Taugrim’s “The Art of Warfare” Tank Reviews and Guides for Armored Warfare

Following in the footsteps of my “Road to Unicum” series for World of Tanks (WoT), I’ve started a new video series called “The Art of Warfare” for the tank shooter Armored Warfare (AW).

In these “The Art of Warfare” videos, I discuss the mechanics of various tanks, how I’m reading each battle as it unfolds, and key decisions and mistakes. My hope is that these videos meaningfully help players improve their gameplay.

See the FAQs for more context about these videos and my perspective on AW.

Given that AW is a new game, and I’m new to the game myself (only played ~5 battles in Closed Beta and am learning in Open Beta), please share your tips and experience in the comments below. Hopefully we can learn from each other :)


  1. Swingfire Review / Guide, How to Use ATGM Gameplay
  2. Sheridan Review / Guide, 3.7k Damage Gameplay
  3. Starship Review / Guide, 4.9k Damage Gameplay
  4. Begleitpanzer Review / Guide, 5.3k Damage Gameplay
  5. ERC-90 F4 Review / Guide, Epic 6.3k Damage Gameplay
  6. M60A3 Review / Guide, 5.1k Damage Gameplay

Episode #1: Swingfire Review / Guide, How to Use ATGM Gameplay

We review the Swingfire, a tier 4 AFV, with gameplay of a tier 4 Reactor battle.

We also take an in-depth look at the mechanics of ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) and tips for landing your missiles consistently, including firing on targets before they enter your line-of-sight and switching targets mid-flight.

Stat line: Ace Tanker, Recon, 2.3k damage, 1.6k spot damage, 6 kills, 9 spots

Strengths and Weaknesses

+ superb camouflage (0.42)
+ excellent vision
+ high HEAT penetration (428)
+ 2 missiles per salvo (“clip”) provide compact burst damage
– low top speed and sluggish acceleration limit active scouting capability
– ATGM requires line-of-sight to the target, which means the Swingfire is exposed to counter-fire
– can struggle in close-quarters combat, compared to other AFVs which can fire-on-the-move, peekaboo, and flank

Episode #2: Sheridan Review / Guide, 3.7k Damage Gameplay

We review the M551 Sheridan, a tier 4 LT, with gameplay of a tier 5 Pipelines battle.

The Sheridan is an oft-derided light tank due to obvious weaknesses – it’s squishy, has very poor gun handling, and reloads ammo slowly – but it is fairly mobile and packs a hard-hitting HEAT round.

Stat line: 3.7k damage, 4 kills

Strengths and Weaknesses

+ superb alpha damage (472)
+ excellent HEAT penetration (316)
+ excellent gun depression (-8)
+ good mobility
+ has the option to fire ATGM, which can wreck exposed targets at a safe distance
– very poor gun handling in terms of aim time (4.6s base) and accuracy (0.27)
– long reload time (14s base)
– no AP round; hitting and penetrating targets with HEAT is less consistent compared to AP
– large profile
– weak armor
– underwhelming top speed for an LT

Episode #3: Starship Review / Guide, 4.9k Damage Gameplay

We review the M60A2 Starship, a tier 4 MBT, with gameplay of tier 6 Roughneck and tier 4 River Point battles.

Like the Sheridan, the Starship has a poor reputation among players and is often referred to as the “Starsh*t”, but in my opinion the tank is widely misused based on its mechanics. The Starship has good gun handling and a hard-hitting HEAT round; therefore, the Starship is best employed as a peekaboo brawler. A common mistake is to rely primarily on ATGM, which has about the same alpha (478) as the HEAT round but the reload is more than 4 sec longer, and more importantly targeting with ATGM requires the prolonged exposure, which is a no-no given the large cupola weak spot.

