GamesBeat

With 1.3B tanks obliterated and 30M players, Wargaming.net plans to conquer the online gaming world (interview)

Let’s Battle. That’s a particularly apt slogan for Wargaming.net. The  has scored big with its World of Tanks game, a hardcore massively multiplayer online game that lets you battle your friends in World War II tanks. Since it launched in April 2011, the game has gotten more than 30 million players worldwide.Those players are so engaged in the realistic 3D game that they have obliterated 1.3 billion tanks to date.

The company, which was founded in 1998 and previously made hardcore war games for small audiences, has now grown to 900 employees, many of them in development teams in greater Russia.

Victor Kislyi (pictured above), chief executive of the Nicosia, Cyprus-based firm, says, “We are on our way to conquer the world. You can quote me on that.”

Wargaming.net is now lining up the launch of the flight combat online game World of Warplanes for later this year, to be followed in 2013 by the naval combat game World of Battleships. The company plans to link all three of its games together so that users can sign on once and easily move between worlds via a single portal. We caught up with Kislyi at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this week. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

GamesBeat: What are you showing here at the show?

Victor Kislyi: We have the update coming out for Tanks with two gameplay modes. Assault, one team defends and one team attacks, and then Encounter, where there’s one point in the middle and teams have to work their way around it and finally take one. Which guarantees a much faster rate of destruction than the normal battles. And French artillery, French tanks, British tanks we announced, you might have seen the trailer… British tanks coming to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the queen’s reign.

GamesBeat: How big is it now, by the way? Tanks. As far as users?

Kislyi: We believe we surpassed 30 million registrations. But that includes China, which is approximately 50 percent of the world’s online market. Our peak concurrent users in Russia, the record one, was 452,000 Russians playing at the same time.

Let me just give you some facts. Right now we run only one commercial product. We have offices in 10 different countries. Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Paris, San Francisco, Singapore, and we opened recently in Korea. So we have some nice ex-Blizzard guys as general manager and PR, the top positions, and we will soon open data in Korea too. We’re growing very healthy in China with our partner, and recently opened with a partner in Vietnam. If you look at the globe, we pretty much took the better part of it, we cover the better part of it.

The company’s now 900 people. Approximately half of it is development on the three projects. Tanks will keep going in Minsk, Warplanes, we’ve obviously produced a big project for that, is in Kiev, and then Battleships. It’s a little early to talk much about Battleships, but it’s in St. Petersburg. The other half is operations. Operations is our American office, approximately 50 people now, and you can see the result.

Finally they can do stuff together on their own. So they do PR, game management, marketing, customer support, advertising, media relations. All of those are the best of the best media guys. You can imagine the amount of media attention we get. So it’s looking great. It’s growing very well.

GamesBeat: Do you have any stats on how much ammunition they’ve used in the game? [chuckles]

Kislyi: We have every, every month, it’s approximately 100 million battles. During these battles, 1.3 billion tanks are destroyed. And the number of shots is 14 billion shots per month. So for World of Warplanes, I’ll just show you a couple of battles and explain along the way.

Right now, the game is looking very solid. It’s flying. This is the American closed beta, we also have the European closed beta and the Russian closed beta going on at the same time. For Tanks, we made a mistake, we did only Russian testing. Most of the testing was in Russia and the west pretty much got the final version from Russia. Here, we don’t want to do that again, so that’s why we have two simultaneous tests.

So our community managers can gather information from the American players, from European players, and of course from the Russians. It’s still not too late to affect the game. So we’re gathering feedback, so that it can be used for the development. We plan to have open beta in a month or two. Two months probably. There’s no fixed date. But somewhere around two months from now. Within the first 24 hours of the alpha announcement, two months ago, we got 100,000 applications. Which is impressive. Now we’re looking at 600,000 registrations. Unfortunately we cannot let all of them in. We’re still testing usability, UI, controls, server connectivity, and such things. Do you recognize Yosemite?

GamesBeat: Yeah.

