Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Fallout Shelter Popped and Dropped

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Written by: M. Katkoff

I was truly excited when Bethesda's Fallout Shelter launched. Finally the series that I first played 18 years ago on my IBM computer had landed on mobile. And most importantly, Fallout Shelter delivered. The retrofuturistic atom punk theme, the characteristic dark humor and the Vault Boy were all there. The game felt familiar yet new and it lacked all the infuriating monetization mechanics that destroyed the mobile reboot of my other childhood favorite, Dungeon Keeper (link: Will EA learn from the terrible Dungeon Keeper mobile game?). It was a great game that instantly climbed to the top of the charts.

Yet after only a weekend of non-stop gameplay I was done. There was nothing left to pull me back into the game. I had cleared the challenges and my vault was full of happy dwellers just doing their jobs and leveling up their skills. There was no further aspirations nor need for me to return to the game. A couple of weeks after I lapsed, the game started falling from top charts it had so quickly occupied.     

This deconstruction examines how Fallout Shelter was able to conquer the absolute top of charts so quickly and why the game had little staying power.   

The Pop

It is very rare to see a game that after its launch instantly takes a position in the top 10 grossing games. Fallout Shelter did this and stayed in the top ten grossing apps for three weeks as well as hit top ten most downloaded games for four weeks (all figures on iOS). I believe that the unexpected rise to the top was mainly due to three reasons:

1. Bold Launch Strategy

Fallout Shelter had probably the most high-risk / high reward launch strategy I’ve ever seen in mobile space as the game was launched during the world premiere of Fallout 4 at E3. No soft launches. No teasing through media. No announcements. In fact it was very Applesque style launch where Bethesda Game Studios' Todd Howard introduced the new mobile game through various gameplay captures and ended the presentation by saying that “this game is coming out in App Store tonight”.

Watch Todd Howard announce Fallout Shelter during his Fallout 4 premiere at E3 (video: Fallout Shelter announced at 19min mark

Announcing a same day worldwide release right when the hype around the game Fallout series is at its peak was a very bold move that clearly paid off. It’s also important to keep in mind that Bethesda had full support from Apple, which provided a major worldwide push to Fallout Shelter, for exchange of limited time exclusivity to App Store. 

2. Strong Benchmark Games

The top performing mobile games are either iteration of social web games or iterations of other top mobile games. Trying something totally new is a huge risk in a highly competitive touchscreen market that seems to demand always something same but different. 

You could describe Fallout Shelter as Tiny Tower meets Faster Than Light in Fallout world
In my mind, most of the console game developers fail on mobile because they’re arrogant. They simply refuse to learn from competitors and they don’t have the skillset to design broadly accessible games. Developers at Bethesda, even though taking shots at current best practices on mobile, were humble enough to learn from games paid games like FTL and freemium games like Tiny Tower to come up with a game that feels familiar yet offers something new. 

3. The Right Type of Monetization

I wouldn’t be writing about Fallout Shelter, and you wouldn’t be reading about it, unless the game had made a major splash in the top grossing charts. What makes the initial financial success of the title even more impressive is that the game has neither paywalls nor building timers. Personally I believe it’s the combination of two key elements why the game was able to convert players into payers so well:

First and foremost it’s due to the amazing game design. In Fallout Shelter, the player takes the role of shelter overseer. The starting shelter is very small and has barely any population. The player is constantly balancing between production of electricity, water and food and getting set back by accidents as well as raider attacks. Most of the mobile games are afraid that a failure state will cause players to quit playing but Fallout Shelter proves that this is not true. Failure state on the contrary forces players to play and overcome the puzzle.

Secondly, once the failure state is established, Fallout Shelter offers an opportunity for players to improve the situation of their vault just a bit faster. Bethesda was smart when they didn’t implement the much-hated building timers with speedups or even direct sales of missing resources. Instead they took a page out of Blizzard’s playbook by choosing to monetize by selling packs of cards. Each card is a random loot of resources or items and each deck, or lunchbox, has five cards in it. What Fallout Shelter does for monetization is simple, repeatable, effective and most importantly, not despised by players.

