Olesya Dyachyshyn, co-founder at Thundermark Games, has over 16 years of experience in the IT industry. Her career path began in education, then she transitioned to IT consulting, and today, she’s building an independent game studio where she is responsible for human resources and company operations. For ITID Lviv, Olesya talks about navigating the rough waters of the game industry, embracing sweeping changes in turbulent times, and finding balance both at work and in personal life.
Starting in the game industry
I have been working in the IT industry for 16 years. I have a degree in Economics, and after graduating from university, I worked as a financial consultant in several companies and at the same time taught Economics and Finances at university.
I started my first IT consulting business in 2006 together with my life partner and three university colleagues. We built websites, e-commerce, mobile applications, and other custom software for customers worldwide.
Then we formed a game development unit that created mobile games and entertainment applications as work for hire.
In a few years, we have accumulated considerable experience in game development and did few successful releases. In 2012, we started developing our own full-scale commercial game project.
After 18 months of development, the team released its first turn-based strategy multiplayer game Epic Arena. It was first published on mobile platforms, and later a PC version of the game got released on Steam. Back then, it was one of the very few multiplayer games that supported cross-platform play – meaning players on mobile devices could play in real-time against players on PC.
My colleagues at the company enthusiastically supported this idea. The composer and vocalist of the local band “Pikardiyska Terciya” Volodymyr Yakyments wrote the music for the game, and my friends helped with the recording of the little mouse’s voiceover in a professional recording studio. That was my first experience as a game producer, and my 4-year-old son was the first game tester.
We released Mouse Alphabet in 2012 and continue to support the project until today. This game was conceived as a social project and it has been distributed on all platforms for free. For me personally, this project is valuable because it has a large number of grateful little users who can learn to read in their native Ukrainian language with its help.
New start vs. gradual changes
In early 2020, I began to reform the previous business, where I was a co-founder and general manager. The idea was to build a horizontal management system that engages leading professionals to work on business development and scaling.
With the beginning of the pandemic, it became clear that soft and gradual restructuring would not work under the new circumstances. The world around us was changing rapidly, so it was crucial to react fast. When you need to do radical changes in a short time, it is better to build everything from scratch than to gradually change what has been formed over the years: from building organizational structure to establishing a new corporate culture.
So, I started by talking about new business to people I’ve been working with for many years and who shared the same values and were not afraid of new challenges. I wanted to understand what they strive to be, how they think, what their goals, plans, and dreams are. During such conversations, it appeared that we all felt the inner surge to do something meaningful that we will be proud to share with our children and the world. We were ready to change our thinking and depart from what we were used to before.
The new studio core team was formed of seasoned game industry professionals from such companies as Shadow Masters, Gameloft, Playgendary, and others. When we started Thundermark in late 2020, we had the main ingredient in the recipe of a successful business – a team of professionals who had a vision and shared the same values.
On studio’s mission and projects
First of all, the studio creates several own IPs, which are at different stages of development – from concept design and pre-production to vertical slice. A vertical slice is a portion of a game that is expected to look of final quality and play like the final game but has about 5-10% of the content of the final product. It is like asking to see a piece of cake before agreeing to pay for the whole.
In addition, we work on several projects with our partners. Together we define a general vision of the project. Then the studio has full creative freedom throughout the whole development cycle – from concept to release. Thus, we combine our expertise in game development with the expertise of our partners in promotion, marketing, research, or other domains.
Another area that we have actively been developing is serious or applied games. Serious games are designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment such as education, health care, scientific research, defense, etc. We’ve recently developed our first project in this field that is intended to diagnose sports injuries at an early stage. Currently, it goes through “field” tests on the basis of two universities in the United States, where we have already seen the first positive results.
But most of all, in the studio we love competitive games. It happened that our team has extensive experience in creating these types of games. In fact, Thundermark’s core team was formed over such a project – a multiplayer online game for PC that combines several genres and is aimed at both hardcore and casual players.
Our team and past expertise in the game industry helped shape the company’s mission: to create genre-defining games that focus on competitive mastery, high watchability and deep gameplay.
