Corporation Wargaming: how tank army of Victor Kislyi took over the world

“Oh my God, I’m in Wargaming” — with these words started roughly 80% of the interviews, which were conducted by the company, says Anastasia Blokhina, Director of the division for organization of events for the players on the territory of CIS countries. Commitment to the game “tank battle”, the name World of Tanks fans, and nurtures leadership within the company. With hiring for any staff member to create an account in the game and charge to it bonus points, but every employee in the Department of the Blokhin needs to spend per day, on average, eight tank battles and test all updates.

Since the birth of the idea of games about tanks in 2008 the number of staff Wargaming has increased tenfold — from less than 100 to over 4 thousand in 15 offices (in early 2016). One of the largest developers in the world, Activision Blizzard, is about 7 thousand full-time and part-time employees in ten offices.

“I feel a citizen of the world — on almost every continent I have an office where I can go, and I’ll be welcome there. It’s exciting,” admits in a conversation with RBC, the founder of Wargaming Victor Sour. Part of the sentence it pronounces in English, then, as if recollecting herself, picks up the Russian equivalent. For several years Sour lives with his family in Cyprus, in the same place since 2011 is the headquarters of Wargaming.

In mid-April along with 60 managers of Sour flew to Stanford University to study specially designed weekly course about leadership in terms of innovations of a rapidly changing world”. Newly minted billionaire is trying to instill in your child “habits” of effective corporations and learn how to benefit from difficulties.

The first of the CIS

In 2016, Bloomberg was first turned Sour in his “index of billionaires,” assessing business Wargaming in $1.5 billion For comparison — the Swedish programmer Markus Persson the sale of the cult game Minecraft Microsoft brought in 2014, $2.5 billion Sour — first billionaire gaming industry in the CIS, says the founder of an Internet entertainment portal “” Haci Mehtiev.

He Sour about the financial side of the business talking reluctantly — not ready to reveal all the cards before the competition.” Says only that revenue is measured in “hundreds of millions of dollars”. According to Bloomberg, Wargaming at the end of 2015 received $590 million in revenue, the same amount counted by the experts of the research company Newzoo. If Wargaming shares traded on the stock exchange, the developer would have entered in top-30 biggest gaming companies, says marketing Director Newzoo Emma MacDonald.

In August, Wargaming will be 18 years, but the breakthrough the company made in 2010 by releasing a World of Tanks, a MMO game (Massively Multiplayer Online, a massively multiplayer online game). To date, the number of registered players in the “tanks” are over 110 million worldwide (40 million — from the CIS), of which almost 97% were men aged about 30 years. For comparison: in the popular South Korean shooter game Cross Fire (in Russia it publishes Mail.Ru Group) has registered about 400 mn users. While none of the Russian game is still not reached size of audience 110 million

Sour calls the player “boss and main investor”. World of Tanks, which accounts for more than 80% of the company’s revenue (based on data from Superdata Research), monetized by the model free-to-play — the game can be downloaded for free, while the game itself has built-in payments. About one-third of fans of tank battles for 550 rubles., or $10 per month (the company has a fixed rate of currency) buy a premium account, which saves the player time and speeds up his development in the game. Most of the revenue is made up of payments for premium access. About a third of users pay for additional options — for example, for premium, that is the maximum pumped from the point of view of the characteristics of the tank can be spread from 143 2640 RUB.

Now in World of Tanks can be played practically on any of existing platforms — in addition to personal computers on the consoles PlayStation4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One (the game did different studios that Wargaming either bought or built from scratch) and on smartphones — version of World of Tanks Blitz. Mobile version of the game in 2015 has become the number one by revenue in Russia, estimated by MacDonald, without revealing exact figures. In terms of the volume of mobile revenues Wargaming is the third highest grossing mobile publisher in Russia at the end of last year, she said.

The success of the “tanks” made of Sour to open representative offices around the world, and, in his opinion, such a large number of people “makes Wargaming a Corporation. If at the start all the accounting entrepreneurs were alone, now, “boring things like paying taxes” in Wargaming doing well-paid professionals, says Acidic. Financial Director of the company with Belarusian roots in September 2015 was the former chief operating officer Barclays Bank Andrew Tinney. In addition, despite the difference in the salaries of IT professionals in the United States and Belarus, the level of training required to create a game tanks, is much larger salary” and Belarusian developers.

