Wargam­ing boss makes it into Bloomberg Bil­lion­aires In­dex

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

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