In recent weeks Arthur Pratapopau, Wargaming.net's PR Manager, has given us the chance to talk to the Devs of one of TG's more popular titles: World of Tanks. What follows is, we hope, an exchange of questions and answers of an atypical type. Wargaming.net's websites have amazingly in depth FAQ's covering every aspect of their games, so we tried to come up with some questions that were a bit different. Taking some of their valuable time from the development of their upcoming title World of Warplanes, Andrei Yarantsau and Aleksandr Zezulin field some unique questions from our Tactical Gamer player base.
Can you tell us a bit about Wargaming.net and the origins of the company?
Andrei Yarantsau: Wargaming.net was founded in 1998. First we specialized exclusively in military strategy games (we’ve shipped 13 titles, all in all). Eventually, we realized we were moving in a slightly wrong direction, a bit upstream if you’d like it this way. With more people gaining Internet access, the gaming was turning truly global, creating demand for AAA online titles. So yes, we decided to switch to developing games that would cater to players all over the world.
World of Tanks’ success allowed Wargaming.net move to a whole new level. We grew to become an internationally operating game publisher with offices all around the world. If two years ago the business consisted of 150 employees primarily based in Minsk, today we are nearing 800 people around the globe. Besides CIS territory (Minsk, Kiev and St. St. Petersburg), we established offices in San Francisco, Berlin and Paris; and are actively working in the South Eastern Asia (China, Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines).
How big is your player-base?
Andrei Yarantsau: Europe is close to a million active users, we have around 30, 000 people playing World of Tanks in North America, and breached impressive 423,000 users playing online at the same time on the Russian cluster this spring. The SEA region is about 150,000 concurrent players.
What do you feel you offer players of your titles that your competitors do not?
Andrei Yarantsau: World of Tanks offers an in-depth gaming experience with a well-tuned mixture of action, strategy, RPG and simulator elements, topped with quality graphics, upscale audiovisuals and a smooth learning curve. We also worked out a non-intrusive monetization model. Unlike many free-to-play titles, World of Tanks doesn't pressure the player into buying a ton of paid options. Another essential element was developing quality customer service to assist and consult users on whatever questions they have.
We also patch the game regularly to respond to how players are playing the game and give them what they’re most interested in. As far as industry trends go, we’re always looking at what other people are doing and trying to learn from every game we play.
So I think we’ve just managed to nicely combine and tune together elements that – as we see it – are indispensable to a great game, and players liked it.
At what point did Wargaming decide to use a free to play model, and why?
Andrei Yarantsau: Back when World of Tanks was merely a concept we knew it would be f2p. Why? Being a free game, there’s no barrier to entry for a new player. If someone wants to play it, all they have to do is create an account and download the game, so it allowed us to reach a really wide audience. Another thing: regular updates allow us meet the needs of existing community, track the industry trends, draw new players, and monitor game’s functionality to ensure comfortable gaming conditions for everyone.
There are several tricky points about f2p, too. Finding a way to monetize the game effectively and without tarnishing its creative vision, for instance, was by far more difficult for us than deciding upon its business model.
Did Wargaming.net have much financial success when it was not making free to play games?
Andrei Yarantsau: Yes, we shipped several fairly successful RTS titles. Massive Assault series and the Order of War were among top sellers, for example. However, strategy games only court a certain facet of the market and not a significant one, while tapping into the online gaming opened greater opportunities for us.
Does Wargaming.net intend to make any more standard titles? i.e.: titles that cost money to purchase.
Andrei Yarantsau: In these economic times, we expect that the most cost-effective entertainment options would have an advantage and we think our business model fits into that category, offering a uniquely compelling entertainment value proposition.
We deliver games that are to stay free forever, but you can progress a lot quicker or get, for example, fancy customization items if you pay a few quid. The big fans that play and love the game bring more players to the party. Those that think that game sucks, leave with a full wallet. We as developers try our hardest to respond to the needs of the community and keep players interested in the title. Seems a better deal for all.
How many titles are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?
Andrei Yarantsau: We have two titles in the pipeline: a f2p flight MMO action World of Warplanes and a naval MMO game World of Battleships.