Kislyi: I requested Yosemite myself, I said I want Yosemite in World of Warplanes.

GamesBeat: You tried to make it easy to fly without a joystick?

Kislyi: Yeah. Our primary mode is WASD (a reference to the keys on the keyboard) with a mouse. It’s working out well. But we’ll also have joystick, game pad, keyboard only, and a couple of other combinations of those. This is the most trouble, the challenging part of the game, but it doesn’t consume a lot of money. It’s time and brainpower, and it requires luck. How we finally twist that difficult keyboard and mouse control in a way that a guy like me and you, just come home from work, tired, download the free game..

We want you and me to start playing right away. For World of Warplanes we will have some PvE training. It will be easier to get in, because in Tanks, you are immediately in player versus player. So here we’ll do some player versus the environment where you’re not humiliated. So far, you can see, the amount of players on the floor, the amount of players World of Warplanes computers, and the amount of players for Tanks, it’s pretty much the same. Warplanes, as we can see today, that’s the first public display of World of Warplanes. It’s getting probably the same interest as World of Tanks, and we’re happy to see that. Especially in America. Let’s face it, Russia is a tank culture, a tank country. In America and the UK, it’s a warplane culture, a warplane country.

GamesBeat: It seems like flying is harder than tank-driving, so…

Kislyi: Yeah, but it’s more exciting and more fun.

GamesBeat: So why do Americans like planes better…?

Kislyi: Because this is historically…World War II, America fought primarily with infantry and warplanes. In the Pacific theater, European theater, there were lots of bombers and fighters. The Battle of Britain… Troop masses and tanks moved in, but that was pretty much towards the end of the war. The real struggle was in the air, against the Luftwaffe and the Japanese air force. You have a lot of books, movies, comic books, toys, in America about warplanes. Private collections.

GamesBeat: The interest tends to follow the historical role of the country, I guess?

Kislyi: We know that, we learned, that there’s something like 340 airshows in America every year. Statistically, almost every day, somewhere there’s an airshow. There’s an association of airshows, they have annual meetings in Las Vegas. So yeah, America is into airplanes. Go to the Smithsonian museum. You know many private collections of warplanes there are? A lot.

Even nowadays, in modern conflicts. Who hits first, who hits hard? Aviation. So that’s an American culture. You can see we have different maps, and we, on purpose, we will be doing, fighting a little closer to the ground than in real life. Because we want the terrain… Like in Tanks, we want it to be a part of your tactics and strategy. The previous map, you’ve seen the canyons, deep canyons, where you actually don’t see the enemies.

Here it’s actually more open, with just a couple of big rocks. We’ll do New York City with skyscrapers, we’ll do the desert with cliffs, so that you can use the terrain profile. For example, to outflank the enemy formation along a canyon. You can go into the clouds and become invisible. If you attack the enemy from out of the sun, the enemy will have a hard time seeing you. So far the experiments show that this gives quite a big variety of tactical and strategic tricks you can employ. Individually or as a team.

GamesBeat: These flight sim games were popular for a long time, and then they sort of fell out of favor. Why?

Kislyi: And why is that? First, flight simulation went too hardcore. Here, you get airborne from the beginning. You don’t have to take off and land. All 15 planes are immediately in the air. Why? Really, do you want to spend 15 or 20 minutes taking off and then landing? We would rather have you play three more action battles, rather than landing. We keep our philosophy from World of Tanks. Yes, this game is historically accurate when it comes to plane design. Yes, it’s very photorealistic and will be more photorealistic in the near future. The flight model and aerodynamics are quite sophisticated and realistic too. But yes, when it comes to the element of fun… If there’s any fun element we can acquire at the cost of a little realism or historical accuracy, we usually prefer that fun element. We were doing this successfully in World of Tanks, and here we have the same philosophy. We do a lot of experiments, how can we make it more enjoyable? More fast and more agile. More fair. More…enjoyable. That’s a lot of work, but our company has experience in how to do that.

