Anton Zelenin’s introduction to payments was not a happy one. Working for one of the largest retailers in his native Russia, he would sometimes have to cover for cashiers on the shop floor. "There was a lot of crime at that time, and people trying to commit fraud. If you made a mistake, you had to pay for it out of your own pocket. It was terrible."
Seven years later, Zelenin is still working in payments, but his attitude towards it has changed.
He is Head of Game Commerce at Xsolla, a video game commerce company powered by its Transaction and Business Engines, which helps game developers and publishers market, sell, connect and optimize their games globally. At the heart of his remit is Pay Station, a platform that builds on top of fintech platforms, like Checkout.com, to allow game developers and publishers to take payments in over 700 methods — from global names such as Visa and PayPal to local schemes like Oxxo and Yandex. Over 1500 game companies — including iconic Epic, Roblox and Ubisoft — rely on Pay Station to bring their creations to millions of passionate gamers worldwide. And Zelenin is one of them.
It was this passion that made Zelenin seek out Xsolla. "I wanted to pursue a career in gaming. And where I lived, in Perm, about 840 miles east of Moscow, Xsolla was the company that best fit the profile."
Sitting at the center of growth of gaming and payments
Payments had only meant to be Zelenin’s way into the gaming industry, but it has become his profession. This has put Zelenin at the intersection of two of the world's most dynamic growth industries.
"Game developers can go to platforms like Apple, Google or Steam, and they will take 30% of your success — Xsolla charges a maximum 5% commission. Or they can self-publish, but that means building the store and the checkout, finding a payment provider for each market, establishing customer support teams and filing taxes in each country. It takes a lot of time and resources."
This is the mission Zelenin is on. To make it easier and more profitable for video games to be sold and played. And it takes a gamer to know what the gaming industry needs.
One example of that is the trend for games that are created with the primary purpose of commercializing the playing experience. "So you’re not building the game first and then thinking about how to monetize it. It's vice versa. I'm not playing this kind of game. They're terrible."
Using a ‘gamer’s instinct’ to unlock more value
This ‘gamer’s instinct’ has led Zelenin deeper and deeper into the world of payments in the quest for the perfect playing experience. When he joined Xsolla, he was focused on integrating new payment systems, getting through about five a month.
Today he is in charge of whole payment product lines. Alongside Pay Station, he looks after ‘Push Payments’ (which lets players transfer funds directly into their gaming account) and ‘GShare’ (a way for gamers to earn credits for in-game purchases), as well as add-on services to enable subscription payments and anti-fraud measures. "We want to provide everything for video game merchants in one place and out of the box," he says.
Fundamental to this vision is giving gamers the ability to pay in every and any way they choose, wherever they are. So integrating new payment methods remains a crucial focus. But before you integrate them, you must find them. Zelenin reckons they have 80% of the payment methods on the planet covered, but that’s not enough. "We have a team dedicated to researching different payment systems in every market … trying to find something new; the next AliPay, the next WeChat or GrabPay. It’s a process that never stops."
He’s keeping special tabs on the rise in popularity of digital wallets. He predicts it will continue because of their convenience. "They are just an iFrame, aggregating payment systems and saving credit card details. They are one connection to all. If cutting complexity is their big benefit, then there will likely be some consolidation of digital wallet providers who look to double down on their competitive advantage," explains Zelenin. "And you’ll be able to do more with them," he foresees.
"In the next 5-10 years, we’ll see eWallets become Super Apps. For the gaming industry, it means you’ll be able to use these apps to buy things for yourself or as a gift. That opens up a whole new channel for merchants to sell to their customers."
Solving complex problems by continually rethinking and relearning
Navigating the future of global payments is becoming harder with every new innovation and market entrant. Thankfully, Zelenin has plenty of experience to draw on. His journey at Xsolla has seen him spend time living abroad — in Brazil, Korea and the U.S — in the pursuit of market coverage. The lesson he shares with his team is to treat every territory on its own merits. For example, Korean regulations are very complex but clear. Whereas in Brazil, it was hard to know who to speak with and how to get things done. “It requires you to always rethink what you've learned before.”
It’s a mindset he applies to other challenges that come with growth. One of those is how to provide a consistent experience for Xsolla’s 2,000+ partners. "If you’ve been with us from the start, you could be using different APIs than a client that onboards today. And that potentially means different end-user customer experiences."
"No two days or challenges are the same. Sometimes I think it would be nice to work in a company where you know exactly what will happen tomorrow," jokes Zelenin.