Interview With Wargaming.net’s CEO, Viktor Kislyi

While at Tankfest, have a read of the event piece, here, I was offered the opportunity for a one on one interview with Wargaming.net’s CEO, Viktor Kislyi. Meeting the man who was steering Wargaming into a new and exciting era of free-to-play gaming was not too be missed, so, surrounded by hundreds of tanks, we talked about Wargaming, Warplanes and the future.

Viktor, I’ve just come back from E3 and was impressed by what I saw from Wargaming.net. How successful was the show for you?

E3 was unbelievably fantastic; we had some huge, well designed booths and got awards from various publications. This was the first time we witnessed strangers coming to the booth and playing World of Warplanes for the first time. We made plenty of notes on what people liked, what they didn’t like, what was too easy and too hard and how easily they found out how to play the game. We were getting plenty of positive feedback from players and from the industry. We met a lot of people on the floor and in the after-show events, getting plenty of praise and recognition for the hard work and effort, which I think we deserve. It was a really, really great show. The problem we face now is keeping that momentum going, making each show better than the last.

You had World of Warplanes playable at E3 and you had the closed beta running prior to that; how is that going and how has it been received by the community?

The challenge with us for World of Warplanes, is that World of Tanks kind of flew under the radar. Everyone was in favour of this new ‘Risk’ style adventure, from an unknown team. Right now we’ve got a nine hundred strong team, spread across ten offices world-wide, millions of people playing World of Tanks and we can literally feel cameras, microphones, the industry, the media, the players, all having very high expectations. That is why the quality with World of Warplanes has to be immaculate. That’s why we don’t have a release date or open beta date yet. So it’s a closed beta now and is going through technical testing.

With World of Tanks, all the testing was in Russia, but with Warplanes we’re doing testing all over the world. We don’t want to make the mistake of not doing it in the West. World of Tanks was a huge success in Russia, but in the West there is a hugely competitive market with online gaming and entertainment in general. So, we have to cater to other nations’ tastes more specifically, and right now we have sixty five people on the ground in Britain and similar figures in America, France and so on, so that we don’t try and run everything out of one central point in Europe, like two years ago. It is hard work for these guys everyday, reading forums, liaising with players, looking at suggestions, ideas, complaints, and the hundreds of comments we receive every month. That is just one small point of a corporate machine that then involves processing, changing and delivering it to the final product.

It has been reported that you’ve had thirty million registrations for World of Tanks. Are you expecting a similar sort of figure for World of Warplanes?

It is difficult to say for sure before it launches but we think, historically, that World of Warplanes will be much more popular in the United Kingdom and USA than World of Tanks was. Of course, Russia is a tank culture country, no way around that. Germany, Poland, France are kind of mixed, so we believe that the British and American players will enjoy World of Warplanes due to their history, their fondness of planes. Its what they like – some of their most famous battles have been with planes and it’s what they cherish.

The first target in the market will be these hardcore plane fanatics who will make up the core community, and then from there it will be a case of having mass-market initiatives to pull in other players. So, to answer your question, will we get there? It will be a lot of hard work to match or surpass tanks. It’s theoretically possible but its already tough because World of Tanks is already a huge hit.

However, don’t forget that we don’t view them as separate games. We view them as one war trilogy, or war saga. So we can see people entering our saga through Tanks and then moving into Warplanes. Eventually they may move onto Battleships or perhaps start with Battleships and then move onto Tanks as they want to try something new. We’ll be putting Wargaming.net out there as a service; one dedicated portal to access to all three games, all your statistics, load-outs, clan wars, tournaments, unlocks, medals, sharing your experience points. Its going to be one big battle universe.

So, one single access point where people can play their war games, without having to drop in and out between single titles?

Yes, one big hub where it can be all accessed, but through one account. It’s about conveying that sense of essence or meaningfulness inside this universe, so that in a clan battle, you can start with a dog-fight and if you win, you can have some air assets for the tank battle, while Battleships cut off supplies and trade routes on a global scale and give you some serious fire support. So everything inside will be technically integrated but we want to encourage players to learn how to drive, fly and sail, but more importantly, how best to utilise those skills. We’ll be doing things to bring all the various countries communities together – international championships, tournaments to further enhance the global fighting.

You mentioned earlier that you’ve got new offices opening in South Korea, which is famous for its huge E-Sports. Is that something you’re looking into, because if Wargaming took off in an E-Sports sense, that could be huge?

There’s no doubt about it, it would be huge but we want to have the millions and millions of players there first. We need to have all the players, playing an excellent product and then say ‘let’s look at E-Sports.’ So we build E-sports around the finish product and around the millions and millions of players, rather than the other way around.

I would have thought, based on previous games, that there would be a danger of the community from World of Tanks migrating to Warplanes but, judging by what you’ve said, that’s kind of what you’re aiming for?

We hear the ‘cannibalisation’ word from time to time. No. We are a battle universe and if you like battling, team play, historically accurate simulations, then welcome! We, as a company, don’t mind if you want to play Tanks, Warplanes, Battleships. All three being connected gives us a huge advantage compared to practically anyone, because it’s much more simple than having to turn around and say ‘lets make World of Tanks 2′. There is also the time you put into it. You can have five hundred hours playing tanks, racking up thousands upon thousands of battles, earning medals, cups, trophies. How can you leave all that stuff behind when a new game is released? It also means that you can play World of Warplanes for six months and you may decide you want to go back to Tanks. So you can carry over experience you haven’t spent and use it in the different games.

This benefits me because I’m not a tank person, I’m more of a plane man. So I can play Warplanes ’til I’m bored to death of it and then switch and start fighting in Tanks with the extra experience points.

