Wargaming: CEO Victor Kislyi talks WoT player retention

Source

Years before Battlegrounds was making headlines, World of Tanks (WoT) was one of the earliest games to smash through the 1m concurrent players mark. Wargaming is now a more diverse company, having added both Warships and Warplanes to its core roster of titles with mixed success, expanded WoT to Xbox and PlayStation and added a strong mobile title in WoT: Blitz. It’s soon to expand again, too, with the upcoming Total War Arena, in partnership with Creative Assembly.

We sit down with CEO and co-founder Victor Kislyi to discuss how the company’s now managing its wider spread of titles, while retaining players and acquiring new ones.

We first ask if WoT is still the company’s dominant title – Kislyi doesn’t share figures, but confirms it is, adding: “For us, it doesn’t matter which of our games you play. Even if you play other people’s games, we are fine. As long as you are a gamer, we will get you, you will come to us one day.”

He may believe it’s inevitable that many gamers – overwhelmingly male ones as Kislyi points out on more than one occasion – will be drawn to his game by their love of tanks, but Wargaming still takes player acquisition and retention as seriously as anyone in the industry.

If a man sticks with our game for ten weeks, then he stays almost forever.

Victor Kislyi, Wargaming

“This is our biggest challenge still, despite all of our success. Statistically, there are a lot of players who love tanks – what man does not love tanks?” he asks us, to which we admit having visited The Tank Museum in Dorset more than once.

Attracting players and retaining them are two sides of the same coin, of course, with Kislyi telling us: “If a man sticks with our game for ten weeks, then he stays almost forever. This is psychological, it takes a man ten weeks to understand whether he loves this thing or not.”

That said, even after many years of ongoing support, improving the experience beyond those initial ten weeks is still key.

 “We have to attack it from various angles, first of all the tutorial, and in [version] 9.20 we’ll have a very well done tutorial, which we did not have before,” Kislyi says.

But his efforts go much further than that, with the just-launched WoT War Stories – the game’s first attempt at a solo campaign mode that is exclusive to console versions of the game. It’s based around a series of alternative history scenarios, such as German tanks landing on British soil.

“Most of the games are story-based and have a little bit of multiplayer. Here, it’s the other way around. The base of World of Tanks is PvP, that’s what attracts millions of players from around the world. But you play PvP everyday and you know how to play it, you have played tens of thousands of battles, you know it inside out, it’s like breathing, like walking. Now with these skills, you go into the story. I think it’s a nice twist.”

We ask about just how long-term an investment content like this is for the game? “We invest money into the entertainment of people joining today, but the money that gets into our bank account is from investment a year ago or two years ago. We are not in the beginning of the cycle, we are in a never-ending cycle. We invest today in players, which we’ll monetise – not all of them, but some of them – two years from now. But that’s fine, if you have the muscle to do this – players are happy, we’re happy.”

And why is it exclusive to console? “These campaigns are an especially good way to attract a western audience,” he replies, with the Russian market saturated and largely PC-based anyway. “In the west, we still have huge potential, and so that’s why these campaigns will be a good addition.”

Free-to-play can mean a big churn in players, so Wargaming’s ability to retain gamers is key, Kislyi continues: “This is the everyday activity of our business intelligence department, looking at the big data. When you have around 180m registrations across your games, you have to utilise that data. There’s no one answer, every day people look at this cohort analysis, this churn rate, this winback campaign, where do we channel our advertising efforts, our PR efforts?”

We then ask what metrics he judges their success upon: “Many people measure it with money, but we found that very cynical. So yes, daily or monthly active users, but even more importantly core users.

“We have a stable franchise. We are a cultural phenomenon, at least in some countries. It’s a curse and a blessing, this stability – you have to fuel it with new updates that are exciting, though the base will stay there.

“Our slogan is: we deliver. The word ‘deliver’ means not just development or publish, ‘deliver’ means all of it, starting from the concept, prototype and testing, alpha and betas, releasing them, releasing updates, pushing them, advertising them. This is delivery.”

