Wargaming.net's CEO, Victor Kislyi, is extremely proud of World of Tanks . I interviewed him a few weeks ago and asked whether his massively successful free-to-play tank sim would benefit from Steam support.
"Name me one free-to-play game that Steam has" asks Victor.
"Umm... Spiral Knights, Champions Online?"
"Champions? OK, Champions Online on Steam. What kind of players now?" The CEO flips open his laptop and loads up Steam's stat page .
"One...thousand...ok... the peak? Two thousand. See?"
Victor flips his laptop so I can read the stats myself. He continues: "World of Tanks, three days ago, in Russia alone – 180 thousand. All the free to play games on Steam combined would be within the statistical deviation of World of Tanks in Russia."
Victor sure does love his World of Tanks. He's also hilarious. Read on for more free-to-play's most charismatic CEO.
Despite the numbers, Victor respects Valve's digital distribution platform: "We want to co-operate with Steam, really. They're successful, and hugely right in what they did with boxes. They were first to realise that boxes would die off on a massive scale. They started building the infrastructure before the bad times for the box began. It started like a sort of dynamic IP Protection, as in copy protection, and then evolved into a platform... the one and only.
"They allowed PC gaming industry to actually survive. I thank the team very much for that."
I asked Victor how wargaming.net have managed to crack the free-to-play market on such a massive scale: "I don't think there's a rule to follow," he admitted. "We have to keep in mind a lot of factors, and those factors change.
"Let me just name a few: there are successful free to play games that are in Asia, China and Korea, but their success does not translate to the US. Most of those games fail because of differences in the Western culture, the Western philosophy, the Western everything: perception of life and time and values. We see how differently Germany, Poland, Russia and Italy play World of Tanks. They spend a different amount of time playing and value different things.
"You have to keep watching your logs and what's happening within your system. We have to analyse it, understand it and say: “Why is that? Why aren't they buying this tank? Why aren't they going beyond the third level? Why aren't they cuddling up or teammates? When you understand that, you must be creative on how you tackle it."
Victor says realising and reacting to the changing face of the games industry is vital: "One more factor? It changes so fast. Take Zynga: before Zynga there were hardly any social games, there were no advocates for social games. A couple of guys came out, gathered resources, got people. Boom! They created a boom industry. There were other companies but they just did it in a very consummated manner."
But what about the potential copycats, riding on the unprecedented success of WOT? Victor isn't too bothered.
"I've done a lot of games before. I've done a lot of engines before that, and the engine that World of Tanks has behind it is unique. It's a combination of big worlds, cool new load balancing and server side technology. It's not hackable; it would take such a company as EA or someone in their position at least two and half years just to replicate World of Tanks to the same level of technology. So... welcome to the club!
"But, we don't have to be that arrogant, we believe that the best service, including increasing the quality, new content, new maps, new tanks, new modes, satellite games – we have to keep working hard with increasing capacity. Right now we have five hundred people, developing and supporting World of Tanks and our other two games."