Wargaming’s chief executive office, Victor Kislyi, was in a mood to spill his guts last week. During an interview with Polygon in San Francisco, he was candid about his recent mistakes and vowed a renewed focus on his company’s flagship title, World of Tanks.
“We were a little arrogant, let's say, three years ago,” Kislyi told Polygon. “We were thinking we know everything that our players need without talking intensively to them ourselves. It turned into — I wouldn't call it a disaster, but we hit the wall at some point.”
That wall had a name: Rubicon. The update was delivered nearly two years ago, but the ill will from players, especially from WoT’s rabid Russian fanbase, still haunts the game. It was so poorly received, Wargaming couldn’t simply roll it back.
“We are always open to criticism,” Kislyi said. “What we did in this case, it was [my decision]. I literally reshuffled the whole World of Tanks team. Developer and publisher. Before that it was extremely Belarusian-centric team, which was headquartered in Minsk. They didn’t even speak very good English. What we realized is that probably there are some limitations that old team had, so I brought in new people.”
Today, Kislyi said, the core WoT team is more international than it has ever been before, including an American at the top of the organization. That, he said, has made them more able to respond to the needs of their community, more adaptable and better able to listen.
“This took years for us as a company to come to this understanding of this necessity [of this change], and to make it,” Kislyi said.
How does Kislyi know it’s working? Of course, he said, people are playing more. But anecdotally, the community seems more friendly.
“I play every day under my real name,” Kislyi said, “So, this is my temperature check. I play for one hour and I get 20 messages from people. They used to be swearing and complaining. Two years ago. One year ago. Now, they’re mostly thank yous.”
That reorganization, and the change in philosophy that came with it, has paid dividends for other development teams at Wargaming. Properties like World of Warplanes and World of Warships, long the neglected children of the Wargaming family, are being given new freedom to plot their own course.
When Warships launched in 2015 the game got lots of good buzz, including here at Polygon. Our preview called is one of the best free-to-play games we’d ever played. But the community did not stick around to support it after launch. Player retention trailed off, Kislyi said, after six months to a year.
Kislyi blames himself, and his top-down creative demands on the game.
“I was pushing all those teams to literally copy World of Tanks,” Kislyi said. “That was wrong.”
Kislyi said he’s now letting individual teams dictate how their games evolve, and letting each of them engage with their communities on their own to find a path forward.
“What are they going to be making there? I don’t know,” Kislyi said. “That’s for them to decide.”
For Wargaming, 2017 is all about shoring up its keystone franchise, World of Tanks. The plan, Kislyi said, is to completely rebuild the entire graphics engine. You can see a sample of his team’s work in the video below. The final overhaul is loosely scheduled for August of this year.
“We realize that World of Tanks can last forever,” Kislyi said. “But we have to prepare for a very long winter. The winter is coming, and it will not go away. That’s a good problem to have. So the approach should be that we’re making the game to be built like the pyramids, for centuries or millennia.”