'World of Warplanes' Plays Like Sharks in the Sky

World of Warplanes American plane.

Military.com had the chance to attend the launch party for "World of Warplanes" aboard the USS Hornet in California's Bay Area. Revelry aside, the state-of-the-game presentation showed off why "World of Warplanes" is such a great game. Wargaming.net made a huge stride forward with "World of Tanks" and they're building off of that success in the best way possible. With 70 million active accounts, the company has managed to double its number of employees in just one year, and operates over a dozen offices around the world.

Building off of "World of Tanks" success wasn't easy. Gareth Luke and Michael Zinchenko, producers for Wargaming.net North America and Kiev respectively, talked at length about the first steps for "World of Warplanes." Development began right off the heels of "World of Tanks," and early versions of the game handled like "'World of Tanks' in the sky." They began tweaking the planes to fly as realistically as possible, but soon discovered the game was unfun and unplayable. From that point, they tweaked each planes' stats to mix historical accuracy with an engaging control scheme.

One of the reasons why "World of Warplanes" is so fun to play is that it's been in beta for over a year. The closed beta began in April 2012, and open beta began a few months ago. Since then, 4.5 million players have exhaustively tested the game. Wargaming.net listened to player feedback on everything from handling to the appearance of each aircraft, and that's helped create a product that customers will definitely enjoy. For anyone concerned that a company which made tank gameplay awesome can't pull off a fun aerial combat game, Gareth was keen on extolling the differences between both. Rather than the slow, circling, camping gameplay of "World of Tanks," "World of Warplanes" plays like "sharks in the sky."

Was development on "World of Warplanes" challenging?

Michael Zinchenko: Absolutely challenging, but really interesting. With a multiplayer game, you can't just print the disc, send it to the store, and forget about it. The release is just the beginning; it's just the start of development especially with upcoming content in the coming years, just like with "Tanks." We need to add a lot of content for the upcoming years. We have plans for new planes, new game modes, and functionality for cybersports like the spectator camera. So we have a huge amount of features. The main focus for the alpha and closed beta was adjusting game balance. Right now it's fun, and only after that point can we release the game. After that, we can add more features and more planes and everything, but it needs to be fun first.

World of Warplanes attack plane.

So it's just about getting to that starting point and building off of it?

Gareth Luke: Yeah, it's difficult too because we had a lot of expertise in military-style games, specifically around real-time strategy. Then we had "Tanks," and that's all about ground-based, terrain warfare. We took a big leap, so to speak, by going into the skies, and then we learned that there are multiple problems with that. The balance that Michael was referring to is moving towards historical accuracy and simulation and realism versus arcade-style gameplay with tons of aids.

Zinchenko:  We can't make it too hardcore, but we can't make it too arcade like.

Luke: What we did was go in either direction till we found what we thought was a sweet spot. As Michael said also, with a disc-based game you make something, put it on a disc, and send it off. But with online games, and with 7 million players, there are many military experts and historians who are in the loop. We can't offend them, but we need to make it fun.

Zinchenko: If you do something wrong, in one day you'll get millions of letters saying, "why did you do this?"

Luke: They do, and they'll send us mail and be all over forums and make videos saying, "this was never on this plane! What are you doing?" A lot of those guys are pilots as well.

How did you work with that feedback?

Luke: One of the things we did was give multiple control schemes so the gameplay is the same no matter which control scheme you work with. There's no advantage.

Zinchenko: It's very adjustable. You can select one of the presets and forget about it, or you can adjust almost everything: the camera speed, lots of features, lots of adjustments. It will be much better for you personally.

Luke: That was what we learned: don't try and give the player what you think they want, listen to them and give them what they really do want. We put a lot of the customization options into the way that you can use the joystick, the gamepad, or the mouse. So you can add much more control on that if you want to get down to finite adjustments or if you're a really talented pilot or fought in World War II.

What was the inspiration behind "World of Warplanes"?

Zinchenko: The main thing, from the early stages of "Tanks" success, was that we already knew that we needed to add more features and more game types. We wanted to add planes and warships, so we started the development two years ago.

Luke: It was very much on the back of tanks coming out. They immediately started the development on both titles.

Zinchenko: Our team in Kiev worked on some of the art for "Tanks." All of the French tanks were made by our company, and then we joined the Wargming.net team and started development on "Warplanes."

World of Warplanes German plane.

How complicated would it be to combine "Tanks" "Warplanes" and "Warships"?

