World of Tanks

If the video game business is a competition, Victor Kislyi of can claim victory.

“Approximately three years ago, we ran out of money,” says Victor Kislyi, CEO of strategy-game developer ­ Prior to that, he and his Eastern European staff had been making traditional boxed video games for 12 years. As the money ran out, he had a revelation: “The whole world was going from retail to digital.”

His company’s last-ditch effort was to dump the boxes — and burn the bridges with retail stores — and release World of Tanks, an online-only military game that can be played without paying a cent. Quite a risk for a penniless CEO.

Yet people are paying after all — more than 65 million registered users — and the game’s booming success in Europe and Eastern Asia has helped the company grow as the largest video game company you’ve possibly never heard of. More than 2,000 employees in 14 international offices work to refine and update the world’s most popular tank-focused computer game, which employs a “free to play” tip-jar model and is also available on the Xbox 360. The ­company’s new World of ­Warplanes spinoff brings the same free-to-play intensity to the skies, as well.

Kislyi could say a lot about how new payment models and social media turned his fortunes, but the Belarus native offers a joke: “People just love tanks.”