Fallout Shelter uses the exact same card deck mechanic as Hearthstone for monetization

The Drop

Three weeks after launch Fallout Shelter started dropping from the top grossing charts. A week later the same drop followed in the dowloads chart. In my opinion the drastic drop is due to the following three reasons:

1. Lack of Content

In the release announcement of Fallout Shelter Bethesda’s Todd Howard proudly declares few times that there’s no soft launch for Fallout Shelter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as tired as anyone else of building timers and overly aggressive freemium monetization tactics on mobile but soft launch has little to do with that. Soft launching a game in a geo-locked area allows developer to test the size of demand for the title, tune the game economy and tutorial, build a release plan for future content, work on bugs, improve stability, test scalability of servers and optimize marketing. Soft launch is about making the game better before giving it to players.

Because Fallout Shelter was never soft launched Bethesda was unaware how long the game content would last in the real world. It also didn’t help that there’s no cut-off to a session, which essentially reduce the time it takes for a player to go through the content. Building might have been wrong for this game but I can see tuning in resource production cycles and rushes as something that could have helped with session cutoffs. 

Player is incentivized through content unlocks to get up to 100 dwellers in their vault. Yet new rooms unlocked with increase of population don't add anything new to the game. New resources and rooms that produce these resources would have really helped to at least encourage more players to go through all of the existing content.

Fallout Shelter is a great game that players can pretty much finish in a weekend or so. And after a weekend they want more. And when they can’t get more they switch to another game. Sure, Bethesda can add more content to the game but it will most likely be too little and too late as they’ve already used the rocket fuel of Apple featuring.

2. Lack of Social Gameplay

When players collaborate and/or compete with each other in a game they are bound to compare each other's' progress. Comparing progress leads to two kinds of feelings. Firstly, those players who are clearly lagging behind will want to progress and catch those ahead of them. On the other hand, progressed players will feel good about themselves and won’t want to lose the feeling of being ahead and above. It's safe to say that encouraging players to compare their progress in the game to the progress of other players is very important. To solve the issue of progress measurability we employ social mechanics. 

There’s no social gameplay in Fallout Shelter whatsoever. When the game launched we were all excited at the studio and showed off our vaults to one another. This encouraged those lagging behind to pick up the pace while the best overseers with biggest vaults got to bask in the admiration of their colleagues. Our behavior proved that the content of the game was share worthy yet there were no in-game systems to allow or encourage this or any other kind of progress sharing between players.  

In their first and currently only update Fallout Shelter added ability to share photos of player's vault.
This is more like a old school virality that true social system. 

Personally I believe that Fallout Shelter would have benefited tremendously from a player versus player battles. Allowing players to raid each other would have not only created a strong sink in the game economy and thus prolonged the game but also inserted much needed social gameplay as players would have seen each other's’ vaults.

3. Lack of New Players

Finally I believe that Fallout Shelter dropped out of the top charts because Bethesda doesn’t have the resources to upkeep chart position through systematic and efficient player acquisition once the organic installs taper off. Drastic drop in new players installing the game combined with quick burn through of content is a very tough combination to handle no matter how great your game is.

Drop in revenue after 3 weeks was quickly followed by drop in installs. New update on fourth weekend after launch wasn't able to stop the slide as it didn't provide new content.

Hopefully First of Many

I'm pretty sure Fallout Shelter was bigger success than Bethesda or anyone else anticipated. Not only did it generate significant amount of revenue in a very short span but perhaps more importantly it introduced the Fallout universe to millions of people who downloaded the game. 

I sincerely hope that other top console studios will be encouraged by the success of Fallout Shelter. By building mobile games themselves these studios can ensure top notch quality and deliver titles that not only attract new players but also cater to their existing highly critical player base. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

World of Tanks Blitz Liberates Players from Mid-Core

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App Store has been held hostage by a handful of top grossing games for years. And like in any industry also game companies try to take the top spot by cloning the winning products, which is the reason for mobile gaming market turning into a rather boring war of clones.

I love World of Tanks Blitz because it’s simply a great game. There are no timers. No lives. No farming. No crafting and no resource caps. There’s just the fun and engaging multiplayer battle where progress is made by playing instead of waiting. World of Tanks Blitz makes the most out of touch screen devices offering players an experience that none of the other games are willing nor able to do.

Because World of Tanks Blitz has stayed mainly out of the top 50 grossing since it was launch a year ago, it has not received the recognition it deserves. In this post I deconstruct why the game is good and what keeps it from becoming great.

