Last year, online games giant Wargaming finally launched its World of Tanks follow-up – World of Warplanes – to disappointing results.
Now in 2014, it believes it can bounce back with its first foray onto mobile and the impending launch of World of Warships. Christopher Dring speaks to CEO Victor Kislyi...
There's been a few developments at Wargaming recently...
Oh yes. We have announced that we have 100m registered players across all of our products.
It has been four years since the commercial launch of World of Tanks. It feels like yesterday, of course, but it's been a long time; the game has evolved and it's now a much, much better product. The industry also changed along the way, and we think we helped it to do that with this ‘free-to-play, free-to-win' concept.
We keep working, the company is growing; it is now more than 3,000 people. We have 16 offices all around the world; in every major territory we have a physical presence.
But we are not just updating World of Tanks; we are producing new games. It is not that easy to make yet another hit game, and we know that it's not just a case of copying a few good ideas and building another legendary game. So that is why we have to work hard, and right now we are more data-driven and produce a lot of analysis around our games.
We are also moving to new platforms. Three months ago we released World of Tanks Blitz on iOS, and we are currently readying the Android version.
And at Gamescom we showed World of Warships gameplay to people for the first time.
"We thought that because we had this nice free-to-play idea
and these nice visuals, it would automatically become a
global success. It does not work like this. Every game, we
found out, is completely different. Yes, it is from Wargaming,
it has this similar progression line, yes it has this free-to-win
philosophy. But at the end of the day, tanks are tanks, planes
are planes and ships are nothing like either of those.World
of Warplanes was not as successful as we had anticipated,
and that's partly because its biggest competitor is World of
Tanks. But we are not in despair."
Victor Kislyi - CEO, Wargaming
World of Warships looked quite far along. Is it close to release?
I don't know. It is not about me saying: ‘We have to be out October 1st.' It doesn't work like that. Through focus testing and data-driven decisions, we have to make sure that this game will be enjoyable. We need to make sure people will eagerly play it for days and months and years. Our bosses, our final decision makers, are the players. We don't want them to play ten battles and then go away. And there is no investment bank or stock exchange to tell us when to release.
Is this approach a reaction to the disappointment around the World of Warplanes launch?
Yes, we had certain misconceptions there. We thought that because we had this nice free-to-play idea and these nice visuals, it would automatically become a global success. It does not work like this. Every game, we found out, is completely different. Yes, it is from Wargaming, it has this similar progression line, yes it has this free-to-win philosophy. But at the end of the day, tanks are tanks, planes are planes and ships are nothing like either of those.
World of Warplanes was not as successful as we had anticipated, and that's partly because its biggest competitor is World of Tanks. But we are not in despair. We have now moved to this data-driven method. We have carefully analysed the player engagement with World of Warplanes, we have talked to the players, and we realise that some things need to be done differently. So right now the team is finalising significant changes to the game. And we will make World of Warplanes more enjoyable now that we know how.
On the other hand, the reaction to World of Tanks Blitz on iOS has been pretty positive...
Yes, we already have something like 5m registered users. And on the technology side it is pushing the limits. Blitz is one of the most beautiful and technological games on those devices. Apple likes it and featured it on the front page of the App Store. And the reviews have been great.
Mobile is a world away from hardcore PC gaming. How have you found it?
Right now the mobile gaming world is dominated by those ‘whale economy games', where if consumers don't pay they're cannon fodder, and if they do pay they have to pay a lot. But here we follow our free-to-win philosophy, where you can keep playing without paying a thing and still win and be competitive.
It requires courage and character to do that, because the investment in Blitz is in the millions. It is probably one of our most expensive games; it took a long time, but it was worth it. But the work has only just begun. We are introducing new elements and updates.
What about other platforms like Virtual Reality?
In today's fast-moving world, you never say never. Of course, we have tried the Oculus Rift, but right now it is not quite there. VR will be a big part of the entertainment industry, that is for sure, but for the free-to-win model you need huge critical mass and install base, because 75 per cent of people will never pay anything.
One of your recent announcements was that you've integrated Twitch. Why do that?
It is part of our eSports initiative. We have to have streaming involved. eSports is a new economy but I think it will be a very big part of entertainment in the near future.
It's not only us doing this, of course, but together we are pushing and making eSports part of everyday lives.
A couple of months ago we had the grand finale for our first year of the Wargaming.net league, with 40,000 teams around the world competing online. The best 14 teams came together in Warsaw for the finale, which was watched live and streamed online to millions of people. It was great for publicity and engagement of the players.
We and a few companies are writing history today. But you can't build a game thinking it will be for the eSports community and have it become that automatically; it works the other way around.
"There are 1bn computers in the world. In China alone there
are over 600m internet users. It's a big world but, via social
networks and online, it's a small world as well. The whole
world is our market place, and then the whole world is our
factory as well. That is why we are spread all over the world;
we go where the talent is, and also so we are closer to the
markets and the consumers.With the rapid growth of mobile
devices, our userbase will grow beyond 100m. The only
reallychallenge is quality. You have to staytrue to your
principles and philosophy."
Victor Kislyi - CEO, Wargaming
First of all, you have to make an enjoyable product for the masses, and then a certain percentage of those will feel more competitive about it and want to be the best. Those people are the ones that join professional eSports teams.
It is quite a sophisticated ecosystem and we have a special programme to help new teams find sponsors. There's an entire business here, and it is growing fast. By its very nature it is social, viral and online.
Today we have 40 people in the company working solely on eSports. It's a new venture for us, but we are helping to shape this industry and it feels natural for our times.
100m registered players is a lot for such hardcore titles. Can it really get any bigger?
There are 1bn computers in the world. In China alone there are over 600m internet users. It's a big world but, via social networks and online, it's a small world as well. The whole world is our market place, and then the whole world is our factory as well. That is why we are spread all over the world; we go where the talent is, and also so we are closer to the markets and the consumers.
With the rapid growth of mobile devices, our userbase will grow beyond 100m. The only really challenge is quality. You have to stay true to your principles and philosophy.
But we have to make sure to avoid screw ups, as well. If you do screw up, never lie. Because those millions of players will figure it out and they will backlash.
Nobody can say we stopped innovating and just sat back with our success, relaxing and sipping cocktails. We keep reinvesting our money in new game modes, new studios... we are very active in finding new ways to bring fun to players all around the world.