Yesterday, I gave my impressions of World of Warplanes 2.0, the totally revised second entry in Wargaming’s trilogy of combat games. It was a massive undertaking, four years in the making, meant to prop up a game that struggled right out of the gate.

So why did Wargaming take such a drastic step in the first place? From a numbers standpoint, it’s easy to see why. On the individual games’ wikis, you can see that World of Tanks manages around 100,000 concurrent players and World of Warships gets around 25,000. Before the 2.0 changeover, World of Warplanes was struggling to draw 1,500 concurrent players. As I write this, the wiki isn’t displaying the total number of players – perhaps intentionally, though I also can’t view the number of players on World of Tanks’ Asian server – but I like to think those numbers are up. They certainly couldn’t be any worse.

But those aren’t the only numbers Wargaming would have to take into account. As I’ve opined before, making major changes to an online game costs a lot of resources and might not be worth it in the long run. So why did Wargaming bother with World of Warplanes 2.0 in the first place? Nearly any other company with such an underperforming game would have simply shut it down or just let it wither in the wind, staying online but getting minimal to no updates.

Airing it out

In his initial address to our media group, Wargaming America General Manager Jay Cohen partially answered that question. Wargaming captured a lot of eyeballs with World of Warplanes when it launched, but those people left just as quickly. He’s certain the audience is out there, and he hopes that an improved Warplanes can get it back.

Later, when I was able to sit down with World of Warplanes Marketing Director Al King, I asked him the same question. “You can’t not fulfill your own stated objectives,” he said, referencing Wargaming’s high-level vision for what he called “phase one of the evolution of modern wargaming,” which includes all three games of the “armored trilogy.” “Just because we got it wrong the first time isn’t an excuse to walk away.”

“Just because we got it wrong the first time isn’t an excuse to walk away.”

As he put it, there were several big errors: little differentiation between vehicle class, a lack of sense of purpose in the air, and dying too quickly chief among them. After Wargaming conducted a “review of the reviews,” “Fixing the game was then fairly straightforward,” he said. All this had to be done with a “vastly reduced” team, owing to the financial realities of working on a generally unprofitable product. The process of revising the game began just a few months’ after Warplanes’ late 2013 launch and continued apace for the better part of four years.

Hearing developers admit that they “got it wrong” is something you never hear, at least until a new and improved version is on the table. In fact, Warplanes’ failures impacted all of Wargaming’s offerings. “Warships would have launched a year earlier if it wasn’t for the underperformance of Warplanes,” King said. “They immediately saw you can’t just do World of Tanks in the sky or World of Tanks on water.”

That echoes the statements of CEO Victor Kislyi, who said in an interview that he was “a little too arrogant” in pushing a World of Tanks style of play onto World of Warplanes. “There was a bit of a scrap between publishing and development, internally” after Warplanes’ chilly reception, King said. “To taste a little bit of failure, a little disappointment, was really good for Wargaming.”

Stealing their thunder

No discussion of World of Warplanes would be complete, however, without bringing up War Thunder. Gaijin Entertainment’s then-planes-only game hit the market around the same time as Warplanes and clearly was the more successful product. Compared to that 1,500 concurrent players that Warplanes had, War Thunder is consistently listed among the top 100 games on Steam, with around 10 times as many players – and that’s not counting people who play via War Thunder’s launcher, outside of Steam.

“We let the competition come in our space and steal our players.”

“We let the competition come in our space and steal our players,” King admitted. The new World of Warplanes is designed to be more “accessible and fun,” basic elements that – at least in my opinion – War Thunder was far better with. “I think our game skews a little bit more ‘arcade’ and accessible … leaving War Thunder with its slightly more ‘sim’ orientation to address the hardcore. There should be room for both to exist.”

Accessibility is the key. As I pointed out in my review, Warplanes 2.0 is just easy to get into, and even when I don’t totally understand my objectives, I can still contribute to my team by fulfilling my assigned role. That, King felt, was the major thing that needed to be addressed to resurrect Warplanes and re-introduce it as a competitor in this genre.

Wargaming America covered the costs of my trip to visit their offices for purposes of writing this interview.


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