World of Tanks has recently launched in Russia, where it has seen quick success, already growing to 200,000 players. In the West, the game has about 110,000 active players and that number is growing every day. It's currently in closed beta, but the company has plans to move to open beta in about a month, aiming for a launch of Q1 next year.

At GDC Online 2010, we had a chance to catch up with Victor Kislyi, CEO of Wargaming.net, to talk about the game's success and how it all works, exactly.
Massively: So far you're happy with the arc of the project?

Victor Kislyi: It was three and a half years ago that we started and announced that we're making a game about tanks, and for three years we got nothing but jokes -- everybody was making a joke about us. "An MMO with tanks? It's not going to work." "Is the player a tank, or is the tank an avatar, because players are supposed to be associated with a human-like creature."

Basically you are not a tank, you are an owner of a garage. A garage full of tanks. You buy them, you level them up, and they all serve various purposes.

How many tanks can players have in their garage?

As many different tank types as you're willing to operate. You're supposed to only have those tanks that you're able to drive. They're not just monuments. They start with little tiny agricultural equipment, and then they get bigger. At the end of the day, you fight with huge machines that are even impressive nowadays.

Do players repair their tanks only in the garage, or can they repair out on the battlefield?


There is no "respawn" in the main battle mode. So when your tank is killed, you can watch your friends until the end of the battle, or you can jump out of the battle (you'll get your points and experience at the end of the battle), pick up another tank, and jump into another battle. The game is very dynamic, and we wanted to keep that dynamism. But you do have a repair kit, which is a one-time fix for one component on your tank.

"This game is not about World War II. It's not about Normandy Invasion or France 1940. It's Counterstrike with tanks."


Can you repair a groupmate's tank?


We have not yet implemented that, but it's in the works.

How quickly can you change tanks? Can you switch on the battlefield?

No, you select one tank, and you have to finish with it.

In the works, there was talk of rocket artillery?


We have plans to add flame-throwing tanks and rocket artillery tanks, like the American Calliope, a Sherman tank with 80 tubes of rockets on top, so the player would have a main gun and also rockets.

A lot of the Massively readers remarked how quickly you can get right into the middle of a battle. For new players, will they feel overwhelmed by better geared tanks, or is there a chance for them to make a difference with their teammates in a battle?

Right now, tier one and tier two tanks are seeded together. For the West, we're also going to make a PvE tutorial, where you learn to drive around and shoot immobilized targets, like fuel tanks, and then some NPC tanks, in a relatively relaxed setting. Within a couple of months we'll have that tutorial ready.

Could you talk about group dynamics a bit? How does your crew function in a team battle, and what types of competitive battles will players see?


In the tank, you have crew members which are like your pets. You don't directly command them. They have their own experience points, you level them up, they have special abilities. It's like a ship, but you don't direct them, they automatically make use of their abilities.

As for teammates, when you're on the battlefield and you have 15 teammates, nobody prevents you from communicating through chat or voice, so you can say, "OK if you're a big tank you go right, you cover me, you rush the base, you go forward and scout." Whether or not they listen is your problem.

We have platoons, like three friends going into battle together. If you form a platoon of three guys, obviously you want to be together and do things together. One of your members can be artillery, sitting in the rear, hidden in the bushes. And you, a scout tank, can go forward and find enemy tanks for artillery piece to shoot. The third guy might be a medium or heavy tank that can cover either artillery or the scout. Or, you could have three tanks and form a wolf-pack. This is much more effective than just being a single guy.

You can be a team player without being in a platoon -- the platoon just keeps statistics. So when you're playing in a platoon, it's like a separate entity. This is currently being tested and should go live within a couple of weeks.

Then there are Clans, which are the top-level-organized type of gameplay -- more like 100 players in one clan.


Is that like an EVE Corporation?

Yes.

That's with the global map?

It could be global map fighting, clan versus clan championships, all sorts of PvP fighting. We have the whole ocean of opportunities in front of us, and a book this thick of game design features. This is a team philosophy game, and we are going to support that team spirit with all sorts of features, championships, leader boards, statistics -- basically it's going to be a little like a social network. People will fight, talk, split up, make alliances, back stab, all that stuff. It's so natural to the topic of World War II and EVE Online style of interaction.

Can your clan be a mixture of tanks?


Yes. This game is not about World War II. It's not about Normandy Invasion or France 1940. It's Counterstrike with tanks.

Can you talk a bit about the plans to add American tanks?

They're coming one week from now. All in all, we're going to have 6 nations: The Soviet Union, Germany, America, Britain, Japan, and France. Our period spans from the 1930s to the 1960s -- up to the Korean War. The game has not only existing tanks, but also experimental models or models that were prototypes -- all those World War II nations had work going on. For example, there is a German Maus tank, and only 3 exist -- it never fought -- but in this game, you can level up and fight with it.


Are there limits on customization? Are you allowed to take a tank and add a feature to it that wouldn't normally be found on it?

Each tank has a set selection of what will fit on it. All these components are a historical and engineering "fit" for it. Even inside a tank, to fit in a certain gun, you may need a different turret to fit it. When you fit too much equipment, your chassis doesn't have enough capacity, so you'll need to upgrade your tracks.

I have a question about the auto-aim feature. Some of the Massively readers wondered if it would be too much of a crutch that would make the game too easy. How much easier does it make the combat? Are players relying on it a lot?

While we are in a beta test mode, we are still experimenting with servers, location -- and in certain areas we still have lag. Auto aim is a savior when it comes to bad connectivity. Sometimes you just cannot aim, because Japanese players on a European server (for example), have more lag and that makes manual aim difficult.

Number two, auto aim always aims in the center of a tank. So if a tank is behind a corner, it's useless. And when a tank is moving really fast, auto aim is really bad at making assumptions. So if you want to hit a fast moving tank, it's useless, because you'll have to manually predict where the tank will be, whether it will zigzag, or hide.

Also, if you're a smaller tank, you will not penetrate a bigger tank. But you can aim at a track and knock down tracks, or you can aim into the engine and set it on fire. You should be outmaneuvering and finding the soft spot.

You can damage the gun, or you can literally aim through the view and take the driver out of action. So yes, auto aim is helpful, especially for new players, but we have already clans and teams and championships, and they don't use it. It's not considered good sportsmanship.

You mentioned that Japanese tanks are "exotic." Can you talk about them a bit more?


Japanese tanks are sorta cool. They are going to have a full scale tree. Our guys are doing heavy research into French and Japanese tanks. Japan and France are not known for tanks. There was not much tank fighting in the Pacific, although the research showed that they (Japan) had a Tiger-style tank that never saw action, because those tanks were kept in the main island for the invasion. Our research demonstrated that there are a lot of Japanese tanks to play with. In this game, you have 6 nations and it's up to you. Some people will want only German or only Russian tanks, but some will have German and Russian tanks for serious fights, and French and Japanese tanks for fancy fights, or playing around. Japan isn't necessarily as powerful as the others, but it gives players alternative choices.

Any final thoughts to pass along to the Massively readers?

We really want to thank the Massively staff for the award (Best new concept at E3, 2010). We want to thank your players, and we're happy to see the intensive discussion this game ignites and provokes on your site.

This article was originally published on Massively.