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Wargaming's expansion is relentless - and so far, it's working Exclusive

Wargaming's expansion is relentless - and so far, it's working
April 2, 2013 | By Kris Graft

If you're making online and free-to-play games, and not watching Wargaming's every move, you should go ahead and start doing that immediately.

To refresh your memory, the company is the developer behind the free-to-play MMO World of Tanks, which has 50 million registered users. As of February 2012 the game had 120,000 peak concurrent players in Europe alone. Russia saw 500,000 unique players on one server at the same time.

The game is massively profitable, and has allowed Belarus-based Wargaming to make major technology and talent acquisitions, including online middleware company BigWorld ($45 million) and more recently FEAR 3 developer Day 1 and Supreme Commander studio Gas Powered Games. Wargaming is also expanding its World of series with warplanes and warships, and bringing versions of its popular franchises to mobile.

With Wargaming now at 1,500 employees and 14 offices all over the world, CEO Victor Kislyi isn't planning to let up on his company's aggressive expansion.

"[In the next five years], we'll probably open up a couple studios, or acquire one or two, just to get the best possible talent," he told us at GDC 2013. "We very aggressively moved into America, and we'll keep doing this, just because we realize our designers do not 100 percent understand Western audiences.

"That's why we need [Gas Powered head] Chris Taylor, that's why we need the Day 1 guys, that's why we need our people in San Francisco. We're acquiring expertise. We're not arrogant, we don't say, 'Russia has the best talent!' It's a good place to have artists and designers, but in order to attract an American market, you need to have American designers on-hand."

The company was founded in 1998, so it has been around to see all of the drastic changes in the online and free-to-play markets. Before, free-to-play was about badly-localized online games that were licensed from Chinese game companies. Monetization methods didn't match up with Western consumer expectations, and neither did the Chinese medieval themes and characters.

Wargaming's fundamental strategy is simple to understand, but incredibly challenging in practice: Take that free-to-play model that emerged in Asia, and combine it with high-production values, themes and gameplay that attract a mostly-male Western audience. With over a dozen locations worldwide, Kislyi says logistically, with time zones, and culturally, there are challenges that the company is trying to overcome.

He says it'll all pay off in the end. "When we plant that last flag in say, Australia or Brazil, the whole plan kind of takes care of itself. You don't need to worry where to go next, if you're everywhere. It's at that moment, quality takes over, and effectiveness at making your games, service and marketing better, because we'll have a very specialized staff. It'd be nice to release one big title per year."

And you won't be surprised to hear that Kislyi is the biggest free-to-play advocate around. "The whole world is your potential market [with free-to-play]. It's a transformation of the old days of physical distribution...You just have to ride this wave. You cannot withstand this wave."

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