Phoenix in flight: World of Warplanes prepares to blitz

By Dave Cook
10 April 2013 08:23 GMT

World of Warplanes developer struck gold with World of Tanks. VG247’s Dave Cook speaks with producer Anton Sitnikov about repeating the phenomenon.

World of Warplanes

Developed by Belarus studio, World of Warplanes is a free-to-play flight combat game with a passion for authenticity, bringing together real aircraft from across the years.

The game is currently in open beta, and you can catch a glimpse of it in this cinematic trailer.

Once the game exits the beta phase, you will be able to play it free of charge, although like its predecessor, it will come with a raft of paid extras, should you wish to expand your hanger of planes.

Wargaming recently bought Wildman studio Gas Powered Games and has tentatively re-branded it ‘Wargaming Seattle’. Its first project will be a triple-a MMO.

Free-to-play is a term often attached to a great deal of stigma and rank cynicism. It’s the idea that whenever we get something substantial for free then there must be some kind of hideous catch or pay-wall hiding around the next corner.

It does happen of course, but one game that embraced the free circuit early on and has lived to tell the tale is World of Tanks. It’s a highly-lucrative success story borne from Belarus developer, and the team is currently working to replicate its good fortune in follow-up World of Warplanes.

“The success of World of Tanks was thanks to a number of important factors,” producer Anton Sitnikov told me, “including having a great original idea, high quality programming, an exciting and unique setting and an efficient free-to-play business model. We managed to connect all of those features into one core product, which thankfully, really found success with gamers.”

It’s a cocktail of disparate ingredients that other studios may have struggled with. After all, it’s a slower, more strategic war game with emphasis on historic tanks, and is a far cry from the near-future bombast of Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

Regardless it has a significant, loyal fan base that has put Wargaming in good stead for future titles.

Sitnikov continued, “For World of Warplanes we are taking everything that made Tanks approachable and engaging and layering on improvement after improvement. The results of the closed beta test have us confident that World of Warplanes has tremendous potential not only to live up to the standards set by World of Tanks, but also to become a truly unique and completely new gaming experience.

“At the same time, however, it’s important to keep in mind that World of Warplanes is geared toward a completely different target audience. For example, we hope that the game will have great success in North America, where people are more passionate about warplanes than tanks.

“There are some challenges as well. For example, the high-velocity 3D combat in World of Warplane is more complicated than the 2D ground combat in World of Tanks. Either way, though, we look at World of Warplanes as having a potentially very successful title for us.”

It’s quite a different prospect. In World of Tanks players have to give consideration to shelling range, turning and movement, as well as considered stratagem at all times. In World of Warplanes players must be more reactive as they rush to destroy ground objectives in Superiority, the game’s flagship game mode.

360-degree movement, a wide range of ferocious war planes from real-world conflicts past and present, as well as large roaming maps to raise hell upon are the order of the day, all backed up by micro-DLC for the military enthusiast. It’s a sound recipe on paper, but it’s not without new challenges.

The core changes have presented Sitnikov’s team with numerous hurdles since World of Warplanes hit pre-production in 2011, but a lengthy closed beta phase is currently helping them iron out the kinks with an iterative, fan-led approach.

Said Sitnikov, “Currently, the game is in closed beta and we’re focusing much of our attention on new gameplay features, testing server capabilities, the implementation of a new graphics rendering system, enhanced flight system controls and aircraft models.

“After the closed beta stage, we’ll take the game into open beta. We’re constantly adding new content and features in the meantime, though, including an advanced system of achievements, crew skill training and a newly revamped tutorial, just to name a few.

“Each development stage brought us not only fresh ideas, but also invaluable feedback. We have already implemented some of that feedback and are looking forward to adding even more in the near future. Even though our development team has a ton of experiencing in game development, World of Warplanes is our first ever MMO title focused exclusively on air combat.

“As a result, we’ve thrown around countless options and considered and reconsidered hundreds of ideas. For example, we tested around 15 different options for the mouse control scheme, and many aspects of those options never made it past the alpha and beta versions of the game.”

Iteration is crucial when it comes to a game that people will play for free. That may sound daft, given a person’s ability to overlook problems with something they don’t have to pay for, but complacency doesn’t cut it when a game relies on microtransactions to thrive.

People need a reason to stay and ever more reason to spend. As Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi said last year, the free-to-play arena is like the Wild West, savage and unpredictable.

Wargaming has shown that it understands this all too well, thanks to a steady stream of free updates for World of Tanks that cater to the needs of fans, constant store additions and the long, considered beta phase for Word of Warplanes. Free-to-play is easy to get wrong, even though you’re giving the experience to players gratis.

With over 800 staff at offices worldwide, a growing presence in global territories, a growing presence at military expos, historical events and in war documentaries, the Wargaming brand is flourishing. I ask Sitnikov how he feels looking back to the start, before World of Tanks exploded onto the scene.

He replied, “When we started to work on World of Tanks we had already established ourselves as a well-known and experienced game development company, and we had a number of successful titles already under our belt. Our previous games were critically acclaimed not only by gaming community, but also by the international media around the world.

“Simply put, we were confident in our ability to develop AAA class game titles. However, we were hardly prepared for the incredible success that World of Tanks resulted in. We had to drastically increase our server capacity after launching open beta in Europe and North America, as we never expected so many people to join the game.

“Now we are better prepared than ever to cope with any technical challenges that may arise from the launch of open beta for World of Warplanes. Imagine our horror if today we were to launch open beta and were not ready, with millions of players rushing into the game, knocking out our servers and finally flooding our forums with angry posts.

“Granted, these are the things we always have to consider and prepare for. But today, after all our experience and learning, we’re confident we can address any potential issues like that before they even happen.”

You know what? I think they’ll be just fine. What about you?

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