We speak to Chris Cook about Tanks, Warplanes, Warships and more.
When I sat down with Chris Cook at Gamescom to find out about the latest from Wargaming, I was caught by surprise. I’d often thought of the World of Tanks developer as a young firm with an incredible success story. But, while the latter is undeniably true, the company was now celebrating 15 years of online strategic warfare.
Over the past year, Wargaming has continued to grow. Its 16th office opened earlier that month in Austin, Texas, focusing on providing business intelligence and analytics that can be used to improve games even further. The developer also acquired Day 1 Studios – now Wargaming West – and Gas Powered Games.
Though Wargaming has grown from 1600 employees a year ago to roughly 2000 now, Cook described it as smart expansion. To him, it’s about making sure that newcomers to the team are a good fit with an internal culture that’s developed over time.
Described by Cook as Wargaming’s “next big thing”, World of Warplanes will be flying out of open beta and into full launch on September 26th. With over 3 million gamers diving into the closed and open beta, it also generated a staggering amount of feedback for the studio to act on.
Those changes included a flight model update, improved aesthetics and overhauling plane models. Clouds were made volumentric, so that they could play a strategic role in providing cover. The next planned update will include changes to the water model.
The team also changed the control scheme in response to player feedback, supporting mouse, mouse and keyboard, gamepads and flight sticks. According to Cook, they want to avoid becoming too arcade-like because it’s simple and shallow, but not heavily sim-ish because it becomes too hardcore and inaccessible. For Wargaming, it’s about finding that middle-ground of deep gameplay that’s easy to dive into.
Aside from fixing bugs and responding to fan feedback, World of Warplanes follows the established pattern of producing regular content updates. The most recent patch added a number of Yaks, classic Soviet fighters from the World War II era. Future updates will bring more planes, but also new maps and combat modes.
Even with the current focus on World of Warplanes, Wargaming is hard at work on the next game in the line-up. Demoed at E3 this year, World of Warships is already in production at its St Petersburg studio. From what we’ve already seen, it continues the trend of building games around historical accuracy and versatile customization.
As if to lay the groundwork, Wargaming recently launched a unified premium account, allowing paying gamers to share the benefits across all games in the series. It means that a good portion of players have come over form World of Tanks, finding familiarity with the setting. It doesn’t mean that Tanks is in decline but, as Cook said, “We can’t just be the company that makes World of Tanks. We have to expand.”
Console and Beyond
Back when World of Tanks first launched, it was driving into new territory. Today it’s a different story, with a number of competitors nipping at Wargaming’s heels. Cook told me they enjoy the challenge because “it makes us stay sharp” and motivated to keep innovating.
Part of that innovation is bringing World of Tanks to the Xbox 360, introducing 48 million Xbox Live subscribers to a new form of free-to-play gaming. It led me to ask who learned more from the deal though – Wargaming or Microsoft.
“Honestly, it’s a little bit of both,” Cook replied. He went on to describe how they learned a lot about how to succeed on console, taking the unusual step of developing a completely new version rather than porting the PC version. It’s a decision that’s certainly worked well – in a brief hands-on the controls feel incredibly responsive and natural.
Conversely, Microsoft has learned about monetization and in-app purchases for this style of game. Although the platform has a small number of free-to-play titles, Cook told me the concept is still pretty new to them. “We like to think that we’re the first premier free-to-play title on the console.”
Built using the Despair Engine by the Wargaming West team in Chicago, the Xbox 360 version features several key differences from the PC version that are developed with the console gamer in mind. The pace is a little faster, the tanks move faster and the progression system is a little more streamlined.
After opening up a North American beta earlier in the year, Wargaming are now inviting EU gamers to test the game. I’m told that large chunks of gamers globally are being pulled in every week.
Will it head to Xbox One? “Maybe,” Cook replies. The studio’s goal is to hit the massive number of gamers with an Xbox 360 first and allow the game to grow. Once the One becomes more established, that’s when Wargaming will start looking at it.
As we wrapped up, Cook pulled out an iPad to show off ‘one more thing’. I was expecting to see World of Tanks: Generals – a collectible card game set in World War II. Instead, what he fired up surprised me. Still early in development, World of Tanks: Blitz is designed to take the PC version mobile.
Designed for both iOS and Android phones and Tablets, Blitz already features 70 tanks and will grow up to around 100. After just exiting an internal friends and family testing phase, the team behind it is working on tightening the controls, interface and visuals before moving into a larger beta. As Cook said, “Our developers are picky people.”
With Warplanes, Tanks on Xbox 360, Generals and now Blitz in production, the 15 year old developer shows no signs of slowing down. World of Warships, featuring battleships and aircraft carriers, will be on a bigger scale again. From the look of things, Wargaming’s invasion of online gaming is just getting in to gear.
Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Senior Contributing Editor
Follow me on Twitter @Gazimoff