Interview

Wargaming CEO: Everyday mobile is more and more important

Wargaming CEO: Everyday mobile is more and more important

Wargaming has had a rocky time in the mobile games market.

While it has experienced huge success in free-to-play on PC and now console, its mobile projects have been more hit and miss.

World of Tanks Blitz worked out, in fact, Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi tells PocketGamer.biz the title is an “extremely profitable and successful product”.

But outside of that, the company has struggled to get a handle on the market.

Rocky road

Following the successful launch of Blitz, in October 2015 Wargaming announced it was opening the mobile-focused WG Cells with studios in Seattle and Kyiv. Its portfolio was to include Loot & Legends, Fantastic Plastic Squad, Operation: New Earth and Smash Squad.

But in August 2016 the decision was made to shut down the Seattle office and lay off more than 60 staff.

At the time, then WG Cells CEO David Bluhm, who has since left the company and been named MD of Agnitio Capital, said while Operation: New Earth had “performed extremely well”, Smash Squad’s financial performance had been “below our internal targets”.

Kislyi says that on mobile, only the top games are economically viable for a company like Wargaming. He explains that the amount of money to develop, support and update a mobile title “makes the barrier of an economically neutral game very, very high”.

“It just so happened, I'm not blaming anyone, that that particular group of people did not manage to make something like World of Tanks Blitz. That's life," he says.

WG Cells' Smash Squad didn't live up to expectations, leading to the studio's closure

The move wasn’t to mark the end of Wargaming’s mobile ambitions, as the company regrouped and moved its operations back to its Cyprus HQ.

Round two

A few months later, Wargaming acquired Finland-based Super Soldiers developer Boomlagoon.

The company was back with big talk to be the “dominant” force in mobile. In June 2017 it announced a newly established mobile game development and publishing division called Wargaming Mobile, headed up by former GREE and Kabam executive Keith Kawahata.

It also started up the Wargaming Mobile Publishing Program for smaller developers to use to help launch their games around the world. Here, Wargaming freely offers services from AppsFlyer, Amazon GameLift and Amazon Web Services to DeltaDNA and Unreal Engine.

Mobile is still legally Wargaming, but it has its own management.
Victor Kislyi

Deals with Wargaming can include publishing and infrastructure support, and in some cases even investment in development.

Expanding its mobile operations further, the company has now opened a new office in Prague, Czechia, and is also setting up shop in Berlin, Germany.

Kislyi says that effectively Wargaming Mobile is “pretty much a separate division in the company”.

“It's still legally Wargaming, but it has its own management,” he says, though of course it still has access to key functions like the company’s CFO and legal department.

“But the rest, they can have whatever they want, whatever's viable,” says Kislyi.

“That's why as a part of the strategy is to have a little more of critical mass in Europe. Probably one of [the reasons we closed WG Cells], I have to admit this, was Seattle was so far away, communicating across not only the Atlantic ocean but the whole US. That wasn't the major thing, but still.”

Creative freedom

Wargaming Mobile won’t be solely relying on the World of Tanks IP, where the company has found its biggest success in the space so far with Blitz.

World of Tanks Blitz, launched in 2014, remains Wargaming's most successful mobile game

The team has the freedom to develop all new titles, which Kislyi says is one of the reasons it separated the division from its console and PC teams, so it can work on ‘pink ponies’ - the name for projects that aren’t based on World of Tanks.

“Why wouldn't we make Pokemon GO?” asks Kislyi, showing the kind of freedom the mobile team may have when it comes to developing completely new ideas, as long as it proves captivating, fun and keeps players engaged.

With mobile surpassing PC as the most lucrative sector in the games market, Kislyi says mobile is becoming more and more important to to Wargaming’s business everyday, which likely means Wargaming isn’t going to step away from the platform anytime soon.

“Tomorrow it will be more important than today.”

Senior Editor

Craig Chapple is Senior Editor of PocketGamer.biz. He was previously Deputy Editor at Develop and Online Editor at Nintendo of Europe.

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