Stat line (Tier 4 River Point): 4.9k damage, 1.5k spotted, 5 kills, 2318 base xp

Stat line (Tier 6 Roughneck): 3.1k damage, 2 kills

Strengths and Weaknesses

+ superb gun depression (-10)
+ superb alpha damage (474)
+ excellent HEAT penetration (316)
+ good aim time (3.3 sec)
+ good accuracy (0.15)
+ good turret traverse for an MBT (34 degrees / sec)
+ has 1 smoke round for emergencies
– like most low-tier MBTs, the lower front glacis is weak
– the cupola on top of the turret is a prominent weak spot, so you have to play not only hull-down but turret-down whenever possible
– no AP round; hitting and penetrating targets with HEAT is less consistent compared to AP
– large profile

Commander, Crew, and Retrofits

A. Commander: Juan Carlos or Freja, with the aim time and reload time bonuses. They are unlocked by playing tier 4 arty. In the Roughneck battle I used Philip, as he is the default MBT Commander, but his bonuses are awful. In the River Point battle I used Sabrina because I had not unlocked an arty Commander. Sabrina has the 10% aim speed bonus but not the reload time bonus
B. Crew: Smooth Ride, Quick Draw, Rapid Fire
C. Retrofits: Experimental Propellant, Internal Hull Reinforcement, Magnetic Actuator

Episode #4: Begleitpanzer Review / Guide, 5.3k Damage Gameplay

We review the Begleitpanzer 57, a tier 5 LT, with gameplay of tier 6 Cold Strike and tier 5 Roughneck battles.

The Begleitpanzer can deliver heavy burst with its ATGMs and autocannon. The missile launcher and autocannon are separate weapons, you can fire one weapon, then swap to and use the other weapon while the first weapon is reloading.

Stat line (Tier 6 Cold Strike ): 3k damage, 5 kills

Stat line (Tier 5 Roughneck): 5.3k damage, 6 kills

Strengths and Weaknesses

+ superb damage per autocannon clip (1672)
+ hard-hitting ATGM (597)
+ excellent frontal gun depression (-8)
+ good AP penetration for an autoloader (141)
+ good mobility
+ autocannon and missile launcher are separate weapons, which allows for fast weapon swaps to keep pumping out damage
– paper armor
– very poor gun depression on the sides and rear (-3)
– sluggish turret traverse for a LT (22 degrees / sec), so if you are flanking an opponent you need to start turning your turret before you flank them

Commander, Crew, and Retrofits

A. Commander: Sabrina
B. Crew: Spin to Win, Shoot From The Hip
C. Retrofits: Internal Hull Reinforcement, Experimental Propellant, Enhanced Drivetrain

I don’t find it worthwhile to buff aim time or reload time given how autocannons work and the fact that you can swap weapons.

Episode #5: ERC-90 F4 Review / Guide, Epic 6.3k Damage Gameplay

We review the ERC-90 F4, a tier 5 TD, with gameplay of an epic carry in a tier 5 Roughneck match.

Stat line: 6.3k damage, 6 kills

Strengths and Weaknesses

+ superb cannon depression (-12)
+ superb vision (518+m with Sabrina, Augmented Optics)
+ superb reload time (4.9 sec base)
+ excellent top-end speed
+ excellent camouflage (0.28)
+ APS for automatic protection against ATGM (45 sec cooldown)
+ good acceleration
+ small profile
– low damage (310 for AP, 387 for HEAT)
– low penetration (219 for AP, 200 for HEAT)
– sluggish when turning
– paper armor

Commander, Crew, and Retrofits

A. Commander: Sabrina
B. Crew: Smooth Ride, Quick Draw
C. Retrofits: Augmented Optics, Internal Hull Reinforcement, Experimental Propellant


1. at 0:27, I said the camo is 0.25, but it’s 0.28
2. at 12:53, I said the M60A3 has ERC, but I meant ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor), the countermeasure against shape-charged ammo such as HEAT

Episode #6: M60A3 Review / Guide, 5.1k Damage Gameplay

We review the M60A3, a tier 5 MBT, with gameplay of a tier 6 River Point match.

Stat line: 5.1k damage, 6 kills, 1.5k spotted

Strengths and Weaknesses

+ superb cannon depression (-10)
+ superb accuracy (0.12 base)
+ excellent reload time (7.9 sec base)
+ good targeting time (2.9 sec base)
+ good turret and upper front plate protection
+ solid mobility
– low damage (331 for AP, 405 for HEAT) relative to its peers
– cupola is a prominent weak spot
– lower front plate is large and penetrable
– large profile

Commander, Crew, and Retrofits

A. Commander: Juan Carlos or Freja
B. Crew: Smooth Ride, Quick Draw, Rapid Fire
C. Retrofits: Experimental Propellant or Magnetic Actuator, Internal Hull Reinforcement

Frequently Asked Questions

What is your opinion on AW so far?