Luke: It's actually not that complicated, we get asked that question a lot. When we originally announced the trilogy some time ago, the intention was to combine them in one universe, but we never said how. We didn't really know. We thought about adding warplanes in there and adding battleships. But the reality is this: once we started growing "World of Tanks" and gaining expertise, we didn't know what our customer was going to be like, and now we really know who our customer is. We've learned a lot about who they are and what they like. What they really like is the detail and the accuracy, but not to a point where you have to drive a tank hyper-realistically.

As soon as you get that perfect game balance that's taken us years to get down really well, especially with e-sports where you need to have a fair, balanced system, if you throw warplanes in there then the balance is gone and you've ruined two games. We don't know how to get that right yet. Then if you add in warships, when did warships and tanks ever do battle? Maybe from clearing out a beach landing or something? It just doesn't work that way. What we're thinking of doing is moldable options. We want to preserve that deep, trilogy experiences. If you want a fast, action-paced aerial shooter you play "World of Warplanes." If you want a first-person shooter in molasses and you want that terrain, tactical, slow, cautious experience, then you go for "Tanks." And then "Warships" is going to be a whole different thing all together on a very different scale.

We're thinking about how to join these experiences together. Is it done at the meta level, at the account level? With a unified premium account, it is. We see the trilogy as a big network of different types of experiences that click together in different ways. Not literally you're flying against your friend while he's in a tank. Maybe that's a different game.

I look at it this way. If you look at "Battlefield," you can be in an aircraft carrier, you can be in a tank, you can be on the ground, but they all handle the same.

Zinchenko: And those games aren't historically accurate. You can jump out of a plane, shoot an RPG, then jump back in.

Luke: That's not our style of game, we don't do that. That's why we're successful – we identified this whole different niche of people that maybe play those games, but really love the ones we're making.

Zinchenko: Games like "World of Tanks" and "World of Warplanes" may look very simple, but they're actually very complicated. For example, we have some planes that shoot more than thirty bullets per second, and every shot is calculated.

World of Warplanes German biplane.

One genre that comes to my mind when looking at "Tanks" and "Warplanes" is mecha. Games like "Armored Core" and "MechWarrior use similar principles in customization and online play. Were you influenced by these types of games at all?

Luke: It's funny you say that because we were working with what used to be Day One Studios. They'd done a mech series, and they've joined our family to produce the Xbox 360 "Tanks" version. We're all game players here, we're absolutely aware of them, but not for the style of games we're making. I'm sure there's a convoluted influence somewhere along all the millions of games, but we didn't say, "right, ‘Mech Assault,'  let's sit down and study this."

There's certainly things you can see we've taken from that, especially with the modules and add-ons, but I think our pedigree comes from a slightly different area. We might have shared the same family tree at some point in development, but not absolutely directly.

It seems like part of Wargaming.net's success is a solid free to play model that isn't pay to win. Is it difficult to create that type of monetization system?

Luke: Yeah it is. It's one of our huge mandates as a company. We want to change free to play to free to win. That's what a lot of our branding is going to be saying. I think "World of Tanks" pioneered that in a lot of ways. Our emphasis is letting players pay because you're invested and want to customize and collect all the tanks.  The way we've monetized is to allow people to accelerate to get to what they want within the tech trees, to level up their crews, to get exactly what they want out of the game. There's no way you'll have the advantage in a Wargming.net game by paying. The only thing is time. If you want to accelerate, collect, or customize, then we'll target you with payments.

So your free to play model will attract the weekend warrior?

Luke: Yeah, that's us. We've got a small, dedicated fleet of whales that heavily invest. But most of our guys are weekend warriors – our peak times are weekends. We've got the guys that like to grind away that don't want to spend or just love to play clan wars.

Zinchenko: As another example, we have the premium planes. You can buy them with real money, but they have lower specs than the planes you earn through leveling.

Luke: Exactly, so there's no advantage. So the only advantage you get from premium planes is that you earn currency faster.

Zinchenko: You're only buying time, if you want.

You're only monetizing time, not power?

Luke: Time and customization and collectability. If you want to collect everything, that's a fast way to do it. We don't want people to have to play 20 or 30 hours each week. It'd be great if they did, but really we don't want that. We have to jump in 20 minutes to an hour to battle which gets you in the game and you enjoy it. With a game like "World of Warcraft," you'll be there for months to grind.

Zinchenko: Right now we're working on approval for "World of Warplanes" with the Chinese government. It's required that we have an anti-addiction system. For the Chinese version, every four hours we have to halve earnings in the game, and put up a message to motivate people to go outside.

Thanks a lot for your time. Before I go, what's your one piece of advice for beginner players?

Luke: Play the tutorial and use the mouse mode.

Zinchenko: Try different planes. You will find your favorite aircraft in "Warplanes."

World of Warplanes was is available to download for free at worldofwarplanes.com.

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