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Spotlight Series: Varvara Iaffa, Platform & Vendor Relations Department Lead, MY.GAMES

Varvara Laffa, Platform & Vendor Relations Department Lead, MY.GAMES

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Varvara is head of platform & vendor relations at MY.GAMES, a leading European video game developer and publisher.

Varvara has more than 12 years’ experience in the gaming industry, including at Nexters and Game Insight, and is responsible for overseeing app-store optimisation, securing new partnerships, and ensuring effective communications with mobile platforms and vendors. Prior to joining MY.GAMES, Varvara also held positions in marketing, helping to launch games in new markets and oversee brand strategy and positioning. 

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED? 

I studied finance at university, so spent much of my time identifying profitable companies and analysing promising, fast-growing new markets. I knew I wanted to work in a high-growth, high-efficiency sector, and a couple of years after I graduated, early mobile games were just starting to emerge and surge in popularity, so I was immediately drawn to the gaming industry and have remained in it ever since.

I think it’s fair to say that my career unfolded quite organically, tying together my interests in business, technology and fast-moving industries. It is the pace of growth and change that you see in the tech and gaming industry that continues to captivate me today, and I still consider myself very fortunate to be working in such a dynamic field.

WHAT ARE THE KEY ROLES IN YOUR FIELD OF WORK, AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR CURRENT EXPERTISE? 

In my current role at MY.GAMES, I oversee the company’s relationships with mobile platforms. This is a relatively new field, and one that didn’t exist when I was pursuing my studies, yet it was a natural fit for me: as a student, I was always fascinated by the early execs leading Apple and Google, and the pivotal roles they played in shaping this nascent industry, as well as how developers interacted with platforms and navigated the associated rules and regulations.

The last 12 years have been an exciting time to be a part of this industry, and I have enjoyed helping to shape the relationship between developers and platforms through advocating for policy changes as well as working together with platforms to tackle industry issues.

In my current role, strong communication skills are key and I consider this one of my core strengths. I’ve always found it easy to connect with people and am genuinely interested in discovering how others think, what fuels their passions, and what drives them forward. As an active listener, I have always sought opportunities for increased dialogue and collaboration, and my current role plays to these strengths.

DID YOU (OR DO YOU) HAVE A ROLE MODEL IN TECH OR BUSINESS IN GENERAL?

Oprah Winfrey has always been an inspiration to me. In her early years, she faced some of the toughest obstacles that life can throw at you — from growing up in poverty to being assaulted and becoming a single mother as a teen — yet despite all odds overcome these hardships to go on to build a hugely successful media empire. She is a shining example that no matter what situation you find yourself in, determination, resilience and an unwavering belief in your own potential is all you need to turn things around and achieve success.

Beyond this, I also deeply respect her determination to share her success with others. Her dedication to philanthropy, particularly in the areas of education and women’s empowerment, demonstrates her commitment to making a positive impact on the world and inspires others to create positive change in their own communities.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR? 

I’m particularly proud of the times that I’ve helped companies to navigate and overcome seemingly impossible situations, such as getting new games that have been denied release published and onto platforms through careful negotiations. I’ve honed my skills in identifying, demonstrating, and persuading others as to the reasons why a particular action is warranted, and to see proposed initiatives come to fruition as a result of that effort is immensely rewarding.

I also take huge pride in the teams that I’ve assembled from scratch. The people in these teams joined with no prior knowledge or experience in the field, and it has been incredibly fulfilling to share my expertise with them and watch them grow. As a leader, I have always believed in rewarding people’s enthusiasm and curiosity to learn, and am proud that my team shares this dedication and enthusiasm for exploring new ideas and approaches.

I am also proud of the many times I have helped build new processes from the ground up. At MY.GAMES, for example, I helped establish a transparent and simple framework for developers to follow when interacting with platforms that tells them where they need to go for various requests, what documentation they will need, as well as what questions to ask. This has ensured seamless communications between our developers and the platforms we work with, and it is deeply satisfying to witness a system I created not only be adopted company-wide, but to see how it has produced tangible results for the business.

WHAT DOES AN AVERAGE WORK DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

Being a mum, my days start quite early. Mornings are all about getting ready for school, helping out with homework, and enjoying quality time with my daughter before I drop her off. After that, I set aside time to work out and prioritise my own wellbeing. My mornings and evenings are generally focused on family and self-care, while I dedicate the time in between to work, which invariably involves lots of calls and meetings.

I’m an early riser, so I tend to tackle the most challenging tasks as soon as I wake up.

