Ask most free-to-play developers how they monetize, and they’re quick to point to the two C’s: customizables and cosmetics. But Wargaming.net, creator of the wildly popular World of Tanks and its spin-off games, has stuck to its guns … specifically, the so-called “pay-to-win” guns (or other buffs) players could simply buy to help them dominate matches and rank up faster than their opponents.
Speaking with Gamasutra, vice president of publishing Andrei Yarantsau announced that Wargaming won’t offer in-game advantages for money any more. He refers to the new strategy as “free to win.”
“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,” says Yarantsau. “We don’t want to nickel and dime our players. We want to deliver experiences and services based on fair treatment of our players whether they spend money in-game or not.”
It still represents a fairly radical change to World of Tanks’ business model to day. Essentially, Wargaming plans to take some of its most reliable products off the shelves or give them away for free. Yarantsau remains confident that it’s a step in the right direction.
“The free-to-win concept is sure to enhance customer loyalty and attract new players to the game,” he says. “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,” Yarantsau adds. “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.”
Though accepted in many Asian markets, most Western players believe pay-to-win options can severely unbalance multiplayer games. Contests are decided not by skill or luck, but by the size of one’s wallet. The more you pay, the bigger your in-game advantages.
“It results in huge payments from a small number of users — the so-called ‘whales,'” says Yarantsau. “Top-payers end up never losing, while those who don’t pay grow dissatisfied. Many leave entirely and the overall player base shrinks. We don’t want World of Tanks to feel like it’s an experience that only a select few can afford.”
The move also puts World of Tanks in a better position to take advantage of another exploding market: eSports.
“eSports is an integral part of our overall market strategy,” says Yarantsau. “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. We’re eager to see this catch on with our players.”
Wargaming’s “free-to-win” system will roll out in flagship game World of Tanks before filtering down into World of Planes and World of Warships.