World of Warplanes has been in Global Alpha phase since February, 23, and its Closed Beta began May, 31. We have a rough plan for first two WoWP Updates that will come after release as well as a plan for what our team will be implementing to polish the title before it goes live. As regard to World of Battleships, we plan to launch the Closed Alpha later this year.
Besides, we continue to work on new content for World of Tanks, and have just announced another massive Update that will bring into the game long-anticipated British Tank tree (http://worldoftanks.eu/news/2559-bri...ks-are-coming/).
How many people are working on their development team and how many are working on individual titles?
Aleksandr Zezulin: The work on the sequel is split between two offices that work in close cooperation: organize regular mutual visits, feature planning, milestone approving, managerial and design video conferences. All in all, we have around 150 people working on World of Warplanes in Kiev, while the Minks producing team that guides and mentors the process is much smaller.
Andrei Yarantsau: World of Tanks team is still the largest: there are close to four hundred people working on the game, most of them in Minsk. World of Battleships production runs in St. Petersburg, Russia. The dev team there is around 70 people. Another 50 people are involved in Wargaming.net smaller projects.
I know that Wargaming.net has servers in Europe. Is the staff at Wargaming made up of an international cast of developers?
Andrei Yarantsau: We think it’s a must we have specialists from different countries if we want to deliver gaming experience that is culturally and historically acceptable for Europe, North America, and Asia (our major markets) alike. Besides, whatever region we enter we hire local personnel to run a customer support service.
Aleksandr Zezulin: Offices in Berlin and Paris, and guys from San Francisco provide us with detailed digests about WoWP community of the given region, its preferences, complaints, and wishes. It assists us in working out the plan for further expansions and facilitates game’s localization.
Do members of the development team have any military experience?
Aleksandr Zezulin: Military service is compulsory both in Russia and Belarus, and most people on the team have served. Some of us used to work in the military troops before came into game development. Wargaming.net Lead Producer Slava Makarov, for example, is the tank platoon commander.
Although there are no real world pilots in World of Warplanes dev team, all of us have long time experience of playing flight sims; and many have run acrobatic aeroplane and tried parachute jumping, too. We often consult with WWII pilots and Korean War veterans on flight combat protocols, techniques and tactics. Besides, we have several historic consultants (some of them used to work on World of Tanks) and aeronautical engineers in the team. They are constantly fact checking, cross-referencing and staying on guard against technical and historic inaccuracies.
What is Wargaming.net's long term plan, for instance, where do they see themselves in 6 months? one year? five years?
Andrei Yarantsau: We have two games in development and keep on patching World of Tanks on a regular basis. It keeps us pretty busy, and we aren’t planning any more massive projects. At least not in the nearest future. In 2012 we plan to launch World of Warplanes and proceed to the Closed Alpha with World of Battleships. Plus, we’ll release several more Updates for World of Tanks.
Aleksandr Zezulin: World of Warplanes has just entered the Closed Beta – it started May, 31. If the testing runs smoothly, we receive positive feedback, and manage to tackle major balancing issues in line with the schedule, the title will be released at the end of the year. As for now, the game is shaping up well, and we see no reason for any major delays.
Is there a plan to shift more of their resources towards their new titles (WOWP), or are the committed to WOT for the long haul?
Andrei Yarantsau:There’s a separate team working of World of Warplanes, and two more that focus on World of Tanks and World of Battleships respectively. We don’t shuffle people between the teams – as World of Warplanes development moves further and requires greater recourses we are hiring more specialists.
Aleksandr Zezulin: We cooperate a lot within the company and can’t but avail of the WoT team experience and resources. They’ve learned many useless lessons during World of Tanks development. Their advice helps us avoid certain pitfalls and fosters WoWP dev process a good deal.
Andrei Yarantsau: We have no lops, and treat all projects as equally important. New titles pose no distraction from meeting the needs and expectations of the World of Tanks community. What we’ve found is that work on several titles feeds our creativity and reminds us why we are working so hard on each.
What, (if anything) is Wargaming looking at after the current planned trilogy? (WoT, WoWP, and WoB/WoBS)
Andrei Yarantsau: Of course, we have several interesting ideas that we would like to implement. Once we decide on the next step and rough out the concept, we will tell you.
I love the scenery models like house, wheelbarrows,etc. What did you use to make them? What game engine do you use? Do you use the same engine across all your titles?