MOBILE BLITZKRIEG

Moving away from the PC and console side of the business, we ask about the structure of its mobile efforts: “That’s actually a very relevant question,” Kislyi says. “At Wargaming, we have different mobile initiatives spread out here and there. It crystallized in Blitz being relatively successful. It’s not top three, but it’s a many millions of dollars a year franchise. Which is just on mobile platforms. 80m mobile users isn’t little, and it’s growing every day,” he explains.

“Mobile is now a very separate division,” he tells us, admitting that maybe it should have been sooner.

“No matter what you do with PC and console, those are huge projects with history and legacy, and a little bit of extra bureaucracy, and so they will always be a little slower. Whereas with mobile, you have to be extremely agile when it comes to mobile projects: prototyping, releasing, updating and killing. If something is not working, you just have to kill it.”

We wonder if the company is using Blitz as a gateway to draw players into its PC title?

“This is not a direct stream,” Kislyi says. “Our mobile games are products in their own right. Blitz is a full-blown, 3D, action-packed, tactical, strategic MMO. Some people never go to WoT – it’s longer. You have to have a more expensive computer, and maybe you don’t have a computer. My son plays only Blitz. Some companies may use this method, but not us. We want to make mobile games that people play for the sake of this game. Not for the sake of being transferred to PC.”

That said, he does admit that there are holistic benefits in terms of “brand awareness and buzz.”

“We do not ignore traditional user acquisition channels, like advertising,” he adds. “In some countries, there are even TV adverts. But we’re happy to be in the place where we have a lot of word of mouth – and World of Tanks Blitz organic traffic is good. We’ve spent very little on advertising and we have 80m registered users.

After being hit by a number of wider issues over recent years, the company now looks to be stable again, as Kislyi explains:

“We have survived a couple of big crisis, banking crisis in Cyprus [where the company is based]; Russia and Ukraine; the ruble falling down; the Swiss franc losing 20 per cent; that was a lot of stuff. And somehow we survived, though at some points it was very scary.”

He points out there’s a lot more to business than just making the game and talking to the press: “It’s about what we do every day to build the company, like an army or a family. As well as family feelings and passion, you have to be disciplined and well-structured. You have to find this balance between creativity and a little craziness, but structure and discipline when it comes to financial stuff and compliance.

“I think that right now we have a good balance between those things – [we’re] extremely stable and on a good trajectory to keep repeating our success with new games. It does not come easy, but we are on the right track,” he adds. “Wargaming is staying here for many decades to come.”

Which brings us briefly to Total War Arena, which we’ll cover more fully in a future issue. Kislyi tells us that, back in 2010, Wargaming was very purist about its aims, but now it has branched out a little more.

“Arena is not a tank game, but it is a military strategy game,” he says. “[Creative Assembly] spent a decade and a half building this franchise, but they obviously lack a free-to-play MMO experience and so we joined forces and saved ourselves five years. It’s a good example of what we can do.”

We ask if the company is actively pursuing more such partnerships? “Externally, yes, but also internally, if someone comes through our door and says, ‘Hey, I have this idea’ and shows a prototype of something that is not tanks, then we consider it.”

Coming back around to Battlegrounds, big player counts are certainly in vogue at present, and World of Tanks is about to launch its take on the trend. A new mode called Grand Battles is about to double its player numbers in the game – a 60-player fight, across huge maps, with thirty tanks on each side.

Kislyi is enthusiastic about the new mode, saying: “If you ask me one thing that I want right now, I want to play this.” If the community share anything like his enthusiasm for the game, even seven years on, then Wargaming is almost certainly here to stay.”

Advertisements

36 thoughts on “Wargaming: CEO Victor Kislyi talks WoT player retention

    1. I mostly agree, but it’s not PR aimed at us players. It’s in a business journal and the general feel is “Wargaming is doing perfectly fine, here are some of the awesome things we’re about to do”.

      The rest isn’t really suprising: first impressions are incredibly important; as long as players play a Wargaming product, Wargaming don’t care which one it is.

