The founder of Wargaming — RBC: “Gold tank — please the Chinese comrades”

A graduate of the Institute of the Belarusian state University, Victor Kislyi in 1998 he established a company which later was renamed to Wargaming. In 2010, she released her main project — multiplayer online game World of Tanks. In 2016, Bloomberg was first turned Sour in his “index of billionaires,” assessing business Wargaming in $1,5 billion thus, the entrepreneur has become the first billionaire in the gaming industry in the CIS.

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. To date, the number of registered players in tanks over 110 million worldwide (40 million in the CIS), of which nearly 97% of men aged about 30 years. The number of staff Wargaming has increased from less than a hundred people in 2008, when the idea of creating World of Tanks, up to 4 thousand in 15 offices at the beginning of 2016.

Read more about creating Wargaming, read the material of RBC magazine Corporation Wargaming: how tank army of Victor Kislyi took over the world”.

“The game is a very investment-heavy industry

— Bloomberg praised the Wargaming in revenue of $590 million is close to the truth?

— Our revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the exact numbers we don’t call, explain why. There is a fierce competition among game companies, especially in the mobile sphere, where we went in 2014 and trying to catch up. One of the tools of struggle, and often the most important, it is the purchase of advertising. There are [Finnish] the company Supercell, which makes [mobile game] Clash of Clans, there are [American company] Machine Zone, which has released a Game of War and which recently invited Arnold Schwarzenegger to become the face of their game, there are other examples.

They literally rake all users. So this is a fact of life in the market: even if the game is very good, this is not enough. You need to have about the same kind of budgets and for a few million a day to pour into advertising. Exactly how much they spend — $2 million or 5 million, I would, for example, I really wanted to know. But I don’t know. It is important for everyone to know the numbers to each other. Therefore, all the maximum hiding everything.

— What accounts for a large part of the costs of the company — after all, on advertising or on the staff, which is already 4 thousand people?

— The staff is excellent. It is clear that wages in America and Minsk are slightly different. On the other hand, the level of training that we need, implies a very large salary even developers and programmers in Belarus.

After employees are rent and advertising. I do not know the exact distribution, but it does not change much. As I mentioned, when entering the mobile advertising is likely to win. We have not yet fully unfolded, are prepared. The gaming company for several years to buy, for example, advertising during the broadcast of the finale of American football Super Bowl. It is for them the event number one. Just at the break between the two matches the most “delicious” commercials where the creators of the commercials in the same competition. Who will win — San Francisco or Denver, that’s a good question, but an even more important question, who will give a steeper advertising. Advertising should be the level of “Cannes lions”.

— Your competitor Mail.Ru Group is actively promoting its game about tanks “Armored Warfare: the project “Armata” and mentions you in their advertising campaigns. For example, they used the slogan Make love not WOT, with WOT is the acronym for the game World of Tanks. Kato you feel about that?

— The industry is small, everyone knows each other. Games that are similar to each other, on the market a lot. In this respect we are pleased to know that when you start to copy, it means you did something right, without it anywhere. Recently, we stopped paying attention to it.

Our main boss and an investor — a player. The project is developing model free-to-play, that is, 70-75% of our players play for free, investing the time and interest. There were cases when we were doing something wrong, and regardless of competitors we observed a drop in audience. We made mistakes, releasing bad updates. Had time to bethink and to fix it, but such errors are painful to beat on us. If you continue to release good updates, to hold e-sports tournaments, we’ll be fine. Old players will remain in the game, new to come and to bring friends.

— Is it possible for a partnership between you and Mail.Ru Group?

— In companies have a business development Department — specially trained people who travel around the world. All know each other, intersect at the exhibitions on the sidelines. Some dialogue is in principle always goes between all, with companies on all continents. Conversations, quite possibly, somewhere, but in such cases should be mutually beneficial interest, some specifics. At the moment I can’t say that we are with them doing something it is not.

— You reinvest all the profits?

Games is a very investment-heavy industry, if you want to be ahead and not behind. A large part of our profit goes to development. Projects like World of Warships [“World ships”] and World of Warplanes [“World of planes”] are the years of the development team of several hundred people. So Yes, while we have to deal with harsh reinvestment.

— How are developing World of Warplanes and World of Warships?