It’s a very well-designed game and legit contender in the tank shooter space.

Below is my take on the pros and cons of AW, with comparisons drawn to WoT, which is the established leader in the industry.


  1. Matchmaking (MM) creates a positive experience. MM is designed to create battles that have tanks of the same tier or only separated by 1 tier whenever possible. You will see some battles that have a 2-tier spread (e.g. tier 4s facing tier 6s) when there are a low number of queued players, but those are not the norm
  2. The ammo types have real tradeoffs. Each tank from tier 2+ has multiple ammo types to loadout and each ammo type has pros and cons. There is no superior “gold” ammo in AW that creates tank balance issues
  3. Stock tanks are functional. Keep in mind that a fully upgraded tank performs significantly better than a stock tank, but stock tanks are supposed to get easier MM
  4. While there is pressure to subscribe to reduce the grind starting at tier 4, there aren’t annoying things you have to pay for, such as garage slots and trained crews
  5. AW’s maps provide rich complexity and options for flanking. There aren’t “ideal” sniping spots or map locations that provide an inordinate amount of control, such as the hill in Mines or Tundra in WoT. The only map in AW that I strongly dislike is Reactor, but the rest of the maps are well designed
  6. Given that these are “modern” tanks, the tanks feel polished starting at tier 3: the gun handling is good, tanks are reasonably mobile, etc. It’s possible that tiers 4-5 will continue to be very popular due to the ease of getting there, the population of players at those tiers, and the fact that they’re enjoyable to play


  1. Damage-to-HP ratio is too high. Many tanks can kill their mirrors in 3-4 shots
  2. Snapshotting doesn’t work reliably, however tanks are accurate fully aimed-in. This creates a context where trading damage happens a lot
  3. Outcomes are too predictable because of the previous 2 points. Once a team is up by 3+ tanks, they win the vast majority of the time. Carries are rare, and I think that’s a bad thing
  4. Balance across classes at tier 7+ needs refinement. MBTs scale too well in the upper tiers. Balance across classes is very good up through tier 6
  5. The game requires further tuning, in particular with respect to the netcode and client / server synchronization. There are delays at times when reloading and when firing. It’s not game-breaking to me, but the game will feel more responsive after these issues are addressed

Other Observations

  1. The grind curve steepens noticeably once you hit tier 4+. Some players feel AW is not grindy, but I think it’s more that stock tanks are not as weak as in WoT, so you don’t have to grind with non-functional tanks. Realistically, grinding without a premium account at tier 4+ sounds tedious, so I’m subbing
  2. The presence of arty still sucks. The warning indicator helps but my question is why have arty in the first place? Certain tanks, in particular less-agile MBTs, are vulnerable to arty when crossing open ground even with the warning indicator. Part of the issue is that the warning indicator tells you that arty fire is incoming, but it doesn’t tell you whether arty is firing at your current location, behind you, ahead of you (i.e. a leading shot), etc, so it’s not clear how you avoid the incoming fire. It seems that the number of arty per side is capped at 2, so at least you don’t get placed in situations where you have 3-4 arties per side and the battle becomes a campfest
  3. You have the option to grind a given tank in PVE, especially for those tanks where there are key upgrades (e.g. countermeasures against Shaped Charge ammo such as ERA and APS) that dramatically boost the tank’s PVP performance. I do PVP with tanks that are not fully upgraded because PVE is nowhere near as interesting to me, but it’s nice to have the option. Many stats-conscious players are fully upgrading their tanks in PVE before doing PVP. I’ve been pretty surprised at the number of players from Unicum clans in WoT who are spending the majority of their time in PVE. Some tanks such as the Chieftain are weak stock so upgrading in PVE is recommended
  4. MM was thoughtfully designed to factor in player skill, games played in a tank, and the equipped modules on a tank. That said, I can’t tell whether MM factors beyond tier are actually working. E.g. I’ve been bottom tier in battles in stock tanks, and I don’t know whether I was simply unfortunate or my stockiness wasn’t factored in

Which do you prefer: AW or WoT?

Both games scratch the same itch in terms of PVP in a tank shooter environment and they have grinds to progress to high-tier tanks, so they are competing for my play time. I consider them both excellent games, and based on the pros and cons listed above, neither game is clearly better than the other.

