Self-publishing has revolutionised the industry but to make the most of it you need a range of tools and services to support you. MCV talks to chief marketing officer Nathalie Lubensky about Xsolla’s efforts to become a one stop shop for studios

What do Valve, Twitch, Epic, Hi-Rez and Ubisoft all have in common? They all use Xsolla’s tools or services to monetise their content, and in some cases much more. Gaming’s digital era has allowed many to self-publish their content, but just because you have a more direct relationship with your consumers, rather than reaching them through a publisher, distributor and retailer, doesn’t mean you can do it all yourself.

After all, studios haven’t wasted their talents building their own payment and anti-fraud systems, and the same can be said of launchers, in-game item stores, web presence and even influencer campaigns and user acquisition.

Xsolla supplies all those and more across 200 countries and territories, over 20 languages and in 130 currencies, so the company has a good overview of the state of play in the market. We catch up with Nathalie Lubensky, Xsolla’s chief marketing officer, to discuss the company’s expanded range of services.

How would you describe Xsolla today?

Xsolla today provides a comprehensive suite of tools and services that make it easy to launch and monetise games and products globally. We focus only on the gaming industry, serving developers, publishers and platform partners of any size – from indie to enterprise.

We will always be in their corners, working and innovating the tools to best help them to eliminate the friction in distribution, promotion, sales and payments so they can increase their audience, sales and revenue.

Xsolla is a big part of the gaming ecosystem, so you’re in a great position to tell us how the industry is fairing?

The industry has never been bigger. However, the barrier to entry into the gaming industry has never been lower and the path to success has never been more difficult.

This is where Xsolla steps in to provide the tools, services and expertise to act as an extension of developers’ teams. We’re here to provide knowledge and support in the last mile as developers and publishers head into launch, and really need resources. We also can be brought in at the early stages if an indie developer needs advice on building a game with proper monetisation flows and so on.

Your client list is extensive, why do you think they chose to work with Xsolla?

Working with Xsolla allows clients to go global and take payments almost instantly with our flagship tool, Xsolla Pay Station. Our new suite of seamless tools and services can help any developer or publisher to go to market very quickly.

Xsolla was previously known as 2Pay

Xsolla was previously known as 2Pay

Developers want to reach their audiences directly. Why is this so important to them and how are you enabling this?

Xsolla Site Builder was built for game developers who need to launch and sell their games globally and want to save money and time by quickly building a website without expensive design studios or webmasters. In most cases, developers don’t even have a webmaster onsite.

Site Builder can also be used as a combo with Xsolla Login and Launcher. Login lets players easily create a game account via 55 different social networks and game accounts.

Launcher can be used to easily launch the game and download game updates, as well as provide an opportunity to engage with the existing audience – for instance posting news, building the store to sell in-game items and currency, streaming, friends system and so on. Launcher also has multi-game support which would work well for all size publishers who have multiple titles in their portfolio.

Monetisation of the industry has changed hugely in the thirteen years since Xsolla started as 2Pay, do you expect that pace of change to continue? And in what direction?

I believe that there will definitely be more changes in the future at a faster clip. Early on, technology and payments were divided and only slightly connected. With the internet boom, the intersection and shared knowledge of technology and payments shared across the world brought new ideas and a lot of new fin-tech companies.

Different regions had their own developments -- CIS adopted cash payments (Cash Kiosks), Europe stuck to banks (they have thousands of different banks) and North America chose credit cards. The user experience was very different. 

The difference was caused by country/region specific legislation, but the internet played a major role in changing the payment experience. This is when cross border e-commerce started to gain power. Payment companies around the world were able to copy successful ideas from overseas companies, they were able to modify their own experience and take best practices from different countries. Thus, the process is still innovating and transforming.

With Xsolla Pay Station, you can monetize your game on a global scale with a single seamless integration. You can cover the audience with all payment types (cash, credit cards, mobile payments, prepaid cards, wallets) and even get access to local credit cards, even though your legal entity in a different jurisdiction. This wasn’t possible in the past as the diversity wasn’t there.

As we always focus on being at the forefront of our industry, Xsolla strives to connect our network to the majority of alternative payment channels in the world – currently over 700 payment methods. As a result, we can accept payments from not only from standard payment systems widely used around the world like PayPal, but also payments from closed loop systems like TMoney, which was originally used as a prepaid card for transportation in Korea. We do everything we can to help developers accept money in whatever forms the gamers want to use. It’s a win-win for the devs and the consumers. Users can even buy a game with a Subway gift card in the U.S.!

In addition, many game developers have moved towards a SaaS model which is pushing the industry towards subscriptions and 1-click payments. Xsolla has this covered via our publishing suite tools.

Influencers are a huge part of game discovery, but can themselves be hard to reach business-wise, how do you sign them up and get the best from them for developers?

We match the right influencers to the right games. In addition, we let the developers focus on the marketing activities around the games while we manage the relationships, payouts and all other details with the influencers. We find the influencers on multiple platforms, so we’re aggregating the best of the best.

There’s a lot of talk around both blockchain and cryptocurrency in gaming at present, do you think it can make revolutionary changes to the sector?

Yes, we think very much so. In fact, we have major partnerships with DMarket and MobileGo (MGO) that we just announced in October, with much more to come.

DMarket is an in-game items monetisation technology and service that helps developers generate revenue from selling in-game content to players and creates additional revenue flow if a game already has a monetisation system.

MGO is an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency made for gaming, dubbed the Bitcoin of the gaming industry. For the first time ever, developers are able to receive royalty payouts in a cryptocurrency, MGO, on a sliding scale percentage of their choice. As more and more digital entrepreneurs move their savings and retirement investments to the blockchain, Xsolla is there to help its clients cash out in whatever currency is most convenient for them.

Xsolla has a nice collection in game-like concept art to represent its various service - here's microtransactions.

Xsolla has a nice collection in game-like concept art to represent its various service - here's microtransactions.

What have you identified as the key challenges to developers and how are you supporting them?

The world is overwhelmed with data and we provide volumes of data to our clients as well. We provide in-depth analysis for their data, as developers often don’t have data scientists on staff, so that they can get the most out of their information.

As advertising prices rise on the big social networks, will the cost of traditional user acquisition continue
to rise?

Yes. The costs of going to where our customers are, creating more engaging and relevant content per segment, and doing it in a way that’s impactful enough to generate word of mouth and client referrals, is expensive. But ultimately, the best place we’ll spend money is on innovating and investing in our tools and services to best serve our clients and their every need.

Transaction fraud is a problem for all online retailers, but the digital nature of games makes them a big target, what’s your solution?

Our system is built specifically for games. This vertical has specific behavior patterns different from other e-commerce types, which we have identified using over 13 years of game-specific transaction data.

With this information, we built a strong and flexible system using a combination of pattern-recognizing filters and review by our in-house team of experts. This ensures maximum security without compromising the quality of the user experiences. This is why we have the gaming industry’s No.1 anti-fraud solution.

What are the key things for developers to get right from the start on the business side?

From the start, the most important thing is to build a relationship with their global gaming community. Xsolla can then help with pre-orders, key distribution and creating their own commerce website where they can sell and engage directly with their gamers. They really need to focus on game distribution and monetisation of in-game items and virtual currencies. 

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