First-timers at the E3 show would expect to see giant booths from Activision or EA or Ubisoft, but the huge Wargaming.net presence might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn't plugged into the international World of Tanks phenomenon.
World of Tanks is a free-to-play MMO that launched as a PC-based game in Russia in 2010. Its subsequent launches in Europe, China, North America, South Korea and other Asian countries. The massive international popularity of the game has led to 65 million registered players worldwide with hundreds of thousands playing simultaneously.
If you've spent all your free time talking smack with other Call of Duty die-hards down at the GameStop, this might come as a shock, but remember: there's a gigantic world outside the USA and, while Tanks is most definitely a success here in the USA, it's one of the dominant titles in Eastern European gaming culture.
Wargaming.net has big plans: they're adapting World of Tanks for Xbox 360 and making a few adjustments that should make the game easier for first-timers with short attention spans. They're about to launch World of Warplanes as their second PC-based title here. And they're starting to show off the gameplay behind a third World of Warships.
Jeremy Monroe, the General Manager at Wargaming.net's U.S. operation, sat down with us at E3 to talk about the company's growth and plans for the Xbox.
Tell us about the growth of your company.
We've added another 500 employees, so we're up to 1600 employees worldwide. We just added our 14th office. The Japanese office is coming online. We've got the early group here. There's about eight people total. We're going to be talking a lot more about that as we lead up to Tokyo Game Show in September.
Here, we're talking very much about the fact that, and a lot of people don’t know this, but we're actually 15 years old. Most people think that we're only three years old because that’s how long World of Tanks has been successful. But for 12 years before that, Victor Kislyi, Eugene, and their father have been making games.
Most of them were kind of turn-based strategy type games like Order of War and there was an assault game that had a very niche audience around strategy, but it never really took off. Victor tells these really interesting stories about trying everything from the business side, from the game development side, from the business or old game business model side of it. So for 12 years Victor and a very small group of people just toughed it out, took a beating in the industry. And as he says, they kind of learned every lesson and learned some of them twice, and they took all of that learning and put it into World of Tanks. And they just so happened to build the right game for the right audience at the right time.
We probably told this story about that Russian region. It quite literally has a tank culture, you know? And the way we think of, like some of our generals, some of our commanders, some of the flyers or dogfighters as our heroes, particularly for World War II, they think the same way about their tank commanders. They even think the same way about their tanks. And a very prominent indication of that is if you go to downtown Minsk, there's going to be a statue not of a person, but of a tank. There's a monument of the T34 because a T34 was so instrumental in them pushing back the Germans, especially at Kursk, that they iconicize the tanks.
And not five miles outside of the Minsk Airport is a tank museum: you can see it from the freeway. So tanks are very prevalent in the culture there. And when you think about Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, they're very much a tank culture. I would lump Germany into that too as far as full on tank cultures go, but the game was perfect for that.
And when you throw on top of the fact that we are very adamant about being accurate about the tanks, you know, we dig through the archives. We're sending people to museums. We're sending people to talk to tank commanders, to talk to the people who design the tanks, so that we're accurate about that representation in the game. And we do that not only for tanks, but for planes and for battleships. That’s a really big piece of the game, that historical accuracy.
And so on the back of that success, we're looking at what we've done. And when you combine that era with that tank culture and the fact that already naturally that’s a very competitive culture as well, and this is a PvP game. It's 15 on 15. There's no – there's no PvE mode. You get in a tank and you, hey, you're thrown right into the fight. So that too was a natural fit for that culture because they're very gritty. They're very combative. All of those things combine to really create a pop culture phenomenon.
How many of your players are in North America?
The Russian region launched a year ahead of us here. We didn’t really do a formal launch World of Tanks here. We kind of just put it out there and people started coming in. So from an overall percentage standpoint, it's on the lower end partly because we haven't been out as long as Russia has and partly because no matter what, you're still looking at the Russian region being about 70 percent of our gaming population. It's just massive. We just broke another peak in current user number on the Russian cluster. It was 870,000 people playing simultaneously, so that’s just staggering. And no gaming company has ever done that in that region, ever. Not Blizzard, not EA, not Activision, nobody. So that says a lot about the power of this game.
