As you guys know, recently I have been totally consumed by Wargaming.net‘s great freemium game, World of Tanks (WoT). This highly-addictive F2P, armor-on-armor contest continuously impresses me by its high level of quality. As well, after years of being disappointed by the workmanlike products coming from many AAA-studios, the near-fanboy-like attention to detail coming from WoT’s dev team is invigorating. Wargaming.net seems to “get” the fact that hardcore-gamers are attracted by good gameplay, competitive matches and decent eye-candy…and unlike many other developers, they get these in the correct order.
Personally, WoT appeals to my love of military history and technology. Regardless whether you love the tank-genre, you just have to admire the accurate, richly detailed combat armor models in this game. That detail of course doesn’t just stop at skin level — it extends right into the interior of each tank itself. After the latest patch, Wargaming reworked its damage-model to account for the vulnerability of numerous critical components inside the tank to penetrating shells. Incoming rounds can now take out individual sub-systems, cripple engine components and even worse, kill or wound the tank operators.
All of this dev-love gives the 18 million+ registered WoT tankers like me a very realistic and challenging gaming experience. Recently, I took a valuable time-out from grinding my next medium tank on the new French Tech Tree, to reach out and talk to the developers who have provided us gamers with that experience. In this case, it wasn’t just any developer, I got a chance to speak exclusively to Sergey Burkatovskiy, Wargaming.net’s Lead Game Designer.
Sergey: Wargaming.net is an award-winning online game developer and publisher mostly famous for the armored action MMO World of Tanks. Since 1998, we’ve shipped 13 titles, including the Massive Assault series, Order of War published by Square Enix and three add-ons for Blitzkrieg II. With the development center in Minsk, we have offices in America, France, and Germany, and are looking forward to establishing a Korean presence. Our team has recently grown to 700 people who are hard at work on the aforementioned World of Tanks and the new upcoming titles: World of Warplanes and World of Battleships.
BS: When did you join Wargaming and what is your role there?
Sergey: I was among World of Tanks’ pioneers and joined the team in an early stage of development. They needed a man with deep knowledge and true passion for tanks, and that’s where my experience turned very helpful for the project. We’ve done — and keep doing — great work on World of Tanks game design, from fight balance and up to the core game mechanics.
BS: World of Tanks is an impressive experience. I think you started developing it in 2008, but can you tell me how it started? Who had the idea for the game? What was the inspiration?
Sergey: The idea, indeed, appeared in 2008, but we started working on the concept as early as 2004. We just realized we had been moving in a slightly wrong direction. The idea of making tanks the central point simply dawned on us one day: why rack our brains when we can develop a game dedicated to what most of us enjoy. Here, in Wargaming.net we really have an affection for military warfare, the history of WWI and WWII. We are a bit addicted to all war things, I would say. So we decided to focus on tank-on-tank combat and a multiple genre game. We wanted to work out a unique blend of action, strategy, RPG and simulators and garnish it with high-quality graphics and audiovisual effects.
BS: What advantages are in the Free-to-Play/Freemium model versus the standard pay model. Why did WoT go in the F2P direction?
Sergey: Wargaming.net had shipped a dozen “box” games that received high praise from players and critics, before we switched to the MMO genre, which was an entirely new experience for us. Normally, you put a box on the shelf, release an add-on or two — and that’s it, that’s what the player gets for quite a big sum of money as the life cycle of the game comes to the end.
With free-to-play, there’s, first of all, no $50 or $60 payment wall that prevents millions of players from even trying out your game, secondly, in order to draw new users and keep the old ones playing, developers are always eager to add new free content that extends a game’s life cycle to years making players’ experience more enjoyable.
Unlike many MMORPGs that require playing hours upon hours daily just to keep up, a free-to-play game is more flexible and convenient for casual gamers to play without worrying of being left behind. Besides, the free-to-play model makes it possible to try the game first and then decide whether to join it or not.