I’ve also got into the habit of writing up a to-do list the night before, which helps ensure I know exactly what I need to get done that day.

This habit also helps to keep me motivated on days when I wake up feeling a bit off or under the weather, and ensures I stay on track with my goals. Generally, I think having structure to your day is very important, so I always try to keep a solid roadmap in place whether it comes to family or work-related matters.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC SKILLS OR TRAITS THAT YOU NOTICE COMPANIES LOOK FOR WHEN YOU’RE SEARCHING FOR ROLES IN YOUR FIELD? 

Communication skills have always been important, but they are even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to a decline in interpersonal communication that gradually eroded people’s ability to communicate with one another effectively. There’s now a growing number of training programs available dedicated to helping executives rebuild these skills.

Another crucial competence needed in my role is the ability to bridge the gap between developer-jargon and platform-related terminology. My team and I translate technical-speak into understandable wording that can inform platform strategies and market-ready solutions that platforms and partners can easily understand. Mastering the art of understanding our developers and effectively communicating with platforms has resulted in hugely successful campaigns and product launches, which has contributed enormously to our global growth and industry reputation. 

HAS ANYONE EVER TRIED TO STOP YOU FROM LEARNING AND DEVELOPING IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE, OR HAVE YOU FOUND THE TECH SECTOR SUPPORTIVE? 

I consider myself very fortunate, as I haven’t personally been subject to the discrimination that I know countless other women in the industry have experienced, and continue to face, today. For my part, my colleagues and managers have always offered unwavering support and helped me reach my goals, making me one of the lucky few.

My eyes opened to just how far we still have to go in achieving gender equality within the industry when I started collaborating with non-profits working to advance women in the industry, such as Women in Games. It shocked me to hear that a mere 16% of executive positions at the top fourteen global gaming companies are held by women, and that as much as a third of women working in the UK games sector reported experiencing either direct harassment or bullying relating to their gender.

I am passionate about this issue and have been responsible for overseeing MY.GAMES’ efforts to advance women employees at the company. I am proud to say that women now hold 45% of the company’s leadership roles, significantly higher than the industry average, and that we have launched several company-wide initiatives as well as industry partnerships to amplify women’s voices and accelerate their professional growth.

As part of these efforts, I helped to launch Google’s #IAmRemarkable program at MY.GAMES, which works to empower underrepresented groups in the workplace and boost their self-confidence through workshops focused on overcoming self-doubt, celebrating achievements, and fostering a positive mindset. Many women employees at MY.GAMES have now completed this training, which has encouraged us to adapt and extend it throughout our community. Our goal is now to ensure that this transformative training reaches all those who become a part of our network, promoting personal growth and empowerment.

HAVE YOU EVER FACED INSECURITIES AND ANXIETIES DURING YOUR CAREER, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?

I think everyone encounters these at some stage in their career. Fear and vulnerability are a part of human nature, and not something we should feel a need to battle against or be frightened by. I always try to overcome less helpful feelings by envisioning a future where the problem has already been solved, and exploring the best case scenario. When you are able to see yourself in that future, and fully believe in it, I find it becomes much simpler to work towards making it a reality.

ENTERING THE WORLD OF WORK CAN BE DAUNTING. DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE FEELING OVERWHELMED? 

I consider myself very lucky that I am yet to experience burnout, something I know a growing number of professionals struggle with these days. I have always had the good fortune to work in roles I feel genuinely passionate about, and with team members that offer real support. 

When I feel as though things are leaning in that direction, however, I try to pivot and tweak my focus to explore new areas. Engaging with new ideas and people always gives me an energy boost, fuelling my creativity and helping me uncover fresh avenues for personal growth, team development and company-wide success. There’s an Asian saying that really resonates with me on this front: “If you’re feeling weary, simply shift your activity”. I couldn’t agree more. 

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY? 

Pursuing your dream requires belief without barriers, so my top advice would be to never let limiting beliefs hold you back from going after what it is that you want.  

The tech industry benefits enormously from having women in the workforce – after all, it is impossible to make truly global products without a woman’s input – so women should also understand their power and feel confident in the value they bring to the table.

Importantly, it has never been a better time for women in the industry, as companies including MY.GAMES look to place an increased focus on diversity and inclusion and provide minority employees with the tools and resources they need to thrive.

Women should take full advantage of these opportunities and leverage them to amplify their voices and careers.

It is also important to stay curious, as the tech industry is fast-moving and evolves extremely quickly. This field demands a hungry and eager mindset, and so to be successful you must always be open to growth, be inquisitive, and stay updated with the latest industry developments.

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