How to create a “tank battle”

Wargaming first office was located in the apartment of Victor Kislyi in Minsk, — he and his brother Eugene had moved into one room, the second was released for work. The first online game developed by students of the Belarusian state University, where he studied and the Sour. It was a turn-based strategy Iron Age, the paper version where Victor came up with an idea in my childhood.

For the first time Victor saw the computer in the lab where his father worked: simple game on a gray-green screen struck him. “I realized that this device is smart, she plays against me and makes me think,” recalls Sour. Prior to the launch of World of Tanks, his company released a game DBA Online, Massive Assault, “Operation “Bagration”, “Inhabited island”. In December 2008 Sour and his colleagues decided to make a MMO game about tanks — in this niche was not popular products. About a year before this moment, the company worked on an online game in the fantasy genre, which was to become a competitor to the already developed World of Warcraft is a role-playing game world of orcs and elves from Blizzard Entertainment. Since the beginning of 2009, designers and programmers began to actively work on the future of World of Tanks, and in may of the same year came the first video game in which orcs fighting elves, and they moved the tank. A few months later hosted the first test of the game, which was attended by familiar staff Wargaming. From spring 2010, World of Tanks moved into a phase of open beta test, and in August, the game officially launched in Russia.

But last year, Sour has realized a large number of people — not only the key to success, but the problem. The company has developed rapidly and not always effectively, recognizes the founder of Wargaming, therefore, from 2015, the management approved a restructuring plan. In February, the company came a new head of HR-Department — Jerry Prochazka, the former Director of the American talent Riot Games, Creator of League of Legends. It tells Mehtiev, Riot Games “mirror approach” to hiring people in comparison with those, who until now was adopted in Wargaming: the number of interviews for a candidate is often more than a dozen, and the head office of the company in a new country can search for 2.5 years.

Since the end of March Wargaming goes on the so-called distributed structure development on the same project can work with staff from different regions, and in the end, separate “pieces” of the game are created in different parts of the world. The game World of Tanks Wargaming founder compares with the Airbus A380, which is assembled in Toulouse, and the parts are being taken from all over the world — leads from China, chairs from Italy, etc. In the construction of the games it looks about the same: to find a video-maker or artist “desired level” is easier in California, where close to Hollywood, than in the countries of Eastern Europe. Sour acknowledges that such reform will complicate the business process: employees will need to “become more disciplined”, and management — to look for new ways of management. However, Acidic determined: given the current scale of the business restructuring makes sense.

The company did not disclose the amount of profit, but Sour argues that most of it goes to the development of the business: he calls it “harsh reinvestment”. In 2010, when World of Tanks “shot” on the market of the former Soviet Union, Wargaming almost immediately engaged in the development of two games — World of Warplanes (World of planes and World of Warships (“ships of the World”). The creation of new games took in an average of three to four years and required the efforts of 200-400 people, says Acidic. Investment in these games he did not disclose. CEO and founder of the company-developer Nival Sergey Orlovsky has estimated that the total cost to launch World of Warplanes and World of Warships in $20 million and $30 million respectively.

The strategy of “harsh reinvest” such sums do not always produce results. Released in 2013 the game World of Warplanes was not a successful project, recognizes Acidic. “Man by nature tend to walk on the plane or the maximum climb a tree, but not to fly in three-dimensional space at the speed of 400 km/h and at the same time to shoot” — gives Sour his explanation of the failure. Videobloger Pavel Sukhanov, who makes reviews World of Tanks on YouTube that explains the “no flying” “planes” historical features, “If the Russian player grandfather fought, most likely, was a tanker, much less flew, or swam. In England or USA on the contrary — grandfathers flew and swam. Therefore, our national mentality about tanks, and in the world — about the ships”.

The number of registered users in the game World of Warships, which was released in September of 2015, reaching about 7 million — “great pace”, said Sour. But “aircraft” and “ships” hard held in the shadow of a fellow, he continues: one game “eats” another. The audience was so absorbed in tank battles that time for other types of battles they are left. But close World of Warplanes Sour not ready — it will make them miserable”, though small, formed the nucleus of the players. Global corporations are not always as sensitive to their projects: for example, the company Electronic Arts in July 2015 announced the closure of several have not received the popularity of the games — Battlefield Hero, Battlefield Play4Free, Need for Speed World and FIFA World.