Another advantage is a flexible budget: players don’t have to pay any money to get into it but their progress will be slightly slower. To avoid this issue, we’ve managed to tune up the gameplay, so that low-level tanks are as fun to play as top-level ones.
Players might also choose to pay ‘micropayments’ which allow access to additional armour protection, better ammunition, etc. Hardcore gamers might spend ‘gold’ to get prestige tanks or special gear for your tank that gives you small boosts. Gold can also convert earned experience on a tank into ‘free experience’ that can be spent on any tank even allowing you to explore the tech tree without buying each one along the way.
BS: The detail in the game is incredible as it is historically accurate. Who is responsible for doing all the research for the game? They should be congratulated.
Sergey: Thank you! We’re grateful to our team of historical consultants who made all the research for World of Tanks. Here I should mention that our historical consultants aren’t some ordinary paper-pushers. For instance, the leading historical consultant, Yury Pashalok previously worked at the National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War . Also, he is the one who repaired the Panther (PzKpfw V) for the Kubinka Tank Museum and transported damaged Japanese tanks from the Kuril Islands. In other words, our colleagues do know something about tanks.
BS: Your community is one of the best mannered groups I’ve ever seen online. They are also incredibly knowledgeable about the subject of tanks. Does it put a lot of pressure on the developers of the game, knowing that any mistake in depicting these historic tanks will be immediately caught by the community?
Sergey: We’re glad to have such a close-knit and educated community. For sure, their opinion means much to us and we are always grateful for their feedback, as it gives us aspiration to implement changes and correct mistakes. We are not the best tank specialists in the world. When millions investigate on the same subject they’re likely to find some slips unnoticed by the developers. We’ve never claimed we are perfect and prone to making mistakes.
BS: BTW, is it possible for you to create a “dead-chat” switch, like most other MP games? That is, when/if you are dead, you cannot chat to other players. This would allow those in the game to talk to each other and communicate and not have to deal with the (few) trolls that are dead in game.
Sergey: We’ve been thinking about that option, and World of Tanks might indeed get a “dead-chat” switch. However, comparing it with other important features we still need to implement, we have to postpone it, unfortunately. In other words, it’s not among our top priorities right now. Besides, living trolls are sometimes even harsher than the dead ones!
BS: French tanks have been introduced into World of Tanks at version 7.1. Why didn’t these tanks come out at version 7.0?
Sergey: Initially, we were planning to introduce the French (tree) as a part of what could have become the huge update 7.0. It would include the camos, the new maps, horns, and, among all these things, the new tank line. However, the most crucial innovation we were working on was the multicluster system that allowed us to vastly increase our overall server capacity. By November 2011, our Russian cluster would carry more than 250,000 concurrent users, which is what our network technologies were capable of. We had to put a strict limit for 250,000 PCCU, so that our servers wouldn’t crush.
And this is what took us most of our time — to prepare and launch the proper multicluster system. If we did it earlier, the 7.0 would have seen the French. But it wouldn’t have seen new maps and camos, had we stumbled on finishing the multiclusters.
BS: In your opinion, what do you think the most interesting/exciting change is in version 7.1?
Sergey: It’s the French, definitely. We’ve been waiting for so long to balance them up and insert into the existing gameplay as smoothly as possible, and now that we feel that they are ready to go, it’s time to finally introduce them to our tankmen. They will be hard to tame but very exciting to drive, so I reckon players will spend some good time playing them.
As for the previous update, I’m excited about camouflage, as we have had enough of monotonous similarly coloured tanks. Although, the camo is true to the era — no pink bunnies or rainbows.
BS: What if any, premium French tanks are coming out? Which would you recommend I look into if I want a medium tank, that’s quick and fun to drive and has some power?
Sergey: So far, we’ve introduced only the first part of the French vehicles, which doesn’t include the premium stuff. With the second part including tank destroyers and SPGs, we’ll add several premium machines. As for you preferences, I would say the Lorraine 40t will be the best solution. It’s very fast, it has tons of agility, and the semi-automatic gun will make your enemy think twice before going for a head-to-head duel. You should bear in mind though that it has no armor at all comparing to its direct counterparts, like the T-44 or the Pershing. So you’ll need to adjust your style to its very unusual behavior.