Aleksandr Zezulin: We are glad you like them!
Mostly, we use Autodesk Maya 3D for scenery models, and as for the game engine, you are right – engine stays the same. Of course, it is considerably reworked and adjusted in accordance with gameplay specifics of aerial combat (in case of World of Warplanes) or naval tussles if we are talking about World of Battleships. What I mean is: World of Tanks, World of Warplanes and World of Battleships have the same technical base, but game client and server components are built anew and tuned with gameplay peculiarities of a certain title.
What are you considering in terms of crossover between the 3 "World of ____s" games you are creating?
Aleksandr Zezulin: We are going to integrate games on multiple levels.
“World of...” games will be drawn together in terms of their Economics: you’ll get a single account for all Wargaming.net projects, and it will enable you channel economic recourses (Gold and Free Experience) between the titles. If you are a long time fan of WoT and have some extra Free Exp points why not transfer them to World of Warplanes (or World of Battleships) and boost your leveling there.
As for the meta-level and Clan Wars functionality, the overhauled Global map will enable Clans from the three games support each other. A plane Clan will be able to negotiate with a tank Clan and buy an AI-controlled anti-aircraft artillery support for a certain battle. Similarly, naval Clans will be able to order AI-controlled airstrikes from WoWP clans, and tank Clans will get a chance to get support either from the sea or from the air. This sort of mutual support will be possible within battles for a particular province only.
How do you as game designers weigh the demands of your community against your ideal standards towards the game?
Aleksandr Zezulin: What makes a great game is a great community, and we are committed to building that community from the very beginning. We feel it is extremely important to listen to our player’s feedback and grow the game from their thoughts and suggestions. The feedback we get from them helps us prioritize items in our internal plan, and decide which to implement first. By the way, we’ve already included a number of features that they were asking for, mostly in terms of plane models.
However, from a game developer’s perspective, it’s impossible to please everyone. First-off, it would take years to implement every single feature players have come up with; secondly, many suggestions do not fit into the gameplay.
Here at Tactical Gamer, simulation and authenticity are huge selling points for a player base within the community. As a company do you feel the authenticity you bring to your titles is a big part of what drives the development and continued success of your games? Can you discuss realism vs. gameplay?
Aleksandr Zezulin: I’d rather say that success of our titles lies in the balance between fidelity and accessibility. We believe that a great game should offer enough depth and historically appropriate details to please hardcore gamers, yet stay attractive and easy for new players to jump on board.
Instead of developing an overly complex and authentic to the tiniest detail simulator that would entice simmers and frustrate more casual gamers, we aim at the middle ground that would keep both camps happy. To that end, we have geared the flight model and controls toward accessibility and ease of use. It won’t take long to learn the basics, but you’ll have to spend some good hours to polish your skills and master all the available maneuvers.
As regard to the controls, the game will offer enough options you keep everyone happy (at launch the game will support 2 different types of mouse aircraft control: arcade and expert, keyboard, keyboard + mouse, gamepads, and joysticks). Our designers are “encouraged” to ensure that playing with each input device is equally satisfying.
We’ll also introduce an interactive PvE tutorial upon release. It will assist newcomers in getting used to the fast-paces 3D combat by fighting short battles against AI-controlled planes. Besides, both World of Warplanes official website and the game client will offer substantial reference materials in regard to plane models, upgradable modules, munition, and combat tactics.
Andrei Yarantsau: Authenticity, realism, fun – they’re all part of the same thing in our game. We hope both hardcore simmers and casual players will be quite satisfied to see how we have balanced them.
Wargaming.net has brought us World of Tanks, Battleships, and soon World of Warplanes. There has been the ongoing question of unifying the three titles into a grand arena for combat. Your FAQ mentions this briefly and we are wondering if this is something you still hope to pursue and if your current and future titles will be a part of this framework. Any thoughts?
Aleksandr Zezulin: The way we’ve described it to you earlier World of Tanks, World of Warplanes and World of Battleships will be integrated on the Global map and in terms of their economics: players will get a unified account (that will work for all future Wargaming.net projects, too); Clans will support each other on the Global Map.
