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Al King on Recovering the Warplanes Brand, 2.0 & the Future

Jacob Semmes Posted:
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The team at Wargaming flew me out to San Francisco for an indepth look at World of Warplanes’ newest revamp. While in their offices, I had a chance to interview Al King, Global Brand Director of Wargaming, and pick his mind about his thoughts on the new World of Warplanes and what he plans to achieve with the 2.0 patch.

MMORPG: Playing World of Warplanes 2.0 answered a lot of questions I had coming into the interview. I was curious how respawning would change the dynamics of dogfighting. In 2.0, it seems interactions happen more often because players are more willing to throw themselves into a fight. How do you think 2.0 has changed battle in general?

Al King: Yea, it was quite depressing before. You kind of spawned into this expansive blue sky and you wonder ‘where is everybody’ and ‘what do i do’ and when you got there you were dead within second. Then you go back to the hangar and go through the whole process again. But now, respawns. Fantastic. You might wait ten seconds before you hit the Enter the Battle button, and you correctly identified that it creates this sort of go get ‘em attitude because you don’t have to worry about dying.

MMORPG: Is respawning a feature that you decided to add because of feedback from the players or was it something you always planned on adding?

Al King: From the Press and from the players. I was involved in the launch of warplanes 1.0 and after it didn’t take off spectacularly well there was a bit of a fight internally between publishing and development. One thing publishing did was get the PRs to do a review of the reviews. The feedback from the Press was really quite consistent. ‘We loved the planes. You nailed the planes. They look great. They fly great. They shoot great.’ But there were literally four things they all said.’ You die way too quickly’ was one. Fine we gave them a respawn. ‘There is a lack of differentiation between the vehicle types. You play the same way whether you’re in a fighter or a ground attack aircraft.’ Now, it’s sort of been tweaked and tuned to make those differences much clearer. And also, before we got into that game, you see on the left-hand side three generic gameplay types that suit that particular vehicle. So let’s say you’re a fighter. It’ll say stay high, fight other fighters. Two is escort bombers and keep them safe while they do their bombing run. And then a third option. So for each of the vehicles types there are these different roles that you play that immediately add to variety and the all-important fun. The third thing was making the ground and the ground targets a much bigger priority. And so now, we’ve got those 5 different ground targets and when you get control of them immediately gives you a tactical advantage in the battle. Being able to respawn in a spot on the map that’s going to suit your team, sending a wave of bombers into attack the other team’s bases, an immediate buff of points, all these are important to bringing mission variety and sense of purpose to the game. And number four: bombers. They said ‘where are the bombers?’ Some of the heavy attack aircraft have some bombs. It is fun dropping bombs. When you’ve got proper bombers with lots of bombs that can do multiple bombing runs. And genius decision- tailgunners.

MMORPG: In a previous interview you did at the 2015 Wargaming League Finals in Warsaw, you mention the poor release of World of Warplanes. Is 2.0 what the game should have been at release?

Al King: Absolutely. Absolutely. We were guilty of rushing it out a bit at the height of the success of World of Tanks. And we were all probably partying too hard and not doing things thoroughly enough and we thought we could just bang out World of Tanks in the sky and World of Tanks in the water. But it wasn’t fine. As soon as you get on the sea or up in the air there are a whole new load of game design challenges that go with that. There is nothing to hide behind because you’re in a three-dimensional space. You’ve got pitch and yaw instead of left and right. That needs a lot of thought to address those challenges to make it fun and accessible. We appeal to middle aged guys. With some kind of affinity for either engineering or the military. And a lot of them don’t play any other type of games because they think the subject matter is either banal like trolls and orc they think that’s all a bit sad or they think that other military games are impossible to play. They see the kids are doing 360 degree no scopes and they have no chance. We have to get all that stuff right to appeal to our audience.

MMORPG: You also mention in that interview your three target audiences that you try to appeal: the young gunners, the middle-age militaria, and the senior historians.

Al King: That’s still broadly true. But as of yesterday when I presented with the other job I do for wargaming I presented on our new customer segmentation study. We’ve done a bigger study this year with a bigger sample size, focus groups, qualitative stuff. We’ve identified more segments than we used to have. We changed the names as well. We now have names like Competitive militaria, prudent militaria, mainstream militaria, gunny gamer, long gamer, competitive gamer. Those original segments are still there but they are part bigger segments or smaller segments. Effectively the challenge there is that you’ve got to understand that you have different audiences you’ve got to talk to so in order to sell a tank or a plane game successfully to those segments, you’ve got to use a very different language and very different images. When you talk to middle-age militaria focus on the hardware. They love the weapons, the guns, the gadgets, the vehicles. The classic tank porn approach is great for middle-age militaria. But for senior historians, who like history and strategy, loads of tanks charging all firing with fire would put them off a bit. They find it a bit crass. So, you would probably show a map with some arrows on it which immediately says strategy, and we would probably make the map look a bit brown and crinkled. Put on some military insignia and it immediately looks more historical. The young gunner, they are gamers as opposed to the military guys. So the challenge there is that there is always their favorite game that is going to tempt them back or a new release coming out. So they tend to be a bit slicker and aren’t sticky so we have to work harder to keep them in. It means that the game has to be slick, balanced, fun and accessible to keep them coming back. And new content because they consume it quickly. Right now we’re focused on the younger gunner and middle-aged militaria.

MMORPG: How do you recover a brand from what you consider a not so great start?

Al King: Great question. As Global Brand Director, I came up with Let’s Battle and Get Airborne and that sort of stuff and so I’m very keen to keep those brands together as part of the brand architecture. So, we’ve got the wargaming mother brand and then tanks, planes and ships. So, what’s interesting is that even though the game may not taken off, to use an aviation metaphor, and had issues, which we’ve now addressed, the brand awareness and the brand warmth always stayed quite high and high positive. The game was the issue, not the brand. What we decided to do with Warplanes 2.0 was add the 2.0 and instead of just saying ‘Get Airborne,’ we say ‘Get Airborne Again.’ That’s a temporary move. That allows us to indicate the fact that this is a new different game that’s addressed the concerns of the past. I don’t know how long it will be. Could be 6 months. 9 months. Or 12 months. At some point, when the new game has stabilized and we finished answering all the questions that are coming from the community about why we chose to do certain things. Once that has died down and everything is stable and we are trend positive. We’re just going to remove the 2.0 and the ‘Again.’ What you’ll be left with will be the original brand. World of Warplanes. ‘Get Airborne.’ Then it will be like that whole historical thing never happened. And the game that it is now is how it always should have been.

MMORPG: I know World of Tanks has big eSports following. Now that Wargaming has rebranded World of Warplanes, where will it fit into eSports in your trinity of games?

Al King: Because of our vastly reduced development team and we have been fixing these core issues with a skeleton crew, stuff like esports and stuff to do with PRMP, Player Relationship Management Platform, haven’t been built into the game yet. Our first goal was to stop [World of Warplanes] from gradually dying. It would have been turned off eventually. Taking a nose bomb. We think we’ve stopped that. Now we’ll be trend positive and once we’ve proven we can keep that momentum, we can immediately engage without PRMP guys and put our PRMP functionality into the game. Then sit down with the esports guys and ask how to optimize the game for esports. They’ll tell us what they think and we’ll make it happen. All this next level stuff can now happen because we’ve fixed the core. It’s an aspiration. As far as when it’ll happen I can’t say. Let’s reconvene at PAX or E3 and we’ll talk about it. And if I don’t have something for you then, you can kick my ass.


Jacob Semmes