GAMEPLAY – The Perfect First Person Shooter for Mobile 

World of Tanks Blitz (WoTB) is a battle on a randomly selected map between two teams of seven players. Winning conditions are simple: team has to either destroy all of the opponents or hold the central flagged area of the map for 100 consecutive seconds. There is no respawning in WoTB, which means that after player’s tank is destroyed his active session is over and he may stay in the battlefield only as spectator. Each battle takes maximum of six minutes, though without exceptions battles end well before the time limit.

Map Design

There are a dozen of maps in WoTB each with different characteristics of size, design, terrain, location, weather and land leveling. Every map offers different tactics to different tanks. All the maps are compact to ensure short sessions though large enough to enable strategic team gameplay.

Unlike in MOBAs the maps are not symmetrical or perfectly balanced. Instead the maps, which are thematically located in the Second World War battlefields, are full of graphical and structural variety just like in first-person-shooters. The lack of perfect map balancing is not an issue due to very small investment of time needed from a player. Because the sessions are so short player doesn’t feel frustrated when their tank is not optimal for a particular battlefield and/or starting location.

The battles in World of Tanks Blitz take place in legendary World War II surroundings from North African deserts to Russian Russian snow covered villages.

Mastering a map is a long and fun process. In the beginning the battles are chaotic as new players clumsily drive around and shoot at everything that moves. As players progress, they start to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different types of tanks, which allows them to read the maps better. Quickly hills with rocks and trees on them are potential tank destroyer hideouts while wide lanes become the battlegrounds for heavy tanks. One key rule stays the same throughout the game: never go alone as you will die almost instantly and annoy your team who will be one tank down.

Tank Design & Player Roles

The impressive roster of 90 some tanks in WoTB is divided into four different types: light tanks, medium tanks, heavy tanks and tank destroyers. Each of the types has its own unique role in a team.

There are four very distinctive type of tanks in World of Tanks Blitz. Based on the tank player chooses their role in a battle is either to scout, flank, charge or snipe. 

Light tanks are fast and agile due to their light armor and weak gun. Their role is to scout enemy tanks so that rest of the team can see them. They annoy enemy to reveal their locations and sometime you can sneak behind the enemy to shoot them into their weak spots.

Scouting enemies is crucial part of the battle. Without a couple of capable light tanks driving around team will be answering fire instead of taking the first shot. The concept of scouting really separates WoTB from other similar games I’ve played before. Not only is it really fun to drive fast in the heat of the battle while dodging enemy fire the balancing is also made so that players driving light tanks are rewarded heavily for spotting enemy tanks allowing player to progress without actually engaging in firefight.

Sadly light tanks quickly lose their place in the roster and are mostly replaced by more specialized medium tanks.

Medium tanks fill the gap between light and heavy tanks. They are all quite different due to variety of guns and armor they’re equipped with. Medium tanks’ role is constantly changing throughout the battle. They can flank the enemy or function as scouts. Medium tanks can even battle on the firing lane given that player is ducking often behind structures. Medium tanks really require player to know his tank understanding its strengths and weaknesses.

WoTB tank balancing is very good but far form perfect as one of the classes, light tanks, gets obsolete in couple of months into the game due to overly wide range of medium tanks.

Heavy tanks are force to be reckoned with. They are heavily armored vehicles with powerful guns. Heavies’ strength is also their weakness as they are slow and hard to maneuver. These tanks occupy usually the front of the wave. Their role is to draw fire as they can absorb a lot of damage. Heavies armor is weak on the sides and back, which makes them vulnerable to flank attacks from medium and some light tanks.

Tank destroyers carry the heaviest weapons. There are two types of tank destroyers: ones with heavy gun, heavy armor and extremely limited mobility and ones known as “glass cannons”, which means they carry a very powerful gun but have extremely poor armor. Tanks destroyers are the snipers of WoTB. They occupy high ground positions with good visibility, shooting angles and cover relying heavily on scouts to spot enemy positions. This is a tank for patient players who are willing to sit idle in the background and make the few shots they make count.


The controls in WoTB are polarizing. Essentially it’s a twin stick shooter played with two thumbs. One thumb is for moving the tank and the other for aiming. The controls are only partially dynamic, as player has to have his thumb directly on the virtual stick for the movement while placing the right thumb anywhere on the screen can do the aiming. Because of this partially dynamic control design the virtual stick for movement has to be always visible.

