Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2012
I’ve been getting a kick lately out of a game called World of Tanks, so I figured I’d pass along my recommendation. Especially since you can get started playing World of Tanks for the low, low cost of $0.
World of Tanks is an example of one of the biggest trends in the gaming business today: so-called “free-to-play” games. The standard business model for games has always been that the customer pays for the game up front, and then online multiplayer modes are provided either free or for a monthly subscription fee. But in all cases, the customer had to pay something to start playing the game. In the free-to-play model, you can download the game for no charge, and there’s no recurring subscription fee to sign up for.
“So how does the company behind the game make money?” you ask. The answer is that the free game isn’t really the whole game. There’s chunks of game content that the company holds back and sells separately, usually through their Web site or an in-game “item store.” You don’t technically have to buy any of that stuff to progress through the game — they generally make it possible for you to earn it without paying if you play long enough — but if you’re willing to throw down a couple of bucks you can skip ahead and equip your brave paladin with the +8 Vorpal Sword of Disposable Income right now,without having to grind your way through twenty game levels.
Game publishers like free-to-play because it turns out there’s enough impatient people in the world to make the above proposition quite lucrative. For players, though, like most things, the free-to-play model has its pros and cons. The biggest pro is obvious: you can try it out for free to see if you like it. The biggest con is more subtle: designers of free-to-play games have to master a delicate balancing act. To make their game fun, they have to avoid both holding back too much content for paying customers (leading players to see staying competitive in the game as expensive and abandon it) and holding back too little (leading the company to make no money off the game). It’s a hard balance to strike, so there’s lots of really abysmal free-to-play games out there.
I am happy to report that World of Tanks is not one of them. It’s actually a very well-designed, well thought-out game. Which makes it stand out from the free-to-play crowd somewhat.
The basic concept of World of Tanks is simplicity itself. Here it is:
- There is a world.
- In this world, there are tanks.
- The purpose of these tanks is to flip out and kill each other.
That’s it. That’s the complete story of World of Tanks. You have a tank, you get assigned to a team with fourteen other people (each with their own tank), your team is dropped onto a map with another team of fifteen, and the two teams duke it out until only one is left standing.
So World of Tanks isn’t going to win any Original Story awards. But that doesn’t matter, because the designers took all the time they could have spent writing a story and put it into fine-tuning an array of more than 150 World War II tanks from the US, Germany, France, and the USSR. And the fun of the game is exploring how each of them matches up against the others.
See, when you start the game, you don’t have access to all those tanks. You have one tank, and it’s the lowest of the low end — a “Tier I” tank. But you’re only matched up against other players with those weak tanks as well, so you can learn the ropes without having to worry about getting stomped on by a giant Tiger tank. As you play rounds, you earn experience points, which can be used to unlock upgrades for your weak tank — a faster engine, say, or a bigger cannon. And eventually you earn enough to unlock a tank from the next class up, Tier II. Then after a few rounds with your Tier II (against other players in that tier — no beating up on the newbies! — with maybe a few IIIs and IVs thrown in, to keep things interesting) you earn enough points to upgrade it, and then you unlock a Tier III… and so on.
This keeps you coming back, because no matter how fearsome your current tank is, you’re always being pitted against other players whose tanks are just as fearsome, if not a little more so. So you take out your new shiny new Tier III Russian BT-7 tank, for instance, feeling pretty badass now that you’re not in Tier II anymore, and suddenly you get smoked by someone driving a Tier IV American M3 Lee. Dammit, you think, if I’d just had a little more horsepower I could have scooted away from him! And then you notice that you’ve earned enough experience for a new engine. Bam! Look out, buddy.
Another wrinkle the game throws at you is that once you start leveling up, you can branch out into several different types of tanks. Light tanks are fast and nimble, but have small cannons and weak armor. Heavy tanks are monsters with huge guns and thick armor, but they’re slow and ponderous to maneuver. Medium tanks are balanced workhorses, but can be outrun by lights and outfought by heavies. Tank destroyers have big guns like heavy tanks, but light armor; they’re superb for ambush attacks, but can’t survive a head-to-head fight. And self-propelled guns are mobile artillery; they can shoot across practically the entire map, but if an enemy finds you at close range, you’re done for. The range of tank options available gives you a chance to specialize; you can find tank types that fit how you like to play, and then concentrate your leveling-up on tanks in those categories.
And on top of all that, the game gets a lot of implementation details really right. The controls for driving and shooting are simple and intuitive. The tanks move convincingly; the really heavy ones lurch forward and back like drunken pedestrians. When your loader puts a round in the tank’s gun, you hear a satisfying thunk. Hits from big guns look and sound different than hits from smaller ones. And so forth. Oh, and each battle plays out in 5-10 minutes, so it’s perfect for a quick break.
Anyway, it’s a really good game. And the best part is that until you get to Tier III or so, you truly can play for free and you’ll never feel like you’re missing anything. Once you get to the higher levels, you may want to throw down some change for a custom tank, or bonus experience points from your battles so you can level up faster; but even then it never feels like they’re forcing you to pay — the game never bogs down into a long, slow grind like so many free-to-play games do. I’ve never liked a free-to-play game enough to be convinced it was worth paying for its content, but World of Tanks sold me; I plunked down $15 for a bunch of enhancements. Considering the entertainment I’ve gotten out of the game, $15 feels like a bargain.
So yeah, World of Tanks is awesome, and you should totally be playing it. The download is here. Go get it.
And if you do join up, let me know what your username is so I can remind myself to feel bad when you blow me up.
This entry (and everything else on this blog) was written by Jason A. Lefkowitz. Did you like it? Subscribe to this blog's feed to get new stuff the moment it's posted. Want to read more like this? Hit the archives for more than ten years' worth of essays, or jump right to The Best of Just Well Mixed. Angry and wanting to know who to punch? Here's more information about me, including how to get in touch by email and various social networks.