GamesBeat: Do you have a lot of possibilities for expansion, then, into all sorts of theaters of the war? Going beyond your third game?

Kislyi: It spans from the ’30s, flying biplanes, they’re mostly for training and fun sandbox battles, all the way through World War II with iconic Mustangs and IL-2 Sturmoviks and Spitfires. And then goes all the way to the Korean war, including jets like MiGs and Sabres, American types. I don’t know why, but the German industry decided to discontinue the production of warplanes after 1945 somehow… [laughs] That’s why, like in World of Tanks, we have to use the secret blueprint materials to create the experimental Wunderwaffe machines. In Tanks it worked very well, and it will work in World of Warplanes too. People are even more eager to play this secret Messerschmitt two hundred something… What’s the Messerschmitt? 262 I think? Yeah, so the Germans were actually trying to develop that. We have three primary classes of planes, it’s fighters, heavy fighters, and ground attack. Plus you can imagine the propeller biplanes and jets are classes by themselves. There’s also, for Americans, there will also be aircraft carrier-based aviation with specific features. Pretty much every nation will have some planes which are… This is the Wunderwaffe. There will be some planes with very specific roles.

GamesBeat: There seems to be a lot of money in this kind of thing…

Kislyi: I can probably say that this flight simulator will have the biggest budget of any flight simulation game in the history of mankind. We’ll be up to 1000 warplane models. The difficulty is the MMO side, don’t forget, this is MMO. It has to be seamlessly connected to millions of people. There will be a lot of maps, a lot of terrain types, lots of objects, lots of polishing. Millions and millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of engineering man-hours. It will be going on for the next five, seven, maybe ten years. That’s a mega-project when it comes to flight simulation. That’s the reason why they discontinued a little bit. It was difficult. Those hardest of the hardcore, where you have two dozen buttons to press and two dozen indicators to look at, only a few thousand people played those. It wasn’t that enjoyable. Here, as I already mentioned, we are about a guy coming home from work and being able to play then. Professional guys like Vlad, he can do miracles here, literally, with maneuvers and stuff. The game does allow you to do that. Probably you will not expect the ace quality of flying at level one or two or three.

GamesBeat: How many levels are there?

Kislyi: Like in Tanks, ten. And of course one warplane has dozens of components, radio, different wings, engines, cockpit design. Actually all the visual little effects, the composition of the cannon and the machine guns…

GamesBeat: Is this going to be a virtual goods model?

Kislyi: Like in World of Tanks, you can grind for that. You don’t buy a new gun. You play a couple of battles, get experience points, unlock, and then use silver coins, which you also got in battle, to install it. That’s the same concept as in World of Tanks. Needless to say, that free-to-play aspect and monetization is very similar to World of Tanks. Download the game for free, install it like this, and play it as much as you want. And yes, 70 to 75 percent of people, mostly teenagers, will never pay anything and we’re fine with it. We love those people, we need them. Some people, 25 to 30 percent, will from time to time invest five dollars, ten dollars, 15 dollars. As we say, no more than the price of three movie tickets. That’s both west and east….

GamesBeat: What’s the average number, you said?

Kislyi: It differs a little bit across China, Russia, Europe. I guess our average revenue per paying user (ARPPU) is somewhere around between 30 and 40 dollars.

GamesBeat: Which is a lot more than a lot of other games?

Kislyi: It’s a lot more than a stupid cheap fantasy MMO from Asia that girls play. Yeah. We’ve got serious guys who know what they’re paying for, who appreciate historical accuracy, who really want this Messerschmitt or Mustang or IL-2. So they deliberately do this. We don’t squeeze money out of them. Like in Tanks, you’ll be able to get a tier 10 warplane without paying. It’ll be harder and longer. It will be easier if you have this 10-dollar premium account to move faster. We have to make money somehow. We have adaptive music here…

GamesBeat: You’re becoming one of the biggest game publishers.

