REGULAR visitors to GOA may have noticed we rather like the World of Tanks and World of Warships games.
I can’t speak for the other fans here, but I like the games because I’m a military historian who thinks it’s pretty cool I can basically drive (or sail) around in actual tanks and warships and fight other tanks and warships.
I also really like the fact the games are both free to play and free to win – you can legitimately do very well at it without spending a cent.
World of Tanks: Blitz is the mobile version of the game, which is now into its seventh year – a remarkable achievement for a free-to-play game – and according to publishers Wargaming, now has more than 170 million downloads and a current average player game time per day of 110 minutes.
I spoke with World of Tanks Blitz publishing director Natalia Pershyts, who is also a keen player of the game herself, with experience in the Clan Wars team for the PC version of the game, to find out more about how the game has evolved and what makes it so popular.
World of Tanks Blitz continues to be arguably the most successful free-to-play tank combat arcade game and Ms Pershyts said there were several factors contributing to this, including an element of self-fulfillment because the IP had become well established.
“Firstly, World of Tanks is an already established IP, which largely sets the degree of popularity and the wave of organic users who want to play the tank battles; for them World of Tanks in all its forms is the canonical representative,” she said.
“We have seen many different competitors with similar titles, mechanics, etc. but no one could repeat our success. This is proof to us that the authority of the IP has done its job.
“The second factor is that we were the first in many ways. The trend that we’re seeing now and that we’ve mentioned quite some time ago is the erasure of platform boundaries and existence in a cross-platform environment – it’s a time when big AAA titles are coming out on mobile.
“It’s the holy grail for us that we don’t want to touch”World of Tanks Blitz publishing director Natalia Pershyts on the title’s core gameplay
“This trend was a push for us because we were the first AAA free-to-play (F2P) product which squeezed a lot out on mobile and still provided good graphics, close to what you could get on PC at that time. World of Tanks Blitz has a lot of players playing on mobile, on Windows, on Steam and it is a great match with each other.
“The third point is just that we were the first mobile F2P title and in such a specific genre where more hardcore behaviour is observed. In fact, the player’s interests and hobbies came first for us, we found a balance of interaction with the audience and a balance with monetization. The overall product strategy is player-centric.
While World of Tanks Blitz has changed in some respects since its 2014 launch, the core gameplay is still more or less the same – something Ms Pershyts said was critically important.
“It’s the holy grail for us that we don’t want to touch,” she said.
“All the things we introduce are around this core gameplay, all the changes we build around meta, alternate modes. We give players a choice: play classic World of Tanks Blitz or get fun in some modes.
“A significant change, something that we’ve been working on for about the years now and continue to work on, is changing the funnel and the first experience of the player. We want to lower the entry point into the game. If the start of the game is not clear enough to guide players through our main points, they will leave.”
Ms Pershyts said the team were constantly improving the game’s graphics and visuals as well, with the past two years involving major improvements being release on the game’s birthday – including gun recoil, track damage and dynamic suspension.
“Of course, we try to move carefully here. We understand that at some points the players expect more from us than we can unveil, but this is a forced measure, as we have many players and we cannot make drastic changes, as we do not want to spoil the experience of players with less productive devices and lose this audience,” she said.
“So, we move in small steps and make sure that each update gives an advantage and a bonus, and in no way worsens the experience for our current audience.”
There are actually two versions of World of Tanks – the PC version, and the Blitz version for mobiles and consoles and initially Blitz was basically the PC version on mobile devices and aimed at similar audiences.
“Gradually we started to look a little bit more closely at our audience, to collect information about their needs and interests – and we began to realize that the portrait of our audience is different from the portrait of World of Tanks PC players,” Ms Pershyts said.
“Our audience is different in several ways: first, it is age, our players are younger, and secondly, they are more interested in mobile tank battles not in historical and realistic character but in fun and entertainment, where they can have a good time with their friends.
“Accordingly, we started experimenting with innovations and started with alternative/unusual tanks. These are not historical tanks, but the tanks that were created as part of various collaborations, some of them were dedicated to in-game events. For example, for Halloween, we created the first such tanks with alternative history – Dracula and Helsing – and they were very warmly received by the public.”
Ms Pershyts said the player reception to the unconventional tanks showed the developers they could move in that direction as long as they were careful not to destroy the game’s basic balance.
“These machines are quite unique, you can get them during events, or some are dedicated to some collaborations: Warhammer, Sega, Bandai Namco for example. It’s also worth noting that we’ve worked out for ourselves certain rules for these tanks: they are introduced no higher than Tier VII, so there would be no imbalance at high levels,” she said.
Based on the positive experience with alternative tanks, the developers decided to experiment with the idea temporary new modes that were somewhat different from the standard tank battles of the game.
