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Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi speaks to Develop about his journey into games

The chance meeting that made World of Tanks

World of Tanks was officially released four years ago, and has become one of the most successful games on the planet.

But for Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi, his journey into games and fortune started decades before the idea of World of Tanks was even thought of.

“My mother and father were more of a scientist profession,” Kislyi tells Develop, explaining how his dad would often take him to the lab as a child, exposing him to the world of computers. “As a kid when you see those things, and the first video games on Atari and Sinclair, you’re like: this is amazing.”

Kislyi developed his first game, a massively multiplayer title, in 1996. Despite spending two years on it he admits apart from him, his brother and the two developers who worked on it, only five other people played it. But one of those players would one day change his life.

LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS

“You spend two years working hard and hoping for millions and then boom, nothing happens and you have five players,” he says. “Well, good news is one of those five players liked the game and he and I were playing it for three more years, and then he became one of our game designers at Wargaming, designing games like Massive Assault and other titles.

“And he was the one who first came up with the idea of World of Tanks.”

That man was Piotr Bitiukov, and despite the commercial failure of Kislyi’s first game, their meeting would one day be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 1998 Kislyi decided to form Wargaming, and worked on a number of titles including DBA Online, Massive Assault and Order of War, largely as a work-for-hire company.

After Order of War, the Wargaming CEO decided to shift away from physical retail due to rampant piracy and moved into digital, taking a risk and “burning all the bridges”, cancelling contracts and going fully independent.

“We realised we couldn’t keep going and making games as work-for-hire or coming up with our own ideas but with no success, or no huge success, where it just takes just one failure for the whole company to go down
the drain,” he says.

THE BIG DECISION

The studio then went to work on making the MMO that would make it famous, but during the first ten months it was a completely different game, instead focusing on fantasy.

It was then Bitiukov invited Kislyi to Moscow to meet him and another game designer, to convince the Wargaming to CEO to focus on tanks rather than elves.

“They gave me a very detailed explanation of why it would work, and I trusted them,” he says. “It was probably one of my best decisions.”

The World of Tanks IP, as it’s now known, has amassed 100m registered players and continues to grow. Wargaming meanwhile has acquired companies such as BigWorld and Day 1 Studios and is working on brand new games. The company also employs 2,500 staff, up from the 60 back in its work-for-hire days.

But how have the riches changed Wargaming’s CEO? You could perhaps forgive him for being changed by a rush of millions. Kislyi says the last four years have been a “non-stop show”, requiring hard work due to the fast success of World of Tanks, and says the important thing is to not forget the journey.

“Frankly speaking, it is not that I changed completely, I’m actually afraid to change completely,” says Kislyi, offering a rare glimpse into the man himself.

“Because I know there is some magic in me, and yes in my old veteran colleagues, that brought us to this success. There was no money, there was something else. And while doing this corporate structuring, restructuring, governance, smovernance, we must not forget how it happened.”

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