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World of Tanks = Waste of Time

March 28th, 2014
by garrett

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For the first time, I’m rage-wiping a game. I’ve cleared ‘World of Tanks’ (WoT) off my console because not only has it that become that un-fun – Wargaming.net (the game’s devs) made clear and deliberate choices in designing the play experience to be as frustrating as possible, with no recourse, in order to sell in-game advantages.

WoT for the Xbox 360 is billed as “free-to-play”, but is really “pay-to-win”. It’s not obvious at first, as the devs do a good job of layering obfuscations on the fundamental gameplay mechanics so without serious thought a player can never really be sure losing is a a result of a lack of skill (that can be remedied by improvement), bad luck (“Maybe it’ll work next time?”), or the fact that they never had a chance. Essentially, a flawed design is left as is to entice players to spend more money for the ‘fixes’ to the design. The flaws boil down to four related components:

  1. Uneven Tank Tiers
  2. Stacked Matchmaking
  3. Excessive Randomness
  4. Required Progression

Uneven Tank Tiers

A tank’s ‘tier’ is clearly to be an abstract measure of a tank’s overall effectiveness. Tanks of the same class and tier are supposed to be equally effective, but they are clearly not. For example a certain tier 5 tank may start out with tier 4, or yes – even tier 3, equipment that severely penalizes the player until they ‘grind’ enough resources to get the upgrades so the their tier 5 tank is effectively a tier 5 tank. The pay-to-win fix the devs have implemented for this issue? Premium Tanks – buy a fully upgraded tier-appropriate tank for $10-$50, depending on the tier.

Stacked Matchmaking

As designed, tanks of a higher tier are very difficult to beat – if not impossible – for a tank of a lower tier. Lower tier guns simply can not penetrate higher tier armor. Anyone whose played knows the feeling of flanking an enemy, with their thinner rear armor in the crosshairs, only to realize that after the first hit, there’s exactly zero chance of penetrating the armor to do damage. All the time, effort, and damage that has been taken to get in this position is wasted as the other player rotates their turret and gets a one shot kill through frontal armor. Also, higher tier tanks can detect lesser tiers before they themselves are detected. I’ve lost track of the number of times the I’ve been killed without being Detected or firing a shot by an invisible tank half a map away.

If the matchmaking games didn’t mix tiers, this wouldn’t be that much of a problem – but they do. The implicit rule the devs have decided on is that any tank can compete with any tanks in the next three higher tiers. The devs claim it’s only +/- two tiers, but I have personally entered a random battle, solo, with a tier 4 tank and I was placed in a tier 7 battle. They defend this choice by maintaining it is the only way to keep matchmaking going. Adjusting it is something they are “looking into”, but with several months of active beta testing before the launch and nearly a month post-launch – it is clear they don’t see the need for balanced play.

There is no direct pay-to-win fix for this, because this is working exactly as the patent pending (I kid-you-not) matchmaking is supposed to. Their matchmaking’s goal is not to match a player with equally (or slightly better) skilled opponents – but to target your W/L ratio for a particular tank to be as close to 0.5 (50%) as possible. And the only metric it uses is the tank tiering (broken, see above) system. The result is that tanks are placed into matches there is no chance to win – simply to ‘challenge’ you and get your W/L into the target range. In fact, a recent patch pushed fully outfitted tier 10 tanks into the same selection pool as starting tier 8 tanks.

Excessive Randomness

There is a lot of random determination in how effective a player can be in WoT. It’s totally separate from a player’s skill, and there is no way for skill to compensate or even mitigate the effects. At the start of a tank battle, the player spawns are random around the multiple spawn points and there is a very real chance of spawning away from any support at all. Mobile artillery pieces up against a medium tank platoon? Been there. Light and medium tanks forced to engage the entire opposition’s set of heavy tanks, with no maneuvering room? Done that. Stuck in a valley with a slow tank? Got the t-shirt. Recovering from a bad placement generally isn’t possible, either by map geography, tank limitations, or because the enemy has rushed across and engages.

Getting to a survivable battle is also random. Detection is randomized and all maps have defined ‘funnels’ that tanks must move through to engage the enemy. It rapidly becomes “Let’s Make a Deal” – choose door/route 1, 2, or 3! Which will it be? Choose wrong and be thrown up against the opposing main force where staring at a burning tank for the next 10 minutes, or visiting the garage to try another tank in a different random arena are the only two outcomes.

