A few days ago at Game On in Sydney I was given the chance to have an interview with Steve Wang, CEO & Director of BigWorld & Wargaming Australia. We spoke a bit about their upcoming World Of Warships video game, the importance of feedback from the gaming community and how it’s used to improve the companies games, as well as what it’s like working there.
Interview With Steve Wang, CEO & Director Of BigWorld & Wargaming Australia
Why did you want to come to Game On this year?
Steve: I’ve been involved in the games industry forever, so when there is an opportunity particularly to talk about and promote the industry and the Australian games industry and the good things that are being done here and show people what it’s all about, it’s a big opportunity for us. I grew up as a gamer, making games in the very early days of the commodore 64 and in those days there really wasn’t any industry at all. Now that there is much more of a path and there are great educators like the AIE it’s fantastic to see it grow in Australia and globally.
What do you have planned for World Of Warships and World Of Tanks this year?
Steve: World Of Warships is one of the big ones we have been working on with for a while and with Bigworld, we have been working on the technology side of it for a long time. It’s coming out sometime this year, although we have no date set yet. It’s 50 or so ships from the US and Japanese fleets, each one with particularly different styles. Have you played any of them yet?
Bryan: I played one US ship and one Japanese ship
Steve: My personal favourites are the destroyers with the torpedoes, there are a whole bunch of things like that, that really add to the experience. We tried to take the best aspects from the World Of Tanks gameplay and apply them to ships with their own variations. We spent quite a lot of time really getting feedback from the community and it’s definitely something we’re looking forward to.
Bryan: The game looks a lot of different as well because I’ve played World Of Tanks on the Xbox 360 and I just tried out Warships on the PC, does it have improved graphics?
Steve: Yeah, certainly there is going to be some really big improvements. It’s always difficult when you have the luxury of being able to see it and working in conjunction with those guys on development and then you come out and you look at stuff that hasn’t been released yet, so there is a lot of really exciting stuff coming out and new game modes.
Bryan: I did really like the water effects, they were very good.
Steve:Oh right, yes that’s good, yeah.
What is it like working for your company?
Steve: Working for games is about working in a very passionate and creative, but very competitive industry so you get those people that are passionate about what you do and you try to create the best environment for them to do that. So in our office we have a games machine and a ping pong table. Actually I took the ping pong table thing to the next level, so we actually have formal ping pong table coaching and I engaged a New South Wales junior ping pong coach, who comes every week and there is a roster of people, he is super good and super patient. In the office we have rankings that match the World Of Tanks, so we got the tier 5, the tier 10 and the tier 3. Constantly as gamers we are evolving the rules “oh that’s not fair, you can’t challenge the guy too far ahead” so you know, and so the whole process starts at the ping pong game.
Bryan: It sounds very competitive over there.
Steve: It’s competitive and it’s co-operative at the same time, it’s that fine line between those things and we work very closely with the teams from Wargaming all around the world, so our guys travel out to Belarus, Minsk for the tanks team, St Petersburg in Russia for the ships team, the xbox 360 guys are in Chicago and Chris Taylor’s team with his secret project, they’re over in Seattle. We work with those guys on a daily basis so there is quite a lot of time zone things and working with video chat, so we try to foster that co-operative spirit as well as a bit of competitiveness, a healthy mix.
How difficult is it to compete with the international videogame companies?
Steve: I think like any international industry or international company, as soon as you say our industry is an international one and not a local one, you already up the bar, it doesn’t matter if it’s games or something else. It is difficult by definition, but the good thing is that you got a huge amount of talent in Australia and we got great educators, we got great people from a technical side and a creative side and it is possible for us to compete on that stage. The good thing about that is that once you are on the international stage, then you’re selling everywhere, suddenly you have an international globally accessible market and if I put on my ‘business hat’ it’s all export revenue as well. We have all the mechanisms to do it and there’s no reason we can’t.
What has made your companies games so successful so far and what is it about them that people like the most?
Steve: From a Wargaming perspective it was World Of Tanks, in particular it was an understanding of the content. It was understanding what people love, not just the war style game, but more sort of an accurate simulation and the idea of focusing on the tank as the thing. Then that led to really appreciating a slower paced, more strategic style of shooter, but still something that’s competitive team on team and what started out as a niche ended up as a well focused game that had a very, very wide appeal because of what it was doing.
