World of Warships Developer Talks About the Past, Present, and Future of the Game [Interview]

World of Warships has grown a lot since its 2015 launch. It has over 28 million registered accounts since its open beta and more than 300 full-time employees, which is a jump from the 40 it started with. The game is even coming to the PS4 and Xbox One next year. But World of Warships is also adding submarines (starting in an upcoming limited-time Halloween PvE event) and continuing to evolve. To celebrate its third anniversary, we sat down with Aleksandr “Sasha” Nikolaev who is regional publishing director at Wargaming to talk about the past, present, and future of the game.

Game Revolution: World of Warships came out in 2015. What was the launch reception like? Like how did you look at the response and figure out where to go from there?

Aleksandr Nikolaev: From the numbers standpoint, it wasn’t a huge launch when we released officially. It was really launched when we went to open beta. When we went to open beta, our servers almost exploded with so many players who were waiting for this game and following it on Twitch and YouTube. Before open beta, it was only closed beta so the only people who purchased some bundles could play. That was the actually the moment when our game when at its peak in 2015 in its open beta stage.

That was huge. We tried to promote the game even further. We held interesting contests like Sail to TwitchCon. So all the people who streamed on Twitch for a certain amount of hours, we selected 10 winners who came to San Francisco for the first TwitchCon. I remember those times where World of Warships was frequently among the top streamed games.

Over time, the mass appeal of World of Warships went away so now it’s more of a niche product. But this niche is super loyal. We probably don’t get the volume of players we expected but at the same time, the quality of those players is super high.

[This is unfortunate phrasing from our side. What is meant here is that since launched, the volume of audience playing Warships has decreased, as with most games well into their life cycle. We now have a smaller, but stable core base of very loyal players.] 

Somehow we were very successful at targeting this specific audience of 35 and older American males who stick around for a very long time.

The players who stayed still play and never finished playing. If we keep doing the right thing and releasing new content and pleasing the community then who knows? Maybe it will be as successful as World of Tanks. It’s very feasible that World of Warships can stay around for 10 years.

world of warships

GR: How did those fans guide you since they likely have a big say into what you do?

Nikolaev: We invest a lot into communication with players. That means that we not only read through all these conversations on forums, the channels that we created, and social media, but we also try to create and manage special groups of communities like streamers, video bloggers, mod makers, super testers, and wiki editors.

All of those enthusiasts are very tightly knit communities that we try to nurture and try to provide with full support. We also give them opportunities to share their feedback with us make the quality of that feedback really high.

For example, with super testers, we started with collecting unstructured feedback from what they say on forums. Then we moved into surveys. From those surveys, we tried to structure everything to make sure the feedback is high quality and well illustrated that was supported by data, which is very objective. We encouraged all of these different groups to get hands-on experience with the coming updates, new mechanics, and new content earlier than other players. So they always have an opportunity to speak up and make us listen.

We know that if we don’t listen to the most loyal, passionate players, there won’t be anything beneficial. We would end up with a suboptimal product with bad changes. For example, every time we have some overpowered ship that the community blames us for, it’s actually the result of poor testing. Testing is a very difficult process because you test the ship in an environment where experienced players play against experienced players. And they provide feedback like “This ship needs to be buffed.”

So we buff the ship but regular players is a totally different experience. We introduced it in a separate stage of testing. After a separate stage of testing with battles between testers only, they keep testing the ships on a production server with regular players. So we can see if it breaks anything in a server with less experienced players.

[Again unfortunate phrasing. This sounds like it’s the testers’ fault, due to not providing proper feedback. That’s not the case—what’s meant here is that we have two compasses by which we steer our development. In the first instance we have this mentioned core community groups, who provide qualitative feedback at early stages of development.

However, we need to be aware that these hyper-engaged players do not accurately represent the playing behavior of our overall audience – they skew towards the more competitive end. Because the majority audience might play the game differently we need to rely on the second compass—big sets of quantitative data and their analyses. However, even following this system it sometimes happens that we make bad balancing decisions and later have to fix one ship or another.]

world of warships

GR: So speaking of changes, the change from the real-time strategy for the carrier ships to the directly controlling the airships might ruffle some feathers. Some are even saying the PC should keep the RTS elements and let the consoles have the third-person squadron segments. How are you going to handle that feedback?

Nikolaev: Our response is that we carefully considered the pros and cons. We understand that some people will be upset. But we still confidently believe that this change is for the best because we don’t like the trend that battleships, cruisers, and destroyers and flourishing and sustainable while carriers are declining and becoming less and less popular. It used to be 10 percent carriers. Now it is below five. It’s sometimes like two percent of players play carriers. And we don’t like that because it makes our game less diverse and also introduces a skill gap.

In our matchmaking system, our matchmaker makes sure that if a carrier joins the queue, they get matched against another carrier. So if the population is very low, then it is difficult for the matchmaker to make sure the experience will be positive. Because a lot of times very experienced player jumps in a queue and gets matched against a less experienced player and they get killed pretty quickly and then the more experienced carrier player steamrolls the other team because they have air superiority.

We feel that this is a situation that you can only solve by changing the gameplay dramatically. We tried small tweaks and it didn’t help. We are always in search of that sweet spot. Carriers will be the first thing then with submarines, it will be even more interesting and even more diverse because we will fill some missing roles.

Click to the next page to read about the new submarines, the future of the game, and more.