Kislyi: Frankly speaking, we know that whatever we have or may not have now, a year from now it will be bigger. Two years from now it will be even bigger. We as a company, we came from game development, we were developing games for 14 years. We know how hard it is to be a developer making boxed games and then selling them to publishers and all that stuff. We work our success the hard way. We’ve been through worse times, turn-based strategy, realtime strategy genres… We’ve paid our dues to society big-time. Our success is hard-earned. Right now we’re in a position to generate very healthy revenue, of course. We are reinvesting heavily, as you can see, and we will be reinvesting in new projects and development teams and operational offices around the world. More fancy PR and marketing. This is show business. You have to do PR and marketing big-time. So… Right now, every market we have World of Tanks in is growing. We’ll be growing and we will open new markets and new projects. Our revenue will double or triple a year from now. But again, it’s a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of devotion, it’s a lot of risks we took earlier. We invested everything we had, all we had, in that one project, and burnt all the previous bridges of probably… Less risky but more stable revenue models. That happened in 2008.

GamesBeat: So how many minutes does the usual match last?

Kislyi: Five minutes? You see the plane takes damage in the battle, you can see the holes… You can actually crash planes into another planes. Of course, this also affects the flight models. If you have a damaged wing or something, the plane will react correspondingly.

GamesBeat: And how do you have to repair that?

Kislyi: Yeah, but you pay to repair with silver. Not gold, silver. Listen, you know, in World of Tanks, another avenue of monetization is, if you’re driving a tier 10 or tier 9 tank, if you lose too many battles, your repair cost is higher than the silver you earn. So you have two possibilities. Number one, convert some gold into silver and pay for that. That’s what I will do. Or a schoolboy just will take a tier 4 plane, go do some economically positive battles, and pay for the repair of the tier 9. It’s fair. For me it’s easier to invest 50 cents. The schoolboy, it’s easier to just play another half hour. And just a couple of words about Battleships. Battleships has been developed in St. Petersburg. It’s an impressive 30 seconds. We call it the series, or the saga, the trilogy, the triangle?

It will be combined with the Wargaming.net service. All three projects together. One account, one identity system, the social aspect. You’ll be able to use your gold for all three projects. But the most important innovative thing, the free experience you earn in Tanks, you can transfer over to Warplanes. That’s what I’m doing. In World of Tanks, I have played 8500 battles already. I have like 80 different tanks and variations. I have 1.5 million free experience. I don’t need another tank. I’ll buy French artillery, some British tanks as well, but that’s it. But I can use that as soon as World of Warplanes launches. I will be able to use that experience to get my Messerchmitt 262 immediately. When all three projects launch normally and operate well, the typical situation will be.

As a company we are fine with this concept. If you feel like some fast action, do some Warplanes dogfights. If you’re tired and you want a more strategic thing, you do Battleships, and Tanks is somewhere in the middle. You notice, we rebranded, we used to have the black, gold, and red. This one reflects… We spent a lot of time and money doing that. We used to have this golden flag, and “strategic satisfaction” was our slogan. We don’t make any more strategy games in the box. Now we make free-to-play team-based online battles for guys. That’s why we have this, “Let’s Battle!” That’s what we propose here. Get the weapon of your choice, planes, tanks, battleships, something else in the future, and just go and fight. Quick, fast, lots of adrenaline, there’s no strings attached, there’s no storylines, just go and fight.

GamesBeat: So have you got World of Infantry coming out sometime…?

Kislyi: First, of course, we are on our way to conquer the world. You can quote me. I told you the offices we have already. But let’s not get overwhelmed. How do you eat an elephant. Slice by slice, bite by bite. First we have three very ambitious projects going on, and we have to focus on delivering that. That’s why World of Warplanes is our highest priority now, and we have to make a very solid flight simulation game, very polished. The same for Battleships. Our hands are full now. Of course we have plans, we discuss them in the boardroom, we have a couple of groups of experimenting programmers for mobile, maybe for some other platforms, but that’s not the priority now. First, let’s see how World of Warplanes does, and what World of Battleships will show. And then we can think about helicopters or Modern Warfare-style combinations.

[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi]


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