07.09.12

How to build a global game empire from cotton balls and watermelon seeds.

The CEO of Wargaming.net, developers of the free-to-play, tank-based MMO World of Tanks, recently discussed the history of the company and its unlikely path to success, as well as its plans for the future. 

Kislyi has come a long way since first designing physical games directly on the bare floor of his Belarus apartment. “We moved to a new apartment, and there was a linoleum floor. [I took] a ball[point] pen and [I drew] the landscape,” Kislyi told Ars. “I was using cotton [balls] for infantry, then cotton with dots for archers, and used watermelon seeds for cavalry. I might claim—of course humorously—that I invented Total War 20 years before they came up with it. I was playing with my brother and a couple of my friends, those Total War, massive numbers kind of battles on the floor.”

Kislyi spoke quickly and enthusiastically, as though he couldn't get the words out fast enough. He often stopped to correct himself with a shake of the head and a frenetic gesticulation. “We did not have Risk because of the Iron Curtain, so we really did not know what it was, but we re-invented it, which afterwards became Massive Assault...  well, very close to Risk, a lot of territories and strategic and tactical moves. We were making our board games playing with toy soldiers, making rules,” he said.

As the article explains, Wargaming.net expanded from the floor to 180 employees—until this year, when it suddenly added an order of magnitude and grew to 900 employees stationed in 10 different cities around the world. The company's business strategy sounds like a military campaign, and that's not the least bit surprising.