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Interview: Victor Kislyi On Wargaming In A Single Breath

Tank Rush

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I’ve interviewed a lot of CEOs over the past ten years, and while they each project the same unnatural, media-trained sangfroid, they’re each different, too.

Victor Kislyi, CEO of Wargaming, seems like one of the most genuine human beings I’ve seen in the role. His enthusiasm for his job is palpable. I asked him a single question at this year’s Gamescom and he spoke for nine minutes straight in response.

The answer is obviously promoting Wargaming.net (“We make World of Tanks and some other games.”) but its also full of interesting information about the company, from the statistics of their success, the details of their mistakes, and their goals for the future. I wonder if it isn’t also revealing of Victor Kislyi, in some way – of the person who built this company from scratch. The way this monologue naturally, enthusiastically tumbles out of him – not rehearsed, but I’m sure repeated to a thousand journalists til internalised like a prayer – certainly makes me like him.

He had a cold during the interview.

RPS: I’ve got a bunch of questions I could ask, but I was curious, what do you want to talk about?

Victor Kislyi: Alright, let me do it like this. I’ll just unload on you in like a minute and a half, boring on the numbers and then more philosophy.

So numbers. We’re here, Wargaming.net. We make World of Tanks and some other games. Two days ago there was a fourth anniversary of the first commercial launch of World of Tanks in Russia. So it’s been four long years. It feels like yesterday, but we all have to admit that the industry has changed during these four years and I think I’m in a position to hint that we, together with Riot Games, were one of the major forces in this change. We were doing this like persistently, let’s put it like this.

The company this month is something like 16 years old. So it’s an old company. Of course, World of Tanks is just five years, six years ago the development started, but the company has been around for quite a while. Today we can boast something like 90 million installs of World of Tanks worldwide. And if you combine the recently released XBox version, World of Warplanes and Blitz, which was released a month ago, it’s more than 100 million registered users. Of course not everyone is still playing today but that’s the reality after four years, people come and go.

So we keep growing. We’re three-and-a-half thousand people today and we have 16 offices all around the world from Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, East Europe, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine. Our headquarters are in Cyprus, and we’re heavily invested in America. We’ve got San Francisco publishing, Chicago, Seattle and Austin, Texas doing projects and technology. And Paris office is covering European market.

After the last ten months we’ve done some impressive achievements. In February we took 1.1 million concurrent users in Russia alone. 1.1 million Russians were playing at the same time, which is actually 2% of Russia’s male population. Playing at the same time in one timezone, this is very impressive. We’re moving forward. Of course, definite challenges and you can ask questions and we can talk about that as well. You have to be realistic about certain true things in life. Something to put it wrong. We did some mistakes. Good news is that we’re still young and transparent and objective, trying to be, so we can see mistakes, which we did and we always try and we admit them and we try to find the ways to correct them.

Speaking of this three-and-a-half thousand employees, well, this is some kind of who, right, after six years, from 60 or 80 people to 3500, but probably we should stop being proud of that and come back to analysis of what’s going on. So yes, the reality is, by numbers, by definition we’re a big international corporation today. We have quite hefty revenue and geographical span from Sydney to San Francisco.

And this is what occupies my mind a lot these months. We have to have some structures that are typical for corporations like finance, treasury, legal, compliance, you have to have that. You have to operate in so many jurisdictions and laws and tax and this that, and regulations, you have to be compliant. That’s why we have to have boring professions like accountants and auditors to cover that part, and hopefully try to rule them like iron fist, is not easy but we want them to be there, and not interfere with the creativity part, yes. We have noticed that just big size, just big financial size in one place does not necessarily guarantee automatic success at the next attempt. I’m talking about World of Warplanes.

Something we did wrong, it looks like we spent these months looking for where, analysing the players, what was right, what was wrong, we came up with some explanations and solutions and it’s going to be a couple more months and the game will be quite significantly changed with new cool additions which will fix or address the problems which we have found, but again the good news is that we are still flexible and we cannot meet mistakes and we are eager to correct them.

The main focus of my work and the people around me on the top would be, how do we keep this size, this global presence, but how we keep and increase – and I am insisting on increasing the creativity of our products. And when I say our products, it’s any new things, like those risky endeavours like the first full-scale 3D action MMO on a mobile, with free-to-win monetisation, if you want we can elaborate– OK!

On mobile, to talk to mobile developers, always talking about ‘whale’ economy. Publishers developers, always whale, whale, whale, whale. This is their key word. You have to let your players spend $20,000 immediately if he wants to, and we deliberately say no. This follows the same, very soft, free-to-win monetisation like on the PC. So you have premium account, which is 8 euros, which gives you 50% more, and those golden consumables are all available for in-game currency. Golden tanks, they’re not stronger than the real ones, so you don’t have to have them. You can level up your favourite tank without paying any money.

So in Blitz, there is no way you can spend $10,000 per month. There is nothing to buy for this money. So we’re standing strong behind this idea. Again, quite risky thing was XBox, as you know there had not been AAA big full scale MMOs on this quite protective ecosystem designed many years ago for the retail business model. It looks like we broke through successfully – of course, when I say broke through, we did it together with Microsoft. Of course they could not lift each and every obstacle because they have their rules and regulations, they’re a big corporation at the end of the day and they do have their retail business which brings them a lot of money.

So anyway we found that we cooperated very well, we managed to find solutions to these challenges and yes in February we released free-to-play, and it was good, it’s making money, and we’re delighted. Of course the biggest constraint would be the limited amount of Gold subscribers. Of course we have to respect that rule of Microsoft; there’s only something around 17 million Gold subscribers to that, so that’s a limitation but anyway this experiment was good, results were good, and we’re thinking what to do next. Of course updates will have to be released quite often, like on the PC, and what’s next for the console we have time to think.

At this point I asked a second question. The rest of my chat with Victor Kislyi will run later this week, with more editing. Of course you could read Brendan’s interview from 2012 in the meantime.

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Graham Smith

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