Player has two camera angles in World of Tank Blitz. The default 3rd person view is mainly for driving. It perfect for parking your tank in an sniper spot or when driving fast and scouting for enemy.
The second camera angle is the sniper mode. To make a perfect shot player has to stop moving, enter the sniper mode with a single tap and aim at a weak spot of enemy tank. The sniper mode calms down the gameplay and is crucial part of the amazing experience of World of Tanks Blitz.

Personally I favor controls that are active outside the border. Meaning whereever player 
touches next will always be the center for the virtual joystick. In my mind this type of control design removes unintentional movement and camera shudder while delivering intuitive controls that cater for all different hand sizes and grip positions.

There are two camera angles in WoTB. Default camera angle is for driving as it’s located behind the tank. The other camera angle is for effective shooting allowing player to look down the barrel as he aims for the weak points in enemy armor. Player controls the camera with a right thumb while the zooming is automatic. Once player locks in onto an enemy tank the zoom will as well as turret control can be overridden only by touching the screen again with the right thumb outside the fire button.

Just like in any FPS game, mastering the controls is the first step to victory. But unlike in an FPS game there’s no campaign mode in WoTB that would allow players to slowly get into the game against AI opponent. Instead in WoTB player is thrown immediately after the tutorial onto a PvP team skirmish, which is a daunting experience when you don’t even have the basic tank driving skills.

RETENTION – Core Gameplay Introduced by an Awful Tutorial

At its ultimate core the main retention driver in World of Tanks is the battle itself. Each battles with 14 players in a synchronous team death-match lasts only 3 minutes on average and is always fun – win or lose. But unlike in Vainglory, WoTB has very strong progression mechanics that encourage splayers to play as often as possible (read more how the lack of progress has hurt Vainglory).

Tutorial from Siberia

When I originally started playing WoTB, the tutorial was simply gnarly. New player went through an extremely short obstacle course at the end of which they shot few shots at a stationary and moving tank. After this minimalistic exercise developers deemed you ready for battle end sent you out into a 7 versus 7 player versus player death-match to get dominate. 

The first battles were simply learning how to control the tank (because the tutorial sure didn’t teach it). I was constantly having enormous amount of trouble driving let along shooting at other players. And it definitely didn’t help that my first tanks were more like tractors with a rifle compared to the tutorial where I had a very good tank.

The best tutorials limit introduce HUD elements, controls and game mechanics steadily and methodically. First handholding and then giving player a goal to do the same without help. In World of Tanks Blitz there's no handholding or rehearsal. After few forced steps player is deemed to be ready for the battlefield in a true Red Army fashion. 

For some people being humiliated by other players for the first dozen of sessions into a game is ok. I’m clearly one of those since I retained. But I know that majority of players who are interested in a tank battler simply quit after a couple of battles. The controls are simply too hard resulting in zero winning moments.

Latest major improvements to the tutorial came in update 1.8, which completely restructured the flow for new players. The basic obstacle course stayed the same but instead of throwing players to the wolves the first time flow forces player to go through multiple bot battles that are made to look like PvP.

Despite the massive changes the new tutorial is probably even worse than the non-tutorial version before. In the new tutorial players is again loosely taught the most important (controls) after, which they do multiple forced uninteresting battles that always end with player winning. In addition to this boring flow, the tutorial now forces you to learn the metagame after each mandatory bot battle. Upgrade a tank, buy a new tank, train crew, tech tree, coins, free xp and tank xp, gold, VIP account… All these elements that player should learn slowly by playing the game over time are now part of a mandatory new player flow.

Personally I would just put more emphasis on learning controls in the tutorial and have the first battles be missions with limited in-game elements. The most difficult part for new players is the combination of driving and shooting. Why not drop player into a battle with no ammo and give them a goal to survive to progress by simply driving from cover to another? Then the next battle could be a Fury type of defense mission where player can only move the turret but can’t drive.

In my opinion there’s nothing bad in having player fail. Actually it makes games more fun and it’s something players expect in PvP games. But if the fail occurs because player can’t understand the controls you’ll end up losing too many players off the gate – and even rich companies like Wargaming can’t afford poor D1 retention.


Before thinking about progress mechanics there first has to be a strong end goal – or preferably a set of strong goals player desires to achieve. In WoTB the goal of every battle is to destroy enemy tanks while staying alive. By improving current tanks and by purchasing better tanks player feels he can do better in battles. Thus my goal as a player is simply to keep improving and growing my garage of tanks.

