytics, so we could help our partners grow and find growth points in their products.

During the pandemic, though, we saw many VC funds investing in game companies. The market became oversaturated. We saw a lot of games launch, but the quality of those games wasn’t so high. It wasn’t very smart money. These kinds of investors couldn’t help studios understand how to form a team, how to develop the best strategies, and so on. In the last few years, with the possibility of recession, changes in the IDFA policy, and other factors in launching games, it has made investing even more difficult.

There are a lot of unfinished games in the market that VCs had started to invest in. At the moment, there’s less investment money to develop games all the way to launch and publishing. There’s a lot of product that’s not finished yet, not good enough. It’s very difficult to find good games to invest in. It’s difficult to launch new products. The expectations in terms of quality are very high. Investors are picking products very carefully in an oversaturated market.

For My.Games Venture Capital, our last investment was a studio called Bring It On, a fast-growing skill-based game developer. It’s a relatively new niche for us, an interesting area for us to keep an eye on, because it’s growing faster than traditional games. It offers new competitive game experiences across different game genres. There are some very successful companies in this niche, but it’s still not as crowded as traditional gaming. At the same time, developers need to think about the right payment methods for deposits and withdrawals, issues that are sometimes new to them. It’s not a typical challenge for mobile game developers. That’s why this market is interesting to us, so we’re trying to invest in these types of studios, just to keep an eye on this area of the business. It’s not a typical investment for us, but it’s very interesting.

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.