Speaker Spotlight: Olya Caliujnaia on the evolution of game development

Meet the industry pioneers and thought leaders who are speaking at Pocket Gamer Connects London on January 23rd and 24th 2023.

Speaker Spotlight: Olya Caliujnaia on the evolution of game development

The leading games industry conference is almost here. Pocket Gamer Connects London is now just two weeks away and what a lineup of speakers we’ve got in store for you.

On January 23rd and 24th Pocket Gamer Connects hits home soil, returning to London for two days of insight sharing, and contact making interspersed with our world famous thought-provoking panels, seminars, keynotes and more.

There's limitless networking opportunities and our expert sessions are your chance to get up close and meet some of the biggest names in mobile games in what will be our biggest and best PG Connects London yet!

Before the event kicks off, the team has been highlighting some of the incredible pioneers and thought leaders who will be taking to the stage to find out more about what they plan to talk about - and their thoughts on the global games market in 2023 and beyond.

Olya Caliujnaia is the CEO and co-founder of Before Sanlo, Olya managed product and growth at Playfish, EA, Getty Images, SigFig, Wells Fargo and worked with early-stage companies as an EIR at XYZ Venture Capital.

Be sure to join us at PG Connects London on January 23rd to 24th 2023 to find out more! What can we expect to hear from you at PGC London?

Olya Caliujnaia: We'll be talking about the state and evolution of sources of financing for independent developers. Consumer demand for entertainment remains - even though monetisation has softened in gaming, it's there and will bounce back. More talent is becoming available, so we'll see more studios formed. Building games is not going away, but it's a harsher economic environment to raise money to start and scale the game.

VC funding has slowed down, banks have become more conservative, publishers have become more active and alternative ways of financing that existed for other industries at scale (such as e-commerce and Software as a Service) that allow speedy injection of capital will become more available (for working capital and/or for growth). It's ever more important to watch OpEx, to spend wisely and deploy the right funding for growth.

What's the most common mistake you see being made in the games sector?

Not starting testing early (far before the game is released) and continuing consistently throughout the life of the game. There is a ton of data as a result of consumer demand for gaming, which allows plenty of opportunities to test early - everything from character design to core game loops. Once the game is released, it's important to iterate on the in-game economy and design as well as ways to experiment to continuously improve new player acquisition.

First-time user experience - tutorial and onboarding, as part of it - is another important aspect overlooked, but it's foundational to make sure the player stays.

If you could give other games companies one piece of advice, what would it be?

Focus on the players you want to play the game you are building and build the product for them. From there, the rest of the pieces will flow - what platform they are on, where you can find those players to bring into the game, what kind of genre and game mechanics to implement, character design, etc. If there are no players who want to play the game, it doesn't matter how fun the game may seem.

What are the next big opportunities for the games sector?

There is more pressure for games to be great - in other words, games that players want to keep playing. Part of that is due to the fact that user acquisition has changed in the past year. It's not as reliable a mechanism as it used to be in bringing cohorts of players consistently that could ensure longevity of the game. The products have to be better - period. AI presents many opportunities for game development - allowing smaller studios to create more realistic, complex and dynamic game worlds - in a more cost-efficient manner than ever before. So while there is a higher pressure to deliver superb products, the tooling to allow for that to be delivered exists like never before.

What's the most important KPI for you - and why?

Retention.  day one (D1) through to day 90 (D90) are indicators of different aspects, but are equally important. For example, D1 is the quality of the first-time user experience (FTUX) and the ability to capture the interest and attention of players right away. Whereas D90 is the ability to consistently deliver an engaging and fun experience for players to keep them coming back.

Strong retention is an indicator of a good and fun game that people want to play. If that piece is in place, the rest - monetisation and even, to a certain extent, acquisition - fall in place more naturally.

What do you see as the next big disruptor in games may be?

The ways in which games are developed and how they are distributed are both changing radically and rapidly. Development is being disrupted by what generative AI can allow for - from NPCs to world-building. Hence the execution power of smaller gaming studios has grown. Distribution has been changing as traditional UA is fading away, there need to be other avenues to get noticed in a busier marketplace with a higher emphasis on measuring virality (the so-called k-factor).

What is the single biggest challenge facing the games sector in 2023?

Distribution. While consumer demand has been growing steadily, there are still very few distribution platforms (like Apple's App Store and Google Play) where that distribution power is concentrated. Yet, there are many content creators that are competing for ever-more limited "shelf space".

What's your favourite ever mobile game?

Machinarium. Rich world, intricate character game design, strong narrative and fine-tuned content that's truly engaging and re-engaging.

What game from another company do you wish you had worked on?

Moving Out. It's a ridiculously funny game - based on something that'd not normally be fun in the real life. I love the social and collaborative aspects of the game - I'd be fun to work on the game design and social features.

Are there any trends from PC/Console you can see having an impact on the mobile games world?

Streaming. However, for that to work, the mobile games would need to have richer gameplay and content that's exciting for streamers to play and for the viewers to watch. As part of that, the games need to be replayable, there have to be elements of skill, exciting narrative with meaningful choices, and elements of chance.

What's the most overhyped games trend from the last 12 months?

Web3 has great potential and some use cases that are applicable to the games (such as allowing players to maintain ownership of assets they invest their money and/or team), but both tech and UX are yet to be iterated on to truly hit the current gamer demographic and unlock new segments of players. The hype has cooled down for multiple reasons, but for a while, it generated a lot of hype and division in the industry of gaming.

What role do NFTs have in gaming?

The concept of ownership is not alien in gaming, and it's only natural that if you invest something (time and/or money) into something, you'd want to have some continuity in that ownership. It's been IP holders that have ultimately owned all the in-game assets, and NFT as a concept has the potential to change that and move that ownership into the hands of the players.

What do you enjoy most about working in the games sector?

People. People that this industry attracts are truly unique - creative, well-rounded and passionate about their work. I can't think of any other industry I worked in where you consistently come across those three traits.

What's the best piece of advice you can give to others working in the games industry?

Keep an eye on the north star, but strike the right balance between urgency and patience as you move towards that north star. The journey is unknown - but know when to strike the iron while it's hot and when to be patient.

What first attracted you to the games industry?

I joined the games industry as a project manager. It was super-appealing and fun to be able to build and manage an economy of its own - with its own population dynamics, demand-supply equation, currency controls, etc.

Can people get in touch and contact you at PGC London?

Yes, anyone.


Find out more about Pocket Gamer Connects London and get your tickets right here! regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.