— World of Warplanes, unfortunately, was not as popular as World of Tanks. The reasons we have repeatedly explained publicly. While I have a personal explanation at the player, which is not necessarily true: man as a living creature designed by evolution to walk the earth, max to climb a tree, but not to fly in three-dimensional space with six degrees of freedom at the speed of 400 km/h while on the go and still shoot. Few on the planet can fly a plane: the pilots are unique people, which choose long and are taught. Therefore, World of Warplanes has a small but loyal community, which, despite all the twists and turns, plays this game. With each update the audience slowly grows. But mass product World of Warplanes did not. To close the project, we will not, it is my clear decision. Because the closure will make unhappy those who already plays.

In World of Warships already about 7 million signups, and it’s a wonderful pace. It is clear that the ships are a little heavy in the shadows of tanks. If you take the same Russia, all play tanks. Personally I, for example, on ships there is little time, all the updates I try personally, but are more likely to play tanks on PC and World of Tanks Blitz with my eight-year-old son.

Victor Sour

Born April 30, 1976 in Minsk in a family of scientists. Since childhood was fond of computer games: in the laboratory of his father were monochrome computers, and at the end of 1980-ies the future Creator Wargaming first tried to play. Sour he graduated from the physical faculty of the Belarusian state University, specialty “Laser physics and spectroscopy”: on the choice of the faculty insisted his father.

Together with other students from BSU, Victor Kislyi and his brother Eugene came up with the first version of the online game — turn-based strategy Iron Age: in childhood, the brothers have created a paper version. In addition, Acid wrote letters to the Civilization Creator sid Meier, in which he told that we need to improve in the game. The Victor Kislyi still plays — not only in their own tanks, but in the same Civilization. In 2011, Sour moved the headquarters of Wargaming from Minsk to Cyprus, where he moved with his family.

“Our global strategy is similar to football”

— How are revenues Wargaming in different countries — the CIS continues to generate most of the revenue?

— From-for falling of ruble exchange rate is now about half the revenue, maybe a little less, to account for the CIS. Success in Russian-speaking region was obvious, but how to turn life in the future, you never know. So we are very active with the 2010-2011 flew around the world and found ways to run the game in countries and in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Thanks to this strategy, which allowed to go beyond the Russian-speaking world, we firmly stand on my feet, despite the difficult situation in the last 12-15 months.

— Which countries outside the CIS bring you the most significant income and how much is in the revenue structure? Have you managed to conquer the American market?

— We consider Europe as one country. Of course, there is more Germans and poles — and population, of interest.

USA is the hardest market for sale only: for chewing gum, and soft drinks. There is always fierce competition, especially in video games. The largest us developers publishers Activision, Microsoft, Blizzard tightly holding your market and know how to do it. In the United States play less on computers, more on consoles. Under the Xbox, we went 1.5 years ago, on the PlayStation 4 — a few months ago. Now our share, of course, growing up. Now the number of registrations on Xbox One and Xbox 360 — 8 million, on the PlayStation 4 — 2 million

Photo: Andrey Kovalev for RBC

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Photo: Andrey Kovalev for RBC

— On the Chinese market usually also say that it’s heavy. While you are in China. As you get out and what are the successes?

— China is now the third largest, after the CIS and Europe. In China we started to negotiate in 2010, i.e. before the released World of Tanks in Russia. Printed brochures suitcase, boarded the plane and flew to Shanghai to personally meet with potential partners. According to Chinese law, you should work through a local publisher. The game itself needs to obtain a special license, so we had to make some changes: for example, in China it is impossible to release the game with symbolics of the countries — instead of the original flags used in the game are visually similar images and color.

Now we own 10% of the company KongZhong [publisher Wargaming in China]. This is a friendly agreement on strategic partnership. There is the concept of “right of first refusal”: when it became clear that tanks have a good chance at success in China, we have already prepared the planes and ships. Any publisher wants to have the right to be the first to see the next game developer. KongZhong gave us a number of options that we had to buy. It is now considered that we are brothers forever: we have no reason to quarrel, and it makes sense to agree to any controversial moments that inevitably arise between the publisher and the developer.

— You said you had to change the game for China. As far as I know in Chinese version of World of Tanks is, for example, a gold tank worth $400. It also wishes local?

— Yes, it is [Golden tank] was a big request of our Chinese comrades. Local couldn’t tank without gold. If you look at purely Chinese game, there’s only money can’t buy — you need to show chic. You can, for example, buy the right to throw people out of his team. We have to know and understand these features in all countries where there are, and implement them. In our work we adhere to the principle “think globally, act locally”.

— Wargaming now have 15 offices around the world — in Paris, San Francisco, Seattle, Tokyo, etc. had an office in Moscow. How long he worked and why you refused it?

