A retrospective is an agile development term for a team meeting at the end of a development cycle where the team determines what things were done well, what things could have been better, and what things they were going to try to do better in the next cycle. It's a great way for teams to celebrate what they did correctly and identify the things that they need to improve on.
Given the state of flux that the video game industry is in right now I thought it would be an interesting idea to do several small retrospective with folks from around the industry with the end goal is to develop a holistic view of the state of the video game.
The format is fairly simple. We've asked each company the same four questions about what they did great last year, what they could have done better, and what they plan to do in the coming year. We then asked them how they thought the entire industry answered those questions. To keep things interesting we also asked a few company specific questions too.
We've got a nice variety of opinions ranging from game developers to publishers to hardware manufactures and everyone in between. This is one of the more ambitious projects we've ever done and we think you'll enjoy seeing the wide spectrum of opinions on the industry. You can see our previous retrospectives here
Today we are talking to Wargaming.Net a company that has grown rapidly over the last few years. I was shocked to find out last week that the company has well over 800 employees who support more than 20 million customers world wide. With two new games on the market we were anxious to get their opinion of where the market is going. Victor Kislyi the CEO of Wargaming.net provides the answers below.
Looking back at the last year what were the things that you did right? What things could you have done better?
The last year was crowded with great events for Wargaming.net. After launching World of Tanks open beta in Europe and North America we were struggling to catch up with the fast-growing game population. We never expected so many people to join the game and had to drastically increase our server capacity! So we built new data centers and perfected the server side technology. Probably, a major milestone here was the introduction of multicluster technology: it allowed us to add several clusters to each server group and, thus, insured server stability. We are doing well right now. But actually, ongoing fast-paced growth in Russia makes me think another mad scramble to keep up with the WoT population is soon to ensue.
We’ve introduced lots of new content and stuff in World of Tanks in 2011. I must admit we were a bit behind our internal schedule at times. But well, you know, our schedules aren’t set in stone: we want to be certain people love what we give them, and we only introduce updates when we are sure they are by all means top-notch and well-balanced. Speaking about our major goals, I can’t but mention full-scale graphics modernization. It’s a burning issue we’ve been tackling since last year.
We’ve been working on two new projects - World of Warplanes and World of Battleships – that will share core principles with WoT. World of Warplanes has come a long way since it was announced at GamesCom 2011. The game is shaping up and has lately entered the Global Alpha testing, but with all that, it is, of course, still a work in progress. In the long run, three titles will be integrated into a gobsmacking gaming trilogy that’ll cover all the settings that held and witnessed epic tussles for supremacy.
Last year we successfully released World of Tanks in Asia, Europe, and North America. Each market has its peculiarities and we put lots of effort to ensure game fits well into all of them. North America turned out to be the hardest bite, but we managed it, and are planning to further expand there in 2012, both in regard to WoT and WoWP.
Although we had many prospective business solutions in 2010-2011, not all of them have stood the proof. For example, we turned off several deals and offers, and had to replace some employees. Plus, not all data centers met our demands – and we had to consider extra options.
Another thing is that the company structure underwent considerable changes and it now fields two large departments: Developer and Publisher. Each has multiple offices all over the world and we are now working to facilitate its management.
Looking ahead, what are you most excited about from WarGaming.Net in 2012? What’s the one thing you’re planning on doing now that you weren’t doing in 2011?
Wargaming has loads in store for 2012. For starters, this spring we are launching World of Tanks on the Singaporean cluster in South-East Asia. Tentatively, we are planning to release World of Warplanes in 2012. We’re shying away from giving a specific date, but I can tell you that it’s coming together very nicely. The Global Alpha that has only launched 23th February and we already have more than 100 000applicants eager to join the ranks of virtual pilots! It makes me think WoWP has really tremendous potential.
On top of that, we are going to disclose several crucial decisions concerning future business development at E3 2012.
You’ve had a lot of success with Free to Play in the last year, do you think that’s the way the entire industry is going or do
you think there will still be bastions of the industry that still have a $60 games?
There is an undeniable trend toward free-to-play in the market. People like to be given the choice on how to play and what to spend money on. As games become increasingly service-based it is be the service that is valuable. Thus, game developers need to entertain their customers and build games that they want, and free-to-play games offer a uniquely compelling entertainment value proposition.
By the way, free-to-plays aren’t a recent invention: they first evolved in Asia and it happened quite a time ago. They are fairly new in the Western market, though. Despite it, free-to-play business model has already proved its efficiency.
All free-to-plays fell into two groups: games with rigid monetarization and those with a flexible one.
I might as well call the first group “pay-to-win” games: transactions grant significant in-game advantage, skills play virtually no role, and players are roped into major spendings. This allows publishers justify large outflow of players that find the game play unfair, and sky-high sums spent to draw new people.
Flexible model is characteristic of real smash-hits where the game play is fair, and real life money has no influence on the outcome of the battle. The second model only works when the outflow of players is reasonably low. And of course, studios hoping to thrive need to respect players, giving them a range of options and incentivising them to keep playing. In other world, they need to develop a kick-ass value title and regularly reinforce community with updated.
I’m not telling you free-to-plays are a sure safe way to succeed in the industry. It’s not that simple! I mean the flexible model only suits for smash-hits; rigid may earn you quite a sum, but will shortly kill the project because most players would sooner or later leave the game. All in all, free-to-plays that are rattling good are pretty rear, and hard to develop, so I believe the market will continue (at least for the foreseeable future) to offer subscription and “pay-to-win” models.
One thing I’m dead certain is that “box” games have known better days. Player interest in games is global. Developers and publisher are interested to add in replayability and depth that will make players say that "I want to go back and play it again". The Internet is global and allows uploading new content at a regular cadence. So not surprisingly, on-line games are in the trend. PC can still be a platform, but not the basic one, and most $60 games are developed for consoles.
We once opted for MMO genre and believe it’s the thing of the future. However, it doesn’t mean they’ll soon flood the market.
What do you think went well for the game industry in 2011? What do you think the industry could have done better in 2011?
We were obviously pleased to witness the triumphal arrival of Free to Play model in the West – big time and long-term. I’m particularly very happy that the media changed its attitude. Before that big sites never wanted even to “touch” a non-retail-box PC game. The press, big gaming companies and players were under misconception that “free” meant low quality and shallow. And it was a moment of joy when League of Legends art appeared on PC Gamer’s cover. However, there were severe blows to Free to Play idea: a couple of well-known subscription-based games announced that they were going F2P – and they did it poorly – thus, throwing a shadow on the whole concept in the eyes of the players. For such transfer to be successful such games need wider and deeper gameplay changes, and very often monetization strategy was too aggressive.
What are you looking forward to most in 2012 from an industry standpoint? What should the industry do better in 2012?
I can’t wait to see the next iPad and iPhone, as well as new, more powerful Android devices. And it won’t be long till highest-class MMO’s arrive to mobile platforms. It might sound a little cynical, but I think the gaming industry would benefit from unification and standardization of mobile platforms. I’d prefer to have two or three solid mobile platforms instead of having to deal with hundreds of devices with different specs. I also expect that display ad industry will find the ways to lower the cost of advertising. Today very often buying banners is unreasonably expensive. And, last, but not least, console manufacturers should change their build approval policies to allow prompt patching and modifications of the online games.