Wargaming boss makes it into Bloomberg Billionaires Index
Developing his youth fascination for both history and technology, World of Tanks video game creator Victor Kislyi’s company Wargaming Plc commands an enviable share of the global online gaming industry and with a following of 150 mln users has valued the business at $1.5 bln.
This, in turn, has propelled the 39 year old dual Belarus-Cyprus citizen into the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a personal worth estimated at $1 bln.
This makes him the second non-native billionaire from Cyprus, following Norwegian-born Jon Fredrikson, the oil tanker and shipping tycoon, also with Cypriot nationality, who made it into the Sunday Times Rich List in 2009 with a worth of EUR 2.7 bln.
According to Bloomberg, Wargaming is one of the industry’s most successful creators of free-to-play online games, which produce revenue through premium accounts offering players more credits that enable them to move faster through increasingly difficult levels of play. Kislyi controls 64% of the Cyprus-based business in his name and through a 25.5% stake held by his father, according to Wargaming’s 2013 semi-annual financial report. The business has 4,000 employees on four continents and revenue of $590 million in 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and estimates by analysts.
Kislyi said it all started in his father’s science lab in the late 1980s, just as the Soviet Union was starting to unravel. That’s where he played his first video game, on what he called “an old, pot-bellied computer.” He was instantly hooked.
With the spirit of capitalism taking hold among Russia’s post-communist youth, Kislyi began preparing for college and considered majoring in business. His father persuaded him physics was a better path for intellectual development, but by then his passion was video games. His favorite: Civilization, a strategy game that debuted in 1991.
“I almost flunked one of my study sessions because of that,” Kislyi said in a July 2014 interview with business daily Vedomosti.
World of Tanks features 400 models of actual 20th-century vehicles ranging from the German Panther and Soviet T-34 to the American Sherman and British Cromwell. The game became an instant hit when it was released for personal computers in 2010 in Russia, where the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is known, continues to elicit intense national pride.
Three years later, Kislyi’s creation entered the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most players on one server at one time: 190,541. It has millions of dedicated users, more than a third in the former Soviet Union and Europe, and can be played on multiple platforms, including Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PS4, as well as mobile devices.
World of Tanks is the biggest online multiplayer game where players operate warcraft instead of characters, according to SuperData Research, a New York-based company that tracks the industry. The biggest of all, League of Legends, for example, is a role-playing fantasy fighter game that allows players to choose individual warriors with special powers that unite in teams and go to war with rivals.
Kislyi moved the game onto phones and tablets with the 2014 release of World of Tanks Blitz, which has been downloaded 40 million times. He’s released two follow-on PC titles, World of Warships and World of Warplanes, which already have 6 million and 10 million registered users, respectively. He’s also expanded into China, the biggest multiplayer game market by far, where a subsidiary, KongZhong Corp., runs Wargamings operations.
At home, Kislyi stokes the flames of patriotism by helping to fund re-enactments of battles fought along the Stalin Line of fortifications that ringed the Soviet frontier, using real tanks and fake explosives, according to the Bloomberg report. Abroad, he has become a recognizable figure in the Cypriot banking world, joining investors Wilbur Ross, Daniel Loeb and Viktor Vekselberg, Russia’s second-richest person, in recapitalizing the island’s two leading banks after the country’s 2012 financial crisis nearly drove them to ruin.
Through his Wargaming stake, Kislyi controls a 20% stake in Hellenic Bank.
The organiser of live gaming tournaments, Wargaming is investing in European startups to develop its own livestreaming service and pushing into the U.S., where it bought Chicago-based Day 1 Studios for $20 million in 2013 to adapt World of Tanks to Xbox and PS4. Kislyi has also invested $26 million to develop Wargaming’s E-Sports league, which held online tournaments in cities including Moscow, Las Vegas and Warsaw last year that attracted 850,000 players and paid $3.3 million in prize money, the company’s largest-ever payout.
“We must become a conveyor belt for the production of quality games,” Kislyi told Bloomberg. “We are the company that explores big markets. If there are a billion microwave ovens with joysticks and it is possible to play games on them, we will develop the software for them.”