Founded in 1998, Mail.ru is - by most measures - the biggest internet company in Russia, being the name behind the three main Russian social networks, including Facebook-look-a-like social network VKontakte (VK).
The firm has also been in the games business for a decade now, having bought Astrum Online Entertainment in 2009, and today Mai.ru owns 13 games development and publishing firms. The tech and entertainment currently has 60 active games in the wild, too. That's on top of its My.com Western subsidiary, founded in October 2012 and operated out of Dutch capital Amsterdam and California's Mountain View. Oh, and then there's the Mail.ru Game Ventures (MRGV), which was set up at the end of 2017 with a war chest of $100m to invest in games companies.
So that all sounds quite confusing, yes? Well, Mail.ru has decided to bring all of its games brands under one single name; My.Games. We caught up with marketing director Elena Grigoryan to find out more.
What's the thinking behind this rebrand?
In the last decade, we have seen so many changes in our business, so we decided it's time to adjust our positioning to reflect these changes. Today, 63 per cent of our games business comes out outside of Russia. Our goal is to increase value to 80 per cent by 2022. We believe this is the right moment to reconsider and redefine our position in the global market and the way that our audience sees us.
Is it fair to say that MyGames is positioned as a gateway for foreign companies to access the Russian market?
We can be both a gateway for foreign - especially Asian - developers to the Russian audience but also we provide access to a global audience for our developers, for example, our partners in MRGV, mostly mobile studios.
Since the EU Referendum and 2016 presidential election in 2016, there's been a level of caution from the West when it comes to Russia owing to reports of the country interfering in Western democracy. Regardless of whether that is true or not, a lot of people outside of Russia do view the country with a certain level of suspicion. What message do you have to potential partners from the United States and Europe who might be concerned about partnering with a Russian company?
We have to say that we haven't seen any serious hurdles over this time because of the fact we are actually located in Russia. Because we are a respected developer with many years of experience and because we believe that the games business is beyond politics, we don't think that this is a major factor. For our audience, it doesn't really present a hurdle. We would like to say once again that we're a global publisher and developer and - just as an example - ten per cent of our mobile audience is in Russia and 90 per cent is abroad.
What sets you apart from other publishers that are on the market? It's a very competitive landscape.
We are one of the oldest games companies in the world. Even though our games business has only existed for a decade, our core team was formed long before that as the result of mergers and acquisitions on the Russian market. They have been working within the games industry for more than 16 years now. These many years of experience that we have proven that we are a dynamic company which manages to closely follow all of the changes of the games industry; we manage to adapt, we manage to develop and we always watch what our partners need and how to react to these needs. Our business is very versatile. We are a developer with ten studios, we're a publisher, we release our games in key markets and we're a licensor, we provide licensing for other products. We also have our own gaming services and therefore we could say our business is very broad and versatile. That's what makes us different from other companies.
What projects are you looking to work with?
MyGames is going to be an umbrella brand that'll cover all of the games initiatives within our company in all regions. At the moment we have 60 projects operational; these are on PC, console and mobile. They're mostly in-house, developed by our own studios, and we also have licensed projects which we publish. After our rebranding, all of these project will be operating within the new unified, single brand. As of MyGames' launch, all of our new projects will be operating under this new brand. This year, we're planning on launching two PC titles, both of which are licensed. The first project is Conquerer's Blade, a licensed game that'll be published in Europe, in the US and in Russia. Our second project is one of the most anticipated MMOs of the year, Lost Ark, which we'll be publishing in Russia and the CIS. Mobile is also big for us. We've launched three games already this year and we're planning several more by the end of 2019. Some of them are bound to be absolute hits and we are very much gearing up to announce the launch of these projects. Also, we develop our own games services which help players expand their experience with their everyday needs. In Russia, we have a PC gaming platform which is competing - quite successfully - against Steam. 12.5m monthly active users are on this platform. These figures are comparable to what we know that Steam has in Russia. By the end of this year, we're planning on launching this platform in foreign markets as well. Thus we will provide developers from all around the world access to this platform and an audience in Russia.
How much cash do you have for investment? What scale of project are you looking to work with?
We follow the market very closely and are always on the lookout for interesting new players and developers. We don't have any specific benchmarks or limits when it comes to how much money we invest into a single studio. It all completely depends on the studio itself, the product it is offering and the interest we see in what they do. When MRGV was formed, we did announce the sum of $100m that we were willing to invest over this time. At this moment, MRGV includes around 14 developers. One of these has already been consolidated within the structure of Mail.ru - this is a team called Bit.Games, one of the oldest games developers on the Russian market. What's important is that we're not just the simple financial investor for these companies; we have become veritable partners for them. What we do is evaluate the companies, discover and determine the sources of growth for these companies and any weaknesses we find, we provide our own expertise and competencies to cover those up. Some of these developers might need marketing support or analytical tools or legal support. To others, we will provide a whole team of producers which could help with development and marketing. We also hold educational events for our partners where we help them with development and assist them in exchanging expertise. We truly believe it is very important for developers to actually use the experience of other studios and to use the strengths of other teams. More often than not, the studios that we partner with don't have a very broad range of products that they have launched. It's usually two-to-three projects. Gaining access to knowledge and experience of launching over 100 projects can be very helpful. We believe that our strength is not just in providing financial assistance but even more so in providing our knowledge, given our own experience in developing games. We are developers ourselves.
What's the long-term plan for My.Games?
We have a production plan for this year and an understanding that we need to publish two PC and console games per year and at the same time have at least four solid mobile titles per year. In order for this number to realise, we need to provide 20 mobile projects per year. This is why we have such a strict production plan for the coming years. We believe our plans are ambitious and we believe that our main focus is expanding in Western markets. In Russia, our position is already quite strong so we believe that the growth source is expanding internationally. We understand that such large-scale rebranding campaigns such as the one that we have planned is a very complicated feat for a company with such a rich history as we have. We, of course, have the challenging feat of earning the respect of our partners and gamers all over again because we have to return to each and every one of them and explain that we have a new brand and new products and this is how we work now.