      I do like how the ‘issues’ the company has faced (Cypress banking crisis, franc and ruble value) were all external factors.

      Like

  1. http://exposingwot.com/forums/topic/has-anyone-seen-this-new-article-of-a-interview-with-victor-kislyi/

    Their even commenting on it over on their site too.

    Victor will say just about anything. And he will never answer any direct questions about numbers, facts, or specifics about anything in these interviews.

    If they would get out of the real estate business, and stop tying all their “shell” money schemes into banks like those “Swiss” banks accounts that lost 20% putting them in danger, shady deals in Cyprus, squandering money etc. And paid more attention to the game, they might no be in the mess they are now with: (as one commentor said on the other thread above)

    “It all FAILED already!!! LMMFAO!!!!
    Grand Battles has been a COMPLETE fucking failure. Everything he’s done lately has been a COMPLETE fucking failure.
    Players after 10 weeks stay forever? Seriously? Then why the flying fuck have you lost 48% of your fucking player base, shut down two servers and combined them to one in the 2nd largest gaming market on the fucking planet you dumbass?!?!
    That fucking guy is BEYOND delusional. He’s a fucking liar. Flat out.”

    Like

  2. yeah, right. I played WOT for 4 years, 15k + matches, 50% WR, and still quit after seing the game become worse with every new patch they rolled out. BS-ing your playerbase and building on hopes and expectations that “I’m sure they will get it right this time” can only take you so far. Hope you guys still find joy in your games, as for me, I’ve moved on a long time ago, and not regreting my decision so far. BTW, has the trend continued, or there was actually some improvement to the game this past year?

    Like

      1. Yeah, truth be told, I would like to come back, but not to a shity game that makes my blood boil. I would gladly come back to patch 6.1 , but that’s not going to hapen anytime soon. WoT has become like a Hummer H3, a good idea at the begining, but just a crap full of p2w bling, which is neighter practical, nor relaxing. I play a game once in a couple months, just to see what is new, and try to keep calm as the game becomes ever more unrecognisable.

        Like

  3. I started out playing WoWP then moved to tanks when WP got worse. Have now given up on WOT, play WoWs at moment but it is getting screwed too. have downloaded the new WoWP to see how it is going. wish Me luck folks.

    Like

    1. would be interested on your wowp thoughts — I kinda liked the old WOWP, this new version looks nice, but I miss just getting into a big furball right off the bat.

      Like

  4. “Our slogan is: we deliver”. .
    1.The community team in the EU delivers selective help to certain players and ignores others. (Use a standard account and a newbie account to ask the same question in PM. The results will amaze you).
    2. They deliver overpriced packages in the EU because they can.
    3. They deliver broken tournaments.
    4. They deliver bans which CANNOT be overturned, then re-instate the account.
    5. They deliver bans for illegal mods on vanilla accounts.
    Guess it’s lucky we are not bending over when we play so they can deliver something else.

    Like

  5. WG trying to play it smart, meantime this approach is killing them. WOT is a goose that lays golden eggs, WG knowing nothing last forever branch out, spending that gold around, forgetting to feed the goose enough, letting it slowly die.

    Another mistake is that all the “great next things” are brain children of people who are creative developers first, some are WOT players also. Wrong! Find devoted players and poll their opinions, use this for creative ideas, maybe these won’t be complete and utter crap like ranked battles, bonds, directives and grand battles maybe, haven’t seen one of these so far.

    On the other hand, as I was on my way to rage-quit, I noticed MM improving, teams are still full-retard at times, but they are more balanced by vehicle types, so it’s not all bad.

    Like

  6. “Many people measure it with money, but we found that very cynical.”

    Funny that you find this cynical because from every recent development: Overbuffing armour, making premium ammo more compulsory in standard engagements, bringing out droves of OP premium tanks etc. it would seem you yourself (Wargaming) care only about money….

    I called you (Wargaming) cynical (moneygrubbers) for that on the forums and guess you agree.

