Over at License2Play this past weekend, we spent some time with Wargaming.net’s General Manager for Southeast Asia Jasper Nicolas (pictured right), and Senior PR & Marketing Manager at Wargaming,net HQ Max Chuvalov (left).
In this interview they spoke to us on all things World of Tanks: why the game has been a massive success, what’s coming in a soon-to-be-released patch, how the e-Sports scene for the game has been doing, and what can World of Tanks players look forward in the coming year (here’s a hint: more ground-level events and tournaments including league play).
–— First of all, Jasper, can you tell our readers a little bit about what you guys do over here at Wargaming SEA?
Jasper Nicolas (General Manager, Wargaming SEA): I started this effort in January to build a team of professionals that will take care of Wargaming.net’s suite of games. Eleven months after, here we are. We have about close to 50 people, covering the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia markets. And we are branching out into Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Japan, in the coming year.
As General Manager, my responsibility is to basically publish all of our content in this region. Right now, the server cluster’s name is SEA, because we started out with Southeast Asia. But actually right now it’s Asia-Pacific already, because we’re covering Australia and New Zealand and all these other Northern Asia countries.
Our primary role is to really push all the games for Wargaming.net into our region, and create a high level of branding as what it already has in other clusters like Russia, Germany, and the US.
But the thing about it is that anyone from anywhere is actually free to enter the regional server. We’re not really restricting access to it. And since Singapore is really the hub of network connectivity in Asia, it’s very easy for anyone to grab the game, connect to the game, and play with the rest of our community.
— What do you think is it about tanks, and also World of Tanks, that have captured the imagination of millions of players worldwide, to the point that you actually had a Guinness World Record for “most players online simultaneously on one MMO server“.
Jasper: Correct. We have 45 million registered users currently. And for a single server cluster, we have 617,000 confirmed users. And that’s already topped our Guinness World Record figure.
The thing that captures the attention of all of these players is the fact that we are able to create an environment – a full-scale 3D environment where a team of 15 versus 15 people can get into a huge map, and be able to re-create – or create their own – strategy-based war scenarios. And that is really the main objective of all the games that are being published by Wargaming: To put yourself into these war-based, strategic scenarios and be able to match your wits against the other team.
No two games are the same, meaning battles are always different; it can be won from very different perspectives. Our gaming environment is done in such a way that the maps are realistically done. Meaning if you have hills, if you see mountains, it’s there, and you can use it as part of your game plan.
So, the tank is just one element. The map, the environment, is another. The teamwork, that’s the most important part. There are no superstars in this, as in if there’s 15 people in the map, and you’re all supposed to play a role, if you’re just one superstar, and the rest of the team doesn’t really co-operate with one another, you’ll still end up losing the match.
It’s a lot of things, but that’s the easiest way that I can put it. What really draws people into the game is that each and every battle that you get into, sharpens your mind. Creates better strategy.
— Are the maps based on real-world locations?
Jasper: They actually are. We do our best to represent real historic landmarks, as much as possible. But we never use real names of these places. We put a lot of time and effort into studying accurate geographical locations and recreating them in our virtual environments.
Max Chuvalov (Senior PR & Marketing Manager at Wargaming.net HQ): For example in World of Warplanes we’ve got such a map named “Harbour”. It’s original name during development was that of the Russian city it was based on. It’s a specific harbour used by soldiers during the second world war, and there was a war theatre there. So our level designers, they duped the landscapes, they copied it in as precisely as possible: there is a little town, and a harbour – a big harbour – and mountains, and everything. But politically-wise, we don’t want to name the specific locations. That’s why we made up the name Harbour, and we did it like that for each map.
Jasper: But in the same way as we represent maps in as realistic a way as possible, all the tanks are actually built to spec. Meaning, we have blueprints of the actual tanks. So all of the tech specs you see there are actual. And even tanks that never saw production – prototypes – are available in the game. And it’s the same for World of Warplanes as well.
So we put a lot of time and effort into studying the games that we publish. And it’s not really just about creating something out of fantasy. There’s a deep historical relevance to all of these things.
— When I first heard about World of Tanks, my gut reaction to it was that, you’d really have to like tanks to love this game.
Jasper: Right. But as you can see here at License2Play, we’re seeing a very varied collection of people, even kids. I saw kids yesterday between five to seven years old who were trying to play the game. And they were actually good at it.
