Interview with Wargaming CEO, Victor Kislyi

At the League Grand Finals, where tankees from all over the world pew pew against each other for the top prize of US$300,000, I managed to sneaked out Victor Kislyi, CEO of Wargaming, to get his insights of the industry, and the company’s roadmap.

GaX: If you remember back in 2011, you mentioned in an interview with PC Gamer that it’d take EA two and half years just to replicate the success of World of Tanks. will you still stick by or change this statement today?

Victor: This kind of product is difficult to implement for any company. It took us a couple of years to make World of Warplanes and almost two years to make World of Tanks for the Xbox 360. Those projects are very, very complicated, which was what I meant.

It’s not just about making a game, put it in a box and then put it for sale. After you do this, you need to start with updates. For example, World of Tanks has had 23 updates since its launch and each update has to make the game look better than it was previously because players compare it not to its release version, but the version four and half years after.

And you need servers around the world. It’s not just a game. We have offices in Singapore to serve players in that region. You need to be on the ground and be living there. You cannot support American users from Russia. If you want to be in the Japanese market, you need offices in Tokyo.

When I said EA, I didn’t mean EA can’t make games. They can make games. Just that any company will take more time than two and a half years to make this game and to serve it around the world. Today we have more than 3,000 staff in Wargaming spread across 16 offices around the world. It takes time to hire these people. You can buy a company for that, but you still have to integrate it and that will take time.

GaX: And the company has seen some explosive growth over the past two years. You’ve bought companies like BigWorld, Day One and Gas Powered Games to tap on their expertise in the US market. How has that worked out so far? We haven’t heard of any developments from that side.

Victor: Right now, our resources are still stretched. It’s a big business, and we are transcontinental so we have 24-hour time zones around the world. So it takes some time to build up this level of management. When you buy a company, you have to integrate and bring the company inside of your existing culture. We have so many different cultures inside Wargaming, I mean, as I mentioned earlier, we have staff from Singapore to Australia to Japan and Russia, Belarus and Germany. I’m not saying we are not going to be expanding and buying other companies, but on the other hand, there’s no such thing as a market of companies that you can simply ‘go and buy’. Sometimes it’s just luck and a coincidence when the opportunity comes by. If we see that the company or person is fitting to our work, we have to play it culturally.

GaX: What is Gas Powered Games doing for Wargaming right now?

Victor: Chris Taylor has been in our big Wargaming family for more than a year. We will work together with Chris Taylor to make some big games that will rock the world. That’s what we agreed upon when we shook hands, which was about a year ago.

We don’t want to copycat World of Tanks, so Chris Taylor is not doing a clone of that. The game will most probably be military-based, have PvP, online features and will be massive. There are so many elements you have to do right. And you can only do it like this. You have an idea, you prototype it and then you test it using people from the streets. Focus testing. And only when that shows positive results, when they can’t stop playing…do you proceed. Many players have played World of Tanks for over four years now, especially in Russia. We want Chris Taylor’s game to be like that. It’s not that I don’t want to share with you what their latest developments are, it’s just that I’m also part of the choosing and focus-testing process. I go to Seattle from time to time and we’re trying to find this new direction that nobody has found before.

GaX: What can Asian gamers look forward to with World of Tanks and other titles this year?

Victor: First of all, we keep constantly improving World of Tanks. This year, starting with 9.0, we totally remade all content in the game so we’re moving to this new real physics and real lighting systems. Tanks will be five times more detailed after this patch. For instance, when a tank moves in rough terrain, each individual wheel will be moving as well. Buildings shot by tanks will crumbletoo .

So there will be new physics and new graphics for World of Tanks, this is the next level update for World of Tanks into a triple-A game. It’s a lot of work in remaking the whole game, but we are committed to it and it will be changed by the end of the year. New maps, too. There will be new maps that takes advantage of the new physics, especially if you want to destroy objects on the map as part of your tactics.

The Asian clusters are getting the same content and game as Europe or Russia. World of Warplanes was launched five months ago. If we compare the numbers, World of Tanks cannot be compared with World of Warplanes. To be honest, we made a couple of mistakes with Warplanes – such as technical mistakes and ping time and the interface. Our players told us that and we can see it in our database so we’re changing it and improving these problems. Especially for the Asian market, like Korea, that are very demanding with the huge competition and the good games they have. You only can present to them a very polished product. World of Warplanes will take a little more time to fix in the West, and it’ll take a little more time for Asia, such as localisation, to be ready for Asia.

