The World of Tanks

In 2012 the most recognisable Belarusian brand abroad was World of Tanks according to Belarusian contest The brand of the year.

Produced by Belarus-based Wargaming it allows hundreds of thousands of players play the computer game at the same time. “World of Tanks” broke the previous record in November 2011 when 250,000 players played on the game’s Russian server simultaneously.

In January the Belarusian company bought Day 1 Studios - an American game developer from Chicago for $20 million. That is the second major deal of Wargaming in recent months. Previous purchase Big World Company cost $45 million which was the largest M&A-transaction involving private Belarusian companies in 2012.

Wargaming History

Viktar Kisly, a physics graduate of the Belarusian State University, founded Wargaming in 1998. Originally the company focused on developing websites. The first PC game turned-based strategy “DBA online” appeared in 2000. This game as well as the second turn-based strategy “Massive Assault” were unsuccessful. As a result both  projects had to close. 

The next game Real-time strategy Order of War released in 2009. Despite the fact that the game was critically acclaiming, the company has only managed to sell 100 000 copies of the game which barely allowed to recoup development. To stay afloat the company had to work for banner exchange network AdRevolver.

At that date a great success was gaining by a multiplayer online role-playing game “World of Warcraft”. To develop their own massively multiplayer online game (also known as MMO) Wargaming conducted a market survey. First,  they were considering to make a game with elves, dwarves and orcs. But finally Victar Kisly team rejected this idea and made a decision in favour of tanks.

Tanks as a Part of Soviet Folklore

The game “World of Tanks” is extremely user-friendly, the system of control is very simple and anyone can learn how to play the game in a short time.

Released in August 2010 the “World of Tanks” had 45,000,000 registered players worldwide. In contrast to the “World of Warcraft” the game from Belarus is free to play and the creators' earnings come from micropayments for additional options. On average, each player only pays $3-5 per month.

The game gained most popularity in the countries of ex-USSR and Eastern Europe where the monuments of tanks appeared in almost every city. Soviet propaganda always emphasised that tanks produced in USSR are the best in the world.

Tanks occupied an honourable place in the Soviet mythology of the Great Patriotic War. According to the Soviet historiography the Great Patriotic War is a part of the Second World War which started from the Soviet-Nazi War.

Even songs praise the tanks. One of the most popular TV series in USSR was Polish film about Second World War “Four tankmen and the dog” where Soviet tank T-34 even had a first name. For inhabitants of the former USSR tanks is a part of folklore.

To win markets in Asia, Western Europe and USA where the tank discourse is not as popular Wargaming lunched two new projects – the “World of Warplanes” and the “World of Warships”. Ultimately games of tanks, planes and ships will compose a single MMO universe with single economy.

Wargaming tries to secure its share of the market. In 2012 Viktar Kisly bought for $45 million Big World Company from Australia which is a producer and a supplier of game engines – an essential link of “World of Tanks”. That was the largest M&A-transaction involving private Belarusian companies in 2012.

In January 2013, Viktar Kisly made another important acquisition - he bought Day 1 Studios - an American game developer for $20 million. This purchase will allow Wargaming to expand the presence of “World of Tanks” on new platforms such as game console or mobile phone.

The Belarusian Context

In Minsk the average salary for the newcomer on the labour market is around $400 per month. In these circumstances for young people to work for Wargaming is a great luck. Wargaming proposes a decent wages and a chance for making career in a growing international company based. 

Offices of Wargaming are locating in Paris, Kiev and Saint Petersburg. Over 400 employees are currently working at the Minsk office. For that reason to make a corporate party the company rents “Sport Palace” - Ice hockey arena in the centre of the city, where Lukashenka regularly practises his Ice hockey skills with his sons, and a second biggest arena for concerts in Minsk.

Wargaming is a phenomenon for Belarus where all the big businesses are directly or indirectly linked to the bureaucracy – current or former officials, security officers and oligarchs controlled by Lukashenka. Making the most recognisable brand from Belarus in the world Wargaming is distancing itself from Belarusian government. It is impossible to imagine Viktar Kisly on Belarusian congress next to the director of tractor factory and militia generals.

Today “World of Tanks” for Belarus is the same as Skype for Estonia. It creates a more positive image for the country known more for Lukashenka and Chernobyl. Wargaming makes Belarusians proud for their country and demonstrates by its own example that doing big business in Belarus is possible not only for for those linked to the ruling regime.

Vadzim Bylina is a freelance journalist based in Minsk.

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