A Community on the Battlefield – An Interview with Jeff Gregg

To celebrate the launch of Wargaming’s World of Tanks on the PlayStation 4, Ewan sat down with the game’s Lead Game Designer, Jeff Gregg, to discuss the popularity of the game and how it will maintain it’s community going forward. 


 

Firstly, congratulations on the success of World of Tanks on PS4 so far. A million downloads so far, is that correct? 

That’s what they tell me [laughs]. I haven’t seen the number personally myself but top people and that is super exciting. 

That’s awesome! It’s obviously been waited for, for a while now. How important was it for you to bring it to the PS4? 

Oh we wanted to — So our goal is to reach as many players as we possibly can. And there’s obviously a huge pool of players that would really rather it on the PS4. Every day it wasn’t on there, a little piece of me died — it wasn’t really that dramatic, but we really wanted to get it on the PS4.

“Every day it wasn’t on there, a little piece of me died…”

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I kind of get the sense that this driving force – the community –  behind all of what Wargaming does and especially World of Tanks. How important is the community for you personally, and as a motivating factor?

It’s everything, and that’s not even hyperbole. We don’t make the game for ourselves. We don’t the make to be autonomously, “let’s make money” – I mean obviously we need to keep the lights on right – but that feedback loop of hearing what the gamers want, seeing new people come and say “this is really cool” and even honestly seeing on the forums like, “this sucks, why won’t you fix this, how could you do this” that is everything to the design team. That’s why we make the game, that’s why we do all of our features, that’s we change things if we change them, that’s why we add stuff. I can’t stress that enough. It’s partly why I enjoy free-to-play games, ’cause like most of my previous games were disc products or cartridge products if we go on the way-back machine, this is more of a living ecosystem, it is more like talking to an audience versus just delivering a piece of film to somebody. It’s super exciting. It’s not something I’ve ever really had the opportunity to work with before and I love it, it’s great.

“…this is more of a living ecosystem, it is more like talking to an audience…”

And I think you’ve touched on an aspect there that has been brought on by this new generation of consoles – you’ve obviously got it on Xbox One as well – how important was it to have that new hardware there in enabling you to branch out as well? And how important was it to have streaming integration, again in allowing your community to really thrive? 

So, the social aspect in all the stuff is great, so wherever you can stream whatever you want, or use the share play to play with a friend if you like, if you want to take them into the next match, just grab the controller and “here, take my next match.” Or um, being able to post it on YouTube or all of that stuff, all that stuff that comes out of the box on consoles we wanted to make sure we support ’cause as we keep growing this game and getting more and more players, I think the teams and crews prove social aspects are going to be what keeps you going for the long-haul. And a lot of those things are just scratching the tip, I don’t know what else is beneath the surface. We discovering — we’ve been looking at a whole bunch of new features and deciding what to do next, that’s a big part of what makes Wargaming itself – not just World of Tanks, don’t get me wrong – is that social sort of infectious streaming and sort of presence that get’s players really excited about it. It’s so cool.

“…all that stuff that comes out of the box on consoles we wanted to make sure we support…”

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I just want to go back to free-to-play as a format, you touched on that briefly. Did you foresee any challenges in bringing free-to-play – something that’s more traditionally a PC format – over to consoles? And did you foresee and difficulties in presenting messages and communicating ideas of free-to-play to console players, who are traditionally more casual gamers?

Yeah. Yeah, so at first, honestly people might not even know what it is. Like, they might think it’s a demo, ’cause it’s like free and they’re like “okay I’ll try this before I buy it” — you don’t have to buy it, you have the game, enjoy it. So, that was a mountain we had to climb. And that became a lot of marketing and presence, even when you get into the game, and just reminding you, “hey, if you never give us a dime that’s fine.” Now, I think especially with the PS4 launch something that has always had a presence is that there’s a certain percentage of people that think of free-to-play with a sense of stigma. They’re like, “yeah, I’m gonna play for five seconds and you’re gonna put a pop up saying ‘give me five dollars to keep playing'” or, you know, something just terrible like that. Or on the other hand, you’re gonna be really into the game and then you’re gonna start getting crushed and start feeling that the only reason these people are beating me is that they’re spending money, and I don’t want to spend money so to hell with this game. I think those are very common, abstract things about free-to-play, so our honour, our dubious honour, was to make a  game that was fun on consoles that also said you downloaded it, just play it, your fine and look, we’re never gonna say, “hey give us money”. Well, if you want to give us money then great, again we have to keep the lights on and pay the rent. But, you don’t have to do that. And also, for the people who are worried that the wallet warriors are just going to crush them, everything has a silver or earnable income used as well that accumulates from direct gameplay. So that’s very important to us that we keep both of those groups kind of sated and not worried as well as keeping the constant players coming in as long as we can.

“…NBA 2K… Call of Duties… Grand Theft Auto, they’re money machines and people love these products… And I think all the other people are really fighting over table scraps.”

And do you foresee free-to-play as something that’s going to stick around and evolve. And if so, how do you see it evolving in the future? 

