World of War Games: A History of Wargaming

The Strong | National Museum of Play | Rochester, New York Toothpick Tank (2016) by World of Tanks FanThe Strong National Museum of Play

A History of Wargaming

The Strong museum in Rochester, New York, houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of historical materials related to play. Through its International Center for the History of Electronic Games, The Strong collects, preserves, and interprets the history of video games, and its collections include objects and documentation from key game developers such as Wargaming. This exhibit explores the history of that company and its games. Office (2015) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Let’s Battle

Beginning in the late 1990s, the Cyprus-based Wargaming Group Limited established itself as a developer of military strategy games. In 2010, Wargaming launched the massively multiplayer online, free-to-play hit game World of Tanks, which blended strategic team-based gameplay with thrilling tank battles. Played by millions, World of Tanks and Wargaming’s subsequent games appealed to the company’s and players’ passions for war games, military history, and authentic recreations of historical vehicles.

Medieval Warriors Chess Set (1980/2015)The Strong National Museum of Play

Where do War Games Come From?

With their roots in ancient strategy games such as chaturanga and chess and the 19th century Prussian military simulation kriegsspiel, war games helped instruct and model military operations. This modern chess set unabashedly displays its linkage to war games by swapping the usual abstract pawn and knight pieces for archer and warrior figures.

Little Wars (1931) by H.G. WellsThe Strong National Museum of Play

War Play in Miniature

Science-fiction author H.G. Wells’s 1913 book Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, laid the foundation for miniature war gaming by setting rules for toy soldier battles. Wells himself was a passionate enthusiast for this sort of miniature play, though as its subtitle suggests, the book imagined war gaming as play rather than training for war or statecraft.

Tactics II (1961) by Charles S. RobertsThe Strong National Museum of Play

The Rules of the War Game

Tabletop game company Avalon Hill’s Tactics II, the sequel to their landmark 1954 board game Tactics, popularized many rules and concepts that became basic to tabletop war gaming. Players took turns maneuvering multiple combat units of various strengths around a grid of squares that was superimposed on an imaginary landscape. When units met in battle, players rolled dice, consulting probability tables to determine which force had triumphed.

Tank Battle (1975) by Milton Bradley CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play

War Games for All

War games flourished in the 1970s as new companies and games entered the market. Board game giant Milton Bradley’s 1975 Tank Battle exemplified the genre’s rising popularity. Billed as “the game of planning and strategy,” Tank Battle’s miniature model tanks and anti-tank guns echoed H.G. Wells’s Little Wars and fed on players’ interests in modeling and customizing miniature war vehicles.

Victor Kislyi (1998/1999) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Sowing the Seeds of a Game Company

Growing up in Belarus, Wargaming company founder Victor Kislyi obsessed over two things: chess and military history. These interests evolved into a passion for war games that inspired the young Kislyi to draw battlefield map in permanent ink on the floor of his parents’ apartment. Soon, he turned his passions toward computers, programming his own games on a knock-off of Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum personal computer.

La Conquête du Monde (1957) by Albert LamorisseThe Strong National Museum of Play

Making War Games

In 1996, Kislyi and his brother produced Iron Age, a turn-based strategy game that echoed the popular board game Risk and its 1957 predecessor La Conquête du Monde. Although only four people, including the two brothers, played Iron Age, it helped Kislyi forge relationships with the war gaming community in the United States.

Victor Kislyi and Other Developers (1998/1999) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Making Wargaming

In 1998, Kislyi formed game development studio Wargaming in Minsk, Belarus. The new company set out to create multiplayer strategy games for the personal computer.

DBA Online Game Box (2000) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

From the Tabletop to the Computer

Wargaming’s first game, DBA Online, premiered in 2000. An adaption of the historical miniature tabletop game De Bellis Antiquitatis (Of the Wars of Antiquity), the digital version tasked players with controlling an ancient army in battle. Although the game was not a hit, it turned a profit and allowed the staff to develop new games that might appeal to a wider audience.

Massive Assault Box (2003) by Wargaming and AriseThe Strong National Museum of Play

Reaching for New Markets

Released in 2003, Wargaming’s 3-D, turn-based strategy game Massive Assault allowed players to control vehicles and giant robots from one of two warring factions. Its success in Western markets spawned numerous sequels and introduced Kislyi and his company to the global video game industry.

Operation Bagration Game Box (2008) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Returning to the Past

It’s 1944, and retreating German troops holed up in their last stronghold in Belarus. The Soviet army must rupture the German’s front lines by encircling and destroying their enemy. That’s the mission of Wargaming’s first real-time strategy game, Operation Bagration. Released specifically to the Russian market, the World War II-themed game reignited the developer’s focus on historical strategy games and earned the company the Best Strategy Game of the Year award at the 2008 Russian Game Developers Conference.

