Today we’ll be looking at the interactive virtual museum Weapons of Heroes (weaponsofheroes.com), which was developed by our client 3DreamTeam (Vizerra). The application (which has over 500 thousand installations) is a tribute to iconic Soviet and Russian weaponry. Users learn the history of each exhibit, practice disassembling and reassembling different firearms, and, of course, see how they fire. 3DreamTeam CEO Alexandr Lavrov shares how they developed the project without an advertising budget, shows us what exactly a Fire Hedgehog was, and explains how the company solved traffic issues for users abroad.
What does your company do?
We develop virtual software; if it’s got to do with computer graphics, we do it. We’re not really restricted to a vertical market: if our clients know that there’s a task that can be done better using graphic technology—virtualization, virtual communication, virtual or augmented reality—we can do it.
These projects can be completely different. For example, we created the entire virtualization system for the Olympics in Sochi, as well as the planning system for the temporary infrastructure. This system for plotting where things would go was maintained for 6 years, and on your servers, by the way.
Interesting. What did that look like?
Have you ever played SimCity (laughs)? It was the same thing, only the Olympics and attached to real systems and topology. After this project, everything else is a cinch (laugh).
And how did Weapons of Heroes come about?
The Ministry of Culture is tasked with popularizing Russian culture throughout the world. And they do a lot. A lot of their projects are really interesting. The Weapons of Heroes app, for example, sees 200,000 installations a month.
What are the requirements for a project like that?
Our job was more serious than just making a game. The idea was to use to game mechanics to introduce people to a museum and culture.
Is this the most popular Russian museum project?
It looks that way. I don’t know how popular, say, the Hermitage application is… But ours is definitely in the top five, even the top three. The most popular museum applications have around 500 thousand installations, like us. Until we hit a million, I can’t say for sure. But for a lot of these, it took 5-8 years, and for us, 4 months.
Where do you get your weapon models?
The Tula State Arms Museum gives us schematics, photos, and manuals, and we model and animate them in 3DMax and with the Unity3d engine. This is the process we’ve used for over two hundred projects.
You don’t take any weapons to the studio?
Of course not. Everything there’s a rarity, a non-export: Maxim guns, like the very first Maxim that was made in Russia, or Catherine II’s hunting carbine.
But you do go to the museum?
Naturally. The first time, half of the team went, including the CTO’s wife. It was really quite interesting. After that trip, we were all pretty psyched.
So only one museum is involved?
Other Russian museums and even some abroad have started writing us. We have a lot of beta testers who work at arms museums abroad—there are a lot of them all over the world. They’ve also been getting interested. They all use gun apps and told us that this is the first one they can call informative, educational, etc. It even falls under the category “Family Games”. We were able to showcase guns not in terms of violence, but by their construction and with history. There are a lot of simulators, but there’s this sense of aggression that accompanies most of them. Either that or there’s nothing other than the weapon itself.
Do you have to shoot targets?
Yes, you can shoot targets in our app. What’s important is the delivery: what’s the interface like, what facts are you giving… Is there any kind of story? Things are often very one-dimensional, and we wanted to avoid that. We want to show the era, who used these weapons; we wanted the characters to talk to you, to explain why this was like that, why this was incredible. We were pretty surprised when we read these things for ourselves.
What exactly was surprising?
We have 53 facts. We specifically picked the ones that you would immediately want to share on social media. I’ll show you… (Alexandr shows me a black and white photo where a veritable forest of gun barrels are sticking out of the bomb bay of an airplane. It looks like something out of sci-fi movie or screenshot from a computer game - Selectel) This is called a Fire Hedgehog. There’re 88 automatic PPSh submachine guns that mounted on planes and used to shoot at infantry during fly-overs. These didn’t go into production, but in terms of engineering, it’s really impressive.
That’s what everyone says the first time they see it (laughs). This, of course, wasn’t all that effective—it takes a long time to reload, the bullets don’t go very far…. But when you see this, your first thought is, “Aaa!” Look at this. This is a night-vision scope for the PPSh (they already had them in 1942!), and this is a device for shooting through barbed wire…
I see now. But if we backtrack a bit, do you plan on including other museums?
Yes. In the end we’d like this to be a big international project. For the next new weapon, 10,000 people voted, and for this, we just gave a link to a questionnaire, which took 15 minutes to fill out: this means people care.
Are your users gun enthusiasts?