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So, yeah, I think it is going to keep evolving. Like, it has to. I think the more — I think what’s happening on the more traditional boxed product is that more and more people — no I’m sorry, fewer people are taking larger slices of the same pie. What I mean by that is like the huge blockbusters like NBA 2K and the Call of Duties and all those guys, they’re like — and Grand Theft Auto, they’re money machines and people love these products and are going to buy them. And I think all the other people are really fighting over table scraps. And it’s not because they’re not a good game, it’s just that there are only so many dollars that people can spend on these games. I think the cool part about of free-to-play is that it let’s people try something harmlessly and with no risk other than time. And I think where it is also going to evolve, and what I’m a big proponent of this, are the social aspects that I think we touched on before. Like, if I had a magic genie that I could make one wish focused on free-to-play games is absolutely no hardware variables and complete social integration. So, I don’t care if your on your phone, or you PS4 or your PC, you could text me and go, “hey, let’s go platoon up” and wherever I am, I get that message. And we’re always in this ecosystem and then we’re like “oh, let’s go form and clan and be in this tournament and feel badass” you know what I mean? I mean, that’s the power because you can evolve these games and these people, playing and enjoying your game for a very long time- and I hope that’s what happens – that’s very exciting.

“…the cool part about of free-to-play is that it let’s people try something harmlessly and with no risk other than time.”

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That accessibility is absolutely fantastic. 

Accessibility and friends. Like, those two things go together.

There’s obviously a huge interest in virtual reality and I tend to bring it up whenever I chat with a dev. Is that something you’re interested in at least? Obviously it’s a little hard to jump just straight into, but is that something you potentially see exploring in the future? Do you think it’s something that lends itself to your style of games? 

So, yeah, so to put my lead designer hat on, we’re not pursuing any of that right now. To put just Jeff Gregg’s gamer hat on, I’m really excited about the potential of where this is going to go. I think, if I were to predict the future, the hardest part is going to be finding what experience really fits virtual reality. I think the easiest part is – easiest is probably the wrong word, they’re probably working really hard on this stuff – I think the more natural stuff is whenever you find yourself in in a seat, so if your piloting a fighter jet or if your inside a vehicle that’s very familiar to the player, that’s going to feel great because your not going to have any of the issues, like the kind of dissonance where you get up and walk away and nothing moves. I think that’s kind of the first pass and where it kind of decides to evolve and want to be — I’m even interested in: are we always going to be in a developer’s space? Are we ever going to be able to enter a Star Trek Holodeck? I don’t know, but I think it’s cutting edge in terms of figuring out a new way to experience the media we already enjoy. But I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think the first group of people making hardware and software are right up there, like in the unknown, like just seeing “does it work?” And like, good on them for trying, that’s a hard road. But yeah, for Wargaming right now, and on the console experience, we’re so focused on getting new content and new features on all the systems that we’re not pursuing that right now.

“… I think it’s cutting edge in terms of figuring out a new way to experience the media we already enjoy.”

Sure. That kind of leads into my next question then. What’s next for World of Tanks then, and perhaps more generally Wargaming? Is there anything – again I’m asking what interests you – is there perhaps a different setting or style — is there anything that’s piqued your interest a little bit? 

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We’ve actually been talking about it a lot already considering social stuff. That part, as I touched on, is super important to me. It is in pen and paper kind of thing right now, I’m not going to say now but in time what it’s going to be about, and what is eSports on a console. How do we keep people, how do we make them, or allow them, to have their own plans or grow the social ecosystem? What does that look like? Especially for a console. We’re spending a lot of energy looking into what other people have done, what we’ve done on PC and what does console do. Why do people stay engaged with that stuff? ‘Cause I really feel like that community thing, anywhere we can grow it on, is going to do nothing but benefit every title we ever make and every title we’ve already made. So that’s like the big – I know it’s abstract and undefined – but that’s like the big stuff, that’s the undiscovered territory for us. And on top of that, we’re obviously exploring new modes, and what new tanks can bring you, and new maps, that stuff is very important as well, but like the big scary future thing is the social elements, which is why we’re really focusing on social.

” Because, they’ve taken the time, and we have to live up to their expectations.”

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“…players need to always feel listened to…”

And do you think that’s what sets Wargaming apart in general. I mean we’ve seen a few multiplayer only kind of games sort of have dwindling communities over the past couple of years; do you see that as being the secret behind your success in maintaining a very dedicated community? 

I think it’s a huge part. I think there’s honestly a secret sauce going on because if the game wasn’t fun, we could be as engaged as — like the best engagement ever but it’s not going to — like they’re not going to stay around right? So, I think, players need to always feel listened to – and I don’t want to mistake that for we’re always going to say yes and do what ever people ask for in forums – but if you tell someone who plays our game, and goes to a PC, iPad or whatever, logs into a forum and says, “this bits really got a problem what do you do” that is a person who loves your game and is saying that because they feel that their time could be better spent. That person needs to have somebody say, “okay we’re looking into it” or “thanks for your feedback” at the very least. Because, they’ve taken the time, and we have to live up to their expectations. So, if that’s what sets us apart I would encourage everyone to do that with all our consumers because that’s what keeps the consumers. Honestly sometimes, they might feel like we’ve missed you, ’cause we’re busy developing World of Tanks, but they need to know that they’re heard. And we do all that we can, but I’m not saying we’ve got it one hundred percent. But I’m sure someone will read this or listen to this or however it is and be like, “but I wrote this thing and you never responded” and that’s probably true and I’m sorry, but write it again and keep being a squeaky wheel and we’ll eventually go “okay, we’re looking into it.”


World of Tanks is now available on the PlayStation 4, as well as the PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360. 

 

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