PAX AUS 2015 – Wargaming Interview
Wargaming had a huge presence at this year’s PAX Australia. The company released World of Warships to critical acclaim earlier this year and are ramping up promotion of their reboot of the 4X strategy series Master of Orion. We caught up with Steve Wang, Randall King and Max Chuvalov to talk about Wargaming’s past, present and future.
Fergus: Last time we spoke to you, World of Warships was in beta if I remember correctly. Are you happy with the game’s reception now that it’s out and people are playing it?
Max: So as you may know we released [World of Warships] on the 17th of September not far from now and we’re very happy because it’s a game very appreciated by media and got 81% on Metacritic. For [a] free-to-play MMO this is a very high score and players are quite happy. It’s even surpassed our own expectations because we were positioning it as quite a niche MMO for enthusiasts of naval battles and for the guys who like Wargaming products and for other players [looking for] something new.
Fergus: How’s the fanbase and community around your games looking these days? Is it fragmented between your three titles or is there a lot of overlap in audiences? What are the challenges of bringing those audiences together?
Randy: Well, to be honest with you a lot of the audience that plays World of Tanks is an older audience – and a lot of them have played these older games. We’re kinda in the area where the marketing team is doing all this research into what our markets are for those areas [and] it appears that there is quite a large audience within that age range.
We haven’t tapped into per-say the existing Wargaming database, we’re going to try to approach them without shoving it down their throat and that’s our approach with this game. We’re going to have it announce all over the place and hopefully the Wargaming name will bring some of the new players to see this game. But at the same time we don’t want to take people away from World of Tanks – I want new players. I do know we’re in the same age range of the people who love the game but the one thing I really want this game to do is to reach out to a new audience so that they can experience this game anew. That’s where I want it to go.
Fergus: It’s very easy for games to fumble when it comes to trying to build an eSports scene? How did you go about encouraging that type of community to grow with your games?
Steve: I think the foundations have to be built [with] the hardcore gamers first – the player who plays the games all the time….Warships is a great example. It’s a completely different game from the one I saw in the early beta but the community was very vocal about the issues we needed to address. And to bring naval warfare into the where it is today, we had [to go through] a lot of that feedback.
Fergus: Space games are quite big at the moment and Master of Orion is a series with a rich reputation attached to it, what are you hoping to accomplish with your revival and what do you think you can bring to the table that previous developers couldn’t?
Randy: So I gotta give you a little background so that you understand where we’re going with the game – our CEO Victor Kislyi was a HUGE fan of the series Master of Orion. In fact, when we was a teenager he played that game religiously and credits that game with starting his career. He is a huge fan. Very passionate about turn based games and and plays them all the time – and Master of Orion is the one that started that. So when it came up for sale at auction, he had to have it. So when he turned it over to us and said ‘I want you to build this game so that my kids can experience the game I fell in love with‘
So that means we’ve got to build Master of Orion but at the same time create it so that new players can enjoy it. So what we’ve done is we’re rebooting the series Master of Orion, we’re using 1 & 2. Most of the features are coming from 2 but there’s some cool things in 1 also. We’ve also played a TON of the turn based games looking at how they did things, especially the user-interface and how friendly it was for players to use to help us design a better interface. Because the old game was released in 1993 [it was] PC-based [and] therefore very clunky, very [limited by] 2D graphics and it was really just a huge “spreadsheet game”. There’s a ton of things that go on in the background. [So much so] that some of the old players when they played it would actually have a spreadsheet next to them to keep track of everything. So we had to reproduce the original game but also make it friendlier to play for some of the new players. That’s, in essence, what we’re doing.
Fergus: World of Warplanes doesn’t appear to have hit the same level of success as World of Tanks & World of Warships. Why do you think this is and where do you plan to go from here with it?
Max: With World of Warplanes, we over-expected a bit because we were thinking it would become the next World of Tanks [scale] hit but it’s a very hardcore game and…very hard to play for casual players [as a result] it’s high barrier to entry.
Right now, the game’s found its niche. It’s small but still it’s very dedicated and when you just master how to control the airplanes and shoot down enemies you can feel at ease. I can’t say that it’s a big success for us but it’s got a dedicated community.
Fergus: Can we ever expect to see Wargaming return to the Massive Assault franchise?
Steve: Certainly for all the properties we have there’s a lot of passion [for it] and we certainly wouldn’t be saying no to [continuing] it but in the list of things currently on the table that’s not one of them.
Fergus: Wargaming has made a lot of acquisitions in recent years. What’s the internal company culture like, given how diverse the backgrounds of the studios now under the Wargaming umbrella.
Steven: That’s a good question and the answer is yes. I think with any big expansion it’s always quite tricky. One of the things that comes to mind is that the acquisition that Wargaming made are really quite careful. So here are [these] studios that have a great reputation and they know what they’re doing before the acquisition. [We don’t want to mess with that] – and so part of that strategy was to really say ‘we want you to know we believe in your capabilities and what you’re doing, keep on doing it’. Bringing it all together was tricky from one point of view but by making sure we were being respectful to the studios and their talent it’s really been driving things to a situation where it’s been a combination of different cultures and both sides respecting each other’s expertise.
Fergus: Speaking of – “Wargaming is currently the largest taxpayer within Cyprus” – How did that happen?
Steven: There probably is [truth to that]. Cyprus is a fairly small country… and Wargaming [is] a global organization and one of the largest free to play companies in the world these days – it seems quite accurate. Cyprus is in a central European location and has global reach and I guess, I haven’t seen that one but I can certainly imagine it being true.
Fergus: In 2013, you acquired Gas Powered Games. Did that acquisition come with some of the franchises Gas Powered Games is known for and can we ever expect Wargaming to make use of said properties as you are with Master of Orion?
Randy: They’re always on the table. To be honest with you we’re actually starting to branch out into many different areas. We’ve started a division called WG Cells within Wargaming [that] will be a mobile initiative and we’re looking within the company for mobile games and venturing out to arena that don’t support or necessarily play in the World of Tanks and Warships arena.
We also have started another initiative called WG labs. This one is a really cool one. It allows us to reach out to the community and let other indie games or start up companies have a friend to help them produce and get their game out there. So if you were making an indie or garage game and you have a demo of it, you could approach us and…if it’s accepted through the greenlight process, we’ll approach you and ask how can we help you. And we’ll do all kinds of things to help produce that game. The reason for that is that we wanted to jumpstart wonderful ideas in the community. So we’re branching out other than the World of Tanks avenue. Even ideas within our own company are being looked at within the WG labs framework and that’s allowing us to venture away from the Worlds of Tanks and Warships arena.
Fergus: It seems like making eSports games gain traction on consoles is one of a bigger challenges facing companies like yourself who give the area such a focus, what do you think is the key to success here and how are you approaching it as a company?
Max: eSports is a thing that needs a huge critical amount of players and if you compare the PC market to the console market there are like a billion and a half PCs in the world and like a hundred million consoles. So it’s rather smaller and I [also] think one of the other blockers is the control-method because mouse/keyboard is more precise and if you put a pro team with a gamepad against a team using mouse/keyboard they (the PC team) will win because it’s quite hard to compete against mouse/keyboard. But for World of Tanks on consoles, our players expect and demand some kind of competitive mode but there is no demand for eSports so if there is demand we will look at [offering] it.