That said, by my 400th battle in AW, my preference had shifted to slightly favor AW over WoT. The main reason is that with AW, all I feel the need to pay for is a subscription. With WoT, I need to pay for gold beyond a subscription to do things such as buy or retrain crews, do select Free XP conversion so that I can play partially-upgraded tanks instead of stock tanks, etc. When WoT was the only game in town – and I don’t consider War Thunder to be a legit competitor – the monetization model seemed fine. With AW now in Open Beta, which is technically live given that Obsidian is accepting payment transactions, WoT’s monetization model seems dated and AW’s model provides better bang-for-your-buck.

I’m now at over 1000 battles in AW and continue to enjoy the game.

How do bonuses from crew and retrofits reduce reload time and aim time?

The short answer is look at the Details panel to see the effect of your bonuses. The ammo tooltip provides the reload time and aim time without bonuses.

I reverse-engineered the calculations using different tanks with different setups, so let me explain the factors and math.

The following factors affect reload time and aim time:

  • Commander skills
  • Selected crew skills
  • Passive crew skills (increase based on experience level)
  • Retrofits
  • Upgrades

Reload time and aim time are calculated differently, so let’s look at reload time first.

Reload Time Calculation

Actual reload time = ammo tooltip reload time * (1 - (sum of all reducers expressed as fractions))

Example for my Starship, with Commander Freja, Rapid Fire, and a level 3 loader:

Actual reload time = ammo tooltip reload time * (1 - (commander bonus + rapid fire skill + loader passive skill))
Actual reload time = 12.70 * (1 - (0.1 + 0.05 + 0.03))
Actual reload time = 12.70 * (0.82)
Actual reload time = 10.41

The calculated reload time matches what we see on the Details panel and what I see in-game after firing:

Starship ammo tooltip and details panel

Starship ammo tooltip and details panel

Actual reload time after firing

Actual reload time after firing

For reference, here’s my crew for the Starship:

Starship commander and crew

Starship commander and crew

Players often claim crew skills and retrofits for reload time are broken, so the Reddit community is trying to sort out what’s working and what’s bugged.

People have been pointing out that sometimes reload gets stuck at 0.01 second, and they believe that is caused by  bugs with bonuses from crew and retrofits. I have experienced the 0.01 second stuckness thing when reloading, but it’s important to note that that bug happens with Designate Target on targets that are in LoS and in range. My guess is that the cause of the 0.01 second stuckness has to do with the netcode / synchronization between game client and server, so it’s unrelated to crew and retrofits.

With reload time covered, let’s look at the slightly different calculation for aim time…

Aim Time Calculation

Actual aim time = ammo tooltip aim time / (1 + (sum of all reducers expressed as fractions))

Example for my Starship, with Commander Freja, Quick Draw, level 3 loader, and retrofit:

Actual aim time = ammo tooltip aim time / (1 + (commander bonus + quick draw skill + gunner passive skill + magnetic actuator mk 1 retrofit))
Actual aim time = 3.30 / (1 + (0.1 + 0.1 + 0.06 + 0.075))
Actual aim time = 3.30 / (1.335)
Actual aim time = 2.47

The calculated aim time matches what we see on the Details panel.

There is no timer in the UI for aiming when in battle, so it’s harder to tell whether aim time reduction is working correctly. One could do a frame-by-frame analysis of game footage to determine whether the aim time on the Details panel matches what happens in battle.

If any of you are motivated to do this analysis, please share your findings! Qualitatively I’ll say that aim time reducers are very noticeable on glacial aiming tanks such as the Sheridan, so my gut feeling is they’re working.


Based on the calculations above:

  • The benefit of reducing reload time increases the more you stack it, i.e. it has increasing returns
  • The benefit of reducing aim time decreases the more you stack it, i.e. it has diminishing returns

That said, while you might conclude that you should favor reducing reload time over aim time, I do believe that finding a functional aim time for a given tank is critical for gun handling and minimizing exposure.

Is AW going to kill WoT?

Every time a new game in a given space launches, this question is asked. E.g. is this the WoT killer, is this the WoW killer, is this the LoL killer?

My short answer is no, AW is not going to kill WoT.