And we have our tank commanders – the models (booth babes) – playing the game, and I’m surprised by these girls who’ve never played it before, and only started playing it now, and they’re actually good at it. Because driving a tank is like, you’re moving forward while having 360-degree views. It’s just very different than [most other shooters, in which you can strafe].
— Yes, I was quite surprised to find that controlling a tank in the game is actually a lot easier than I had imagined. But then you said earlier that all the tanks were built according to blueprints, with realism in mind. So how do you balance realism with accessibility?
Max: In the first iteration of the game, during a closed beta test phase for World of Tanks two and a half years ago in Russia, we tried to pull all the precise historical characteristics of the tanks. And what happened was, the game got quite boring.
For example, the turret turning speed was very slow, it took a long time to turn it around, and the gameplay suffered. So we multiplied the speed, and it turned into a really fun game.
That’s why, for some characteristics we add a multiplier. For example turret turning speed. But most of the characters of the tank are completely precise – according to shells, according to modules that you can mount on your tank, we put in every single thing [in terms of tank specs].
Our community is fairly big, 45-million strong. And amongst those people we’ve got numerous military guys, historians, they’re very picky [about in-game details]. And they write on the forums complaints like “oh, this bolt is a bit bigger than it existed; one-inch bigger than it’s supposed to be.”
So that’s why we design the game tanks according to the blueprints. We’ve got a huge team of historians and military guys who’ve served in the military for so many years, as tank commanders for example. And they’ve got access to many informational military archives.
They can just get the info, pass it to our designers, to our 3D modellers, and they can create the tanks just precisely to the blueprints.
Jasper: The other thing is that the very recent update we put out for the game involved creating more realistic physics. Meaning, if there’s a a steep cliff, and you choose to push a tank down that cliff, you can actually do it. So in terms of realism, there is that element of “wow, this is something that you can really do in real life.” But at the same time like what Max said, you have to put a certain balance of what’s new, and what’s enjoyable inside the game.
— A new patch for the game is coming up as well, right? What’s in it?
Jasper: In the upcoming patch, 8.2, we’re releasing some new tanks. Some very cool American tanks that we’ve been working on for quite a while now. It’s going to add to the level of anticipation for most of the players who have been playing for a long time. There are some other elements where we’re going to rebalance some items.
Max: And reworked maps. When we introduce new physics and new graphics, the maps need to be reworked to fit the gameplay. We’ve got more than 70 maps in the game, and now about 15 of them are reworked. In every update we produce about four reworked maps.
— Speaking of balance, from an e-Sports point of view how do you balance between the over 250 variety of tanks, and decide on competitive formats?
Jasper: We’re always checking between different configurations. for example, we did Ural Steel this year, and we also did WCG. We’re looking at different team configurations – 7 versus 7, 6 versus 6, 4 versus 4 – and trying to get feedback from players about which way they enjoy the best. There are a lot of ways we can tweak the system to make it more enjoyable for tournament basis gameplay.
Max: So right now the main regiment for our e-Sports activities is 7v7. We performed a lot of different tests – focus tests, internal tests – and we came to the decision that 7v7 is the best format so far.
In the game we have ten tiers of tank levels. For our e-Sports competitions, we limit it to eight. Eighth is the maximum tier your tank can be.
Jasper: There’s also a tier cap system where you cannot just pick all tier-eights.
Max: You’ve got 42 points for the entire team .Each tier means one point. So if you pick an eighth tier, then that’s eight points used right away. So you should allocate. You should pick some first-tier tanks as scouts; you should pick some second-tiers – you can play around with it. It depends on the map, and your opponents.
Jasper: And how the team actually co-operates. Because there are different tanks – light ones for scouting, medium support tanks that deal a good level of damage but at the same time move very fast or at least, not as slow as the slowest-moving tanks that are almost impenetrable, but deal a high amount of damage. And then there are your tank destroyers or ambush tanks which can hide behind bushes and just deal huge amounts of damage. And then there’s your artillery or SPGs that can deal damage from very far distances, especially if you’ve got very good scouts.
So, depending on what map you’re playing in, you can configure your team in such a way that, all of you are just medium tanks and your strategy is just based on the tank line-up. Or you can create a balance of, how many medium tanks, how many heavy tanks, how many SPGs you want to have. It’s really up to the team and how they play and how effective they are in leading against each other.