The content in WoTB is divided into 10 tank tiers and the path to the next tier tanks is essentially a tech tree. The tiers are effectively used for match making and from game economy point of view the tiers follow typical progression curve. Moving from tier one tank to tier two tanks takes a good dozen of battles. Progressing to tier three from tier two takes twice longer while reaching tier four takes close to seventy battles.       

Tank tiers are also base for matchmaking in WoTB. In every battle both teams are assembled from tanks from different tiers. Tanks are rarely more than two tiers apart simply because tanks are more powerful depending on the tier. In other words, it is really hard for a lower tier tank to destroy a tank tier or two ahead.

Tech Tree is the fundamental progress mechanic in WoTB, which simply means that player has to purchase and upgrade to the fullest his current tank before purchasing the next tier version. There are four nations in the game and player starts off with a base level tank from each of the nations. These first tanks are more like tractors with a rifle on top. The reason to start player off with four small, ugly and weak tanks is that it enforces the core goal of the game – get better tanks to win. And oh boy how strong the urge for a new tank is when another player with a better tank blows your tin can tank with a single shot.

Each for nations have ten tiered tech tree of tanks. To move from one tier to another player has to both accumulate Credits by battling and earn XP for one specific tank.

Each step in tech tree is a tank. Each tank has multiple modules, which player purchases with earned tank specific XP. Only after required modules have been mounted can player unlock the next tier tank. Each module changes the stats of the tank, which communicated through extensive number heavy info. 

Once the demand for a new tank has been established it’s time to add the progression mechanics. Every battle earns player two different type of consumable rewards: Tank XP and Soft Currency.

Tank Experience Points (Tank XP) are tank specific consumable experience points, which player spends on modules such as suspension, turret and gun, that essentially upgrade the stats of a particular tank. Tank XP is also consumed to unlock the next tier tank once player has progressed far enough in their current tank tech tree. Amount of Tank XP earned per battle depends heavily whether player’s team wins or loses. The rule of thumb is that player will get more XP by fighting and doing damage and dying, than sitting in the base and doing no damage and winning.

It’s all about winning a battle in World of Tanks Blitz. No matter how well player plays, if the team loses a battle player they will earn far less Credits and XP than a poor player on a winning team.

It’s important to notice that Tank XP is tank specific currency, which means player has to play numerous battles with one tank and upgrade it fully in order to get the next tank in the tech tree. Tech tree with consumable tanks specific experience points is also the reason why player starts off with four base tanks from four different nations instead of starting with only one tank. It’s simply four more tech trees, which encourages player to play with several tanks per session instead of grinding with only one tank.

Credits (Soft Currency) are used to purchase consumables (health packs & boosts), equipment (permanent bonus) and ammo. Apart from quite pricy equipment, which permanently increase base stats of a tank, the need for Credits arises only once player has unlocked a new tank in the tech tree.

While Tank XP is exclusive for each tank Soft Currency earned from battles is consumed universally. This means that starting player off with four tanks and essentially four tech trees is a very smart and highly calculated approach. With exponentially increasing tank prices and multiple simultaneous tech trees, engaged players quickly end up in a situation where they have unlocked several tanks but can’t purchase any of them as they’ve divided their universal Soft Currency purse between multiple tracks. The strong demand for Soft Currency translates directly into increased engagement and monetization.

Retention Bonus drives the short-term retention by giving players one-off double Tank XP for winning a battle. With a garage of four to eight tanks and a steep progression curve the incentive to win at least one bonus battle with every tank per session is pretty tempting. Retention bonus also decreases daily entry barrier while simultaneously driving the monetization. By rewarding player with double Tank XP and not giving any bonus to the Soft Currency reward leads to the desired situation where player has several unlocked tanks in the tech tree but no money to purchase them.

Returning players are greeted daily with XP boost for the first win with every tank they own. By rewarding player with double Tank XP and not giving any bonus to the Soft Currency rewards leads to the desired situation where player has several unlocked tanks but no Credits to purchase them. In other words, retention bonus in World of Tanks Blitz succeeds in retaining as well as creating pinch point into the economy. And that ladies and gentlemen is genius.

Missions were added in the latest update but unlike in Hearthstone the execution of this feature is poor. In Hearthstone daily goals (missions) reward player with premium currency for playing with specific heroes. In WoTB most rewards are extremely small amounts of soft currency while the goals require players to play with tanks tier or two worse than what they’re driving at the moment. In short, this is one of the worst implemented fast-follow feature.