Don’t forget that there is more to it than just combat. You’ve got your garages, the crew members, the upgrades and really you can be as hardcore or as casual as you want with that. Its not like World of Warcraft where you have to raid every night or play everyday. You can do what suits you and still have fun. Around twenty five to thirty percent of our user base are hardcore, fight to the last second, kind of players. The rest, are a little more casual but these are not just people who cannot afford the time or money. They are fully grown men, who just killing some time, blowing some stuff up, who want to let off some steam.

You want to kill some people at work, but you can’t kill some people at work so you come home, you get on Wargaming.net and you unload on some random guys, killing tanks everywhere and then when the wife and children come home, you’re the perfect family man because you have no stress.

Wargaming.net, saving marriages world-wide?

Yes, exactly, or it works another way. My brother lives in California and I live in Eastern Europe. How do we connect, we’re millions of miles away from each other? We load up World of Tanks and talk. It goes like “To the left! To the left! How’s you’re wife?” “Yeah she’s fine. When are you coming to see mum and dad? Fire! Kill the King Tiger! Kill him!” That is the best way to communicate.

You can quote me on this next bit: Right now people, don’t connect. Fathers and sons, cousins, even brothers for god’s sake. We live our separate lives, somewhere far away from our families. It’s not typical to write normal mail or e-mail because you just say ‘life is good, the crops are growing and the children are going to school’. In this fast moving world you just send short sharp messages and people don’t tell each other what’s really going on. That’s a thing of the past. Platoons can allow a father to play with his son, for brothers to play together. When my son grows up, I will be the one who he plays games with.

Within gaming there has been a very strong dedicated following for the flight simulator genre, a genre that hasn’t had much focus in recent years. Are you trying to recapture that and interest that community?

Let me be philosophical about this. You can go back to our earliest press releases and see that we said we’ve already rejuvenated some genres. Tactical, strategic, historical tank simulators were done. A few were brewing, but mostly they were done. We came and, as a company, broke all the rules, set a higher bar and focused on tactical, explosive, action packed tank warfare. We’ve focused on shaking up and surprising the industry and since then, making every ‘shake’ bigger than the last.

So the good news for us is that, unlike Tanks, the hardcore flying community already exists and is huge. It is scattered across half a dozen hardcore games, so we want to grab them and show them what World of Warplanes is all about. Then we’ll do our Wargaming.net ‘signature move’ and take the hardcore community, the nucleus of the community, catering to them so they play, write, blog, tell their friends and then appeal to the mass-market, through a large campaign with a budget greater than that of all the previous war plane simulators combined.

World of Tanks has half a thousand staff; not artists, not programmers… half a thousand writers, public relations, bloggers, support staff serving one game globally. That is quite a complicated infrastructure that takes quite some time to build and maintain, considering we’ve got people from Russia, France, Signapore, China, and Korea it is very difficult to do, but we are coping very well.  So, the rejuvenation of the genre will involve the hardcore community, but also bringing flight simulation to the masses too.

When I first heard about the free-to-play model, I thought that it would never work – I wondered how a company could sustain itself. Can you tell me how many of your players are actually spending money?

We have, probably, the highest industry percentage of paying users – something around twenty five percent, or a little more maybe, which is huge compared to the usual three, five or ten percent. That’s because the game is good and we reinvest that money back into the game to improve the product. They’ll keep paying if we can keep them playing. We want to be fair and bring new modes and new content because people are deciding to pay. So, with the millions and millions of players, we make sure we reinvest the money back into the game in large quantities.

You’ve got World of Battleships coming in due course and then looking into the future, when you’ve completed all three, where do you go from there? The free-to-play model is becoming more popular, what would you do next?

Firstly, free-to-play in the West is rocket science, I know this. We have been doing the maths and calculations for four years and its not like we have a single player game or a subscription based MMO where we can do a trial and then introduce payments. It’s not that easy. It is a very intrinsic part of game design that you have to put inside your game from day one of game design, so that players come, stay and enjoy playing. A certain percentage will end up paying something, however those people that don’t pay cannot be frustrated. The game has to be enjoyable for those that don’t pay, and that they get the same level of support from our community because, maybe, they cannot afford the payments just now but will do in the future.

So it is a very fine line between payment and non-payment. If you’re too greedy, people will just leave and if you’re too kind then the game cannot continue and the company will go bankrupt. So there is a very tiny balance that is very much a rocket science. Right now we have millions of teraflopasupermega bytes of statistics that are being analysed day and night to see how it is all working.

And the future? A member of GamingLives would love to see World of Submarines…

Submarines are a little too slow for the speed of combat we look for, but I mean anyone can come up with a list of possibles for Wargaming or any other company: helicopters, pirates, space combat, big walking robots, even some fantasy… why not? However, the trick is to make a new game like World of Tanks, for example: big walking robots. You’re going to spend minimum fifty million dollars for the budget.

Wow..

Then you’ll have to do the infrastructure of global communications and you’ll spend a year, maybe two, looking at technology and working out what does work and doesn’t, because this is immaculate ten year old technology behind World of Tanks, approximately, being tested by millions of Brazilian, Russian, Western players. Our own take on that new technology will need a year or two, and then developing thousands of tanks and warplanes, hundreds of maps and then there’s music, interface; there is a lot of rocket science to consider. So it is a very hard business and I think we are ahead of the pack in many respects in terms of making the next game. Yes, we know some online robot games are being brewed, let’s see how they do.

I suppose the biggest challenge, above all else, is ensuring that you keep ahead of the pack, while maintaining what you’ve already accomplished.

Yes, that is true. Its not easy but we must do it.




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One Comment

  1. Ste says:

    Awesome, this guy is a dude. He’s completely right about the family communication thing. I hardly speak to me brother anymore unless we are playing a game online together.

    Must check out WoT and introduce my brother to it too… when I find some time that is :-/

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