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Wargaming kicks 'pay-to-win' monetization to the curb Exclusive
Wargaming kicks 'pay-to-win' monetization to the curb
June 3, 2013 | By Kris Graft




One of the most successful free-to-play online game companies on the planet has announced a sweeping change in the way it monetizes all of its games.

World of Tanks developer Wargaming.net told Gamasutra in an exclusive Q&A that it would be removing all "pay-to-win" purchase options from all of its current and upcoming titles.

The initiative has already begun in the company's flagship online game World of Tanks, and will continue with upcoming titles such as World of Warplanes and World of Warships.

Here's basically how the new strategy boils down:

  • The company is calling the strategy "free-to-win," and first started testing it in 2012.

  • The core basis of "free-to-win" is to remove all payable options that could be viewed as giving a player an advantage in battle.

  • Revenue will come from sales of non-advantageous content, such as premium vehicles, personalization options and the like.

  • Free-to-win will be applied to all current and future Wargaming titles.

  • The move is in part meant to make Wargaming a bigger player in the burgeoning eSports arena.

Andrei Yarantsau, VP of publishing at the rapidly-growing Minsk-based company, took some time to answer a few questions about the move via email:

How long have you been working on this initiative, and what prompted Wargaming to do it?

We've been working on for the idea of "free-to-win" for quite some time now. The conception stage began in 2011, after we took the time to tackle some internal challenges spurred on by the company's rapid growth.

Elements of what would later become free-to-win were first tested in 2012. We made in-game purchases that were previously only available to paying players open to all players. Things like gold rounds, premium consumables, camouflage patterns, emblems, platoon creation and other features were switched over to be purchasable with in-game credits. Our analytics team carefully monitored how players reacted to these changes, whether they were newcomers, veterans or clan members.

The player community is very sensitive to changes, especially when they concern a monetization system. That's why we fully focus test any changes we plan to make and introduce only those new features that receive positive feedback.

Why are you cutting all pay to win options?

Wargaming is a company delivering free-to-play online games, and we strongly believe that you can't provide a truly triple-A free-to-play experience without absolutely making sure all combat options are free of charge to all players. We don't want to nickel and dime our players -- we want to deliver gaming experiences and services that are based on the fair treatment of our players, whether they spend money in-game or not.

The amount of time and effort payers and non-payers spend to succeed in-game may differ, but at the very least the list of accessible options at their disposal remain identical.

Free-to-play games have the challenge of being sometimes viewed as low quality, and we want World of Tanks to serve as proof that a quality and balanced free-to-play game is possible. However, breaking down deeply-rooted stereotypes is no easy task.

This isn't just about the game economics of World of Tanks, either. We aim to completely overhaul the free-to-play concept that exists as a whole in the gaming community by getting rid of the idea of "pay-to-win," ultimately helping lead what we consider the roll-out of "version 2.0" of free-to-play gaming.

How exactly do you define a "pay to win" item or option, and can you give a few examples of items that won't make the cut?

Well, the first example that comes to mind is the legendary "Sword of a Thousand Truths" from the television show South Park. Seriously, though, many online shooter games sell weapons with slightly bigger magazines, a slightly greater chance of critical hits or slightly more damage for real world money. Also, cash shops in fantasy MMO games often offer items that increase item drop rates, scale hit rates or grant extra player protection.

How do you expect this will affect your revenue?

The free-to-win concept is sure to enhance customer loyalty and attract new players to the game. As for the company's economic efficiency, we expect no decline in profits.

If anything, the introduction of our free-to-win features will likely cause a decrease in the purchase of premium ammunition. At the same time, however, players will use gold to buy credits, pay for premium account status, or purchase premium vehicles. In the end we project that it will all balance out.

In Asia, last I heard, they're ok with pay to win items, and like to spend a lot of money on them. Have you considered that you may lose business in that region?

Asia remains an important market for in-game purchases, and the major gaming companies in that region are still trying to fully understand our business model. In World of Tanks, paying is no guarantee of success. And obviously, this is discordant with what that region is used to.

Our players in China, for example, are very rational when it comes to in-game choices. Instead of sticking to the Chinese tech tree, they choose machines that offer the most amount of fun and profit. The Chinese government is focused on the prosperity and comfort of its people, which resonates well with what the free-to-win model offers. This idea and the fact that World of Tanks clones have already appeared in the Chinese gaming market assure us that our project will continue to be a success there.

What opportunities do you see in eSports, as a business? Why focus on this now?

Wargaming's support of eSports is an integral part of our overall market strategy. Most importantly it involves building a global network of games and services. The launch of the Wargaming.net League has given players great tools to step up and go pro, while those who wish to remain spectators can stay up to date with all of our tournaments through online streams.

Our new World of Tanks features, including recent changes in our business model, are aimed at further growing our games in this direction. Professional sport -- and gaming is no exception -- is about fair competition. The introduction of our new free-to-win system will really help facilitate the development of World of Tanks as a true eSports discipline.

The Wargaming game design team has been focusing heavily on competitive elements for our games, so we're eager to see this all catches on with our players.

What's wrong with pay to win, or for that matter, what's wrong with a lot of the F2P monetization schemes you see today?

The classic free-to-play model, particularly in regards to pay-to-win elements, follows one simple tenet -- the more you pay, the greater your advantage over other players. It results in huge payments from a small number of users (the so-called "whales") and increases a game's average ARPU [average revenue per user] and ARPPU [average revenue per paying user] numbers. Top-payers end up never losing, while those who pay less or don't pay grow dissatisfied with the game. Eventually, many leave entirely and the overall player base shrinks.

The World of Tanks monetization system is built the other way round. Deep gameplay and great replay value provide comfortable and fair conditions for everyone. The game has no overpowered weaponry and microtransactions don't give users any sort of advantage in combat. Premium items are priced so that players rarely end up having to spend a lot. We don't want World of Tanks players to feel like it's an experience that only a select few can afford. Quite contrary, we want the game to embody accessibility and fairness to all players, paying or not.


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