App2Top talked with Roman Gordy, co—founder of the Arbonum service, about the results of relocation in the gaming industry and the most popular geo among Russian developers.
About the speaker: Roman Gordy is the co—founder of the Arbonum platform, which takes over the registration of specialists abroad, and is also responsible for transferring funds to them, regardless of the country of residence.
Alexander Semenov, App2Top: Roma, hello! The plan is this: first, we'll talk a little bit about the platform, then we'll go into the discussion of relocation.
Roman Gordy, Arbonum: Hello. Good.
Let's start with an important question for those who do not understand why we are talking about relocation with you. Tell me, please, what does the platform do?
Roman: Arbonum instantly transfers money to remote performers in any country in the world.
A manager can pay for the work of a team of designers, artists, and developers from different countries with one click.
I like to talk about our service as a magic button, because you can immediately get the rights to the code or design, documents for an accountant and not think about what the contractor's account is, where he moved, what currency, bank or tax status. We are dealing with all this.
It sounds very simple.
Roman: Under a very simple interface, a very complex product. There are many payment services inside for different countries.
Plus, we also do consulting.
When a person has a question about applying for a visa in a new place or choosing a tax status, our team will consult and, if necessary, localize his invoices to meet the requirements of a specific country.
Important: the business does not need to change anything in working with the team, no matter where the company moves. Our infrastructure makes it easy to hire valuable specialists in any country as if you were in the same city.
Do I understand correctly that until recently this type of service was much less common?
Roman: Yes and no.
The first company to launch a startup that worked with a distributed team was Google. About 20 years ago.
At the same time, during the two years of the pandemic, such services really flourished and multiplied: many companies had to work with employees remotely and "they saw that it was good."
However, recently the services have entered the feature race and have greatly complicated the work. It seems it's time to release the book "13 poses for long-term work with contractor payment services."
And if we talk about Russia and 2022? How much has the demand for registration services of foreign specialists increased in our country?
Roman: In 2022, thousands of employees of companies in Russia, with whom you were sitting in the same office, suddenly became foreign specialists.
According to our estimates, by the beginning of 2023, more than half of the game studios had already been relocated, often in full force.
If the customer or publisher was originally from Canada, Japan or the USA, then many people just received a letter saying that the business needs to move to continue working.
According to what schemes do they usually work with remote gaming specialists?
Roman: There are two main ways left:
- execution of a direct contract;
- work through the platform, for example, through Arbonum.
A direct contract is simple, but there are risks. For the contractor, receiving more than 80% of income from one company can be equated to employment and then you need to pay additional insurance and social contributions. For a business, a direct contract carries additional work: to monitor the reporting of performers, change details and constantly check that tomorrow the company will be able to pay a freelancer or an employee abroad.
Can we say that the main customers of such services today, if we are talking about Russian-speaking staff, are Russian-based companies that are officially located in Cyprus?
Roman: There is an active but relatively small community in Cyprus, if we talk about game development. Many more have moved to Armenia.
A common case is that the management relocated to one country, and the team dispersed to other countries or stayed in different cities of Russia or Belarus. And it turns out a diverse range of issues that need to be addressed
Another frequent case is that the customer is in the USA, and the team is spread across all CIS countries. Here we are actually selling our expertise in the region, which American services do not have.
By the way, which countries would you recommend to companies for registration today? Perhaps there are some unexpected locations.
Novel: As Lorenz said, "We may have difficulty determining the temperature of coffee in a minute, but it is much easier for us to predict its value in an hour."
Conditionally, Singapore, Canada, Kyrgyzstan or the Azores can be recommended today, but tomorrow everything may change. In addition, companies make choices based on which market they work with, what profit is planned, whether there are important licenses, patents and developments.
If you look at the cost of relocating the team, then Uzbekistan has no equal. The question is whether people will be able to accept the local flavor. Often, relocated employees eventually leave because everything annoys their wife or husband in a new place.
I know a story about how one startup chose Latvia instead of the UK for registration, because the founder's wife needed a Russian-speaking environment.
If we talk about companies without Russian roots, then which companies from which countries are usually interested in Russian-speaking specialists?
Roman: Now there is a stir in Southeast Asia, where Russian speakers are preferred to local senior positions.
It seems to me that there is demand everywhere, but the problem is in the culture of communication and the level of English.
Do you have an estimate of what percentage of gaming professionals have left the country since 2022?
Novel: I would talk about 60% of seniors and 15% of middle/junior specialists.
Where, according to your data, did the majority of Russian-speaking game developers turn out to be from those who were relocated?
