"We love tanks, people love tanks, let's make an MMO about tanks." Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi tells the history of World of Tanks and how it became one of the biggest free-to-play MMOs on the market.
During my visit to Minsk, Belarus last week, I was invited with a group of journalists from around the globe to sit in on a press conference with the top brass at Wargaming, including CEO Victor Kislyi. During the press conference, Kislyi took the time to give a brief historical look back at the company that grew from a small studio to an international giant.
"Wargaming was started by a handful of friends from high school who all loved games, played games and always wanted to make games," Kislyi said of the company's early days. "We wanted to improve Civilization, we wanted to improve Warcraft, then we decided we needed to make it ourselves."
This determination led the small group of friends to create its first game, a fantasy PvP game entitled DBA Online. But while this was a learning experience, it did not, as Kislyi reminded us, "make millions of dollars." This pattern held with the studio's next title, Massive Assault, a turn-based strategy game. Kislyi said that the game "brought us some kind of recognition, connections, lots of experience, but of course it did not bring us millions of dollars ... and we kept making games."
After Massive Assault the studio's last game before World of Tanks was called Order of War. Again, Kislyi emphasized the game "did not bring us much financial success, but we got experience."
However, after ten years of only mild success, the studio heads decided to look for a formula that would spell a successful game. This formula turned out to be ditching the traditional purchase model for video games.
Five years ago we were experienced enough, lucky enough, smart enough to realize that the retail box business model was not going to survive for a long time. The whole world was moving from retail to online. From single player to massively multiplayer online.
Wargaming soon shut itself off and "burned all bridges" with its old retail connections, committing itself to making an MMO. "We asked ourselves 'what do we do best,'" Kislyi said. "We love tanks, people love tanks, let's make an MMO about tanks." Kislyi reasoned that because it was an MMO, it should begin with "World of" and thus World of Tanks was born.
After developing the title for a few years, in August of 2010, the studio ran out of money. However, it was lucky in that the title was ready for launch. After launching in Russia, the game took off. "We had thousands of people joining the game every day," said Kislyi. Through social media and word of mouth, the game's userbase soon crept into the millions. All at a time that the studio at Wargaming was approximately only 120 people.
After rapid expansion into Europe and the United States, Wargaming had changed decisively into a proud studio far removed from an originally tiny firm. "In three years we transformed from a small, enthusiastic group of old friends into a global, transcontinental, cutthroat, bloodsucking corporation," Kislyi said with a smile.
Where Wargaming goes next is anyone's guess.