Horizontal organization structure makes everyone a “field” player
We strive to build our business as much horizontally as possible. Each of the seven co-founders leads and directs their field – technology and engineering, product and game design, art, production, business development, personnel, and business administration. This means that each of us (members of the leadership team) makes the final decision and is ultimately responsible for the specific aspect of the business.
Since we are a very young company, we constantly feel shorthanded. As it is usual in startups, in addition to managerial and leadership functions, each of us also acts as a “field player” in the team and can be involved in any project as an expert. For example, the art director performs concept artist tasks, the CTO performs DevOps functions, and the executive producer deals with UX design and prototyping. I also combine several roles; I am a COO and an HR Director of the company.
Turning challenges into opportunities
Building a company from scratch was very tough at the beginning. We wanted to bring our ideas to life and had full creative freedom developing our games. But as a no-name game studio, it was very difficult to sign the first project for full-cycle game development.
To convince our first partner to work with us, we developed complete design documentation, examples of character art style and a simple prototype. We also provided a detailed production plan for the whole 6 months of development.
We are a business that creates intellectual property. Therefore, the foundation of such a business are people and their professional skills. But for such a business to be effective, we must work as one team and complement and reinforce each other. We believe that soft skills are as important as a high level of expertise. This is especially important in the early stage of a business when its culture and values are being formed.
That’s why we carefully select people for our team. We want to engage people who are passionate, constantly strive to improve and create something cool. But for the young and unknown company, it is challenging to get highly skilled people on board. And then the transition to a hybrid form of work caused by the pandemic played into our hands. We were no longer limited geographically and started acquiring talents from other regions and countries.
As we grow, my main mission is to preserve all the good things brought to the company’s culture by the core team while absorbing new and positive things from the new members of our team.
Striving for continuous self-development
The changes that happened in the world last year made me look differently at the outlined plans and goals. I had to analyze and assess the real situation in the business and made hard decisions. Despite continuous self-learning, I felt the need for fundamental business knowledge.
Therefore, I considered several business schools and chose Lviv Business School after talking to its director Yaryna Boychuk. Today I am a second-year MBA student, and I hope the knowledge I got there combined with my experience will help to get the right focus for the business, clearly find its positioning and assess risks. I want to learn how to work and make decisions under constant changes and uncertainty.
Work-life balance, hobbies and energy boosters
Everyone sees balance differently. In my opinion, if you are a business co-founder, your work is tightly intertwined with your personal life.
My life partner and I have been together for 26 years, and for 16 years we have been partners in business. As there is always something to deal with on our plate, we have almost no barriers between work and life. But instead of finding work-life balance we rather strive for work-life integration. I don’t have much free time for me and my family, so I strive to spend it with quality.
Work is a big part of my life, which requires a lot of my energy, although it brings a special buzz. But there are things in my life that charge my “battery” – these are my kids and hobbies.
I love to ride my motorcycle. My daughter and I named it Night Fury. When I “fly” on a bike alone I get a very special feeling: all my thoughts go away and there is only me and the road.
I love motorcycle tours with the whole family, which always gives a lot of impressions and adventures. All adult family members are riders: the eldest son, husband, and me. Younger children also ride on the back seats. And I love riding together with my beloved one. During the journey, we constantly talk via intercoms built into our helmets about many different interesting things. For some reason, it is then said in a special way… The feeling of a person as if he is near, and as if he is not, and you are racing at speed. Each such trip is valuable for me and always brings only positive emotions, warmth, and recharges me.
Doing puzzles is my way to practice meditation. It soothes me to spend hours monotonously sorting through and looking for the necessary puzzle after puzzle in a single picture. I love doing puzzles with a semantic load or puzzles as a gift to suit a person. The last puzzle I did was Master Yoda and gave it to my life partner. Now it hangs in our office.
I like to take care of flowers near my house and listen to music. It’s relaxing. Being in the sun and in nature, regardless of the season, makes me think and dream.
Also, I really love communication. When the conversation is pouring, clinging to a topic after topic without awkward pauses, keeping one vibe. Pleasant, open and relaxing communication recharges me like an energy drink.
Children are my special love. I have three of them. Children make me feel younger. They fill me with unique life energy to move, a child’s desire to run, laugh, endless curiosity to learn something new.