If the start-up of new games is difficult, advertising and marketing strategy Wargaming rarely causes criticism.

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Great sport

Over the last three years spent on Wargaming’s professional eSports events in the $32 million.

“Did you see the last fight?” asks Sour. We communicate in the midst of the tournament on World of Tanks — Wargaming.net League, which is now in its third year takes place in early April in Warsaw. Behind the founder of Wargaming — huge screen, it is the translation of battle. The businessman could not attend all the fights due to the tight schedule of meetings, but monitors changes in the standings.

On the last fight of the final Sour still come to the stadium sports complex Torwar Hall and lost in the crowd of 5 thousand spectators. If not look at the stage, where sit the players in headphones for computers, what happens at the stadium can be mistaken for a classic football match: there is a commentator, in breaks between fights of invited experts discuss the tactics of the teams brightest moments of fighting the “scroll” on the screen. The audience — mainly men and teenagers — wrapped in scarves with symbols of your favorite teams each hit of the projectile on the tank, they meet a loud hum. The name of the winning team — Navi — standing stadium chanting: he Sour so loudly greeted the champion that lost my voice.

In addition to international tournaments, Wargaming was organizing the event “on the ground” — only in 2015 and only in Russia, the company held approximately 35 offline events (for example, in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Yakutsk). On such events the players take families while their husbands are busy fighting tank, wife in specially equipped zones can do make-up, manicure or hairdressing services are also available, and children can draw or play, says Blokhin. The budget for “local” events at Wargaming did not disclose. Blokhin said that local tournaments helps to organize the volunteers who have Wargaming in each city of Russia, and of the necessary equipment (e.g., computers) roams from region to region.

One of the biggest events organized by Wargaming in 2015, was the celebration of Victory Day: the company rented the Olympic stadium, inviting the pilot-cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the group “Chizh & Co” and the General Director of MTV Russia Yana Churikova as a leading. “I have is with the motor and with the speed of a reaction,” admitted at a press conference Churikova, which during the preparation for the event the first time I tried to play “tank battle”. Wargaming is trying to choose for conducting major events celebrities who are already familiar with the game and is able to joke on the subject. The budget of the celebration of Victory Day, amounted to $300-500 thousand

How many Wargaming the Russian players and how much revenue they bring the company did not disclose Acidic. But the company has not opened a full-fledged office in Moscow. From 2013 to 2015 in the capital on Wargaming worked about 25 people, says one of those employees in a conversation with RBC. Primarily they were engaged in establishing links with museums, government agencies and private business. Wargaming cooperates, for example, with the Military-historical Museum of armored vehicles in Kubinka, held joint events with the Ministry of defense and Uralvagonzavod. In the modern world everything can be done remotely, especially Moscow is not the cheapest city, meets Sour on the question of why the company has no office in the capital. Thus at Wargaming in St. Petersburg have Lesta Studio, which is developing World of Warships, and a full division of the company opened in Tokyo, Chicago, Paris and other big and expensive cities in the world.

The total budget for the promotion of Wargaming did not disclose. Sour said that this cost is included in the three largest for the company. Now the businessman puts on the mobile version of “tanks” and is going to actively advertise. “Wargaming global competitors are spending several million dollars a day to purchase ads and literally rake all users,” says Sour. — Therefore, even if the game is very good, this is not enough, you need to have comparable budgets. In the US, for example, for several years, developers of mobile games advertised during the breaks between the matches of the final of the American football Super Bowl, that is the most “delicious” of advertising time, and produced videos worthy of the international festival “Cannes lions”, enthused Sour. “We have not yet fully unfolded, are preparing,” says the founder of Wargaming, without going into details.

Active investment gaming company with Belarusian roots soon and the truth will need: competitors are not willing to put up with the total dominance of the “Tanchiki.”

The fight for the player

“Tanks” greatly expanded the market of gamers — play began, those who had never sat down to this end of the computer, explains Mehtiev credit for Wargaming.