As for a single battle arena with naval, ground, and air warfare – we plan nothing of that kind. The idea itself is great, but it’s just impossible gameplay-wise! Air combat will be highly dynamic, naval action will provide for a thoughtful slow game, and tanks lie somewhere in the middle. Not to mention how drastically they differ in terms of targetability: vulnerable to air attacks, tanks are not a patch on maneuverable warbirds, while the latter would hardly survive an attack of heavily-armed multiton naval giants.
One more difference that makes integration impossible are map sizes. How would you merge tanks rolling around 1 x 1 km fields, planes with 250 km2 arenas, and ships ranging over 40 x 40 km areas within one map? Or I’d better ask how long would it take for a tank to spot the enemy on a map large enough to fit all types of vehicles? Or even this way: with constant threat from the air and the sea will it last long enough to spot the enemy on the ground? I totally doubt it!
How do you plan on differentiating your military and first person shooter games from the apparent over-saturation of the current PC market place?
Andrei Yarantsau: We deliver easy-to-jump-into realistic multiplayer gaming with tons of depth.
Look at World of Tanks – there’s more to it than just a first person shooter. Simplified controls don’t distract you from seeking out and destroying enemy tanks, there’s no complex targeting or management of your crew. At the same time, you are given a rich choice of authentic vehicles and prototypes from WWII superpowers, together with vast amount of upgrades and customization options for each model. After enough time, every player finds the tank that matches their play style. You play and become more accustomed to the maps and controls, find out the best strategies for defeating your armored opponents; your rank in a Clan or/and platoon changes accordingly. It’s never linear or scripted – you hardly ever get bored.
Aleksandr Zezulin: Similarly, in World of Warplanes we blend elements of accessibility and realism to create an experience with descent level of depth though without the complexities that might turn away total newcomers to flight combat.
Can you give some advice and/or examples of the work required in growing a small development house into one offering numerous retail products and lessons learned?
Andrei Yarantsau: Once you are doing what you really enjoy, manage to gather a team of aspiring professionals, have enough perseverance, and can learn from your mistakes you’ll go great guns! I’m not telling you it will be a plain sailing. Learning something takes time, time and time! It'll require a lot from you: you'll curse, sweat and cry! But in the end it's worth it. It really is!
How does Wargaming.net see itself leveraging the BigWorld engine and licensing model in a marketplace with the likes of the Unreal Engine, Unity Engine, ID Tech and Frostbite?
Aleksandr Zezulin: What entices us in BigWorld is that along with a neat client component it also offer cutting edge server infrastructure. Its optimized codebase and highly efficient algorithms allow high player densities and low bandwidth usage, which is critical for a title with a massive player-base like World of Tanks’.
During WoT development we grew familiar with BigWorld tools and instruments, and choosing it for World of Warplanes saved us much time.
With Microsoft ending support for Windows XP in the end of 2013, how does Wargaming plan on migrating titles to other operating systems without alienating casual gamers?
Aleksandr Zezulin: Our games won’t stop running on Windows XP platform in 2014. Neither will it stop working. I doubt it would have any effect on the development project, either.
Does the separating of land (WoT), air (WoWP) and sea (WoB) theaters help the development process and time to bring a game to retail? Does it have a negative effect on market capitalization due to other games offering all 3?
Aleksandr Zezulin: Land, air and naval warfare differ greatly in terms of vulnerability, map sizes, and gameplay dynamics. Integrating them within one battlefield would louse up the game balance; force us to step away from authenticity and stint certain vehicles. For example, we could decrease average plane speed and thus fit them into smaller maps. However, this would have adverse effect on the gameplay gearing it more toward an arcade game.
Andrei Yarantsau: Expectations for a new standalone project are always higher than that for an add-on, and doing a series of titles allows us take time needed to develop products of higher standard.
What is Wargaming.net’s opinion on the industry push of using HTML5 for games in the future for cross-platform development?
Aleksandr Zezulin: Every technology that makes the process of developing class AAA gaming products easier is great. HTML5, however, is not a technology; I’d rather call it a medium where such a technology can appear. We as developers are looking forward to it.
Thanks to Andrei, Aleksandr, Arthur at Wargaming.net and my good friends here at Tactical Gamer for making this all happen. If you're interested in learning more about Wargaming.net and their "World Of" universe, please visit the links below.