Monday, June 20, 2011

World of Tanks and the Free-to-Play Switcheroo

Oh World of Tanks, you sneaky thing.  You lured me in with the promise of free play and quick, fun, multiplayer matches.  "Psst," you said.  "Come over here and try this thing.  Look, it's shiny, and has tanks!"  I was hesitant at first.  "Just say no!" I thought.  "It's a free to play, how good could it be?"  So I resisted, and played other, non-free games instead.

You were persistent though.  "Look at us," you said, "we're setting concurrent user records (in Russia, but people are people)."  Still I was hesitant . . . but I loved World War II stuff as a kid.  I made model airplanes, I had green plastic soldiers.  I staged massive battles between the Axis and Allied forces to determine the fate of my bedroom.  Eventually I bowed to the inevitable, and took my first taste.

And it was good.  I can still remember the visceral terror of my very first match, lines of MS-1s, Cunninghams, and Leichttraktors (not that I knew what they were at the time) waiting for the timer to count down, engines rumbling all around, exhaust spewing from all the tanks, with an idyllic pasture spread out before us.  Was that a farm?  What was I supposed to do?  Where was I going?  How did my gun work?  After the countdown finished I saw a stream of tanks head up a road to the left and followed them, and got blown up along with all of them as we ran into the guns of the enemy hiding on the far side of the field.  I learned my first lesson of WoT that day - don't follow stupid people.

That was all it took, I was hooked.  I played, and played, and played some more.  My subscription MMO got neglected as I spent time each evening blowing up enemy tanks and getting blown up in return.  I started learning the maps, and recognizing which tanks I could fight and which I needed to avoid.  I moved up the tiers, getting out of the silly tier 1 light "tanks" and into the beefier medium, then heavy tanks.  I was enjoying the game and so bought a little "gold" (the game's real-money currency) to show my support for the title.  I trained up some crews and bought some premium access.  The bonus xp and credits per battle were nice, but hardly necessary.  My premium time eventually ran out, but I continued to have fun, and progress.

Then something changed.  I got into the middle tiers, five and six.  Suddenly I was consistently being matched against tanks up to 3 tiers higher than me (tier 9s in my tier 6, tier 8s in my tier 5s).  Most of the time I was at the bottom of the roster, on occasion I was in the middle.  I almost never appeared near the top any more.  When you're in an M6 (tier 6 heavy tank) and at the very bottom of the roster there's really not much you can do.  You're too slow to scout, your gun is too weak to damage anything, and most opponents can take you out with a couple of shots.  My xp gain slowed to a crawl, and I actually started to LOSE credits on matches where I got destroyed (which was a majority of them) since you don't earn much money if you don't contribute to the match, and you can't contribute when you're slow, fragile, and undergunned.

WoT began to cackle madly.  "How'd you like that free taste, boyo?  Pretty sweet huh?  But you're invested now.  You liked the way the game used to feel, didn't you?  Well, if you want to feel that again, it's time to pay up."  Melodrama aside, that's really how it's started to feel over the past few weeks.  The message when you reach the middle tiers seems to be "pay up or go back to the minor leagues."

Now, I'm not saying there's anything really wrong with that.  The game has to make money after all.  I want it to make money so they'll make it better and I can keep playing it.  At the same time though, I wish they could have been a little more . . . subtle . . . about it.  When equipment upgrades cost around 100k credits and you're only bringing in a couple thousand after repairs (or none, or negative, depending on how unlucky you are)  it's hard to see how that represents reasonable progression without paying for the 50% bonus.

Hi, I'm here to make money and xp for you!
I think the new Tier 8 premium tanks are a big part of the problem.  They truly represent pay-to-win, and they're everywhere.  Match balance is off because there are so many wretched Lowes and KV-5s running around.  After getting blown to bits by a Lowe for the umpteenth time, I finally decided to screw it, and bought a KV-5 and some premium access.

Holy cow.  Pay-to-win doesn't even begin to cover it.  My first match out I was near the top of the roster.  I only got two kills, but I got kills.  Then the results rolled in, and I made over 4,000 xp and 56,000 credits from a single match.  The KV-5 can't use the xp, but you can convert it to free xp (for a price in gold) and level up your normal tanks.  The KV-5s offense isn't very good, but I was getting the "Iron Wall" achievement in almost every match.  I converted the xp made on the KV-5 and researched gun upgrades on my poor M6. I used the cash earned on the KV-5 to pay for upgrades on the M6.  Now that my M6 has a 90mm gun it can actually hurt higher tier tanks and at least be a nuisance rather than just a free kill.  The KV-5 pushed the M6 over the hump, and now it's actually fun again.

So all I had to do to make my free-to-play fun again, was pay.  Good job on the old switcheroo, WoT.  Well played.  Honestly though, this really feels like one of those situations where "free" players are actually being penalized and paying counteracts the penalty.  I now wish WoT was just a normal subscription game without all the premium tanks, premium ammunition, premium crews, and premium access.

1 comment:

  1. I came across this post while googling some other WoT info, and holy cow, you are right on the money on this. Right now I am exactly where you were when you wrote this post. Game is fun as hell, and I was thinking, hey, an honest to goodness free game thats fun to play! HA! Just as you described, as soon as you cross that mid-tier threshold, the fun suddenly evaporates. I remember thinking, wow, I must have gotten really bad at this game. Until I ponied up for a premium tank...then the skies of heaven opened up on my statistically average RAM-II, and started kicking ass again. The first 3 or 4 matches with that RAM I was the angel of death, and when that night of destruction was over, the lightbulb went off over my head....YOU BASTARDS! *reaches for wallet...again* The difference is staggering, and have to give it to them for tying the FUN to the end of a string, and their deft ability to dangle it juuuust out of reach until you throw some cash their way. Great write up, and 100% accurate.