In the short term AW will cause a noticeable hit in terms of number of active WoT players, as AW is the new shiny thing, is well-designed, and addresses issues with WoT. In addition, some WoT players (not including me) are bitter towards WG and are happy to support AW.

That said, some players are fans of WWII tanks moreso than Cold War tanks, and some WoT players have significant sunk cost (hundreds or even thousands of USD) in WoT so the perceived switching cost of starting over may be a barrier to AW adoption.

WoT has been an incredible cash cow for WG and one of the most profitable F2P games in the online gaming industry, but WG should take a hard look at the things that AW gives for free such as garage slots and trained crews. WG is not going to remove premium ammo (aka “gold ammo”), which I believe drives significant revenue for WG, but WG can improve WoT in other areas to make the experience less annoying in terms of obvious cash grabs.

What resources on AW do you recommend?

I’m getting “login unavailable” in the My.com game client launcher. How do I fix this?

If you are trying to login using a Twitter account, you may get this error. This may also happen when trying to login using a Facebook account, but I don’t know from personal experience.

Just so you know, this is not a browser-specific issue. I’ve tested with Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Internet Explorer, and they all have the same issue.

To fix this error, simply logout/login of your Windows account. After that your game client launcher can successfully login with your Twitter account. Thanks to YuriPup on the AW sub-Reddit who provided the tip about logout/login.

Will you continue the “Road to Unicum” series for WoT?

I have footage and ideas for other videos, so I am planning to make more “Road to Unicum” videos.

As of now, that series includes 31 videos, so I’ve been able to cover a diversity of tanks, tiers, tank classes, and maps. That said, there are a few topics – in particular tactics of Unicum platoons – that I want to cover.

Posted in Armored Warfare, Guide, PVP, Video, World of Tanks

ArenaNet Executes a Deft Recovery for Heart of Thorns With F2P and Raid Annoucements

ArenaNet (AN) just executed one of the most deft and savvy recoveries I’ve seen in addressing player angst about an upcoming expansion.

In January, AN announced the Heart of Thorns (HoT) expansion for Guild Wars 2 (GW2). There was much rejoicing.

In June, AN announced that HoT would cost the same to purchase for existing players and for new players. There was much outrage – check out the Reddit thread Don’t Pre-Purchase Heart of Thorns. The GW2 community understandably felt unappreciated for their loyalty.

AN found an elegant solution to address the feedback as announced yesterday:

  • The core game, which is the content not including the HoT expansion, is now free-to-play (F2P) for everyone. F2P accounts will be limited in their functionality, but it sounds like it will be a good way for customers to “try before they buy”
  • Careful controls have been designed to prevent abuse by F2P players. As we’ve seen in other F2P games, gold spammers and trolls love to abuse F2P accounts
  • Any player – new or existing – who want to experience the HoT expansion and enjoy the full game experience can pay $50 USD

This is brilliant, because it balances:

  • The ability for a game to attract new players (customer acquisition)
  • The ability for a game to retain existing players (customer retention)

As I wrote recently when Carbine announced WildStar was transitioning to F2P, the vast majority of game developers are simply kidding themselves in this market if they try to launch a game with a subscription (aka pay-to-play or P2P) or as buy-to-play (B2P). The only MMORPGs that could be launched as B2P are those with deeply established IPs, e.g. Guild Wars or Final Fantasy.

That being said, once you’re 3 years into the life of a game, the vast majority of the fans of an IP (whether it’s GW, FF, Star Wars, etc) and/or early MMORPG adopters have already purchased GW2 or made the decision not to try it because of the purchase cost. Part of the value of B2P for the developer is that the purchase price helps to recoup the costs to launch (in this case, many tens of millions $USD), and it provides an ongoing revenue stream. The question about the latter is whether a developer would be better off simply making the game F2P and attracting a broader player base. My belief is that the answer is yes – for a game to sustainably maintain or grow its player base, F2P in this market is a necessity. With the advent of the F2P model, AN can finally attract a much wider pool of potential players.

On top of the F2P announcement, AN also announced that HoT will introduce raids.

GW2 raids will be 10-person content.

GW2 raids will be 10-person content.

