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Super awesome battle tank wars Behind the Russian-Belarusian rivalry for the hearts and minds of the world's video-game nerds

Meduza
15:14, 28 march 2016

Image: Mail.Ru Group

Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service has begun reviewing an allusion to World War II in an advertisement for the computer game “Armored Warfare: Project Armata,” which the Russian company Mail.Ru Group launched into open beta testing last October. Mail.Ru Group says the complaint submitted to Russian regulators is a scheme by its competitors—an unsubtle jab at the Belarusian gaming company Wargaming, which produces “World of Tanks.” Meduza looks at the ongoing battle between the world's two largest tank-gaming franchises. 

World of Tanks is a game that pits players against each other in tank battles over the Internet. Across the planet, more than 150 million people play this game. While it costs nothing to play, it's possible to spend money to buy “experience,” new tanks, and other knick knacks. These bonuses for sale have made the game enormously lucrative for its owners. Last month, Bloomberg included the game's creator, Victor Kislyi, on its list of billionaires. 

The global market for “free” games is estimated to be worth $16.5 billion, so it's no wonder that more than a few companies are doing their darndest to repeat the Belarusians' success and grab a piece of the profits for themselves. Last fall, a beta version of the game Armored Warfare: Project Armata hit the Web. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, the game is being produced by My.com, a subsidiary of Mail.Ru Group established in 2012 to introduce the Russian company to the US market.

In January 2016, Mail.Ru launched an unusual promotion: anyone who registers to play Armored Warfare and actually uses the game for a certain amount of time can receive virtual currency valid with the game's competitor, World of Tanks. “At the end of the trial, each participant gets to choose his own reward: continue developing Project Armata, getting a prepaid two-month premium membership and a special gift tank, or he can take the advertised 2,500 gold credits to another project,” Mail.Ru explains.

In response, Mail.Ru's competitor, Wargaming, uploaded to its website a screenshot of the Project Armata promotion, adding a picture of Dora the Explorer and the teasing caption, “Hey, let's help these guys find some players!”

A month later, Wargaming went a step further and unveiled a promotion encouraging users to change the email addresses they've linked to their gaming accounts, calling it a security measure. Of the list of email services identified as potentially compromised, Wargaming initially included the Mail.Ru domain. Users who took part in the email-changing campaign received 30,000 “experience points.” 

Two days later, following a backlash from Mail.Ru, mention of the Mail.Ru domain disappeared from Wargaming's annoucement.

Mail.Ru called Wargaming's email scheme a “banal” act of revenge. “Fortunately, there are zero concerns about the security of our email,” a Mail.Ru spokesperson said at the time. “Wargaming is very nervous about the popularity of our new project, Armored Warfare, which appeals to a similar niche and is developing very well.”

On March 28, it was reported that Russia's Anti-Monopoly Service is demanding an explanation from Mail.Ru about a slogan appearing in its new advertising campaign for Armored Warfare. The slogan reads, “You grandfather liberated the world. Your father defended the peace. What will you do?” Regulators are reportedly demanding to know why the game used an allusion to World War II in an advertisement.

Your grandfather liberated the world. Your father defended the peace. And you, you jerk, play tank games online and jerk off all day.
Viktor Golovko

Commenting on the news, Mail.Ru's press office tried to shift the focus to World of Tanks: “Our competitors have such ‘reverence’ for the Second World War that they consider it permissible to use it as a foundation for enormous campaigns and missions where you can play not just as Soviet troops, but also as the fascists, with whom you can even win.” Mail.Ru says complaints about Armored Warfare to the Anti-Monopoly Service are entirely the inventions of the game's competitors.

Wargaming, meanwhile, denies that it's in any way involved in the complaints to regulators, saying that it doesn't do business that way. “It's important to understand,” the Belarusian company said in a press release, “that we're all responsible for the computer gaming market, which we ought to develop together, and we're ready to support our colleagues.” 

The spirit of cooperation has yet to overwhelm everyone, however. On Monday, March 28, Mail.Ru took out a full-page advertisement for Armored Warfare in the newspaper Kommersant, where it ran the slogan “MAKE LOVE NOT WOT.” In a small footnote, Mail.Ru clarified that “WOT” most certainly doesn't stand for World of Tanks.

Photo: Georgy Lobushkin