The Average Gamer’s CEO Victor Kislyi “The globe is pretty much our battlefield.”

World of Tanks (WoT) is one of the biggest games ever. In terms of player numbers it’s massive. Developed by, a company previously known for its Massive Assault series of games, World of Tanks is a team-based, free-to-play, tank MMO that was first released in Russia in Aug 2010.

At this year’s Tankfest I talked to the CEO of Victor Kislyi. We discussed how they are dealing with the massive success of WoT, how the development of warplanes and battleships is progressing, their move into the world of e-sports and if they are developing for consoles.

In less than two years, World of Tanks has amassed over 30 million registered players (including China) that collectivly fire 15 billion shots and destroy 1.3 billion tanks in 100 million battles every month. The game also holds Guinness World record for the “most players online simultaneously on one MMO Server,” a record that is continually breaking. They recently set a peak CCU (i.e. concurrent players) of 450,000 in Russia. If you include the rest of the world this figure rises up to around 900,000 according to Kislyi.

Tankfest - WoT Stand

The game continues to expand through a series of substantial updates. Last month saw the release of update 7.4 which added 8 new French tank destroyers, two new maps and two new game modes. Update 7.5 will introduce all new Tier 10 Tanks, packed full of heavy firepower and armour and even more maps and vehicles. are taking the battle into the air with World of Warplanes (Warplanes) which should be in open beta by the end of this summer and into the sea with World of Battleships (WoB), due to arrive in 2013.

You can also see all the photos in our Tankfest Facebook album. [Also includes adorable tank bears – Ed].

What does your role involve at

Victor Kislyi: I’m still proud of the fact that I can run around the world and meet the media, do interviews, presentations and meet the players. I drink beer with them all over the world. It’s really exciting to see the people who play the game say “Thanks you for the best game ever, however, I would like these things to be changed.” That’s what I do.

I also take part in those strategic discussions between the development and publishing arms, future game developments and what players what next. Every day is hard work.

Did the success of WoT surprise you?

VK: Yes. The first couple of months when we saw the growth rate numbers we were surprised. But then we pulled ourselves together and started analysing everything and right now a lot of our success is calculated success. It is a lot of work. We know where we are good but also which parts we need to fix. Right now, it is just hard work.

But success brings its own problems.

VK: Obviously, a year ago, we were 150 people; right now, we are more than 900 employees. Millions and millions of players are joining WoT. You have to have infrastructure. You have to have the software, server side-code, database code to be ready to sustain that many people and smoothly. We have broken our own [CCU] world record many times and it is now 452,000 Russians playing at the same time on one cluster. That would not be possible a year ago.
Tankfest - Tiger II German Heavy Tank

Our technology was limited to one physical rack of machines. We came up with this multi-clustered technology with one central database for pretty much the hanger when you log in and have your tank collection. Now we can have an almost unlimited number of battle servers connected to the main central “mothership” database. However, the battle servers could be in the next room, next city or even in the next country. That gives us unlimited flexibility in growing our numbers. Probably in the future we will combine Russian, American and European players into one ecosystem but not right now.

You must get lots of feedback and feature requests from all those players?

VK: This is a hard part. The more players you have, the more requests you get and the bigger the game gets. Then players want even more improvements. So how do you eat an Elephant? Slice by slice. That’s why we have to have hundreds of service people, community managers, support people, PR, marketing etc.

We don’t sit on our backs and enjoy the success. We keep working hard and increasing the intensity of our communications with players, including events like this [Tankfest]. We are processing, categorising, prioritising requests and sending them to the development team. We are also increasing the development capacity all the time to be able to accommodate all of the requests. That’s what our business is.

It’s not like you have a success and then you can drink cocktails on an island for the rest of your life. No. It’s an ever growing amount of hard work! You have to have to have more people, a more organised structure with better financing. It’s a tough business.

How’s the development of World of Warplanes going?

VK: It’s a separate team which has been trained by the WoT team in the beginning. Now they work autonomously, programming wise. It’s the same with World of Battleships, so they don’t interfere with each other’s production.

In just 10 months from nothing, we were able to roll out a public alpha. Now it’s closed beta. Ok, it’s still not finished. These still a lot of feedback, a lot of improvements around the interface, flight model, gaming modes with new warplanes and maps. We also are looking at how you increase the tactical variety of dogfights and how do you introduce Player vs Environment (PvE) modes, with more AI controlled bombers and AA-guns. There’s still a lot of work to do but we have good experience with WoT and its relatively scalable code. But we have hundreds of people whose everyday job it is to get feedback and put it into the development pipeline.

You have an ex-tank commander in the US army working for you on WoT. Do you have anyone like that in the World of Warplanes team?

VK: Yeah, Nicholas is a licenced pilot too!
We are reaching out to aviation societies, especially in the US and soon we’ll contact aviation museums to get those kind of people. Of course in the Warplanes development and production team we have fanatics, museum rats. Either those guys will learn even more about warplanes – even though there are really knowledgeable about any World War II equipment. But, if you know someone who is fanatic about warplanes who needs a creative job, somewhere in Europe or America – not programming though, researching, communicating and creating – let me know. If they are good, they’ll get the dream job of their lifetime.

Warplanes – big map, lots of small planes. How do you make the combat entertaining and make the player feel like they are in a big battle?

VK: There are a lot of elements that are still being polished.
Firstly, we don’t make you take off and land. You’re already airborne and your enemies are within 30 seconds flight from your starting location. Why would we waste your time on non-combat if you can have immediate action?

The flight model, firing range and ordnance penetration values is all about balancing. It’s all statistical work. It’s balancing between total accuracy and fun to play. I always say when it comes a chance to sacrifice a bit of historical accuracy for fun to play, we would rather go fun to play. Not making it too arcady, but being reasonable.