Raids of 10 players is the perfect choice for several reasons:

  • It’s double the size of the current dungeon content
  • It’s just big enough to provide an epic experience and provide enough complexity
  • It’s small enough that small-to-medium sized guilds should be able to run raids. Large guilds can form multiple raid groups

For those of you who have nostalgia for the old days of 40-person raids, I believe those days long gone. They simply require way too much work on the part of guilds to sustainably run, and for the developer it’s challenging to devise boss fights and mechanics that work smoothly for raids of such scale.

Kudos to AN for thoughtfully solving for the feedback from the community.

Posted in Business Analysis, Game Design, Guild Wars 2, PVE

Tank Reviews and Gameplay in Early Access for Armored Warfare

EDIT (2015/10/20): I’ve started a new video series called “The Art of Warfare” for Armored Warfare – check it out!

I’m participating in the Early Access for the upcoming tanktical MMO shooter game Armored Warefare (AW).

AW’s developer, Obsidian Entertainment, has taken the savvy approach of creating a better version of World of Tanks (WoT). In particular, AW is looking to address 3 problem areas in WoT:

  1. RNG
  2. Gold ammo
  3. Arty implementation

The community has picked up on this as discussed in a thread in the WoT sub-Reddit today.

Obsidian’s approach is very different compared to what Gaijin did with War Thunder (WT). I skipped WT completely, because I was not convinced that WT would be a better game than WoT because it was seeking to differentiate itself in areas that didn’t need improvement or weren’t issues.

Early Access for AW in NA is $15 USD, which is a very reasonable fee, at least compared to a lot of other games where you have to pay $60+ to be a willing alpha/beta tester. AW is definitely worth a look.

In this article, I’m posting a series of videos covering AW in Early Access / Beta. Given that I’m a WoT veteran, in these AW videos I’ll discuss the similarities and differences in the mechanics of WoT and AW.

If you’re playing AW, I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially how it stacks up to WoT.

Early Access #1: First Impression, M113 Gameplay

In this video, I play my first battle in the M113, one of the two starter tanks in Early Access, on the Port Storm map. I finish with 5 kills and 6th in damage in a very narrow victory – only 14 HP separated the two sides.

The M113 is a mobile tank with a high-DPM / low-penetration autocannon. I didn’t realize it when I played my first battle in the M113, but it’s an AFV (Armored Fighting Vehicle) and therefore a scout in AW.

To be clear, I have no intention of quitting WoT: I’m still enjoying it, WoT scratches the itch for me of a high skill cap PVP game, and I’m within spitting distance of Unicum (top 1%) for my account with silver ammo only.

Posted in Armored Warfare, Game Design, Guide, PVP, Video, World of Tanks

WildStar (Finally) Going F2P

Two notable MMORPGs launched in 2014 with subscription models: Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) and WildStar. Four months ago, Bethesda Softworks announced that ESO was going B2P (buy-to-play). Today, Carbine announced that WildStar is going F2P (free-to-play).

For whatever reason, game developers have been painfully slow on the uptake that gamers do not like subscription MMORPGs. The only sub-based MMORPG that has been able to maintain a meaningful playerbase is World of Warcraft (WoW).

WoW is in the unique position of having a huge amount of polished content and a huge community, which are barriers to exit for existing players. That is, players have invested so much into WoW and their characters / guilds / community that they stick around, even though that requires a subscription. As I’ve said previously, even Blizzard would struggle to replicate the success of WoW in a new subscription-based MMO, and Blizzard has pursued non-subscription models for their recent new releases.

Customer expectations have shifted. Gone are the days where subscriptions were the norm, and the question for gamers wasn’t whether they had to pay, but rather which MMOs they wanted to play and therefore had to pay for via a subscription. In today’s environment, a subscription fee is a monthly reminder to a paying customer to question where the product is providing sufficient value. Moreover, the perception that F2P games are inferior quality has diminished over time. This isn’t to say that there aren’t poor F2P implementations out there – there most certainly are – but over time developers are figuring out F2P systems that work for non-paying and paying customers.