Order of War Box (2009) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

New Retail Realities

In 2009 Wargaming partnered with game publisher Square Enix to produce its most ambitious title to date, the World War II-themed real-time strategy game Order of War. The game featured massive battles on a scale that other strategy games couldn’t match, but sales lagged in a retail market increasingly taken over by digitally distributed games and the rise of Chinese and Korean free-to-play games, which provided players with access to a significant portion of a game’s content at no cost.

World of Tanks Screen Capture (2018) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

World of Tanks

No game changed Wargaming’s fortunes more than World of Tanks. Announced in April 2009, the massively multiplayer online game built on the company’s tradition of historical war games but allowed people to play for free. The game cemented Wargaming as a leader in the free-to-play market. It also earned the company numerous awards, including Best Game Developer of 2010 at the Russian Game Developers Conference.

World of Tanks 1.0 Trailer (2018) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Personalizing Play

World of Tanks capitalized on war gamers’ longstanding passion for customizing miniatures and model vehicles. In the game, players selected a nation; outfitted a tank, tank destroyer, or self-propelled gun; and waged war in massive multiplayer battles. Players customized their own vehicles with camouflage schemes or enhancements such as guns, tracks, and engines paid for with in-game credits purchased or earned while playing.

We Deliver Legendary Online Games Globally with Passion Medal (2010/2017) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

A Passion for Play

This medal celebrated Wargaming’s passion for developing games that could be experienced by players across the globe. In July 2011, Wargaming moved its headquarters from Belarus to Cyprus. The office in Belarus remained a center for game development and the company later opened additional studios throughout the world, including in North America and Asia.

World of Tanks Metal Sculpture (2016) by World of Tanks FanThe Strong National Museum of Play

On the Right Track

Early in the development of World of Tanks some in the company worried that players might not identify with a tank. The game’s wild popularity proved otherwise. One fan created this sculpture, a blend of flying saucer and tank, for the development team, which was presented to the developers on Cosmonautics Day, a holiday celebrating aeronautical accomplishments.

World of Warplanes Helmet (2016) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Expanding a Gaming Phenomenon

Wargaming built on the colossal success of World of Tanks by expanding their free-to-play war game arsenal. Released in 2013, World of Warplanes replaced tank battles with dogfights and bombing runs.

World of Warships Open Beta Trailer (2015) by wargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Sailing into History

In 2015 Wargaming’s World of Warships again tapped the developer’s massively multiplayer free-to-play formula. The game’s combination of immense sea battles, strategy, and customizable historical battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers captivated players.

World of Tanks and Girls Und Panzer Folder—World of Tanks Blitz (2003) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Tanks on the Go

In response to the immense growth of the mobile gaming market, Wargaming released World of Tanks Blitz, a seven-on-seven multiplayer version of World of Tanks, for tablets and smartphones in 2014. To promote Blitz in Japan, the company collaborated with Actas, creators of the popular Girls Und Panzer anime about Japanese high school girls competing at tank warfare, to create promotion advertising, in-game events, and tank modifications based on the television series for World of Tanks.

Mark Hamill Voiceover Work (2016) by NGD StudiosThe Strong National Museum of Play

Bolstering Innovation

In 2015 Wargaming unveiled WG Labs, an innovation platform to support external game development projects, as well as games developed in-house that go beyond the company’s strengths in war games. This video shows actor Mark Hamill’s—best-known for his portrayal of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars film franchise—voice acting on NGD Studios’ turned-based strategy game Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars, made in cooperation with WG Labs.

Tank in Trafalgar Square (2016) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Wargaming Beyond the Games

To mark the 100th anniversary in 2016 of the British World War I Mark I tank, the armed forces drove a replica Mark IV tank into Trafalgar Square, London. Wargaming not only honors historical war vehicles through their games, but has also helped preserve war memorials, vehicles, and other cultural heritage sites throughout the world.

Dornier Excavation (2013) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Preserving the Past

Working with the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force Museum, Wargaming supported the recovery of this German Dornier Do 17 bomber, which crashed over the English Channel during World War II. The rescued warplane is the last intact example in existence.

World of Tanks Virtual Reality Glasses (2013) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

The Wargame Advances

Wargaming continues to revise and grow their war chest of games and experiences. Players used these Google Cardboard virtual reality (VR) glasses, donated to the company by Google and distributed at Tankfest 2015 at The Tank Museum, with a mobile device to explore the museum’s collections and to view a 360-degree World War II battle reenactment.

World of Tanks Blitz Screen Capture (2018) by WargamingThe Strong National Museum of Play

Still Battling

Millions of players across the globe continue to wage war on the digital battlefields created by Wargaming. And the success of World of Tanks and the company’s follow up titles showed other developers that a free-to-play business model could succeed in Western markets. Today, free-to-play games dominate the personal computer and mobile gaming markets yielding giant revenues from in-game microtransactions (small payments for virtual goods).

Credits: Story

World of War Games is produced by The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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