Company Sour was the first who made a popular game about tanks: even six years later, the competitors do not leave hope to win this niche. In September 2015 the game about tanks — “Armored Warfare: the Project “Armata” — launched the Corporation Mail.Ru Group, whose annual revenues from multiplayer games reaches almost 9 billion rubles. Mail.Ru Group made a project about modern tanks, where one of the main “heroes” became T-14 “Armata” — the newest tank, which first appeared in public at the Victory parade on red square in Moscow in 2015. The mention of “Almaty was” in the name of the game holding had to coordinate with the defence Ministry and Uralvagonzavod tank manufacturer.

Game about tanks operating officer Mail.Ru Group Vladimir Nikolsky considers that a slow shooters. “There are many people who want to play, but you can’t easily push buttons, as required, for example, Counter Strike, and for them the game came out, World of Tanks, “Armored Warfare: the Project “Armata” continued this series,” explains Nicholas.

“The entertainment market is designed so that every year there appear new items, which aim to entertain and surprise people,” answers a question about competition in the market of St. Nicholas. In “the Project “Armata” tanks drive faster and more dynamic, prices for in-game purchase is below about 20%, listed in Mail.Ru Group the benefits of the new project. Nicholas refused to name the exact percentage of players that the company plans to pull from the “tank battle” Wargaming. Quality clone of the game, which entered the market in a short period of time after the original, has a chance to drag 10% of the audience of the main project, said Orlowski.

In Armored Warfare there are more than 5 million players and a growing audience for the company is now more important than monetization, are the words of the General Director Mail.Ru Group Dmitry Grishin, in the last statements of the holding company. The Russian company has already launched a massive ad blitz: in one of the rooms of the newspaper “Kommersant” the whole band took the slogan Make Love Not WoT. The company translated it as “Make love, not here”. WoT is the usual short name of World of Tanks, but in Mail.Ru Group insist: it is about sustained expression Waste of Time (“Wasting time”). A little later Mail.Ru Group launched a promotion in which players of World of Tanks at check in “Armata” will receive in-game bonuses and have the opportunity “to fight on any technique sixth level”.

Bites Mail.Ru Group perceives Sour without much emotion: “When you do something right, you must start to copy. To the possible loss of the audience and to incorrect steps a businessman psychologically ready. In October 2015, Wargaming announced a major update (patch) “Rubicon”, which was planned a number of improvements — tanks had to learn how to roll over, to find a new sonic palette, etc. To launch the company was preparing a few months, but after a month on the website Wargaming has a circulation of Acidic, in which he apologized to the players for unrealistic expectations.” New update did not change the game as it was waiting for the users, so the players are extremely sharply reacted, says Sukhanov.

But in recent years Sour, it seems, have learned to turn problems to their advantage.

A fragment of the game World of Tanks

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A fragment of the game World of Tanks

Foreign markets

In 2013, Wargaming has become a shareholder of a Cyprus Bank, Hellenic together with two major investors. Wargaming and us investment Fund Third Point got a 30% stake by paying €40 million to the Cyprus investment Fund Demetra Investment — 15% over €20 million In late 2014 the developer of the game and Third Point has spent €45 million on redemption of 20% of additional issue of shares in Hellenic.

To become a shareholder of the Bank, Wargaming came from humble circumstances: in Cyprus financial crisis, the Bank froze the funds of depositors, a game company was among them (stuck amount of funds she did not disclose). Today Sour Hellenic calls the purchase a “good financial investment”. The Cyprus has shown extraordinary discipline in the political arena, he continues: all the requirements of the “Troika” — the European Union, European Central Bank and International monetary Fund — have been met and a few months ago representatives of these organizations left the island.

“Now we as a country are confident about the future” — enthusiastically tells Sour, by “we,” referring to the Cypriots.

Sour decided to withdraw World of Tanks outside the CIS even before the official launch of the game. In 2010 he Packed in the suitcase sets of brochures about “Tanchiki” and went to Shanghai. The laws in China are strict: any developer must work through a local publisher, and the game itself almost inevitably have to make changes. For example, instead of the Soviet flag in Chinese version of World of Tanks used visually similar.

To work in China for Wargaming in 2011 agreed with one of the largest Chinese developers, a publisher of computer and mobile games KongZhong. When Sour first came to the head of KongZhong Lili Wang, he saw that his entire Cabinet filled with models of tanks: the father of the Chinese businessman was in the military, and he was a big history buff. Wargaming actively promoted his game in China — the company held a press conference in tank museums, and the Sour at one of the events he sang the “Internationale” in Russian. In 2012, the parties entered into the agreement: KongZhong acquired the right first to release a future game developer, and Receives the option to purchase shares of the Chinese company (5 million American Depositary receipts at a price of $5,94 per).