The online gaming community has the reputation of being fickle, and gamers will not continue to pay a subscription if they perceive any or multiple of the following to be true:

  1. The game is not meeting their (pre-launch) expectations
  2. The game is buggy / not polished
  3. There isn’t a critical mass of their friends or other players in the game – the world feels lonely. This was the reason I unsubbed from WildStar
  4. There’s a shiny new game coming out soon
  5. They’ve already experienced the content and are bored

About that last point, subscription-based MMORPGs have an inherent flaw in the business model: the cost and time it takes to produce new content are always going to be meaningfully higher than the amount of time it takes for players to consume this content, and gamers have the expectation that they’ll receive a steady stream of new content with their subscription. Developers have contributed to setting this expectation, e.g. here is what WildStar’s Executive Produer Jeremy Gaffney said (bold emphasis mine):

“There’s two major options to play,” he said. “One is super simple: buy a box, and pay a subscription. There’s a class of player that likes that, because they know how much they’re paying, they know the playing field is level, and they can expect big updates. That’s the joy of the subscription model.”

On top of this, Gaffney set the expectation that the cadence of patches would be monthly. Later, Carbine shifted to a quarterly schedule.

Simply put, pushing out polished new content on a regular cadence is very challenging. Therefore for years I’ve stated that developers need to develop highly-engaging replayable content – players don’t necessarily need a big world, but they need a world that’s fun to play in, even if it’s small. Think about MOBAs – players play in the same maps / scenarios over and over, and the content is simply the champions or heroes that they can choose to play. Or think about Minecraft, where the developer created the context but the players shape and define the world. Another good example of replayable content is WvW in GW2. Many gamers would love to have a huge, dynamic world to play in – I would too! – but the economic reality is that isn’t sustainable for developers.

The other flaw with subscription-based games, which Mike Donatelli acknowledged to PC Gamer, is that it creates a significant barrier to entry. I do believe that B2P (buy-to-play) games are a nice balance for the developer and the gamer to help the developer recoup their pre-launch investment, but B2P games are only viable for well-established IPs such as Guild Wars or Elder Scrolls. So for any new IP (e.g. WildStar), there really isn’t any model to consider aside from F2P. The question then becomes how to implement a F2P system that creates a sticky, non-onerous experience for non-paying customers but incents players to spend real money. Wargaming has done a tremendous job with their F2P system in World of Tanks (WoT), and WoT has one of the highest ARPU for F2P games.

Hopefully 2015 is the last year that we’ll hear of new MMOs with subscription models, which is still 4 years too late.

EDIT #1 (2015/05/28): some folks are pointing out that FFXIV is subscription-based. Yes, that is true, but remember, Final Fantasy is an IP that is almost 3 decades old. You can charge a sub when you have a very established IP because you have an existing large fan base. IMO a new game without a well-established IP will flop if it launches with a subscription model.

EDIT #2 (2015/05/29): so y’all understand, I am 100% fine with paying a subscription. Happy to do so. The problem is, a lot of people aren’t, and when those people leave in sufficient numbers, the game world feels empty, and that inevitably impacts me.

The thing I really care about is that games succeed, because that will drive further investment into new games, which means more choices for us as consumers/gamers. The reality is that subscriptions don’t work in today’s market for the majority of cases. I’m not anti-sub, but I am most definitely anti-game-fail, and my fear starting back in 2010 is that investment will shift from richly-complex PC games to superficial tablet and mobile games the more that PC-based MMOs flop. Over 3 years ago I wrote that business models for MMORPGs must evolve. The industry has been slow to realize this.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online, Game Design, Guild Wars 2, WildStar, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft

Sometimes Games Do Evolve For The Better (Guild Wars 2)

In February, I was pretty burned out from World of Tanks (WoT) and decided to take a look at Guild Wars 2 (GW2), which I hadn’t meaningfully played since 2013. Most of my 2014 gaming time was spent on WildStar (WS) and WoT.

Why I stopped playing GW2 back in 2013

The following things collectively made GW2 unattractive to me:

  1. I believed Ascended gear was not aligned with pre-launch expectations from ArenaNet (AN) regarding progression
  2. To make matters worse, the acquisition of Ascended gear was extremely grindy. I despised the random daily quests – they were a tedious waste of 30 minutes of my valuable time – and each gear piece was for a particular stats mix for a particular character (soulbound). The Ascended gear system was a disincentive for me to commit time to alts, and alts are fun
  3. There were aspects of the UI that I found irritating, e.g. how small the boon and buff icons are
  4. The combat mechanics in WS looked much more attractive to me. I love aim-based action combat, because it’s engaging and requires skill

Upon picking up GW2 again in 2015, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of the things I disliked had been meaningfully addressed, and that other quality-of-life improvements had been implemented. It’s worth mentioning the value of the GW2’s B2P monetization system – it cost me nothing aside from disk space to patch up to the current version of GW2 and play again.

