This week marked the launch of mega-multiplayer hit World of Tanks on Xbox 360. At an event held in downtown San Francisco, we sat down for a chat with two of the main players behind the launch and asked them about appealing to a console audience, Wargaming's growing pains, and the pitfalls of meteoric success.
MMORPG: What's it been like the last few years, launching two new games as your company grows exponentially?
VK: I think Wargaming is able to preserve the passionate spirit of true gamers. Let's put it this way – the free-to-play concept makes you be so. With teamwork, transparency, trust—if you're hardworking, honest, we openly show what we do so good people join us. The country we come from is very tolerant. We don't have racism or—historically, we're very open-minded. The fall of the Iron Curtain has let a lot of students go abroad and we embrace all kinds of cultures. Yes, we've grown fast, but we've grown on those principles: honesty, transparency, trust, teamwork.
MMORPG: Related to that, how do you facilitate communication among your different offices?
VK: We try to travel a lot. We grasp any opportunity—like Tokyo Game Show, Australian PAX in Melbourne, the East European shows, Gamescom, E3, GDC—we invite a lot of developers, PR people, publishing people from different offices come in one place to serve the show floor of course, after that there's parties, mingling, sharing of experience. Again, this comes from multi-culturalism. Good friends, good colleagues doing one and the same thing. So, coming together, being open, speaking good English [laughs].
MMORPG: Did you ever think Wargaming would be this big?
VK: No I didn't, and I think it'll be even bigger with the things we're rolling out today.
MMORPG: The recent Flappy Birds story showed a game getting too big too fast and its developer not being able to handle it, and ultimately pulling his game off the market. What do you think of that?
VK: [an expression of disbelief]
MMORPG: The look on your face says it all.
VK: In the first two and a half years, World of Tanks was free to play which means you can enjoy the game all the way to the end without paying anything however, there were some consumables that made you a little—let's say 5% stronger on the battlefield. In the middle of last year, we made a very risky move. We announced that World of Tanks was free-to-win, where we said those consumables that give you the 5% advantage now are available for in-game currency. You know how many debates we had internally? Usually, in a free-to-play game, there has to be some kind of trigger. Like, “You want this bullet? Now you pay,” and then you're going to open your wallet. By doing this we said to our teenagers and schoolboys all over the planet, “We've removed this evil trigger and now it's totally fair for the teenager and myself. He has more time, can play a little more and can get the same golden bullet as me. All this could have gone wrong.
Developers are all good people. However, the reality of free-to-play is if you get zero revenue, you go bankrupt. You have to pay for servers, you have to pay salaries, taxes, some charity, there are a hundred things you have to cover. I think we've found a very fair balance.
MMORPG: Do you think the launch on the 360 will broaden the World of Tanks audience?
VK: The reason behind making all this was very simple. In the U.S. and U.K., many people don't see PC as a gaming platform. They play on a console on a big TV, on the couch with a controller. So the only thing we could do was go where the consumer is. Bring the game to the console. Xbox Live has 48 million members. That's a big market of passionate gamers, you know?
MB: World of Tanks is a unique game compared to other games you might want to lump into the same genre. There's a unique rhythm to it, a cadence to it, it definitely appeals to people who are interested in history of it, interested in the detail. For us, we're very excited to be part of the whole tidal wave that is Wargaming and World of Tanks.
VK: We've done a lot of testing. There were months and months of it. So far, the metrics are looking good. Of course you never know until it starts and the real people come in.
MB: We've learned a lot. There are things we've added to the game, taken out of the game.
VK: Let me remind you--business people and big companies are all about money. Our business plan was this: let's make a very enjoyable game - free. Let's make it so enjoyable, we'll have one, two, three million players casually every day or twice a week. You can guarantee 75% of the people will never pay you a penny, but the rest, maybe 25%, maybe 15% I don't know, will give us something—don't worry, we'll make our money.
MMORPG: That's pretty optimistic. Do you think then that going forward, consoles will continue to be central enough to gaming for Wargaming to continue developing for them?
MB: Well, two things, and Victor can talk a little bit more about this from our point of view. This is an ongoing game. It's not like this is the launch and we all go home tomorrow and start the next one. This is just the beginning. A year from now, there'll be new things in the game--
VK: --a month and a half!
MB: The game is going to grow. In the last three years it's gotten more and more and bigger and bigger--
VK: More than twenty patches. Patches of things we've invented and also those things are from the community. Requests from the community. That's going to happen with Xbox 360 as well.
MMORPG: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us tonight.
VK: Our pleasure.