BS: I’ve been hearing a lot about the French Tier X AMX-50B. Apparently, it packs a huge punch…specifically, it comes with an auto-reloader that load multiple rounds. Can you talk about that feature?
Sergey: This is a truly unique top heavy. Imagine a 60-ton beast with a top speed and agility of the T-50-2, its gun with penetration and damage numbers of the Maus, which can deliver several shells in a row within a couple of seconds. As an attacking machine, the AMX is indispensible. But, again, its armor can’t be compared with other tier X tanks, so you’d better be careful with your bravado.
BS: I’ve been hearing that the French tanks will have high accuracy…on par with German tanks, can you comment? What are there any general characteristics of French tanks relative to German, Russian, British tanks. For example, the French tanks seem to be poorly armored, but have quick firing and deadly cannons. Is this an accurate characterization?
Sergey: I would say, it’s half accurate. You see, looking back at the history of WWII, we can see that all the stuff the French designed can be divided into two periods. During the pre-war period, they came up with strong-armored, slow-paced machines that had rather mediocre guns. There were many innovations in their tanks though — you can still find people arguing about whether the sloped armor of the T-34 was purely Soviet design or the engineers borrowed the idea from the early French designs.
Then there’s the post-war period, which had an absolutely opposite approach. Just as you’ve said, these tanks have thin armor, powerful guns, and huge speed which makes their gameplay highly unusual, as opposed to more classic Germans and Russians. Americans are somewhere near, but even they will seem too conservative against the French.
BS: I think you are using the BigWorld game engine? Has it been modified for use with WoT? I have to admit, I would love to see more destruction in the game (I would love to see you guys get the Frostbite engine from DICE)…are you limiting the destruction in the game due to gameplay reasons, or is it a technical issue?
Sergey: Indeed, we’re using the BigWorld game engine which features a great online capacity. Certainly, our developers team had to remake it for the World of Tanks needs, as initially the engine had been framed for orks and elves.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to add more destruction to the game as servers’ power is quite limited. Consequently, complete destruction will reduce online capacity by 10 times and cause technical problems. Moreover, indestructible elements are widely used in gameplay.
Sergey: It depends, I would say. As far as I’m pretty much keen on fast raids to the enemy base, my in-game research started with USSR medium tanks. Now I’ve switched to German heavy tanks and the Tiger is my favorite one. It’s a strikingly powerful vehicle and I respect its abilities. I also have a couple of “all-time favorites” — I play them from time to time and never ever get bored. Those are the Soviet T-44 and the American Sherman. It’s not easy to pick the scariest machine as well. A skilled tanker knows that, for example, arty must beware both light and medium tanks. If I choose a heavy tank I will definitely watch out for tank destroyers and, also, I always try to keep off the American Heavy T-30 with its superdamage.
BS: I cannot wait for World of Warplanes and World of Battleships, both are genres that I would love to play in an MMO environment. Is there any word on a North American release for World of Warplanes?
Sergey: For the time being, we can’t announce the date of the World of Warplanes release. All I can say is that we are the closing stages of the closed alpha, with the closed beta to begin this winter.
BS: Do you ever see yourselves making a first-person-shooter (infantry) game? Or a Sniper game?
Sergey: In the near future, Wargaming.net doesn’t plan any sniper projects, but thank you for giving us food for thought. Maybe, we’ll bring it to life some day!
I’d like to thank Sergey for this interview and his energy and infectious enthusiasm for his work. World of Tanks is a result of his passion (and that of the Wargaming.net’s entire dev team) for tanks and for gaming.
Here’s an audio interview with Sergey, understandable if you can speak Russian…you can spot him at 1:04.
A cute (unofficial) vid showing the staff of Wargaming.net and some of the team is shown below: