Victor Kislyi’s plan is to dominate the world of gaming with free-to-play titles. The chief executive of Wargaming.net says his company has more than 55 million registered players for its World of Tanks online tank combat game, and it is setting new records for the numbers of concurrent users in its game. That’s enough to get the Cyprus-based company a lot of attention in the West, as the executives at traditional game companies are trying to figure out how to compete with Wargaming.
Now the company is launching World of Tanks: Blitz, a mobile version of its popular online multiplayer tank game. Kislyi showed the title off at the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. In an interview at the GDC, he acknowledged that the company still had to perfect the controls of the touchscreen game for tablets and smartphones.
But Kislyi is used to taking his time. His company is 15 years old, but it only began its shift to free-to-play games in 2008. With the October 2010 launch of World of Tanks, the company started blasting its way into the ranks of the most profitable online game companies. The company built its audience in Eastern Europe and went worldwide in 2011. Now it is moving into mobile and developing World of Warplanes and World of Warships. And it has expanded to more than 1,500 people, or roughly half the size of Zynga.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Kislyi.
GamesBeat: It’s a little hard to control your mobile game. I’m going to have to master that.
Victor Kislyi: Well, we all have to face the fact that there’s a generation of people that have never used computers for everything. They’ve used a digital device to do their homework, do their jobs, watch movies, send e-mails, use Facebook. They got used to this. They play shooting games with it. I’ll never trade away a mouse, myself, unless I’m in a taxi or waiting at the airport or something. Some people will only play it that way. You just have to try.
GamesBeat: It sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time trying to get the controls right. Is that very difficult?
Kislyi: This is our first playable. We’re going to improve them a bit more. There’s going to be the whole cycle of focus-testing and changes. Believe it or not, I can’t play this with a console controller. I just don’t know how to do it, but some people are great at shooting games with them. It’s just a matter of how accustomed you become.
GamesBeat: Was there a time when you thought mobile was not a good market to go into? Did that change very quickly, or change because of how the industry has changed?
Kislyi: A lot will depend on the initiative. Look at Clash of Clans or Angry Birds. There was no Clash of Clans before. Boom, out of nowhere, the installed base is huge. It’s not going to be coming down any time soon. There will be more devices like this, more powerful, brighter screens, better computing power, everything.
GamesBeat: So they’re moving the technology of mobile into your territory of AAA online games.
Kislyi: Yeah. That’s good for us. What we do is about gameplay experiences. The monetization is part of that blend of experience. What kind of metal and plastic device is involved doesn’t really matter, philosophically. Yes, we’re PC-only right now, but maybe five years from now there will be only one gaming device, something the size of your voice recorder here, and it plays all your movies and your games via Bluetooth to a huge plasma screen. What will be left to us? The experience. The visuals. The way the story unfolds. Why you fight and how you’re fighting.
Mobile games are becoming more complex and more sophisticated. Take Kabam for an example. They’re mid-core now.
GamesBeat: How would you classify this? Is this a mid-core title, a hardcore title? Would you spend five minutes in this kind of game, as opposed to hours in the PC games?
Kislyi: This is the first game of this kind, a massively multiplayer, graphically intensive, historically accurate World of Tanks-style game. It has long-tail progression. It’s not about making a couple of clicks per day and waiting for a cooldown. There’s no cooldown here. We’re taking a risk with this. It’s experimental. There’s no proven formula for making World of Tanks on the iPad. Somebody has to do that, and that’s us. There will be lots of tests and further experimentation and prototyping — hopefully not too much — and we’ll see. At this point, we can’t predict the result. It’s just about making it and testing it.