Missions are poorly tuned, both in terms of content and completion rewards.  In my opinion players should be rewarded with premium currency for completing missions.

Crew is another poorly implemented feature in WoTB. In short, player can improve passive skills for each of the four tank types by training his tank crew. Crew gets trained when player has reached 100% crew mastery with a tank. Reaching mastery requires numerous sessions with a tank. The goal of the design is to simply encourage players to player with older tanks that they have already mastered.

Player's tank crew is universal and can be trained only once a 100% experience has been achieved on a particular tank. The goal for crew mechanic is to encourage player to player with their older already mastered tanks the achieve boosts that will affect their newer tanks. 

There’s absolutely no info in the game how much mastery points player earn per battle nor is there much need for crew skills like “Increase turret traverse speed by 1% if there’s an enemy within a 30-meter radius from your vehicle”. In the PC version of World of Tanks crew mechanic is well done but in WoTB they should either improve it or just simply get rid of it instead of slapping something confusing and meaningless at players.

MONETIZATION – Mastering the Basics of Free-to-Play

Progression is the driver of monetization in free to play games. On a high level monetization is achieved when player wants to progress faster than the game allows. Thus creating a pinch point for monetization is simply slowing down players’ progress and encouraging players to play more or to pay to progress faster.

As detailed above, WoTB excels at progression by putting players onto multiple tech tree tracks with a clear goal of getting ever better tanks. In addition to strong progression mechanics WoTB masterfully slows down the progression by significantly increasing the price of next tier tanks while matchmaking players with ever toughening competition through the tank tier system. As players end up in a situation, where the next tier tank is hundreds of sessions away, they are compelled to speed up their progress through multiple avenues offered by Wargaming.

All the purchases in WoTB are made with Gold, which is the Hard Currency of the game. Gold allows players to purchase:

Premium Account is a paid subscription, which allows players to earn 50% more XP and Credits per battle. The length of a Premium Account subscription varies between 24h (1$) to 360d (50$). Value proposition with the Premium Account is strong and the game upsells the subscription after each battle by showing how much player could have earned had they had Premium Account.

Premium account is offered to player after every battle in the battle summary screen. Here player can alway see the clear benefits of rewards they could be getting by playing with a premium account versus their current rewards.

The best thing about the monetization through Premium Account is that it doesn’t give these players any in-game advantage. The biggest mistake is to allow players pay-to-win in a competitive PvP game as it destroys the skill element and discourages majority of players (the non-paying players) to continue playing on uneven turf.

Credits can be acquired by exchanging Gold. As described in progression, players at later levels constantly end up in situations where they have acquired enough Tank XP to unlock a new tank but they don’t have enough credit to purchase it.

Tank XP can be acquired by exchanging Gold fro XP. Personally I don’t like this as it allows players to fully skip the gameplay on particular tank tier to get onto the next one. Because matchmaking relies heavily on tank tiers, players who skips a tier ends up simply battling with a better tank against better tanks with more in-game experience.

Premium Tanks are also purchased with Gold. There are a handful of premium tanks in the game that only paying players can acquire. These tanks are definitely skewed towards pay-to-win scenario as they are far more powerful than other tanks in the same tier.

Player can at any point purchase highly powerful premium tanks, which in my opinion skew too much towards pay-to-win, especially since there's no way to earn Gold needed to purchase these behemoths.

It’s also puzzling that the game doesn’t restrict in any way which of the premium tanks player purchases. For example, I’m grinding my way through tier 7 at the moment yet the game allows me to purchase tier 8 tanks with premium currency. I can just imagine the disappointment for a new player, who hardly knows how the controls and yet purchases one of the high tier premium tanks. They get this powerful tank but have to now battle players who actually master the controls and maps due to the tier based matchmaking.

Premium tanks are also quite disappointing as there’s no progression to them. They have all the best modules and thus earning tank XP with them is pretty much useless. On the other hand they earn more Credits per battle and can convert gained XP immediately to Free XP, which is XP that can be used to upgrade any other tank.       

Where are the Vanity Items?

Everything player can purchase in World of Tanks Blitz is useful. There are no skins or other vanity items players could acquire, which personally I feel should be a part of the inventory. When playing hundreds of battles with a chosen tank I’d like to be able to customize it. The only vanity thing player can do is change their in-game name, and they charge almost 10 dollars for it. But based on the amount “Furies” and “Wardaddies” I see on the battlefield, players enjoy even this little opportunity of personalization.

