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  1. In 2018, World of Tanks giant Wargaming turned 20. It wasn’t two solid decades of success, however, with founder and CEO Victor Kislyi telling PCGamesInsider.biz last year that the first 12 years of the company’s existence were purely about persistence. Eventually, the firm had its breakout hit with 2010 of free-to-play military title World of Tanks, followed up with World of Warplanes and World of Warships. Now, in 2019, the Belarusian firm is trying to expand outside of the niche which it has created for itself – but not too far. Wargaming recently showed off 1C’s third-person shooter free-to-play Caliber at Gamescom 2019, the title’s European debut, while premium hack and slash title Pagan Online from Mad Head Games launched in August. But that’s not all Wargaming has in the works. “Calibre is definitely our strategic direction – it’s military-themed, it’s mainly for older guys and it’s not so twitchy,” “It’s photorealistic, there are authentic units and equipment. Pagan is more of an experiment. It’s not a huge gamble; we can afford to make a bet and see how it goes. In general, we should stay within shooters, both vehicular and human ones. “We have two other projects in the works. Hopefully, each of them will be triple-A. In one case it’s a Kiev studio called Frag Lab with which we co-operate very closely with. They’re making a triple-A first-person shooter. We also acquired Edge Case in Guildford and Sean Decker became the head of the studio. They’re ramping up now, they’re 40 people with 30 more vacancies open. They’re making something triple-A which will presumably be for a global audience, but that’s all I can say. Both projects are going to be free-to-play in the style of World of Tanks.” Kislyi says that the acquisition of Edge Case Games – now Wargaming UK – isn’t the start of a rush of purchases. The exec says that buying companies is “case-by-case.” “If someone knows someone or we have an idea, we’ll look at it,” he says. “We have a presence in the UK, we don’t need to buy anything there right now. We’d rather have people joining for the next big thing in the games industry in Guildford.” Wargaming UK’s title is the first of the company’s output to use Unreal, while the aforementioned Kiev project is using Amazon’s Lumberyard. Historically, the company has stuck to its own tech, but Kislyi says that this is quite old and not as easy to use as it’d like. “Truth be told, World of Tanks and World of Warships using this hugely modified but old big client technology has been difficult when it comes to making assets, tweaking and balancing and so on,” he explains. “It’s quite old and not very user-friendly. Unreal, hopefully, will give us tools. When it comes to alpha or beta release, then the gates of hell usually open and you have to start making content like never before. For that, it would be nice to have technology which gives you tools for content production.” While it’s clear that Wargaming is looking beyond World of Tanks, this title is still a huge focus for the company, with the firm frequently adding content to the game. One new addition was a battle royale mode called Steel Hunter, which started as an April Fools Day joke back in 2018. The game type was met positively by the community and media, with Wargaming then spending 18 months to make this event into a full “production quality” version. The event ran between August 26th and September 16th. “I’m a big fan of cinema and think Battle Royale is a work of art,” Kislyi says. “Battle royale isn’t about PUBG or Fortnite; it’s this suspense of knowing someone could be looking at you from anywhere. It’s exciting, so why not make it with tanks? World of Tanks is a cultural phenomenon. It deserves to have this mode. We’ve been doing this for a while now – adding in a football mode, a Halloween mode, racing and, of course, battle royale. We could make it permanent or improve it. That’s how these games should be operated; there should be core game mechanic which is something everyone should enjoy. Then people who want to have some fun can play those modes. They’ll be fun or seasonal or testing new mechanics; sometimes they’ll get killed off as they don’t work but that’s our job – to come up with new, creative ideas about how to make running around and killing each other in tanks more fun.” View the full article
  2. Wargaming is mounting its biggest and best-planned assault yet on western gamers, with its first title built from the ground up by western developers for western audiences. CEO Victor Kislyi tells Seth Barton about the masterplan and how even a studio-destroying fire has been an opportunity in disguise Wargaming has traditionally launched its games from east to west. And it’s latest title Caliber – a PvE and PvP tactical third-person shooter – is another example of that approach, with the special forces-based title testing its flashbangs in the post-soviet CIS region before coming to the US and western Europe later. But CEO Victor Kislyi now accepts that such a strategy isn’t necessarily the best approach for those latter markets, telling us it’s a matter of cultural sensibilities. The talkative boss of Wargaming explains that he’s had little choice to consider the east-west cultural divide for most of his life. Born in Belarus, he explains his ongoing bewilderment at the attractions of WWE-styled American wrestling with its “big guys in golden bikinis’ (something we can agree on) and his dislike of the tortured time-travel plot devices of the recent Avengers movie (something we can’t). Going broader, he has a grudging respect for basketball, “not as good as football” though, and cheers us with his appreciation of the BBC’s Yes Minister, calling it “quality entertainment.” In short, he’s very aware that some (even unlikely) cultural exports can succeed across ( the phantom of the iron curtain while others, often inexplcably, do not resonate. The safest bet then is to make the game in the region that it’s intended for. “If we want to make a western game, we have to be in the west. The whole studio – no Russian manager, no Russian studio. It has to be all western from scratch” he tells us, which brings us around to Wargaming’s fledgling UK studio, based in Guildford. Speaking on the studies unannounced title, he admits: l was a little sceptical seeing the first sketches, but then I thought OK. we were probably doing something wrong all these years, let the people who have done It before do it for us.” And Kislyi is impressed by the team that studio head Sean Decker has assembled to work on the title. The whole team is loaded for western tastes. The reason why I mentioned WWE or The Avengers, is the game will have elements that maybe I don’t fully grasp, but that’s not a problem, that’s actually good; Having said that, Wargaming isn’t about to dive into some untried genre, with Kislyi dropping the biggest hints yet as to the nature of the upcoming game. “Free-to-play, battle, militarily-themed: he summarises, adding that ‘it’s going to have conflict, some violence, shooting:* And while the company isn’t following its usual geographical approach. it’s sticking to a rigorous and scientific process for rolling out its next tide. “Of course there will be testing of everything. Everything we do will be scientifically tested, that’s how you do things. Tested not in the east but in the US and western Europe, on people who watch those cartoons, who watch these sport programmes, these TV stars, that we just don’t know.’ THE GREAT FIRE OF GUILDFORD Wargaming’s ambitions in the UK are impressive. Guildford has long been a great place to set up a new studio but only if you have the backing to hire and retain the best talent in a competitive and relatively expensive part of the country. It’s a place to build a talented, veteran team, rather than a plucky upstart. The UK was chosen over the US for its mix of nationalities, Kislyi tells us: “Britain is even better {than the US) in terms of the variety of talent. Greeks, Swedes, Germans, as well as US talent too. We’re close to Heathrow so you’re one flight away from pretty much anywhere in the world – direct flights to everywhere. The studio was partly formed out of the acquisition of Edge Case Games, but has expanded rapidly since )then and will continue to grow with some 30 positions open at present. it’s also had something of an enforced clean slate of late, following a fire which destroyed the old Edge Case office. Keith Anderson, Wargaming UK’s publishing director, tells the story. “[In early August), Sunday night about one o’clock, we start getting some calls that our studio is on fire. And it turns out that some homeless guy started a fire on the canal, on the river that backs onto our studio, it caught onto the bushes, and they burnt up the back of our building. ‘The firemen came along and literally ripped down the back of our building to stop the fire, which went up into the roof, into the timbers. Our server room is now visible, it’s covered in water, so basically they exposed our server room and covered everything in water. “The studio was completely doused in smoke, the electrics were done. The front door was bashed down, and they cut holes in all our walls to make sure the fire wasn’t still smouldering inside:* A pretty complete destruction of the studio then, though thankfully no one was hurt in the fire. And the wider Wargaming organisation quickly got the team up and running in a temporary new office space, pending a move to a new permanent home. ‘ Our support team did an amazing job: Anderson continues. “Within two weeks we were in a new building, we’ve got 50 people set up. were back up and running, because our Wargaming Sydney team started running builds for us, so were playtesting again based on builds they’re running off their servers. To commemorate the event we printed special T-shirts for the studio team – the great fire of Guildford On the back tt says: ‘Nobody does burn down like we de. And congrats to the team, for making what could be a calamity and turning it around!• The team does have plans to move into a fantastic new space in the coming months. We’ve seen photos and it’s very impressive, but that’s all were allowed to say for now Kisliy tells us: “There were cheaper options, but this time I said: ‘Hey let’s have the best place to work in Guildford: And it will be the best place to work In Guildford: Kislyi is upbeat about the fire as well, seeing It as something of a good omen: “I think this is a sign from the heavens: get out of this old barn and move on with your lives: he smiles. He explains the Wargaming office in Minsk was flooded out when they did the alpha for World of Tanks and that game worked out well in the end. GROWING THE WARGAMING BRAND The new office will be just the most visible part of Wargaming’s ambitions, or as Kisliy puts it: “The UK project is going to be big, we’ll not settle for ‘let’s try; it’s going to be super-duper-triple-A: he exclaims. Studio head Decker has an impressive track record, with stints as senior vice president at CCP and six years at DICF. where he ended up as general manager of the studio. Kislyi notes that despite his success, Decker is still hungry, saying “He’s not going to retire in the foreseeable future, he wants a big thing. His job is not to invent the game and come up with creative Ideas. He builds the team, brings in the right people, and it’s going to be a dream team.” We’re not rushing: Kisliy is keen to impress upon us, with the game a long way from being shown publicly. There’s plenty of time for the new, and growing, team to make its marks on the franchise as Anderson explains for us in more detail: “We’re really trying to do stuff a bit differently, not for the sake of being different. but for the sake of looking for other opportunities to grow the Wargaming brand. It’s a totally new IP, a totally new way of looking at how were going to be doing this. And I think that’s the exciting bit, with the blessing of Victor and the Wargaming leadership, to go and forge a new path for ourselves. And then with leaders like Sean Decker and Paul Barnett (creative director), we’ve really got every opportunity to go out there and ante something pretty spectacular, something pretty fresh. And this is also why we think we’re a really exciting studio to join, because it’s very seldom in a games industry person’s career that they get to start on a new project, from scratch, fully funded, and build it on that end, Wargaming can afford to be somewhat picky about who it chooses for its new team, with Kislyi impressed with Decker’s clear approach to people management. “I wish I had more of this. (Sean) would rather not hire a person, or would fire a person, if they’re not the right fit, so he started from a company culture and common goal: were going for the big thing you’re either on the bus, or off the bus. “It’s easy to say, it’s in every business book, but it’s very difficult to do this in real life. But he has amazing style and he’s doing it, which makes me very very happy. I was impressed at the speed he moved. He announced to everyone: ‘We need you to be at the best of your capacities, we don’t have space for passenger” He was very clear: ‘We need this, this, this from these positions’, he knows his stuff He started hiring, and opening positions, using his network to bring in the best of the best people. He’s not in a rush, we understand that it’s going to take some time. so he’s doing his filtering. hiring and firing according to his standards, which are very high? ENGINE ROOMS The studio has already announced it’s working with Unreal, rather than Wargaming’s in-house engine that powers all its biggest hits to date. And although the venture represents a fresh beginning, Wargaming isn’t going to reinvent the wheel, literally-speaking, in order to achieve its goals. “Unreal was not designed to handle vehicles, so that’s why we have been porting in physics and all the things we have in Tanks, that you don’t have in Unreal. So we have Unreal loaded with World of Winks slut[ technologically speaking: Kislyl tells us, revealing another small piece of the unseen title, with “vehicular physics and ‘visibility systems being two things that the company has plugged into Unreal for the team. Moving away from Guildford. Wargaming is also exploring other genres and technologies. In Kiev (Ukraine), it’s working with the 125-strong Frag Lab on an unannounced title. “It’s going to be FPS: says Kislyi “Many of those guys were doing Warface before that, so they know how to do FPS, they are using Amazon technology [Lumberyard], because they know how to use it historically. We don’t give anybody any details now. but it’s going to be super-duper-triple-A FPS and again they have the mandate to make It right.” And moving back to Unreal, there’s the recently released Pagan Online, an action-RPG that represents the company’s first big step into the premium game market, with the title being sold on Steam. It’s notable for Its wide range of control schemes (point-and-click, controller or WASD), in what is often a somewhat staid space, and the breadth of its content. “It’s an experiment, we don’t intervene much with their production, we just give them publishing guidelines. It’s not free-to-play, it’s not the biggest shot we’ve made, but let’s try this one: Kislyi says on the game. HIGH CALIBER A bigger shot. or rather a fusillade of gunfire. comes in the form of Caliber, which (as we noted at the start) is now going through the more typical Wargaming gestation period. It’s currently in closed beta in the CIS region and you an currently sign up for an EU beta that is yet to be dated. “As an approach, it works, it serves a purpose. First we do CIS-Russia. They are more forgoing, we have a stronger community, and so on. Those things that need to be polished, some of them we don’t know until it has a critical mass of real players, balancing. etc. We do it in Russia. There are some things that you can never learn before you launch. The first month or two will tell us how much work is needed to bring to the west; Kislyi tells us. “This one we hope will be successful in the west because it’s a very universal topic It’s special forces, you can’t be humourous or have impressionist graphics, cel-shading or whatever. This is photorealistic, running on low-tier computers, because the guys in our target audience are not necessarily super-duper. Alienware-equipped guys.” We suggest that third-person shooters am a somewhat more crowded market than tank games, but Kislyi feels Caliber has Its own space ‘The world has been taken by storm by third-person. Fortnite for example. I tried The Division 2 for comparison (with Caliber]. it’s not a bad game, in fact it’s a very good game, it’s third-person, but the pacing is far apart, to have clear differentiation. And Caliber’s ‘free-to-play’. His own family dynamics have in part led Kislyi to love Caliber. He explains that his son had bumped him out of their Fortnite games for his lack of skills: “Fortnite I was honestly playing, playing, playing and then he stopped Inviting me! I’m kinda there but I’m also taking up a space:’ So the pair are now playing Caliber together instead: “I’m playing Medic or Heavy. and he’s playing Sniper or Assault. It’s a good father-son game. `Right now, in Fortnite, my son is not the best player – sorry son! And he plays less and less because he gets killed. It’s a very unforgiving environment. So listen Fortnite kids, Caliber, coming soon!” Original publication: MCV magazine, September 2019 release, pages 46-49. View the full article
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