“The first mode was just a more historical, realistic – it was called Realistic, all the tips were turned off, and the mode was quite hardcore,” Ms Pershyts said.
“Next, we went in a different direction, took a little [inspiration from] RPGs and released two consecutive modes with abilities: each tank, depending on the class, had its own ability, which could be used in battle.
“Also, worth noting are Mad Games and Uprising modes. They were designed for Halloween, which is a traditional period when we present something new and interesting to players. We introduced these modes on a temporary basis, but they have become so popular with our players that we continue to turn on them from time to time during the year.
“Last year we presented Gravity mode – the tanks visited the moon. We realised that such fan stories had very positive feedback from our players.”
The game has continued to grow its player base quite noticeably over the years since its launch, but Ms Pershyts acknowledged it hadn’t always been a smooth journey.
“We had a crisis after three to four years of operation, when we saw that the game was becoming less attractive for players, this moment forced us to rethink many things, including the innovations that we made in the game at the time,” she said.
“We took a radical approach to updates, eliminated various elements that annoyed our audience, went back to our classic gameplay combined with new activities, revised approaches, and we saw a very good win back.
“The third point is our diversification across platforms, we’re not just a mobile genre, we’ve long been a cross-platform genre, last year our release on the Switch allowed us to give another boost to new users.
“The pandemic has contributed to the growth of all mobile titles and genres and World of Tanks Blitz is no exception. The audience that came to us during the pandemic is still with us.”
Keeping players engaged, particularly in a game that’s been around as long as World of Tanks Blitz is not without its challenges, although Ms Pershyts said the team didn’t think of those challenges as being problems.
“We are very active with our audience, we are presented on various platforms: Discord, we have a separate counter program, in which we actively support a network of internal bloggers and influencers, we communicate closely with the clan and e-sports community, we regularly hold round tables with our users to hear directly their proposals, and on a monthly basis we conduct a survey of perception, for each patch, features, and events,” she said.
“Every three months we conduct a general satisfaction survey and see the dynamics of change. Our community sees that we track their opinion, understand that we care about their needs and desires, even if we do not do something that players ask, we try to explain why we do it and what the priorities are.
“The challenge for us now is in onboarding, and we are working on it.”
“Free-to-win is an immutable principle and truth for us.”Natalia Pershyts, World of Tanks Blitz publishing director
One of the big attractions of World of Tanks Blitz and its sister games is that it’s free-to-play and free-to-win, but obviously all that development and the servers and what have you doesn’t come for free so there’s a lot of balancing and fine-tuning to get the right balance between making sure free players can still win while offering attractive incentives for premium players to purchase extras and bonuses.
“Part of World of Tanks Blitz DNA – and all Wargaming games – is the free-to-win concept; that’s the kind of thing we don’t infringe on. Even if an imbalance happens, it’s immediately corrected in the next patch. We do a lot of testing, we give players a lot of content to super test, many times we had such moments when players gave us negative feedback and we went into another iteration,” Ms Pershyts said
“Free-to-win is an immutable principle and truth for us.
“From a monetisation point of view, we try to do it on account of the benefits of the proposal in terms of saving time, resources, offer things that help more comfortably and quickly get some things, this is primarily a time savers, and the second point we are very actively working with the customization and styles, things that allow the player to stand out on the battlefield – [like] camouflages, skins.
“The third point, we create a story, a lore. Here, I’m talking about Battle Pass. Every month we launch a new story or theme. For example, we had Battle Pass for the New Year, Chinese New Year, Cyberpunk, Cosmic, and in June we were in Blitzland park. Every time you sell a story, [you] immerse the player in the story, in a whole world. As part of Battle Pass we release themed assets, videos, collectible tanks.”
Every World of Tanks player has a favourite vehicle – Nuts & Bolts host Darren “Str8JaktJim” Macneall is fond of the British Tier X Super Conqueror heavy tank, while I’m quite partial to the British Tier IV Matilda tank. Ms Pershyts lists her favourite researchable tanks as being the British Tier VII Black Prince heavy tank and the British Tier X FV215b 183 self-propelled gun, while her favourite premium tanks were the US Tier VIII Shark T54E2 Heavy tank and the Tier VII “Smasher” Tank Girl collaboration tank.
Whether you want to zip around in pre-WWII light tanks or slug it out in the latest in modern heavy armour main battle tanks, World of Tanks Blitz is happy to oblige, and the fact it’s free (with optional premium purchases) is a huge bonus, especially at the moment when finances are an issue for so many people.
The game is approaching its 10-year anniversary so I’m looking forward to see what the now 200-strong development team have in store for players in the lead-up to that event – and what new tanks will roll out of the garage in future, too.