BlockyDevs Industry Insights Interview with Rafał Łabędzki

Today, we present an exciting interview with Rafał Łabędzki, a seasoned expert in software and video gaming. Rafał's career highlights include leading the development of the hit mobile game "My Hospital" and creating the Challenger Project, an innovative e-sports platform that offers a fun, competitive environment without the pressure of “serious gaming.”
In addition to his professional achievements, Rafał is also involved in academic research at the Warsaw School of Economics. 

Join us as we explore his journey, insights into AI and data analytics in gaming, and his vision for the future of the industry. Let's dive into the conversation with Rafał Łabędzki.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: Thank you for joining me for this interview. With your extensive background in software and video gaming, could you highlight some of the key projects that significantly influenced your career path?

Rafał Łabedzki: There were certainly many milestones, but two stand out in particular. The first major milestone was the development of a mobile game for our client, Cherrypick Games, titled "My Hospital." This project was inspired by an emergency hospital management game from the early 1990s, and aimed to upgrade this concept to a mobile game-as-a-service model with in-app purchases. "My Hospital" proved to be a huge success, garnering millions of players and significant income soon after its release. This success marked a shift for ma and my team from purely programmatic development to entering the realm of game publishing and development, integrating data analysis and artificial intelligence into our processes.

The second key project is the Challenger Project, an e-sports platform I have been developing for almost three years. We wanted to make a place where people can have fun competing without the stress of serious gaming. The platform recently celebrated a significant achievement with the Red Bull Face Rush event, one of the largest in League of Legends history, involving thousands of players. These two projects, among others, have been pivotal in my professional journey, showing the progression from development to publication and highlighting the impact of data analytics and artificial intelligence in the gaming industry.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: Fascinating. Could you delve into the AI research and development projects you've been involved in, especially the challenges you faced?

Rafał Łabędzki: Rafał: Absolutely. I've been involved in several AI projects, three of which received funding from the European Union. One notable project was Cherry Stream, which focused on using AI to match players with similar skill levels based on their gaming history. Although my role was managerial, it sparked my interest in AI development, leading me to begin learning Python and become more hands-on in subsequent projects.

Another fascinating project aimed to provide game publishers, particularly those running games as a service, with data-driven recommendations to improve game features like in-app purchases and ad monetization. This project was challenging but rewarding, as it required developing a universal model to analyze historical game data and identify actionable insights for game improvement.

Within the Challenger Project, we undertook two R&D projects in AI, one with League of Legends and another with Valorant, the latter also receiving EU funding. The primary challenge in these endeavors was data handling. We often encountered data that wasn't immediately usable for model training, necessitating significant effort in structuring, collecting, transforming, and storing data effectively. While the AI models we used weren't groundbreaking, adapting them to our specific needs required meticulous data preparation, which was consistently the most significant challenge across all projects.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: And how did the "Challenger" project begin?

Rafał Łabędzki: "Challenger" started with our R&D in "League of Legends," focusing on developing recommendations for players and an anti-cheat system for esports competitions. The project's success confirmed our ability to create meaningful tools and insights from game data.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: Looking forward, how do you see AI, user acquisition, and software development evolving in the gaming industry?

Rafał Łabędzki: The industry is evolving rapidly. AI's role in training virtual world trials is becoming more prominent. Recent advancements like Google's "Genie," which can create playable games from drawings, indicate significant shifts in game development. User acquisition is adapting to tighter data protection regulations, with AI potentially offering solutions to identify user behaviors more effectively.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: Beyond newest google AI tool "Genie”, what AI tools are prevalent in the gaming industry?

Rafał Łabędzki: Many game developers now use ChatGPT for testing and even writing code. CoPilot is another tool widely used to enhance coding efficiency and quality. These have been in use for over a year. While I'm not sure about the popularity of image generation for game creation, it's certainly beneficial for marketing, especially for A/B testing creative assets. My direct involvement in game development ended nearly three years ago, so my insights might be limited. However, through partnerships with various gaming entities, I've observed these trends.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: What challenges does the gaming industry face from your perspective?

Rafał Łabędzki: For players, the industry seems prosperous with high-quality games. However, developers face visibility challenges. The barrier to entry has significantly lowered, leading to a saturated market. This makes it difficult for talented developers to monetize their creations. Another challenge is the evolving web 3.0 and blockchain gaming market, which has faced funding and regulatory hurdles. Despite these challenges, I see potential in esports and other innovative areas for growth and engagement.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: Could you share the inspiration behind the Challenger Project gaming platform?

Rafał Łabędzki: The Challenger Project was born from a group of veteran gamers, including myself, who wanted to create a competitive yet casual platform for players of varying skill levels. Our goal was to offer a space where players could enjoy competition without the pressures of hardcore gaming. We're also exploring a health module to encourage healthy gaming habits. The project aims to cater to the majority of gamers, providing unique competitive experiences unavailable elsewhere.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: What future developments do you envision for the Challenger Project?

Rafał Łabędzki: Yes, the platform was to have three basic components, symbolized by the Triskelion in our logo, indicating its tripartite structure. The first component, a competition module combined with stats recommendations, has been successfully implemented. The next component is the health module, which will focus on promoting well-being among players. The final component is the pro module, designed to enhance the performance of professional players. This segment will leverage our advances in machine learning to provide targeted improvements for high-level play. While this comprehensive vision has been developed as part of a long-term strategy, it is likely to extend over the next five years. 

Wiktoria Podlodowska: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring AI developers or those interested in entering the field?

Rafał Łabędzki: For those without a technical university background, learning AI through online courses is common. However, applying your skills to solve real-world problems is crucial. Start with a problem you're passionate about and use data analysis to find solutions. While self-learning is valuable, I advocate for formal education in mathematics or statistics to grasp foundational concepts and methodologies, ensuring your work is rigorous and respected in the field.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: So, a degree is essential?

Rafał Łabędzki: Indeed, it might seem old-school, but education provides a vital foundation that experience alone cannot replace. Understanding the basics is key to advancing in any field.

Wiktoria Podlodowska: Thank you for sharing your insights. It's been enlightening.

Rafał Łabędzki: Thank you for having me.

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