Balazs Vendler, founder of Games for Business tells us about commercial gaming.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Balazs Vendler: The past year has been challenging in many ways: the sudden change has affected all areas of our lives. Our living spaces have narrowed, our opportunities to meet our loved ones in person have diminished, and we have less and less opportunity to recharge and relax – while we would need it more than ever, due to increased stress. Consecutive waves of the virus test our patience. Nonetheless, this period has been a great opportunity to reevaluate our things, turning a little inward to reevaluate the way we function. I believe that this period is a journey from which, enriched by a new experience, we will return to the usual wheel of life more happily.
Luckily, my family has managed to avoid the disease so far, everyone is healthy and waiting for the world to reopen and for life to restart.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Games for Business.
Balazs Vendler: I have a biology teacher degree, but I started my first business already while at university. My company was a digital marketing agency that delivered creative solutions for 10 years and started the first gamification-based projects in 2006.
By 2012, the agency overcame the economic crisis, which was an extremely stressful period. I was completely burned out of my job as the company manager and owner, and I was thinking about what kind of professional work I would like to do in which I could find my motivation again. I was looking at the projects of the marketing agency and realized that it was the gamification-based solutions that really interested me. All I knew was that I really enjoyed working on those projects, and my motivation was to do something that I love. I had the belief that those are the types of projects with which we could enter the international market, and I could significantly scale up the quality and volume of my business.
The success of our game-based projects proved that we were offering something quite unique to the market. We just had to find out how to take this abroad and how to scale up the business. Around the same time, gamification has become a defining market trend, which was consistent with our approach, and strengthened my belief that we could use this wave to help us achieve our professional and business goals.
By that time I had already gathered over 13 years of business management and leadership experience and managed to accumulate private capital, which I could dedicate to this new business endeavor. This allowed me to start realizing my idea on my own, with my own resources and experience, without having to convince others. These, I believe, are 2 crucial success criteria of this project.
How does Games for Business innovate?
Balazs Vendler: Our start was unique in the way that our marketing agency background provided 6 years of experience with game-based developments. One project came after the other, and this allowed us to continuously and gradually develop a platform. After the second year, we tried to do these projects based on the existing code, to avoid having to start from scratch all the time. Back then, we were not thinking of a product, but rather a software base that makes individual project executions easier.
Our software was developed rather organically for 6 years based on client needs and user experiences, and not planned on a drawing board. The innovative idea was to take the existing software used for marketing projects and change the application area to support HR goals. This allowed us to provide a standard product for internal uses, rather than fully unique marketing solutions. We shifted from external to internal corporate communications, but this was not a technological innovation, but a novel business model, as our tool was extremely innovative in the HR tech market.
After this decision to shift our target market, we quickly signed 3 big clients, which validated the business model behind a technologically proven tool. There was huge interest in the HR tech market due not only to the hype around gamification but also to the labor market situation, which generated the need for tools that put employee experience into focus.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Balazs Vendler: The pandemic has brought significant changes not only to our private lives but also to our business. The Games for Business learning platform is a digital training solution, so market interest has grown significantly with the spread of Covid-19. It was one of the most active periods in our company history so far: the number of our customer inquiries, both through our partners and directly, increased. Nevertheless, a significant number of those interested were looking for solutions that can be applied immediately, quickly, and easily. However, the implementation time of our gaming platform is longer than the current capabilities of customers. The market preferred simple solutions to beautiful and fun solutions. As a result, with the outbreak of the epidemic, the number of our projects showed a declining trend.
Recognizing this, we immediately initiated a product development direction that helped us further automate our software. Overall, it can be said that the unexpected situation significantly accelerated the execution of our previously planned developments.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Balazs Vendler: Maintaining financial stability is an essential condition for operation. In previous years, the company had accumulated significant profits, with this reserve it was able to retain employees, and there was no need to downsize or reduce salaries. Profit is important, but people have always been the most important for the leaders of our company: we have had working relationships with many employees for more than 10 years, so it was obvious to us that we would do everything for them.
In all of this, our new owners were maximally supportive partners. They have supported the management’s proposals and provided all the means to execute them.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Balazs Vendler: Working remotely in a home office, the physical separation of team members posed serious challenges to everyone. Team members experienced the situation differently depending on their personalities. We didn’t need to introduce particular new tools, all the necessary tools were already used in the company.
It was a bigger challenge to keep the team members together and keep in touch. Regular online team-building activities and games were initiated by the colleagues. Their success had a very positive effect on the overall mood. We try to pay more attention to each other, give more feedback and be more patient.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Balazs Vendler: This is a really good question. Since the spread of Covid, requests for gamified systems specifically have decreased, so we are increasingly turning towards the digital training market, supporting training, and creating ready-made content. We are currently redefining our market, transforming our product, and expanding our services. New types of customers have appeared in our company. We need to focus on one thing now: we need to sense the direction of change and try to move proactively, to develop accordingly. We need to be fast and agile.
Your final thoughts?
Balazs Vendler: I have been an entrepreneur for 25 years. I have experienced several crises during these 25 years. So far, I have always chosen to move forward: I wanted to develop, take risks, dream big. Pressure has always resulted in good ideas, higher efficiency. I trust it won’t be any different now. Let’s take care of ourselves, let’s learn from this period!
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