Even during a tank-on-tank conflict, randomness is fighting you at every turn. If your gun reticle is dead on, where the shot lands in that reticle is random and even accounting for the angle of incident and armor thickness of the exact random hit location, damage is still randomized as a function of the maximum damage of the gun/ammo combination. One hit can do full damage, and the next hit at the exact same spot can do 1/2 or 1/4 that.

And of course, the fellow game player’s behavior is the biggest random factor. I’ve seen fully 1/3 of a team hole-up in a single sniper position in the ‘Encounter’ game-type (a King of the Hill / one-zone Domination variant) that requires either the elimination of the opponents or the capture the flag. Since this position can’t be used to shoot enemies that are capturing the flag (due to indestructible buildings blocking the shot), that unfortunate team started with only 2/3 the number of effective tanks. They lost.

The devs can’t fix stupid (I would pay for that!), but the pay-to-win fix they have implemented for this issue is Premium Ammunition and Supplies that can only be bought with cash. Premium Ammo and Supplies are markedly better than their non-premium counter-parts, to the point of allowing you to damage tanks normally immune to non-Premium ammunition of a tank’s tier or completely heal all damage to all of a tank’s critical systems.

Required Progression

Advancement / Progression in WoT is measured in tank ‘tiers’ along pre-defined upgrade paths (there are 10 tiers and they boil down to five or four classes of tanks for three different factions). Progress down those paths is done by spending XP (Stars) and Silver (in-game currency). XP and Silver is earned for for capturing a neutral or enemy base, critical hits, and even destroying a tank – but the vast majority comes from damaging the enemy. While trading cash for Silver is explicit, XP is not directly purchasable yet – but by buying all the other Premium items and the upgrade to a Premium account, the XP earned will be boosted by at least 50%. And that little nugget is where all the other problems really come together.

Synthetic Benefits

Ultimately this game is about having a better tank than your opponent as no amount of skill or tactics will let a player win a contest against a non-idiot player in a tank effectively immune to damage. To get a better tank, one must either purchase one or grind to earn one. And it is that grind plus matchmaking (rigged, above) where it becomes intollerable:

Non-Paid : Less effective tank → less damage done → less XP/Silver earned → more grinding required

Paid: More effective/Premium tank → more damage done + Premium items → more XP/Silver earned + Premium bonus → less grinding required

End result? Every time the matchmaking places a player in a game with higher tier tanks they have no chance of beating means the lower tier tank is being farmed for XP/Silver by the one who went with the Paid route.

Wrapping Up

I don’t mind a challenge, but I can’t stand being farmed.

While researching what others are saying about WoT, I read a standard PR piece from Gamespot about the launch of the game:

[…] Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi told GameSpot during a launch event last night in San Francisco that the studio is expecting the numbers to be “pretty much the same” at around 75 percent of people choosing not to pay.

Of course, Kislyi would like to see that percentage rise, but he’s not willing to alter the World of Tanks experience in such a way that players are punished for not spending money. Players are too smart to fall for this kind of deception, he said.

Gamespot

So instead of outright giving paid players a clear and well-defined advantage, the devs do quietly punish the non-paying players by requiring excessive grinding. Which benefits those that have paid as they are able to farm even more lower tier/non-premium tanks for even more XP/Silver. This is just a reframing the concept of “pay-to-win” as “free-to-not-win”.

The challenge for Wargaming, then, is to design World of Tanks in such a way that players who don’t pay can still enjoy the experience, Kislyi said.

Gamespot

Sadly, the devs did not meet the challenge. They left serious flaws in the experience and left the non-paid players as farmable targets to bolster frustration, thus revenues.

WoT is pay-to-win, and I don’t see the devs changing that anytime soon. I would not recommend this game to anyone. I’ve spent several hours writing and editing this post – I’ve determined that it will be the last of my precious time I will ever spend on this game.

Disclaimer: I’ve played over 950 battles with a total W/L ratio of close to 50%. Maxed out at least 10 tanks of tiers 1-6, and researched a tier 7. Earned 400 out of 400 Gamerscore. ( Unfortunately WoT doesn’t list time played.)

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