    Like

  7. Smells like BS to me, haven’t played for months (or hardly) and I don’t miss it, the constant premium flood, p2w, broken promises and all that crap. Bad specials, treated like mugs. no direction or strategy (bad execution) Not really attracted to play again as I have little time and desire to try again. Wasted too much money on the game and I’m glad I dont have to spend any more thanks to WG’s policy, thanks!

    Like

  8. This is a business article, and WG has moved from being a small gaming company, to being a large international business.
    Hedging against currency fluctuations is a lesson a business has to learn when it gets to a certain size. If the EU headquarters had been in London and not Paris, WG would probably have been advised of that sooner, and lost less.
    No comments on the failure and retrenchment in NA is interesting by it’s very omission.
    Partnering with CA which is ultimately owned by Sega is also interesting. The Total War series always included an online PvP element which some players played in preference to the single player campaign mode. Interesting to see where that goes.
    No reference whatsoever from the profits generated from Kongzhong. Given that the population of China is 1.39 billion, it is acutely potentially a larger market that RU and NA combined.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. to grab the central and south-american markets even more they only need to add a few premiums (Nahuel, Tam, 90mm M41, modified Stuart, etc… many nations in the region bought the LTvz.38)
    NA is bit more difficult but they could at least try and fix the US TT, it is the most poorly thought TT in the game and that reflects in having almost no continuity in gameplay tactics from tier to tier, especially the original medium line
    this would not be enough to grab anough attention on NA but I do believe all servers are waiting for it, true that it has tanks that perform well individually but it is still the only TT that has not received any type of upgrade to make progression within line feel more comfortable, right now you never know if a crew you have maxed out, on a tank you do not want to keep, will be able to fit the next tank down the line
    then there are the cases of severely underperforming tanks across it’s FULL MM spread, the T32 and T69 are probably the most glaring examples among the tanks that simply cannot compete against higher tiers unless they flank or use premium ammo on weak points (and I guess the T32 won’t even be able to pen the reworked Obj.430 line)
    what’s important is that there’s no actual lack of options, either between prototypes, variants or concepts

    EU is already highly profitable for them, if players are leaving is because there are 2 things increasing once again, p2w premiums and soviet bias, which affects all servers but they probably thought they had a strong enough position on EU to not be affected as much

    Like

  10. Monatize later my ass. Is that why they sent me the exclusive deal for the new Chinese premium td for $ 100 a discount from $130. Are you fing kidding me. $100 for a premium. They are spamming premiums like crazy. Meanwhile to get my light tanks view range up I have to run food to have a decent view range. I have to keep a healthy amount of premium because of super heavies and piss poor accuracy. And get splashed to death by artillery while zig zagging full 68kph within 5 seconds of being spotted. Ranked battles is pure misery to play. Number one complaint that wargaming said was artillery. So let’s remove one and leave two because that is so much better. And you have to spam gold to pen the weak spots of a type 5. Meanwhile he shoots you anywhere for at least 500 damage. Or misses you for 200 and a dead driver. Victor is one thing for sure, a straight up lier. I still love the game and that’s why I am so salty. But I haven’t spent a penny on it this entire year.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Because the WG Stalinism rule, EU players will always suffer. Russians are bitter because the breakup of the USSR. Belorussia is just a puppet and a lapdog of Putins iron rule.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. The game is more and more shit.

    Yes, I am getting better at not sucking in it, but this is not a skill game. It is based purely on luck, see the severely unbalanced losses or wins 15 vs 5 or less kills by the other team.

    Yes, they are introducing more and more overpowered premium tanks with flashy paint jobs to milk successfully our money. But there are less and less regular tanks meaning less free players. MEANING LESS PLAYER BASE TO ACTUALLY MAKE THE TEAMS.

    Yes, match making changed, and by that I mean it changed to be even shittier with more chances of you being at the bottom tier. See youtube videos from community contributors.

    WoT is the perfect and classic example of failed abusive relationship. We are the idiots that keep investing time and money hoping it will get better and that we will be rewarded.

    Like

  13. Well, for starters the game center is going to kill any chance of WoWP 2.0 even taking off. Did you learn nothing from AW’s failure?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s