Roman: Armenia, Serbia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan.
You probably heard the statement of the Ministry of Finance that, they say, the majority of those who left have already returned back to Russia. How fair is this assessment?
Roman: I can only talk about our observations. About a third returned. And, it seems to me, another third decides what to do next.
I came across the opinion that, against the background of the current situation, the demand for Russian-speaking game footage has fallen. Is this really the case?
Roman: Among American and Canadian companies, the demand for personnel remaining in the Russian Federation has fallen. But since the summer of 2023, this demand has recovered, largely due to the opportunity to work with people through platforms.
I also heard the opinion that, in general, against the background of the crisis, salary requests from those developers who remained in Russia fell seriously. What do you think about it?
Roman: It seems to me that this is the idea that companies are trying to instill in job seekers today. However, people did not eat less. Rather, unpaid expectations from employers have decreased: the offer will no longer be rejected due to the lack of VMI or a "positive corporate culture", whatever that means.
And what happens to the salary level of those specialists who have moved?
Roman: Salaries have hardly changed in 2023. At best, companies pay employees for flights and accommodation for the first couple of months, but do not raise salaries.
We have seen the demand for health insurance: companies come to us to help us issue a universal policy for their teams — real nomads — which can be used in different countries.
On the other hand, I have not heard that salaries were reduced on the contrary when relocating to a "cheap" country.
Is there a difference in the average level of pay between Russian and foreign specialists who relocated from Russia (if we compare a specialist who left for country N with a specialist who originally worked in country N)? How significant is it?
Roman: If a strong specialist moves, for example, to the UK, then he competes with the locals for the same salary. There is no discrimination in this.
According to your observations, is the exodus of specialists from the country continuing?
Roman: It seems that the "sea figure froze." Those who could and did manage to relocate.
Based on your experience, where is the best place for Russian-speaking specialists to move today, where are the least problems with registration and the easiest way to gain a foothold?
Novel: Spain and South Korea.
By the way, when I was preparing for an interview, I came across a lecture by Andrei Savchenko, who is engaged in sales at Arbonum. He, surprisingly, recommended Mongolia. They say it's a great option right now. What do you think?
Novel: Mongolia has excellent prospects. And, by the way, several thousand specialists from Chita, Irkutsk and Novosibirsk moved to Mongolia last year.
How active is the migration of relocated employees, according to your data? Roughly speaking, is it possible to say that after moving, most settle in the region where they originally left, or, as a rule, there is a constant rotation?
Roman: The mass relocation of 2022 took place in a panic. A few months later, in a new place, people realized the problems of a new country for them and moved on. In general, moving is always a choice of what problems you are ready to get along with.
The most common scenario is first moving to the CIS, and then to the EU or the USA. Separately, there are CG studios, which immediately moved en masse to Serbia. Most of them are entrenched there.
If we are not talking about Russian-speaking personnel, then which countries' labor market in terms of price/quality ratio makes sense to pay attention to gaming companies today?
Roman: There is nothing like Kyrgyzstan, which is famous for data science and ML specialists, here. We work with companies that have been carefully assembling teams for a long time and value specialists very much.
It seems to me that such a piece of specialists is a feature of the gaming industry. Managers try to maintain a comfortable working environment. And if the core team is Russian-speaking, then it is usually expanded by Russian-speaking specialists too.
There are, of course, teams of 15 people, where everyone is from different countries. Of course, the main language there is English. Therefore, I would look at an open mindset and spoken English. These qualities can be found in any country.
Last year was accompanied by constant layoffs. This one also started with them. But has this affected the Russian-speaking personnel market? And, if so, how much?
Roman: There is much less in the gaming segment than in the software segment. A separate story in the film industry, in CG. There really was an exodus of people, both animators and entire productions. Directors, producers, cameramen — these are the ones who really left en masse and had to start all over again. And here the geography is the widest, from France to New Zealand. These are strong specialists and I really hope that everything will work out well for them in new projects. And no, AI is not yet able to replace them.
The last question about trends: what trends do you generally observe in the labor market today, if we are talking about the Russian-speaking gaming industry?
Roman: The labor market is a derivative of the economic situation. Russia has its own hermetic market of stores and ecosystems. Its own game economy. And I do not know any good examples in history when isolation from the rest of the world was something good. Let's recall the Edo era in Japan.
It is believed that specialists who focus on the closed market develop in a parallel reality and lag behind the rest of the world. All hope is for the mentality of Russian-speaking people who will always look around, let new technologies pass through them and find extraordinary solutions.