Most people’s knowledge of weapons is limited to computer games. Teenagers install the app because it has weapons from Call of Duty or Counter-Strike, and they literally say, “Man, I thought this was just another app, but it was actually interesting.” And making it interesting is our job.
We have virtual mentors in the app—real people who fought at different times. We found an artist, Olga Shirnina, who has an enormous collection of old colorized war photos. People perceive instructions differently when they’re given by real people. This is where the app gets its depth. You take your run-of-the-mill assemble-disassemble app, and most people won’t find it interesting.
Who are the characters in your app?
We took a long time to pick them. There’s Berdan, for example, who invented the rifle. There’re soldiers from the Red Army. These colored photos, they’re artifacts themselves. That’s where we got the mentors that our app needed. We have 2,000 beta testers and they all liked it. We were told to “just add weapons”, but we have a different goal—for people to learn about history and grow.
For example, we made a “glory points” system. Before this, we just gave people the information. But it became clear that they weren’t spending a lot of time in the app; there was no goal. We introduced gamification. If a person disassembles, assembles, and fires really well, they’re given a specific class and rank, like in the army, and get “glory points”, which can be used to open new weapons and facts. So, to learn about the Fire Hedgehog, you have to earn 51 points.
Are they hard to earn?
It starts out easy, but gets harder. But if you disassemble and assemble everything, you’ll have one and a half times the points you need to unlock all of our facts. We want the users to be interested, not suffer. By May 9th we’re also starting a quest, where you’ll have to collect facts.
And we can’t lower the bar: from our reviews, there’s an entire class of students that uses this app. There’s this American teacher who teaches his students about the mechanics of firearms using our app.
Does your app have a lot of competitors?
There are hundreds of apps about firearms, and the competition is fierce. It was hard to set ourselves apart from these.
You probably spent a lot on advertising.
This is a government project, so we didn’t have resources for advertising. We did all of the app store search optimization and changed the icons, text, and screenshots ourselves. Every week was an experiment. And we raised our stats from forty visitors a day to 18,000 at its peak. For what is essentially an educational app, that’s a lot. We spent maybe 20,000 (around $300 - Selectel) at the very start, when we had to have some kind of launch.
75% of your users are from abroad. Why is that?
We actually have a lot of Russian users. We’ve localized 75 stores on GooglePlay and in the AppStore, so the relative percent of Russians is fairly high.
Did those users abroad experience issues with traffic?
Yes, we were hosting on the Ministry of Culture’s servers, and traffic got up to several terabytes a day. Naturally, the servers are in Russia, and everything was sent throughout Russia fine, but abroad, some users experienced a lot of lag. We didn’t limit the app geographically—it’s an app for everyone.
We had hosted our virtual servers for Sochi and the Virtual Architecture Museum (which, by the way, was ranked the best European museum app) at Selectel. We wouldn’t have chosen you if we hadn’t have worked together for so long or known what to expect. Weapons of Heroes sees an enormous amount of traffic compared to the museum app (albeit normal for a game); naturally, we needed the CDN. We also use Cloud Storage for distributing static content.
So why did you choose Selectel?
We like the simplicity, the price, and we knew what to expect from you. And who to write if anything goes wrong (laughs). I won’t say it was all clear skies, but if we were to compare you to others in terms of price and quality, then I’d say there’s really no other option.
Did anything change after the move?
We went to having no negative comments. People just wrote that they couldn’t download weapons. The application itself is small, because if it were any bigger, it’d mean Wi-Fi and that’s a minus. Weapons are downloaded separately. Then things got better: even people who had left bad reviews changed them to positive ones. Not everyone, of course, but a lot. Ratings for apps are critical, and when you can’t provide stability for your app, then you’re marked. We don’t have any of those problems now.
What makes Selectel’s services attractive?
We like the simplicity; there are a lot of CDNs where you have to jump through hoops just to set it up, but here you’ve got a normal interface, FTP, all the handlers we needed, etc. Upload your file, make a link, and that’s it. It’s really convenient. It turns out the folder architecture gets transferred from our server—a really basic process. We understand that you have a large internal infrastructure, which we couldn’t maintain ourselves. Considering your partnership with Akamai and the general network, which, I should add, is cheaper than Akamai, we’re very satisfied.
And when all is said and done, you’d say you’re happy with us?
Of course. We all went to shooting ranges at kids, put together models. As it turns out, we still like doing that, even now.
Speaking of models, do you think you will add a tank any time soon?
Oh yeah (laughs)! Getting a tank in there is one of definite goals.