World of Tanks is a game that likely needs no introduction whether you've played it yourself or seen any of the countless TV commercials and web banners that have been running for the last couple of years. The free-to-play title has conquered the world with millions of active players and a world record of 800,000 concurrent players on one server (March, 2013). There is no doubting the Belorussians at Wargaming.net hit their mark with the team-based action that pits realistically reproduced tanks from World War I and World War II against each other. Add to that the recently released World of Warplanes and the upcoming World of Warships and you'll soon realise Wargaming have their plates full. Updating World of Tanks is naturally part of this and just prior to Christmas we were invited along to their Paris offices to sample the latest addition to the game - Japanese tanks.
There is a relaxed atmosphere in the offices. With the recent release of World of Warplanes and the upcoming holidays people are either exhausted or elated, or perhaps both. Romain Mardot, producer on the game, gives us a short presentation where we learn that the new tanks are more agile, and have improved vertical aiming compared to their real world counterparts. We're then ushered into a room where several computers are lined up, ready to let us sample the game. While most of you who read this have probably tried the game at one time or another it's the first go with the game for this reporter.
The first round actually goes well. Our team starts out in a small village and we quickly start to hunt down the opposing team. The graphics are easy on the eye, but nothing extraordinary and it's clear that the buildings and trees are mainly there to allow some sort of cover once combat commences. The other team come rolling in over a hill and the attention of our team quickly turns to the incoming threat. We fight them off one by one thanks to our advantageous position inside the village where we can surprise the enemy with attacks from all angles. It didn't feel as if the developers gave us an easy outing on purpose, but perhaps they didn't pull out all the stops to stomp us in this first game. We feel as though we're on top of the world as the last enemy tank explodes. It's a quick round and as the game features no respawns it demands tactical play.
The second round doesn't end well for us as well stray a little too far away from our teammates. Before we realise our mistake we run into enemy tanks and after a short and desperate attempt to fire and flee simultaneously my tank is a flaming pile of scrap metal. The rest of the round is spent watching the rest of the team engage the opposition and this round lasts a little longer. The third game doesn't end much better in spite of our best attempts at keeping close to the rest of the group. The choice of one of the lighter Japanese tanks makes it so that it doesn't take more than one well placed shot to put us on the sidelines. Nevertheless it's very enjoyable, but after the third game Romain Mardot enters the room and tells us time has come for a tour of the offices and that we'll be able to play more afterwards.
We're quickly shown the various divisions that are located across several floors in the large building. Everything from e-sport managers that spend their time building the potential of World of Tanks as a competitive sport, to the support division where people from a multitude of nations are introduced. It's interesting to note how few French people Wargaming.net employs in their French offices. It's also nice to note the number of employees that are playing the game as we walk around the offices. It is explained to us that while this is the lunch break, employees are encouraged to play during working hours as they feel it is important that everyone involved with running and maintaining the game has a good of idea about state of the game. It's also nice to learn that the economy department ends each lunch break by playing a round anonymously with normal players. Something that has lead to them being a strong group of players. So World of Tanks players better watch out, you may be blown to bits by an accountant on their lunch break.
The most interesting stop on the tour was at the Community Management team. We were introduced to Miguel Budesca, head of the department. He gave us a quick run through of their responsibilities, and it's obvious that this is one of the most important areas of Wargaming. Their responsibilities include maintaining a meaningful dialogue with the player base, listening to feedback and keep on top of the discussions on the official forums. Budesca explains that there can be strong opinions voiced on forums that deal with World War subject matter, and at times they need to intervene in order to avoid full blown war of words between the many nationalities that play the game. Another function of the community team is to arrange real world competitions such as a competition for building the best snowtank after a particularly heavy snowfall, and connecting with players at local events.
These local events capture my attention. It is explained that at regular intervals the members of the community team choose a place to travel to and connect with the local playerbase through the forums. With the help of players they come up with interesting museums and areas where historically interested players can meet up and discuss the history that World of Tanks builds on. These events all end up with trip to town where the community team and players meet over beers to better learn what people think of the game and what ideas they have for the future. It's interesting that the company spends considerable time and resources to seek out the playerbase for this kind of face-to-face feedback in this modern age of information technology.
The tour ends with a small meal, appropriate to the theme we're served sushi by a trained chef. The atmosphere remains relaxed and after lunch we're given some time to freely roam around the place, and among other things we stop by the games room where a bunch of Xbox 360's have been lined up with World of Tanks loaded and ready to go. There is also a classic arcade machine in the corner for that retro fix.
Time moves quickly and unfortunately there wasn't more time to play the game, and because of the limited time with the game and the new tanks the big takeaway was what we learned about how Wargaming.net work with their playerbase. We leave Paris wanting to play more World of Tanks. What little we played was very entertaining, and the idea of joining this massive community maintained by the strong community team is very appealing. Perhaps we'll see each other on the battlefield in the near future.