Although Belarus has a relatively small population, Wargaming has still managed to thrive and transform into a bustling international studio with offices on almost every continent. In fact, while we were there, Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi announced the opening of the company's 16th studio in Austin, Texas. This will be Wargaming's fifth studio in the USA, a far cry from Soviet anti-American policies only a few decades ago.
Wargaming originally found funding and support in the government-run High Tech Park. HTP, whose primary function is fostering "to support software industry." The organization's site continues, "HTP Belarus provides special business environment for IT business with incentives unprecedented for European countries." HTP's resume is dominated by a large number of software companies (they've funded over a dozen alone whose names start with "Soft").
The mandate to create HTP was dictated "by the special Law" like much of business in Belarus. The state-run economy is controlled by the iron fist of the country's president, Alexander Lukashenko, who is the first and only president in Belarus - dating back to 1994. He has been accused of human rights violations, arms sales to terrorists, and of running "the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe." And yet, Wargaming.net thrives.
Bolstered by professional support from HTP, and basking in the tax breaks available to software companies in Belarus, Wargaming has managed to quickly expand into a large international company. The firm's revenues were listed as €217.9 million last year, and the company is perpetually expanding. Just this past year, Wargaming has added a mobile version of WoT called World of Tanks Blitz, along with a trading card game.
But the company remembers its heritage, as was clear the morning after I arrived. Rising early, we were driven to a Soviet military history museum called Stalin's Line. In homage to the company's most successful games, we strolled around looking at the decommissioned pride and glory of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Tanks, MiGs, and artillery pieces were left to rot in what was less of a museum and more of a graveyard.
The museum is located on the long-running line of fortifications called Stalin's Line, designed to protect Russia from Western Europe during WWII. Hints of the fortifications remain, but not many. After Stalin's Line fell, Minsk was the next to go, and brutal fighting left close to 90 percent of the city destroyed. What this meant was that when Belarus became the USSR's first prototype Soviet Republic, its capital was a blank slate - a hunk of unmolded clay in communist hands.
As we drove around Minsk on a bus tour, this historical nuance was driven home. Buildings not too dissimilar from housing projects in the USA were the primary architecture. Occasionally we saw a unique structure, but for the most part buildings were drab, austere, and uniform. With a demolished city to play with, the USSR turned Minsk into a Marxian paradise, complete with faceless buildings for the proletariat. This was the environment from which Wargaming emerged, and it is overwhelmingly clear why the studio arrived on "wargaming" for not only its name, but its games. Nearly every building and landmark serves as a reminder of decades of Soviet war preparations.