By focusing on those core values and also with the rise of free to play at the same time, I really think the Wargaming guys were one of the really early companies that helped to define what free to play games really were. Being passionate gamers themselves, it was always about having a level playing field, sure you have to make some money out of it, but it’s not about buying the thing that trumps everyone else. Sure you know, you can buy to accelerate your experience if you’ve got less time, you might be able to buy to get variations and customisations but ultimately it needs to to be a level playing field for everybody and they have remained really true to that game experience.
I would also say that with anything in the games industry, there is a bit of luck and timing. So with the rise of free to play and having the foresight for that fantastic genre, they stuck to their subject material and they had some fantastic game designers who really brought it all out.
What are you doing with your games to keep them competitive in the market?
Steve: What we are seeing in general with the industry is games in general are being treated as a service more and more. I saw recently that about 75% of revenue in the games industry globally is from digital content, not from boxed content. So that leads to the fact that more and more games are being seen as a service. “When’s the new patch update?” “What’s the new game mode?” “What’s the new thing?”.
On the flip side of it again, just a handful of year’s ago, you wouldn’t have that section that we have over here (at Game On) of YouTube celebrities. The whole idea of getting involved with the game, commenting on it, getting that fan base who likes your comments, having those comments rise up and then feeding back to the game designers and having those things being incorporated in the next iteration. Those things make it much more like an evolving service, it’s a game that’s not going to stay the same. In World Of Tanks they’ll be rolling out new game modes, a few really key things a lot further down the track as well as new dimensions to the game, as well as new types of content and changes to things like e-sports and different competitive modes. All of these types of things keep somebody with the game experience.
Do you find that if you’re treating your game as a service that you have to interact with your customers a lot more than if you’re just treating it as a product?
Steve: Oh yeah, definitely, I think that’s an incredibly healthy thing from all aspects of it because it really gives you a chance to get a much wider sense of honest feedback from people who are playing your game, why they like your games. It’s not about just making something for yourself, it’s obviously making something that people want to play.
In the past it’s been hard to get that kind of access because if it’s less popularised it becomes just a few hardcore people that maybe don’t represent the mainstream. So with hardcore and mainstream people sort of collapsing, I suppose, it’s casual gamers who are now in a way… casual meaning just normal gamers, it’s not casual in a sense of just light touch games, it’s people who just love playing games. It’s much more common now that they might start to play a game, they might watch a YouTube video about it, they’ll find someone they want to follow. So that aggregation of feedback from people who are really your much wider customer base is fantastic because then you can really listen to people and respond to people much more readily, which gives you the opportunity to keep your game vibrant and relevant to the people playing the game.
Bryan: I suppose you use the feedback to try and improve your games?
Steve: Absolutely, the feedback, as well as a lot of passionate designers with a lot of key ideas. Part of that process is taking it to the games audience and Wargaming use it internally, as part of their q&a process in what they call a super test. These are a bunch of over 1000 gamers who they have instant contact with that they know give good reliable feedback, reliable not meaning, “I’m going to tell you what I want to keep the relationship going”, no, it’s just really good hard honest feedback about stuff. Again it’s sort of like a focusing of some of these people and their voices in the game design process, so getting that kind of feedback from these different levels is really important.
Bryan: It sounds like your games are always constantly changing as they go…
Steve: Yeah! World of tanks like many games has a five, maybe a ten year road map. Of course it gets looser as it gets out there. But we’re thinking in those terms, is there something we need to start now, in thinking about how it’s going to evolve, what are the things we can do for World Of Tanks? It’s because some things are much easier than others such as rolling out new tanks which are much simpler than say a whole new game mode that requires a lot of testing, or say a lot of significant elements which require a lot of development time, as well as a lot of planning. They are the sorts of things that get tested a bit in the water, bounced around with the game designers, feedback from some parts of the community in the early stages, but that’s the kind of process that we go through to make sure we are really engaged with the audience.
Is there anything you would like to add about World Of Warships?
Steve: From my perspective with World Of Warships it’s been a great development process with the St Petersburg team and they’ve actually gone through several iterations of things where they were going to launch things and thought, “no I’m going to improve that” and the stuff that I’m seeing come out now, I think it’s really spot on. They are really fitting into the nature of how a strategy can play out in a battle, one of the difficulties with ships is that they are in the open water, heading in a certain way, so it’s a different sort of strategy, so by changing around the landscape of the battlefields, taking a few liberties with those things, as well as adding different game elements to it to make it quite a different game every time. I’m really looking forward to it.
Bryan: I’m really looking forward to playing it in the future again t0, thanks for your time it was great speaking with you.
Steve: Yeah it was great!