E3 2013: Interview with Wargaming.net

June 26, 2013

During this year’s E3 I was able to sit down with some of the people at Wargaming.net, including two of their PR and Marketing managers, Max Chuvalov and Sharon Ng. For those unfamiliar with Wargaming.net, they’re the company behind the highly popular massively multiplayer online game, World of Tanks. They’re excited at the moment, because World of Tanks is making the jump from PC to Xbox 360. 2013 marks Wargaming’s 15th year in the business, and they’ve just opened their 15th office. They have 600 employees, and they’re pretty proud of themselves. They come right out and say it, the PC version of Tanks currently has over 16 million players in the US, making it one of the biggest games on the market. They see the Xbox 360’s install base as a huge number of potential new players for the game. There’s 40 million potential new players on Xbox Live, and Wargaming really want to get them into World of Tanks. The Xbox version features a brand new game client, built specifically for the console. Wargaming are taking the jump to the console platform seriously, to the point where they’ve even developed a system which allows patches for World of Tanks to download seamlessly, without the need to go to the Xbox dashboard. The user interface has also been overhauled, to suit viewing from a couch, rather than by someone sitting in front of a PC monitor.

They informed me that the open beta for World of Tanks on Xbox is planned to start soon after E3, with just German and US tanks at first. Brand new content is planned for the console version, to spice things up for both new and old players. Wargaming will be offering dedicated servers for the Xbox version, rather than using the same ones from the PC version. They’ve modified the game’s engine too, buildings are now more destructible, and the controls are completely customised for console playing. They wanted to avoid the mistake that other companies sometimes make when porting a game, where they simply try to shoehorn the same controls from the PC version onto a console. I’m given a live gameplay demo of the new version, and I have to say that the game plays very smoothly on Xbox 360, even with lots of players on-screen. However, they reveal that there’s no cross-matchmaking with the PC version, because they didn’t think that it would be fair. There’s also no account sharing or linking between the versions. Free-to-play games haven’t often been available for consoles, so they’re very excited about the upcoming launch.

Moving on, Wargaming’s next project was up for discussion. World of Warplanes has its open beta starting on July 2nd, for both America and Europe. A huge number of players will be experiencing the game for the first time. but they assure me that there will be a full tutorial on offer. The game will teach you everything you need to know about the mechanics, and will show both enemy planes’ strengths and weaknesses. Wargaming are very pleased with the graphics, they’ve greatly improved the rendering system of their game engine. US, Soviet Union, and Japanese planes will be available for now, with many more planned. Each plane can specialise in either air combat or ground target destruction. Planes take damage realistically, and you’ll see bullet holes appear in your plane, which will affect your plane’s manoeuvrability. New nations will be added to both Planes and Tanks in the future. The good news is that you’ll only need one Wargaming account, you can play both Planes and Tanks after you sign up for either one. If you buy a premium account for one game, you will get it for the other one too. That feature won’t be immediately available, though. Gold is also shared, the in-game currency can be used in either game once bought. Tokens are a new system, and players will receive them for participating in battles. They can be used to buy planes, premium accounts, and more. This will be the same for World of Warships (Wargaming’s other upcoming game) and all future games. World of Warships is in a pre-alpha state at this point, with 4 playable ships right now. They showed gameplay for the first time at E3.

Aside from the new and upcoming releases, the other big development is that Wargaming are changing their business practices. They’re taking their games from the free-to-play format to what they call the free-to-win format. In the standard free-to-play format, paying players have an advantage. They want to make their games fairer for non-paying players. From now on, there will be no ‘supremacy items’ (items that power up the player who buys them), nothing that can give paying players a measurable advantage. As one of the leading online gaming companies in Europe, they feel that by doing this, they will be setting a good example for other companies. They’ll be creating trends, rather than following them. A competitive Wargaming league has been introduced, with a $2.5 million prize pool. The league has proven to be highly popular, and they had 600,000 unique viewers on the first League’s video stream. They say that they want to help players go pro, and that they actually help them to get sponsors. Putting power in the hands of the players is important to them. Wargaming made it clear that their desire to continue providing what they believe are the world’s best massively multiplayer online games will continue to drive them.