Right now we are in a closed beta for World of Tanks Blitz. It’s for your iPad, iPhone or Google phone. It’s a very beautiful looking game. It feels like World of Tanks, but in your tablet. You can play it in a taxi or while waiting for your plane. The battles are fast, so we have seven-on-seven instead of 15-on-15. Maps are smaller, so in three minutes, the battle is over and you take your points and go upgrade and jump into another battle. We hope to launch it soon. We’re testing it and fixing the problems before its global launch.

World of Warships is still in closed alpha internally. We’re trying to find the balance between historical reality and fun. Those ships are really big and naval battles take a really long time, up to a couple of days like in the Pacific. Of course, we cannot give you two-day battles in the game, so we have to limit that down to 10-15 minutes. We’re trying to find this formula which will allow you to have those historical ships as they were in history. But the gameplay mechanics should be quick and fun with lots of replayability and energetic moments. It’s not easy, and we’re working on this.

GaX: When can we expect the beta for World of Warships?

Victor: You cannot fix dates for MMOs. If we say 1st of September, it means nothing. If we can’t fix certain problems, why give a date for a broken game? Unfortunately, I’ll have to say “Only when it is ready”. If we release a closed beta or an open beta, players will usually take screenshots of the unfinished product and put it up online and assume it’ll be what the finished product will look like. So we have to be careful with this.

GaX: Will the company ever branch into the role of a publisher for external developers?

Victor: Structurally and technologically, we have the capacity to do so. We have offices in Singapore, Tokyo, South Korea and other parts of Asia and Europe, Russia and America. We can publish any game, it’s just about how good the game is. I’m not saying no. Maybe somebody comes to us and asks us to publish a game because they don’t have the money or capacity. We will look at it and believe me, people are coming to us pretty much everyday. It’s just you have to compare it with World of Tanks and think how this game will fit our military-themed games.

We have been making games for 15 years, and we’ve gone through this publisher and developer idea many times, running around the world trying to find a publisher for World of Tanks. We realised this developer-publisher thing worked well for the retail-based game, but for online services, where it never stops with the constant updates, publisher and developers become enemies. That’s why we went on our own and brought our stuff online ourselves. It’s not about releasing or publishing the game, as much as it is about us delivering this game online to. It’s a process where developing and publishing is blended in. Like eSports, we brought developers here so that they could speak with the best players to learn what they want changed. Our eSports mode is not perfect, some things we would love to change. So it’s a never ending process that goes on everyday.

So about us publishing an external game, I’m not saying no. The game and the theme has to fit. Maybe in the future, but not now.

GaX: With the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, and the Oculus Rift on new high-end PCs, are you always in-touch with these new devices and how you would think these new hardware and input devices fit into your games’ development?

Victor: Yes. With our background working with such technology, we believe such devices are the future. But as a free-to-play game, we have to have critical mass, for example the Xbox One has not yet sold enough units to justify allocating prescious resources to that platform. You have to amass millions of players to pay for the programmers and the servers. With the Oculus Rift, it’s the same. The CEO of Oculus Rift was showing me the device the other time with some impressive games, but just right now there is no install base. For mobile, yes. We need to go to mobile. You may think we are PC game developers and most of our players are still on PC, but there’s something about such technology. It’s changing very, very fast. Maybe in five years, we will have lasers or holographics or augmented reality. If it becomes mainstream, we will make games with that. We have to move along with the times. For now, let the Oculus Rift and the other platforms grow a larger install base, before we commit to them.

GaX: But rather than having to wait, aren’t there any consideration for Wargaming to become a first mover?

Victor: You cannot do everything quickly in long term. Many players, expecially Russians, have played this game for a long time, so it’s a long running business. Big budgeted franchise MMO launches with millions of players during the first couple of days and then pooof…they are gone.. So, no. We are not afraid to not be a first mover. It’s about quality. The game is free. Anyone can try it. Sooner or later gamers will hear about it. If the game is not good, you buy it and download it and it has a lot of bugs and problems, you just drop it. It’s about the quality of the game, and we are very confident about that.

Aaron Yip

Aaron Yip is an industry veteran with more than 15 years of experience. When not spending time on his gaming PC and consoles, he can be found in Hyrule solving ungodly puzzles and collecting gems.