Wargaming Asia on the mobile future of tank combat

e27 takes a spin with World of Tanks Blitz while talking to Asia General Manager Jasper Nicholas and Product Manager Roman Bui

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World of Tanks creator Wargaming is heading into a new territory: the portable and mobile entertainment market. Its first step into the unknown will be heralded by its latest, World of Tanks Blitz. It’s out right now for iOS, and it’s essentially a quicker version of World of Tanks on the PC, equipped with touch-screen controls and quick match-making.

While one would think that it’s a carbon copy of the PC version, Wargaming’s Product Manager for Blitz Roman Bui stressed that it’s not a port. It’s built from the ground up using the company’s custom DAVA Framework engine to cram and optimise the look and feel of World of Tanks onto iOS-run tablets.

Bui even said that just optimising everything on the tablet screen and figuring out the controls are the two toughest challenges in making Blitz a viable game. “It’s a challenge to create an engine that utilises all the many different processors (graphics, central, etc.) and types of screens on a mobile device while maintaining its look and feel of being a ‘faster’ World of Tanks. We also needed a new engine that’s able to keep up-to-date with trends and constant mobile upgrades.”

Mobilising effort

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We tried out World of Tanks Blitz during the Taipei event, and we definitely feel its pain in coming up with the best control scheme for piloting a tank on a tablet. With a virtual joystick on one corner, two buttons on each left and right side of the screen for firing, and a multitude of options on the far right, players are able to aim by moving the camera with the touchscreen.

If the default setting isn’t your cup of tea, rest assured that a majority of the buttons can be positioned and customised to your liking. If you’re craving for more than what is offered from the game, fret not as Bui said that the first major update will revolve around British tank tree. New maps and tanks will appear in the game in the next few months. Microtransactions will be similar to the PC version; players can buy items that help gain more experience for faster multiplayer levelling up rank-wise.

Android users may cry foul that their version isn’t out yet, but the reason the game is on Apple’s OS first is due to the former engine’s segmentation stemming back a few years ago. As many different phones from manufacturers like Samsung have different resolutions and processors all compatible with Android, the company is testing it on many Android devices to ensure smooth optimisation on all major tablets and phones. “It takes time and a lot of money. But in the future, all manufacturers and Google can eventually help solve this ongoing problem .”

Wargaming Asia General Manager Jasper Nicholas said that throughout his experience in the games industry previously at Level Up in the Philippines, he hasn’t come across any game with a massive appeal and allure as World of Tanks. “I’ve been seeing the growth of games not just in Southeast Asia, but also worldwide. And World of Tanks is very different from any other game I’ve published in the past. It had humble beginnings, but slowly grew month-on-month. It hasn’t changed its trajectory because there’s a lot of good value in the service. We’re able to add in people in different countries working in Wargaming; breaking down the language and culture restrictions.”

Many businessmen and producers have seen and experienced how unstable the mobile and gaming market can be. Not so in Nicholas’ case due to efficiency in using resources. “We spend a lot of effort and time finding experts in each region in the field. Our customer relation team is small, but highly recognised by the community. We’re lucky that the Asian community supported us pretty well.” In his two-and-a-half year tenure running an 80-person ship covering Asia, the word that keeps them together is ‘family.’ “We’re a big family here, we’re an even bigger family worldwide. As long as you run them well and establish strong dynamics, it doesn’t matter what kind of economic environment you’re in. You’ll be able to survive.”

Literal tanking in eSports

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Wargaming is currently running a World Cup World of Tanks mod in a Taipei bar. Whoever tests it out gets a coupon for a free drink

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The company is taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes to the impending tournament scene for World of Tanks Blitz. Both Nicholas and Bui hope that the company can host a tournament or two before 2014 ends. “The first thing we need is a lot of players,” said Bui, “followed by a succession of events and sessions. We also need players who have pro-level skills who can commit to Blitz.”

Nicholas said that they need to see a player’s or team’s learning curve to see if they can adapt. With the trending eSports scene and the mobile gaming broadcasting for Twitch available for livestreaming purposes, a future World of Tanks Blitz tournament before the end of the year seems inevitable.

“To put things into perspective,” Nicholas said, “in our internal group of 80 people with a good number of female employees, it surprised me during our play sessions they do better than me. It’s a great indication of a game if a lot more people with diverse backgrounds are able to play the game. The horizon is getting wider.” With events like Dreamhack being open to hosting mobile games as eSports tournaments, it’s not a stretch to the imagination.

Blitz’s older PC cousin, World of Tanks, is doing just fine from an eSports perspective. Amazing in fact, according to Nicholas. “The number of eSports teams participating has been ten to thousands. It’s incredible to see teams forming up from places like Mongolia, as well as businessmen approaching us to open up internet cafes dedicated to just World of Tanks. That’s why we’re introducing amateur WoT teams to potential sponsors to help keep the Asian eSports scene going. Once you allow that and integrate them well into the system, they can take advantage of the tournament platform.”

He added that Vietnam is currently strong this year in terms of participation and pro player count, and hopes that countries like Japan and Taiwan follow suit the following year. The top team representing Asia in World of Tanks include PVP Superfriends from the Philippines and Team Efficiency from Singapore. The former was at the fourth place at the global Wargaming.net league finals.

Plowing on through

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So how is the future looking for Wargaming in Asia? Nicholas pointed out that its roadmap for the next two years is expansion, though he can’t share what new content World of Tanks and World of Tanks Blitz will feature. “We will continue to grow our presence in different countries and strengthen past connections, while also consistently keep up with simultaneous online and offline activities. We’re close to 11 countries and operating in different scenarios (office and home).”

That seems like standard PR fluff, but with just one main goal of maintaining a hit game with a sister spin-off for mobile? That’s all it seems to be doing, and it’s successful at it. Wargaming is open to reaching out to many casual audiences with this mobile venture, going so far as to state that it’s in talks with chat app LINE on possibly featuring the game on it.

Nicholas is an old-school conventional guy at heart: he wishes to see people socially getting together online and offline, and maintaining that traditional vibe where gamers know how to regulate their playing time and social time in an efficient manner. There’s also the team-building and regional base-building aspect he has to take care of too.

“I’ve seen it grow and being dynamic not just in participants, but also in culture. I was there to see from a business and family perspective where we have to be aware of game addiction and online games disrupting social structures. That’s why my point of view about gaming is about putting out responsible and entertaining gaming content. Our target audience is middle age militaria and historians. I’m an advocate of using games as reward systems for those students who want to become pro players and join the games industry in the future; provide them a vision of what they want to be.”

Jonathan Toyad

If you want an elaborate answer on who would win in a fight between Ultraman and Godzilla, Jonathan Toyad is your man. A six-year veteran in the game journalism industry, he did words and videos for outlets such as GameSpot, GameAxis, IGN and Stuff.TV. Fears coyotes and scorched earths.

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