Yuriy Krasilnikov is the Vice President of Business Development at Belka Games, a game developer and publisher operating since 2010 and is the maker of hit mobile games: Clockmaker and Funky Bay released on multiple platforms, with more projects in the works. Belka Games takes a data-driven and team-oriented approach, which has enabled the studio to grow 16x in the last 2.5 years.
What initially attracted you to work in gaming?
I sort of fell into it. The games industry wasn’t something I was specifically looking for earlier in my career. However, after learning what it was all about, I really liked it. The people are fantastic and I get to work on cool games that impact the daily routine and lives of millions of people around the world. I joined Belka Games during a time of growth as a Business Development Director and was promoted to Vice President of Business Development to lead M&A and business development.
My background includes project management at Amayasoft where I was promoted to Business Development Manager, and six months later to Director. I also led business development at Moscow-based startup, Trilobite Soft.
Could you tell us the genesis story behind Belka Games?
People often ask me what Belka means – it means squirrel. Squirrels are cute, move fast, and are extremely resilient. We like to think that those qualities translate to our brand and culture at Belka Games.
Our studio was started a decade ago by two friends, Dzmitry Khusainau and Yury Mazanik. Since then, Alex Bogdanov joined as CEO, the company has grown from 30 to 300 employees, and we thrive in a fun, fast-paced work culture.
What role did Belka’s R&D team play in the creation of Solitaire Cruise?
The main goal of our R&D department was to develop a minimum viable product (MVP), which we then used to test hypotheses. When it reaches target benchmarks, we pass the project on to the development team for an in-depth analysis.
The team then takes a data-driven approach where each stage is backed by accumulated metrics. To maximize the efficiency of the team, we work at a high pace and make MVP updates quite frequently. That's exactly where the 80-20 rule applies. This approach shouldn't affect the quality of an app, but it's utterly important to provide the player with a prototype that is close to the final product even if it has limited content.
Solitaire Cruise was developed in that very framework. We released eight versions of the game within six months to ensure that our game would be competitive and could be scaled further.
What was the inspiration behind Solitaire Cruise?
With AppLovin’s strategic investment, we decided to open our own R&D department and do more prototypes, including Solitaire Cruise. We experimented a lot with different gameplay ideas and prototypes were born from the creativity of our team.
When the world was at home, we saw more people playing mobile games from all over the world. We believe there are good classic solitaire mobile games, but in our solitaire, our game designers combine puzzle mechanics with the classic card game to give it a fresh twist and create unique levels for players.
Solitaire Cruise has an emphasis on competitive and liveops components. Could you tell us more about this?
We learned from our other games, Clockmaker and FunkyBay, that players really liked tournaments and events, so we wanted to create a similar interactive experience in our new game. Solitaire Cruise combines many different game mechanics such as card challenges, bonuses to make the game more engaging.
There are a lot of card and solitaire games. What stood out about this style of solitaire compared to some of the more classic interpretations?
Solitaire is a classic card game that is familiar to everyone, so we wanted the new mechanics of the game to be both unique and easy for players to pick up and learn. By adding a deeper progression system and rewarding users for achieving a rotating set of milestones, we think we’ll be able to build an even larger community! Different settings also play a huge role in player engagement, making the gameplay more exciting for our fans.
In Solitaire Cruise we think we’ve found a middle ground between creating a new solitaire experience for the player, while retaining the fascination of Solitaire’s core gameplay.
What do you feel has most contributed to Belka Games success?
Different aspects such as operational improvements, our company culture, and using a data-driven approach to update games and prepare for updates,played a part in the studio's growth. Additionally, AppLovin made a strategic investment in September 2019, which has helped us start our new R&D department and build Solitaire Cruise.
We spend a long time on quality assurance (QA) to ensure games aren't released with technical problems, and keep an eye on current game trends so our games are always in the loop. We also diversify our user acquisition channels, use high-quality creatives to acquire users and focus on ROI-based UA campaigns. Long-term relationships with partners are also important to ensure we are featured in the app stores and have a better understanding of the game.
What advice do you have for other studios who are looking to start their own R&D department?
Don't get discouraged too quickly. Sometimes it takes 5-10 iterations to find the right path. And, most importantly, you must have a team of like-minded people who are ambitious, have a competitive mindset and can iterate quickly.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Belka Games?
Our team and people in the company have been so important to our growth. They are amazing, and because of their efforts, we have the opportunity to share new milestones from our business and our games. It is also important to choose reliable partners like AppLovin who helped fuel our growth with their expertise in mobile gaming.
If you are nuts about games like us, we are growing our team! You can check out our openings here.