Wargaming CEO Victor Kisyli: "Single-player games don’t affect us"

The secrets to a successful free-to-play video game, next-generation console possibilities, and football being a threat to Wargaming’s business revealed at Korean gaming expo G-Star

Web surfers and keyboard heroes would have at least noticed the influx of World of Tanks ads during their daily online reads. No, the name isn’t some weird army recruitment program; it’s one of the top-rated online action games that boasts over 75 million players. Stuff.TV was hot at the scene of South Korea’s annual gaming convention, G-Star, to pick the brain of the company’s CEO Victor Kisyli on the successful game business model and some advice on the trade.

Why did Wargming go F2P for World of Tanks?

Wargaming has been around for 15 years, and we were making the usual retail boxed games. Strategy, turn-based and real time. But the industry in Russia and the rest of the world isn't doing very well when it came to selling games in boxes. Especially for PC and even on consoles. We realized within 10 years that this path isn’t going anywhere.  However by that moment, we had a great team that was capable of making military games, experienced connections with the media, and understanding of military history and strategy games. 

We noticed that there are newer types of online games like WoW with their subscription model, which was killing it and making a great splash. The model was particularly big in Russia, Korea and China, but with that, you’re like buying the box every month.

Some browser games in Russia followed that model slightly. They’re free to play, but you pay money if you want the cooler items or if you want to speed up the game. We followed that logic and went ‘Hey, why don't we try making a really cool military combat action strategy game without payment and subscription models’?

Sounds logical, but won't in-game purchases turn costly in the long run?

Historically, if you look at most Chinese and Korean games, they have pay-to-win elements. They pay money, they have distinctive advantages in the playfield. It was probably a notable novelty then, but F2P doesn’t have to be that way. The more F2P games appear on the market, the less tolerant people are about them. We felt this with World of Tanks; even our first model was quite against pay-to-win. Our monetization was very low, but we get a lot of players; last we checked it was 75 million WoT registrations around the world. But nobody’s paying $1000 per month.

However, there are consumables that you can only get with in-game gold. They affect in-game battle, like gold rounds that gave an additional 2% penetration through armor. Paying for gold with real money [to exchange for in-game credits] is for busy people like us who value their time very, very much.

The credits themselves can be earned in-game with lots of time investment, like teenagers who don’t pay, or just hobbyists who don’t pay out of principle. With this ‘free to win’ move, we’re both on the same playing field. This means that in the eSports field, this is totally fair especially in that fierce and competitive field.

It’s also about the service and methods to keep a cherished title going, right?

When someone comes up with some new cool idea to bring free-to-play to the next level, it’s still about making better games in the end. We have about 2,300 people in our offices worldwide. Approximately half of them are programmers and developers. And the other half are service and publishing people. Even if it’s for one game, you need at least 1,000 service people to ensure a smooth launch, a working website and forum, and an orderly eSports event. It’s not only about making cool graphics or coming up with the ‘free-to-win’ formula, it’s about ensuring the elements of the process.

More after the break...

Wait, you haven't mentioned USA? How is the reception for WoT over there?

Good. Like Korea, this market is competitive. America is competitive with everything; cars, films, and so forth. It’s growing, but not as fast as we would think a year ago. Not because of just competition, but also because of consoles. PC isn’t the primary gaming platform.

That’s why we’re currently in the late stages of polishing the Xbox 360 version of World of Tanks [announced during this year’s E3 in Microsoft’s press conference]. No date yet; we need to go through Microsoft’s technical approval system, which isn’t as free as releasing something for the PC. Not just that, we also need to test it a lot.

And no, it’s nothing to do with the Xbox One’s release this month. Frankly speaking, after working on World of Tanks for so long, timing doesn’t matter. So there’s no such thing as a ‘Christmas F2P launch’ date; you can launch a game any time of the year. You just have to make sure the game is ready, the game is polished and has no bugs. You can release it on any peak day or holiday season, but if your game has a bug, 10 million people pop up on the first day and the servers crash, all your days will become Black Friday.

Unlike normal retail games, the point of our model is that we don’t want you to play for one week or a few days. This is a game where we want you to be engaged for half a year, two years or even three years. It’s all about steady growth. When you talk about millions of players, it’s always about server size capacity. If some little thing goes on, they crash. If you bring in 10 million in one shot, it’ll crash.

Hey, Blizzard's going F2P too! How's the competition?

Blizzard is Blizzard. They have Hearthstone, we have our own card game, World of Tanks Generals, so we’ll see how that goes in the long run. As for Heroes of the Storm, the MOBA segment isn’t intersecting with our market.

Single-player games don’t affect us. Any big release with GTA V and Diablo III, some of our players, about five percent of them, start playing them for one to two weeks. After that game’s done, [our stats are back on track]. When Riot Games have their League of Legends special events, it’s for different people. We have older audiences who love military and strategy-type titles. The only thing that affected us is the World Cup in 2010 when Germany played. While that match was going on, we had a 50 percent drop that went up after it concluded. To us, football is a bigger rival than any other game.

PS4 and Xbox One World of Tanks/Planes/Warship title, maybe?

We need to finish up the Xbox 360 version first. Right now the power of the console is quite enough to give you the World of Tanks maps and 15 on 15 battle experience. If it goes well, nothing prevents us from doing it on Xbox One. Xbox Live has 47 million subscribers. They’re connected, they have TVs. This is a huge market in itself. They’re disciplined, ready to play and ready to pay. As for the PS4; we’re not thinking about it. No negotiation; nothing for now.

World of Tanks and World of Warplanes are out now. Wargaming’s third game, World of Warships, is still in development and has no release date as of yet.

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