— They were rather few people who was represented by Wargaming. We decided to abandon it because of some important functions of this office were not carrying: just a few people could tell about the company, perform the marketing function. Mostly the work was carried out with the museums, with the Cuban example. Moscow is not the cheapest city, and the modern conditions of doing business allow you to do everything remotely.

— You for each market separately working on strategy for development and promotion?

— Our global strategy is similar to soccer: it the rules are the same all over the planet, but football federations in each country has its own peculiarities. In our case these features are particularly strong: the Japanese players have conditionally anime kartinochki in this style, corresponding information support of our activities; Americans love to play a little more relaxed and more likely to have fun than to strain and to compete; and Russian players have a strong competitive spirit — they need to fight and to break all.

We also have a lot of funny stories worthy of National Geographic. For example, when I opened a Japanese office, his staff got a cat sewed for him a special garment called Hellcat [in honor of the tank destroyer that are in the game]. Got him a page in the local social networks, players have corresponded with him, and he “answered”. In Korea, for example, at the opening of the office were all dressed in national costumes. There is a tradition to loudly crush the shell of the fruit is an empty melon or pumpkin that she broke into small pieces, otherwise there will be happiness. I am also one of them arrived.

I now feel like 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.

About the company

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 and put in her for five computers. The date of Foundation of the company is considered to be 2 August 1998 (then it was called “Game stream”). Now Wargaming is an international company with offices on all continents except Antarctica. Prior to the launch of World of Tanks Wargaming company has released a few games — in particular, DBA Online, Massive Assault, “Operation “Bagration”, “Inhabited island”. In the second half of 2000-ies the developer about a year worked on an online game in the fantasy genre, which was to become a competitor to the popular World of Warcraft role-playing game about orcs and elves from American Blizzard Entertainment.

However, in late 2008 Sour and the partners decided to create a MMO game about tanks, because in this niche did not exist popular products. In may 2009 they released their first promo video for future World of Tanks, in which the orcs are fighting with the elves, and in the end they moved the tank. A few months later, the first test of the game — it 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.

In 2013, Wargaming has bought 30% of Cyprus Bank and Hellenic high-rise building in Nicosia for €20 million

“In the coming year, we are restructuring the business”

— Today, Wargaming employs thousands people, the company has opened more than a dozen offices around the world. While you started 18 years ago with ten people. The condition is more comfortable in a start — up or Corporation?

The success of tanks and other projects really made us to spread throughout the world from the point of view of production and publishing. You can, of course, to open an office somewhere in America’s agricultural heartland, and it will be cheaper, but there are no programmers, marketing professionals the proper level, little development of necessary infrastructure. We have to go where the talent, and our colleagues also settled in Los Angeles, Seattle, Silicon valley.

A large number of people and offices in fact make us a Corporation. We can pretend not, but will be consequences. It is clear that we need to deal with boring things associated with taxes, laws, different jurisdictions. But we have to do this, there are specially trained people, I do not very much.

Thus in recent times we have become aware that in a large number of employees there are both pluses and minuses.

— What are the downsides?

— Because of the size of the company, inside bureaucracy, difficulties with communication sometimes there miscommunication. Do not pay attention to it we can’t. So far we spread around the world, ran quickly and did everything efficiently. It’s time to gather stones: and the closest in recent years, we are restructuring the business. The goal is to increase efficiency.

It is important to act without kinks. We are all creatives and fans of games, and if you forget it, no good it will not. We don’t have all these vystraivanii structure to forget our main value of the player. Behind the figures and columns in the databases we don’t have to lose his face. The search for this balance is every day.

In March you announced that the company is moving to a distributed development structure: now staff will be working on one project or another, regardless of geography. Why was this done?

— It is a perfectly logical technical concept. In Eastern Europe there is a strong professional to develop on consoles. We do not have this culture — everything related to graphics, as there are no institutions, no Hollywood. In California, for obvious reasons, a highly developed advertising industry. Therefore, there is need to search for artists or of video Directors.

The heart of the game engine was and is Australian. So the development we have, by definition already distributed. Now we fasten this phenomenon as a rule. For example, the Airbus A380 in Toulouse is collected, and the parts are being taken from all over the world. And we will be no matter where is it written a piece of code or image, an important final product.

Yes, this system, on the one hand, slightly complicates the overall process, on the other — disciplinary, because everyone needs to follow. But if done correctly, you will see a greater freedom of action. If you take tanks with such a large number of distributed users, they want a lot of different things. The Chinese have to celebrate Chinese New year, us — 9 May. Without a new system we will do something for Chinese, but don’t do for Russian. And in fact, all these blocks are needed here and now at the same time.