SOCIAL – the Achilles Heel of World of Tanks Blitz

Despite the fact the World of Tank Blitz is a team versus team first person shooter it’s hardly a social game. What I mean by this is that after playing close to a thousand battles I’m still not part of any in-game community (guild). I’m also not able to compare my progress to other players in the game, as there are no leaderboards, leagues or tournaments.

The lack of social game mechanics clearly hurts the long-term retention of WoTB. This can be seen in matchmaking issues that players encounter around tier 7. At this point player is often matched against tier 8 and 9 tanks, which are often simply too powerful to take down with tier 7 tanks.

The Platoon Mode

The key and sole social mechanic in WoTB is the Platoon mode where two players can join a battle together fighting on the same side. The flow to set up the platoon is fairly simple. Player starts by sending an in-game friend invite to another player in the game. After players become friends they can send platoon invites to each other granting that both players are online. Accepting platoon requests allows both players to see which tanks they’re choosing and once players have chosen their tanks inviter starts the battle for both of them. When in platoon mode players don’t have any added communication methods other than seeing each other represented by a distinctive color on the battle map.

Despite its limitations the platoon mode is extremely enjoyable way for two players to play the game in the same room. It offers the ability to strategize with your friend on the go and take out enemy players together. I’d go as far as saying that the platoon experience rivals the fun of playing FIFA with your friend on console. And that’s saying a lot.

No Leagues, Nor Leaderboards

One would assume that there would be competitive mechanics in a team-based player versus player first person shooter. Yet this is not the case in WoTB. No matter how many battles player wins there’s no other progression to show for it other than the progression through tech-tree of tanks.

While the progression in WoTB is beautifully implemented through the tech trees it’s still not enough to keep players engaged at the highest levels. When earning the next tank becomes an immense grind of hundreds of battles there needs to be other short-term goals supporting this end goal.

Personally I’d add like to see leagues implemented in the game. Firstly leagues would allow players to aim for short-term competitive goals such as winning the bracket and/or moving into the next tier. Secondly leagues would drive engagement because without activity players can’t move up in tiers and depending on design will get relegated to lower tiers. Thirdly leagues support the overall goal of earning better tanks through tech-trees, as players will get rewarded for progressing through league tiers. Finally leagues would drive monetization on later levels as players would make final push towards the top at the end of every seasons. In case of WoTB this final push would transfer into purchasing of better equipment, premium ammunition and Credits to upgrade tanks.

Simply Awful Implementation of Tournaments

World of Tanks Blitz does have tournaments but the way they’ve been implement doesn’t even allow it to be considered as a feature and more like a community management gimmick. Because of incredibly poor implementation of tournaments there’s no indication on how well a competitive feature could drive performance of WoTB.

So here’s how the “tournaments” work. Occasionally player is notified of an upcoming tournament through the in-game message systems. This tournament message contains requirements to join the tournaments, rewards for playing and instructions on how to take part. The way player takes part in the tournament is by adding four developer accounts from Wargaming and then hoping that they will take him into their platoon once the tournament starts.
Player finds out about upcoming tournaments through the in-game inbox. Sadly participating in a tournament is close to impossible simply because no tournament feature has been developed after a year of being live. 

For a game with hundreds of thousands daily active players this type of tournament system is a joke. I guess a maximum of one to two hundred players are able to play the tournaments while the want to join a tournament can be calculated in tens if not hundred of thousands.

World of Tanks Blitz Has All the Potential to be as Great on Mobile as it is on Web

I love WoTB because it does free-to-play the right way. It’s not a clone of a PC game with super long sessions and a control system that demands a mouse, a keyboard and ridiculously fast fingers. Instead it’s a deep core game with extremely short yet very tactical sessions.

Despite all the things WoTB does right there are many elements where the game simply fails. The tutorial continues to be extremely off-putting, which directly affects the first day retention numbers. On the other hand the lack of competitive and social features hurt the long-term retention.

I believe that by fixing these issues WoTB could solidify it’s spot in top 20 grossing. I want to believe in success of games like this because this is something we the players deserve after grinding through all those Clash of Clans and Kingdoms of Camelot clones. Rooting for Hearthstone, Vainglory and World of Tanks is rooting for core games on touch screen devices.

As they say, tanks come in two forms: the dangerous, deadly kind and the 'liberating' kind. World of Tanks Blitz is definitely the later one.