Computer gamers have a reputation as geeks locked up in their bedrooms and unable to translate their button-pushing skills into the real world.

Not so Sergiy Grygorovych, 33, the founder and chief executive officer of GSC Game World. Building on his passion for computer games, he became a millionaire at the age of 18, created several games played across the world and turned his firm into one of the leading operations in Eastern Europe.

His strategy seems to have come straight out of a game: He started with the simplest things, practiced hard, got useful experience, then moved to higher levels and never gave up when something goes wrong, just restarted.

This simple strategy has taken him to 150th in the list of the richest Ukrainians compiled by Forbes magazine in 2010 with an estimated fortune of $32.8 million. He was nominated for Ernst & Young’s Ukrainian entrepreneur of the year award in 2010.


Grygorovych, whose relaxed clothes make him look more like a young gamer than a top businessman, said the key to his success has been adaptability.

“You need to have a flexible mind, manage to find a way to overcome difficulties,” he said in his quiet but confident voice. “Otherwise it’s all fine, you can earn money here.”

Grygorovych started his business career in the 1990s as a 12-year-old schoolboy renting out computer games to his classmates.

A screenshot of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. computer game released by GSC Game World, which was founded founded by Ukrainian Sergiy Grygorovych.

At first the price was 50 kopecks, but when demand grew the young businessman doubled it, making the cost of lunch in the school cafeteria with every rental.

“I was depriving my classmates of lunch, but they were happy,” he said, adding that his business collapsed when once his pocket games were broken by some irresponsible leasers.

Then Grygorovych turned to selling floppy disks at the radio market in Kyiv, which allowed him to earn more than his father, an engineer.


His success put him off from pursuing a higher education, twice quitting universities in the first year of study. Instead he created his company GSC, the initials of his name, Grygorovych Sergiy Costiantynovych.

He had start-up capital of about $8,000 and a new Peugeot 605, as cars are another of his passions.

“A person needs to start from what he already has,” Grygorovych said. “Then you take this money and multiply it, and develop yourself simultaneously.”
At the beginning, his firm digitized paper manuals and encyclopedias, which were popular the middle of 1990s as the Internet was almost unheard of in Ukraine at that time.

Grygorovych distributed his encyclopedias through a pirate chain, copying and selling about 20-30 of them per month and earning from $500 to $3,000 for each one.

Then he started making computer games by borrowing ideas and improving other developers’ products.

This was a tough sell, however, as its legality was questionable, to say the least. That’s why Grygorovych said his company wasn’t able to sell its WarCraft2000, though he believed it was better than the one made by its original creator Blizzard Entertainment.


Cossacks: European Wars, the real-time strategy game that made GSM Game World popular, was Grygorovych’s own idea and creation, inspired by Microsoft’s Age of Empires.

Cossacks appeared in 2001 at the same time as Age of Empires, riding the wave of popularity of this kind of strategy game and achieving sales hundreds of times higher than expected.

“It was at the right time and place,” Grygorovych said. “Microsoft was hugely investing in its game’s advertisement, and we were making our game simultaneously and made it better,” he said.

The firm reached a new level of success with the release of first-person shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R. The game combines the plot of the novel Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky with the setting of the Chornobyl zone.

Grygorovych said the aim was to combine Soviet, post-apocalyptic and spooky elements in one game. It worked: The game sold five million copies worldwide.

The businessman said he thought the game’s popularity stemmed from the alternative reality it offers. He has since turned the game’s plot into a book series and started shooting a movie.

Now GSC Game World not only develops games, but also publishes them, selling about half of its products to Ukraine and ex-Soviet states and the other half to the West.

Grygorovych said pirates were one of the main obstacles in the sector, stealing profits by making and selling illegal copies.


Another big problem he sees in the often “low moral values” of partners or staff. “I consider myself not a stupid guy, but I have been constantly cheated roughly every two years,” he said. He recounted the story of one of his former employees stole a suitcase containing $430,000 and escaped abroad.
He is now focused on further developing the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, creating a sequel, set for release in 2012.

“It’s more useful to focus on one thing in the IT business than to spread yourself on various projects,” Grygorovych said. “This way you can create the best stuff.”

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at [email protected]

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