Max: Yes, and we’ve taken part in many tournament [events]. This year we had two main tournaments, WCG and Ural Steel, the international tournament we organised where we brought together 16 teams from all over the world. And each time we have a tournament, we have dozens of new tactics. So teams are constantly growing, and constantly developing their new tactics. They may make some interesting decisions just for one battle. Nobody has ever seen it before, they just implement it only once. And then after that, you cannot repeat the same stunt, because everyone knows how it is, and it will be a waste.
Jasper: So you have to constantly evolve and improve on the strategy. That’s why I keep on saying it’s all about the strategy. It’s all about sharpening their minds.
The game itself is really built for competition. That’s why in the coming year we’re going to have a stronger focus on e-Sports. We’re gonna be present in a lot of local, on-ground internet-cafe-based events. We’re going to organise our own World of Tanks league tournament.
— Are you talking about in Singapore, in certain countries, or?
— Sounds like World of Tanks competitive players in every country will have a lot to look forward to next year.
Jasper: And because we have a huge audience base, and most of these tournaments are actually live-casted, once they [the players] see a [new] strategy, everyone goes “Wow, that works! I’m gonna try it in-game” in their heads, so [the reactions from watching these live-casted matches] are very instantaneous and spreads like wildfire in the community.
That’s why I said earlier on, no two battles are the same.
— Which country’s World of Tanks players are the strongest right now?
Jasper: The game was released first in Russia, so the strongest players are based there – in that server cluster. Not just because they had the most amount of time in playing the game, but the key to it is that Russia has a very strong tank culture.
Surprisingly here in Asia, we did very well at WCG. In fact, we performed even better than some European countries. Our teams actually won against the British, against the French, and against even Belarus. Which was very surprising for me because the Belarusian team is… that’s the development team for World of Tanks.
And the team that beat the Belarus team was actually the Philippines team, which latency was a bit of an issue [for them] before, because of the infrastructure there. But they’ve gotten used to longer ping rates, and just figured out how to play the game better.
The Singapore team actually won several matches and was actually in the running for semi-finals, and they had a very close match with China. China won, but it was a very, very tied match, and this gave me a deep level of confidence about the teams we have here. Because the game’s been around for barely six months, the level of competency in the players must be really up there.
— Having watched many World of Tanks teams from different countries all over the world battling it out with their eyes on the prize, have you ever noticed if players from certain coutnries tend to exhibit certain styles of play, or certain key characteristics, in the same way that in World of Tanks, say, British and American tanks can be easily distinguished (by trained eyes) based on specific traits and designs?
Jasper: Oh, definitely. Because of the unique cultural differences, Thai players for example will exhibit more conservative gameplay. Whereas… well, I can’t really generalise it, if you know what I mean – it really depends on their strategies, it really depends on what maps they’re playing on. It depends also on which teams they are facing, because most of the time these teams are very public. A lot of people know [the teams’] game style.
Max: Yes. Right now, everybody in the community knows that the Russian teams are the favourites. They got all the awards in the world for World of Tanks, and against them, most countries play very defensive.
For instance, we had two national teams from Ukraine and Russia from one clan. They play together in one guild, “The Red”, it’s the strongest one. So Ukraine and Russia were considered to be the favourites for the first and second place – for sure.
Almost everybody played very defensively against Ukraine and Russia. But China, this year, they surprised everybody. They won Ukraine and left them in the group stages, and passed through to the semi-finals, and then the finals. Because they used the tactics that they saw on YouTube, or some replays somewhere else, of the Russian team, and they used their tactics and played aggressively. Nobody expected it. It was very unusual. Our Russian guys will admit that the level of Chinese teams, grew a lot.
— Well, they’re a “Big Red” themselves, after all… sorry, just thinking aloud for a moment there. Any final words you’d like to add on World of Tanks?
Jasper: World of Tanks is the only tank I know that releases patches or updates very regularly. And when I say very regularly, I mean that, when we launched in April here, we were at version 7.2. Since then, we’ve had ten iterations, from April until now. We’re already coming into 8.2 within this month.
So, the level of development that we spend time on, in terms of creating new content and improving the game, is really deep. That’s why, players can expect that we will continue to work on not just creating new maps and shoving more tanks in the game, but also making the game experience a lot better. Making the game built more to sharpen minds, to create strategic satisfaction for players. So that they can have a lot of fun with it.
Wargaming.net’s World of Tanks is a free-to-play online game, available for download here at http://worldoftanks.com/