The Armenian office of Sperasoft, an internationally renowned game development company, marked its presence a year and a half ago. Currently, the office boasts a team of developers, designers, engineers, artists, and various specialists collaborating with counterparts worldwide on iconic franchises like Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, and Rainbow 6.
Denis Lopantsev, Senior Director with Sperasoft and GM with Sperasoft Armenia, engaged in a discussion with NEWS.am Tech, shedding light on the nuances of operating in Armenia, the encountered challenges, and the strategies implemented for resolution.
As Sperasoft experiences dynamic growth, determining strategic locations for new studios became imperative. Armenia emerged as a viable option, influenced by three pivotal factors.
“In Armenia, the process of opening a new organization is facilitated by straightforward laws. Additionally, the anticipation of support programs for the high-tech industry by the Armenian government played a role. Recognizing the country's emphasis on solid mathematical foundations in education was also crucial, especially for game development, where low-level programming languages are actively used,” articulated Denis Lopantsev.
An additional factor contributing to the decision to establish an office in Armenia was the country's rich creative potential. With an abundance of creative minds, the management anticipated ease in recruiting 2D and 3D artists, animators, and other specialists essential for games with a significant artistic component.
While Sperasoft acknowledged Armenia's potential in the gaming industry, the local labor market was not entirely prepared for the sector's rapid growth. The shortage of readily available talent was evident, as fewer individuals chose to specialize in game design due to limited opportunities in the existing job market. Many aspiring professionals leaned towards specializations with higher job market demands, such as Java development.
Understanding this scenario, Sperasoft recognized the pivotal role businesses play in shaping the labor market. Consequently, the company committed to investing in educational initiatives, aiming to cultivate talent organically.
To bridge the gap, Sperasoft initiated collaborations with numerous universities in Yerevan. The company designed educational programs, internships, and training sessions for students, equipping them with the skills necessary for a career in game development. Furthermore, Sperasoft supplied classrooms in partner universities with essential equipment to enhance the learning experience.
“We are also prepared to train university instructors, enabling them to impart this knowledge to students. Scaling the learning process is only feasible if universities acquire the requisite expertise and, through their instructors, provide students with knowledge vital to our industry,” emphasized Denis Lopantsev.
State support can play a pivotal role in enhancing the effectiveness of educational programs, thereby addressing personnel shortages in the country. Denis Lopantsev highlighted the potential impact of state cooperation in this regard, emphasizing the need for highly qualified specialists in teaching roles.
“Only highly qualified experts should engage in teaching. And we all understand that such experts demand competitive salaries, which are currently paid by the company itself. If the state could co-finance educational projects by subsidizing a portion of the salaries for employees involved as teachers, it would significantly expand our capabilities and contribute to greater success,” stated Denis Lopantsev.
While Armenia does have state programs co-financing educational initiatives, Lopantsev noted their limitations, rendering them less applicable to the field of game development. Current requirements, such as the educational background of teachers or possession of an academic degree, may not align with the unconventional paths often taken in video game development: a highly qualified expert does not have to be a graduate of a well-known university, he or she can be a self-taught person who has reached great heights. So the call is for more flexible programs that allow the appointment of experts, regardless of formal qualifications, to teach and coordinate educational programs, with partial reimbursement of costs by the state.
Additional support programs for the high-tech sector are currently under discussion with the Armenian government, facilitated by organizations like UATE and EIF. The impact of the dram strengthening against the dollar, affecting companies earning income in dollars, remains relevant. Lopantsev stressed the importance of sustained support to build and develop a thriving industry.
Tax cashback programs are also under consideration by the government, and those could offer potential support to technology companies. If implemented, these programs could provide additional funds for salary increases, equipment procurement, and educational initiatives.
Lopantsev expressed confidence in Armenia's potential to elevate its economic complexity through new industries, particularly in high technology. Emphasizing the importance of innovation and high-tech sectors, he encouraged the government to prioritize this area, unlocking substantial future benefits.