— Do you give preference to foreign managers?

— Wargaming is, by definition, has become an international company. We produce games in Australia, Eastern Europe and the United States, disseminate and publish them around the world — in Tokyo, Seoul, San Francisco and other cities. It would be unwise to have a bias in favour of one national side. Yes, we originated in Eastern Europe, so initially, the Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians largely ruled the roost.

Now in our leadership team [the analogue of the Board of Directors of the company] a few Russian-speaking people, Americans, British, Greek Cypriot, French, Korean and Finn. Over the years we have learned to coexist and to understand the cultural features — that’s Korean, that’s American, but the Prim and proper Englishman, and it’s different types. In our headquarters in Cyprus employs more than 200 employees — half local, such as accountants, but as a whole is a hodgepodge. In all of this, incidentally, is also a huge challenge — how to force the multinational to work for us. I think we’re doing better and better at it.

“I was lucky: my passion turned into work”

— You said “boring things” are hardly involved. What are you personally responsible in the company?

— The company’s structure involves the allocation of areas of responsibility on a geographical basis or on the basis of products. I can not do without the discussion and approval of strategic initiatives for large new projects. Of course, I must approve investments in any new location. I would argue the development of a strategy — what we do, where we go, whether in the framework of the military-historical setting [theme] or do single-player games. For example, [restart space strategy] Master of Orion — it was my personal initiative. The return of the lost about 20 years ago legends back to the community — almost as a gift.

The company has certain levels: is global head of development, head of global publishing, head of research and further down the list. They are my employees, although we have more teamwork, I’m not particularly prescriptive methods use. My key task is to light them, to motivate, to show you the way not only the individual, but to the whole team.

It is necessary to read clever books, [monthly journal] Harvard Business Review — how to manage, delegate, without this it is impossible. And to learn constantly: for example, in April I and 60 of our managers went for a week to Stanford, where he held a specially created for us a course on leadership in conditions of innovations of a rapidly changing world.

— Why do you need it?

— The world is changing fast, and the game industry, show business and the IT even faster. About many things, for example about virtual reality, neither I nor you have heard a couple of years ago. Or about what can I play this heavy, photo-realistic game like World of Tanks, on a mobile device. By and large iPhone has appeared recently, but it was a life without iPhone, and without cellular and no Wi-Fi. I still remember life without the Internet.

The rate of change increases, and it is impossible to live and work, to stay afloat if you don’t improve in different areas. We have a lot of different professions: artists, database programmers, game designers — the list goes on.

The higher the level, the stronger the fore leadership skills — management, management. If you’re not going to have time, then hopelessly behind.

— You mentioned that you are playing tanks…

— Yes, my nick — VictorKis. I play computer games, ever since I can remember. My dad working with me now, but in 1989 he was a scientist in his laboratory, I saw the first computer. Played a simple game on this is not black and white, and monochrome screen, and I like lightning struck: against me played a smart piece of hardware,” she thought and forced me to think. Then the game started to become somewhat more beautiful: there was Civilization, StarCraft, Warcraft, SimCity and so on. Now they almost kill movie — and on budget, and according to the picture, and for engagement and dissemination.

When I play in our tanks, it allows me to see what was wrong, so from time to time I give advice to responsible for game design — taking them or not, criticize or say “no, we’re not going to do that because of that, and because of that”. Still playing “Civilization” favorite game of all times and peoples. Once gopalaswami, I play Master of Orion — brings back my childhood memories. I was lucky that my passion turned into work. In this regard I am a happy person.

— Tanks will soon be six years. How long does this game to “shoot”?

Is a very long story: a few decades they’ll last, years, 10-20 years, for sure. The battle of the tanks takes approximately seven minutes, maximum 15 minutes. There are many people who have played for 100 thousand fights, an average of one million minutes. They do not get tired, they continue to play.

All this is because we will continue to work and release updates. We have already released more than 60 major updates is new content, new models of tanks, maps, locations, constantly improving graphics, physics, effects, that is, do all the things that brings the game to a greater photorealism, to a military movie from Steven Spielberg or George Lucas.

— Do you have the Wargaming secret project — a kind of new tanks?

— Until we are confident in the future success of the project, including the tests in secret labs, we don’t spoil your karma, otherwise the players and the developers get upset. This is dictate to us the laws of show business. So I will say this: at different stages of development is now a significant number of ideas.