Interview

Agora senior director of sales Mike Lopez on the importance of trends in games

Agora senior director of sales Mike Lopez on the importance of trends in games

The games industry plays host to a colourful cast of diverse individuals, from artists and coders to narrative designers and studio heads.

The skills to pull off these roles, however, are complex and differing, with each position requiring mastery in its field – especially in these complex times we are all living through at the minute.

To highlight some of the brilliant work that goes on behind the scenes as well as how employees around the world are adapting to the life of remote work, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to the individuals who make up the games industry in our Jobs in Games: Remote Working series.

This week we spoke with Agora senior director of sales Mike Lopez.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Mike Lopez: I am the senior director of sales at Agora, a real-time engagement (RTE) platform-as-a-service provider based in Santa Clara, California. I work very closely with a wide-ranging group of industries to integrate our voice, video and live streaming technology into their apps and platforms. When it comes to gaming, I work closely with Bunch, a group video chat app for multiplayer games, that allows end-users to simultaneously play games and “hang out” with their friends virtually.

I think there are a lot of studios who question what a guy in sales is supposed to know about delivering value to a games studio.
Mike Lopez

Right now, one of my primary goals is to connect with gaming studios, share Agora’s values, and demo our services. More so, I help studios and independent game developers innovate and customise their in-app real-time engagement experience through various proof of concepts. I love this aspect of my work because I can get creative and bounce ideas around about how best to incorporate our technology into a game.

How did you first get into games and how did you progress into this role?

I first got into games by being a gamer myself. I was obsessed with Nintendo growing up and was just as addicted to playing video games as the next guy. Even today I find myself winding down with a mobile game and paying close attention to platform design and UX.

In my role at Agora, I always knew we were going to want to work closely with games studios to round out the social aspects of their industry. Whether you play games with your friends in-person or enjoy online gaming or applications like Twitch, you can understand that the social component of games goes well beyond hanging out on the couch with friends.

Since our engagement technology directly correlates with gaming, we are constantly in conversation with various studios and independent developers to see how we can help them bring their visions to life.

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

Truth be told, I didn’t study anything games-related before taking on my role at Agora. What I did do was take my personal adoration for the industry and couple it with my ability to understand customer needs. I really studied games as an end-user and this cross-pollinated into my being able to communicate with other gamers and studio heads.

Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?

I think there are a lot of studios who question what a guy in sales is supposed to know about delivering value to a games studio. I think the misconception is that their needs are overly complicated and I don’t have the understanding to be a partner. In all actuality, I have to keep my ear close to the ground and understand what trends are defining the games industry in order to know how to service it.

As an expert in social engagement, I know that the next great frontier of innovation in the space will be the meshing of social and games applications. We have already seen evidence of this with various next-generation applications hitting the market like Bunch, but also in instances like Travis Scott’s recent concert in Fortnite. A guy like me can help studios drive loyalty, differentiate from competitors and deliver on engagement.

What advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

My biggest piece of advice is simple: be a gamer. Whether you are going to work on the developer side of things or the sales and business development side like me, you need to understand the end-user experience and what makes gamers tick.

How has the shift from office to remote working impacted your role, if at all?

Other than the obvious stress related to the uncertainty that comes with the pandemic, the move to remote working hasn’t impacted my role too much. Since Agora specialises in voice, video and live streaming technology, we were uniquely positioned to withstand social distancing measures.

In many ways, the pandemic helped normalise online engagement and acted as a catalyst for many games studios to adopt new technologies like ours and create richer online gaming environments.

That being said, I do miss going to lunch and meeting with customers and prospects. I also miss shaking hands. At the end of the day, technology has really been able to bridge crucial gaps in collaboration and keep remote workers connected in meaningful ways. For that, I am grateful.

At the end of the day, technology has really been able to bridge crucial gaps in collaboration and keep remote workers connected in meaningful ways.
Mike Lopez

What does your typical day look like when working remotely?

I lead a worldwide and dispersed team, making meaningful collaboration especially key in driving our success. I am in virtual meetings nearly the entire day making sure my colleagues and customers feel supported. While many folks are feeling fatigued by a constant barrage of video calls, I consider myself lucky to be working for a company that specialises in voice, video and live streaming technology.

Internally, we use our very own video conferencing and live streaming technology, as well as some of our partners like virtual event platform Run The World or immersive technology platform Virbela, to hold company-wide stand-ups, small team meetings, or large events like our recent, fully virtual conference RTE2020.

To break up the monotony, Agora leadership makes sure to prioritise fun events for our team. For example, we have monthly virtual happy hours for team building and we will be hosting a virtual Halloween celebration happy hour in Virbela before the end of the month. We also did a virtual Powerpoint Karaoke last month in preparation for RTE2020.

What do you think are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of remote working?

The biggest advantage of working remotely is my ability to appreciate the small things. I appreciate the value of quality time with my family more and have much more flexibility in my day without a lengthy commute. I’m able to enjoy a coffee sitting down or go for a pre-work walk more often than ever.

Also, we use our own technology to collaborate with one another internally more than ever. This has helped us better understand our customer's needs and how to improve Agora’s platform. This has definitely helped me better serve our customers in the mobile gaming space from a UX perspective.

In terms of disadvantages, I miss being able to poke my head into my co-worker’s doorway or give my team mate’s a high-five. Trust and believe I will be shelling out high-fives all in due time.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before moving to remote working?

Definitely. I wish I would have known the importance of having a work-life balance before diving into remote work full-time. When I first started on this schedule, I was essentially always plugged in. I would be head down in my work so much that I would forget to eat! Today, I have found a much healthier groove. I force myself to shut off my laptop at certain hours and work to set boundaries.

Do you have any advice for others who are struggling to adjust to remote work?

You must establish an at-home routine that nurtures your mind, body and soul. If you don’t force yourself to tend to the latter, you will grow fatigued and resentful.

For this reason, I’m a firm believer that you need to “fill up your own cup” and partake in activities that make you happy. If you don’t and you are always working, you will ultimately compromise your productivity and deprive yourself of your own identity.

After the pandemic ends and if you were given the choice, would you prefer to continue working remotely or go back to working in an office?

I am 100 per cent going to take on a hybrid schedule. I love the idea of doing two to three days in the office and the others at home. Now that I know I am just as productive, if not more, at home, I am confident in the advantages of splitting time between my home and office.

I’m the kind of guy who will always want to see his colleagues in person every now and again, but I can appreciate the value of doing in-depth work in the comfort of my own home.


Features Editor

Matthew Forde is the features editor for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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