Wargaming now owns approximately 10% of KongZhong. “It is believed that we are now brothers forever: instead of quarrels is more profitable to cooperate rather contentious issues that always arise between the publisher and the developer, to settle”, — he added. The Chinese market is among the three largest for Wargaming after CIS (now he brings in about half of their revenues because of falling of ruble exchange rate) and Europe, where the greatest interest in World of Tanks show the Germans and the poles. More accurate data Sour disclose.

Over the past five years the character appeared also in North Korea, USA, Japan, Europe and Southeast Asia. Global expansion not only initially incorporated in the strategy of the development of Wargaming, but also helps to stand on their own feet in times of crisis, says Acidic. The competitor Wargaming, Gaijin Entertainment, the developer of the flight simulator War Thunder, the share of revenues from Russia in dollar terms decreased in the total volume of 30-35% in 2014 to 10-15% in 2015, told RBC company founder Anton Yudintsev. In rubles the income of Gaijin Entertainment in Russia continue to grow, how to grow and total revenue: at the end of 2015 about 20%, he said, without naming the exact figures. From-for crisis the company decided to focus on the promotion of the game outside of Russia — Western markets bring more revenue, says Yudintsev. Most of the revenue gets Gaijin Entertainment in the U.S. and Europe.

The presence in different markets is forcing Wargaming to adapt to the tastes of local players, and work with them, perhaps a key part of the company’s activities, recognizes Acidic. “Americans love to play in a more relaxed way, rather to pleasure than to strain and compete. Russian players, on the contrary, competition: they need as quickly as possible to get to the tank and go into battle,” says Sour.

When in 2012, Wargaming has opened an office in Tokyo, his staff got a cat and named him Hellcat — in honor of the tank destroyer, which is present in the game. The cat sewed special clothes and started the account in social networks to “communicate” with the local players. But for Chinese players, who can easily part with money in World of Tanks, Wargaming has developed at the request of the partners the exclusive “gold” tank worth a record $400. It has caused indignation of Russian-speaking players, and representatives of Wargaming had to explain the difference in mentality. In the Chinese games, for example, you can buy the right to “dump” players from the team, in order to demonstrate their wealth.

Unreal tanks

Slightly more than 40% of tanks in World of Tanks existed in reality, told RBC historian and developer Wargaming Petr bityukov. Another 30% — test samples, about 20% were created only on paper. About 5% of the cars completely fictional. Initially it was planned that the equipment in the game will not be over the age of 50-ies of XX century, but because of a lack of prototypes, time has moved on and 1965. But even so not enough cars to equip all of the “nation”.

Developers can use as the basis for a real machine, but to modify it, continues bitjukov. This happened with a group of German self-propelled units, only half of which existed in reality, and the other half on paper. One of the plants had to invent it. “This anti-tank self-propelled gun is so broke the balance of the game that she had several times to change, and the players still remember us, what we put into the game Chudo-Yudo, which no one has designed” — lamenting bitjukov. Recently in German archives Wargaming managed to find the setup project, which can be replaced by the invented machine, and soon it will appear in the game.

With the expansion of geography changed the composition of the top management. If at first the guide were Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians, now only four of the leaders of Wargaming, including Acidic, speak Russian, among others — Americans, British, Greek Cypriot, French, Korean and Finn. Acidic backbone calls this “the equivalent of the Board of Directors.” The businessman was engaged in operational management, but no strategic decision is made without his participation. One of the personal initiatives of Sour — restart space strategy Master of Orion, the rights to which Wargaming has acquired in 2013 and is working together with major Argentine Studio NGD Studios.

Like Apple, which for several years trying to find revolutionary new product, Wargaming is also looking for. In different stages of development, the company is “a significant number of ideas,” says Sour, but if there are any main and a breakthrough “secret project” not recognized. So do the corporations, although the businessman prefers to refer to the laws of show business — before you announce, it must ensure that the new idea will “sparkle”. Because Sour does not have the right to disappoint the players.