And where we've grown very quickly too is in the EU, but that’s not surprising because if you do look at Poland, you do look at Germany, and even not so much the Nordics, but a little bit they're heavily influenced by the Russians. They too are really drawn to the game. They're drawn to the style of the game and they're drawn to the competitive component of the game. So it's grown organically a lot faster in the EU.
The Asian regions, most of those offices are just now coming online, so they're growing a little bit slower. And North America is growing steady, but it's not exploding. And I think that’s partly because when you think about some of the other, let's say, cultural stereotypes for Russia. We like to joke internally that a Russian would crawl through broken glass with broken legs to play World of Tanks. That’s how aligned with them it is culturally, whereas in North America we don’t want it to be that hard. So there's this notion emotionally and psychologically, if it's not hard, it's not worth doing in Russia.
So the learning curve is steep. I mean if you played tanks, you know. You don’t know what tank to play. There's tons of tanks to choose from. You don’t know a nation to play. And so you have to do all of that homework or you have to do the trial and error.
And for us in North America, we've really had to work hard with the development team and the producers to say, hey, we need to bring more tutorial content. We need to bring more educational content. We need to engage the audience a little bit better and give them a little safer environment to practice and to learn and to experiment.
How are you addressing that issue?
We're able to do that with the new Xbox 360 version of the game. The Xbox 360 version is not a port. It's being built from the ground up. It's heavily inspired by the PC version, so all of the core pieces, the 15 on 15, the tanks, the nations, the maps, the tank crew skills, the consumables, the ammo, all of that, yes, that’s there. But when you look at the user interface, when you look at how we present information, those things are going to be a little bit different and they're going to be a little bit more intuitive. They're going to be a little bit more user-friendly.
And we're going to provide information that’s not only in the garage, but on the battlefield that’s a lot more congruent with what's happening and a lot more instructive. Like if you play in the PC version, the tank crew from a flavor standpoint will tell you, "Ah, we've been hit," or "We've penetrated their armor," or stuff like that, but that’s about as far as it goes. But in the Xbox version, we're going to use that more to let people know that, "Hey, you should find some cover," or "You're getting flanked," or "You’ve been spotted. You should reposition."
You know, stuff that is congruent for what you're doing but is also giving the player very vital information that’s going to teach them the game mechanics a lot better and the game tactics much better. So those are some differences that you're going to see.
So this is basically a different game based on the same original idea.
The PC and Xbox ecosystems will be separate. We know North America is a predominantly console market. We've been very successful from a PC standpoint at bringing World of Tanks here. What we know, that we're missing a large part of the gaming population not being on the console. And that’s why we wanted to form a partnership with Microsoft.
Technically,they're the publisher of record for Xbox 360 edition. It's a very unique partnership because they have really never done a free-to-play game of this scale. They’ve done Happy Wars, which is a much smaller, very niche kind of game. This is going to line up very well with that core Xbox audience. It's a downloadable and it's free. So we're sticking to that free-to-play notion. It'll be available on Xbox Live and straight away you'll be able to download it and start playing.
How many tanks are going to be available on the Xbox 360?
When we launch there are going to be about 60. The three nations that'll be represented at launch are the US, Germany, and the UK. Similar to the PC version, we'll continue to add more nations. We'll continue to add more tanks. Right now on the PC side, we're up to about 225. We won't see that many in the Xbox version. Some of that for technical reasons. But some of that also for pacing and gameplay reasons.
If you play the PC version, you know that some of those earlier tanks, they're pretty slow. They're pretty underwhelming as far as the tanks go. And we want people to get in and play those iconic tanks faster, and so we've kind of culled some of the earlier, lower-tiered tanks, so that people can get up through the tech trees quite a bit faster. And there's also a very concerted effort to make sure that we up the pacing in general, because we know that the Xbox community is – it's a faster paced community, especially when you think about some of the FPS games that we're playing. They're very twitchy. They're very fast. We don’t want to ignore that.