One example, we are bringing dogfighting a little closer to the ground. In Warplanes the ground is very 3D. We have canyons, structures, clouds, sun, hills and cliffs so that you can sneakily and invisibly outflank your enemy. That gives a lot of tactical and even strategic variety.

As we are a 15 year old development studio, I think I’m in a position to say we have one of the most experienced teams for making games for boys. We know how to make boys happy. Not only with WoT, but we made some impressive games before. We got dozens of people employing their experience, their creativeness and wisdom into tweaking Warplanes into very enjoyable online gaming experience. It’s rocket science brewing in the offices of
Tankfest - WoT Player
Are you aiming to make Warplanes equally playable between people with flight sticks and those who have just a mouse and a keyboard?

VK: Yep, that’s the task our designers have. Your chance for success does not have to rely upon what you use as a controller . All of us have to have an equal chance. Even if you play with joystick, it does not mean you kick my butt, like all the time. That’s a tricky part.

However, we had similar dilemma with tanks. As a company I think we have proved that this it’s doable. With Warplanes, yes it will take more time and more experimenting and more trial and error but we are known for completing that kind of job. We will do it.

When are you going to reveal more about World of Battleships?

VK: It’s too early to show anything. I think at one of the upcoming trade shows we’ll give more information. It’s in an earlier stage of development than Warplanes though.

There was mention of all the three games working together – a whole theatre of war with planes, tanks and battleships fighting together. Is that going to be available in one go?
VK: Right now we don’t have official plans of combining the warfare of air, land and sea on one map. This is not happening now.

We announced by the end of summer we’ll have this service. It will be called That’s a good name [smiles]. You have one account which give you access to all three games and maybe more in the future. So you will have one login for all the accessories like mobile applications etc. You will have all your stats, medals for all games in one place with comparisons, charts, leagues, tournaments and clan wars.

The essence is that your gold and experience in your WoT account is automatically usable in Warplanes and Battleships. You can earn 500,000 experience points in WoT and then immediately transfer that to Warplanes and get that late tier 10 Messerschmitt prototype model!

The latest plan for combining battles would be clan wars. So before a tank battle your clan has to fight an air battle. If they win the dogfight then for the tank battle you will have maybe two off-map heavy bomber strikes to a designated square. Or maybe some recon flight to, a designated square on the map, to give you visibility for 30 seconds.

With Battleships, well they can give barrage support for coastal territory tank fights and on the global map can cut supply lines to cut empires in half. For example, if enemy ships enter English Channel and you’re in England and France.

Where do you see the company in a few years?

VK: I think that tbhe company is going to be made of thousands of people in more than 15-20 locations around the world. one of the leaders in global online gaming. Global is a key word. Even big gaming companies are not yet global. They are mostly in the US and Europe. They are not even in Russia. We are strong in Russia, in Europe and catching up in America. We have huge Chinese numbers. We are opening an office in Korea and Singapore and then maybe Japan and Taiwan. The globe is pretty much our battlefield.

How long before we see events like BlizzCon?
VK: We are meeting with the players. We go to locations like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, Seoul and Beijing. Our second diversion is e-sports. We are turning WoT into a global e-sports discipline. We have big events in Russia that’s like a BlizzCon but with Tanks. Historically our Western operations are lagging behind a little bit but it’s coming.

You’re pushing towards e-sports then?

VK: It’s spectacular and very presentable for TV, YouTube or live streaming. E-sports involve professional athletes competing for good prizes, money, laptops. Big money. There’s a huge following of teenagers who one day want to have their e-sports careers and millions and millions of players that watch that, either on the stage from conventions or electronically or on their TVs.
Tankfest - Victor Kislyi And A Tiger I Tank
Are you enhancing WoT or Warplanes to be more presentable in that e-sports arena?

VK: Yeah. Right now we need to have a spectator mode of course. It’s more work. It’s like a separate business. We have maybe a dozen dedicated people working on this. So we are going there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like you develop a game and declare it to be an e-sports discipline. You must first make a good game, make sure millions of players across the world play this and then you move to e-sports. It’s not the other way around.

Are you planning to expand the World of Tanks/Warplanes/Battleships onto the consoles?

VK: Technologically it’s easy. We’ve been doing some experimenting, so it’s doable. Yeah. The biggest question now is – and I don’t have the answer is – where consoles are going? Are they going to die off because of being physical $300 investment? Maybe because of mobiles and tablets? Let’s see what Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface brings us. There is this living room experience, especially in the US you cannot ignore, which is huge.

Technology wise we can do Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3. From a business standpoint or long-term strategy standpoint if they are to die off, then that is not a wise move. We are still considering that.

The PC market is still your main focus?

VK: Well, after all there are no consoles in China or Korea and Russia. Germany is also a very heavily PC country. In the old days of the boxes [games], yeah. If your game is not Xbox or they call it cross-platform then no publisher will pick you up. Whereas online or PC you just don’t care. You may lose the US console market and still survive and be prosperous because of Russia, China and Germany.

A company like ourselves can think, let us have this amount of players [indicates a big number]. Then we have the console market, which has this amount of players generating this amount of revenue. Then you think, “I’ll have to develop new technology and change the gameplay because of controls and then put a lot of marketing in for console consumer.” But why not just increase the Chinese population of your game for the same amount of players, maybe even a little bigger, without reinventing the game and the market? It’s not a good outlook for consoles.

Thanks for your time.

World of Tanks is available now for PC and free to play. Download the client from World of Tanks website. World of Warplanes is currently in beta testing and will be released later on in 2012. World of Battleships will be released in 2013.