Improvement #1: Ascended and Legendary gear changed from soulbound to account bound

Legendary / Ascended gear account bound

Account bound > Soulbound

This was outlined in the March 2014 news article on the GW2 site.

The implications of course are massive. E.g. instead of having to farm Berserker Ascended gear for each of your characters, you could farm 1 set of Berserker jewelry and share them across characters, and to the extent your characters share the same weapons and armor, they can share those too.

Soulbound systems create a context where you have to do the same amount of work for each character, and this makes playing alts less attractive, which in turn I believe makes a game less sticky. Players love their alts.

Also, players who have more characters have more protection from class-specific nerfs and changes to the meta, and they are therefore less likely to leave a game when a particular class is nerfed. So I believe that for high-end endgame gear, having that gear be account bound makes a game more sticky for players.

Improvement #2: Daily laurel quests changed to login quests

This was a brilliant move by AN and synergizes with the previous improvement. You just need to login each day to get your daily credit, and I think AN has realized that if you login you might actually play that day. It certainly worked on me.

I utterly despised the previous system of random and completely unchallenging daily quests to earn laurels. Some gamers have the mentality that you should just have to do your dailies and suck it up, but that’s so not-fun for someone like me and is a perspective of the older gaming crowd (I’m looking at you, hard-working Gen X’ers).

Improvement #3: Dyes and skins changed from soulbound to account bound

Some folks don’t care about cosmetics, but I enjoying dialing in the look of each character. E.g. here is my 80 Guardian, with skins that were unlocked from my Warrior:

80 Guardian with badass-looking gear

My Guardian sporting a classic plate armor look, a la the movie Excalibur

Improvement #4: Megaserver

There’s nothing more depressing than playing in sparsely-populated zones. AN implemented megaserver technology, and the level 80 world zones consistently have the critical mass for events.

Karka Queen zerg

Events such as the Karka Queen draw mass participation

Improvement #5: Structured PVP contributes to progression

This one is self-explanatory. I actually stopped sPvP pretty much cold turkey after the first 6 weeks of launch, because I wasn’t leveling my characters to 80. Oddly, I haven’t gone back, but I think I got burned out by the PVP.

Improvement #6: New level 80 zones are fun

Dry Top and The Silverwastes provide popular farming zones. I like the design of The Silverwastes, which is a PVE version of WvW.

All these improvements aside, after two months of playing GW2, in which I geared my 80 Elementalist with some Celestial Exotic gear, leveled a Guardian to 80, and geared my Guardian with a mix of Exotic and Ascended Berserker gear, I’ve decided to put GW2 back on the shelf. I want a different combat experience than what GW2 offers – that is, issues #3 and #4 listed above are still issues. Beyond that, the game continues to be very pigeon-holed in terms of the meta. For multiple classes, Berserker is still the way to go, and that limits functional choice.

Nonetheless, I may come back to GW2 for the Heart of Thorns (HoT) paid expansion, given that once you pay, it’s free to play.

Beyond GW2, in the MMORPG landscape I’ve heard encouraging things about Camelot Unchained, and I look forward to trying it out.

In the meanwhile, I’ve picked WoT back up again and really enjoying it, and I just paid for early access for Armored Warfare, a game is a mashup of WoT’s tank-based combat and the smaller battles common in MOBAs.

What are you playing these days, and what do you think of the evolution of GW2?

EDIT (2015/05/14): I forgot to mention that I also gave SMITE a try in February. Many of you had recommended it to me as a MOBA that I might like, given that it has aim-based mechanics.

SMITE was more engaging than League of Legends (LoL), but I’ve come to realize that the whole meta of selecting heroes and upgrades as counterplay isn’t something that I’m particularly interested in, because in many cases there is a right upgrade path or two and a lot of suboptimal ones, in which case there effectively isn’t a choice to be made. I shelved SMITE after trying it for a couple nights and haven’t been sufficiently interested enough to play it again.

Posted in Game Design, Guild Wars 2, PVE, PVP
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