Gaijin CEO Interview: ‘We Wouldn’t Have Launched War Thunder on Steam’s Current State’
Gaijin Entertainment is a name that fans of military games have come to know very well, mainly thanks to the great success enjoyed by War Thunder across multiple platforms.
The combined arms free-to-play game is constantly updated by the Moscow-based studio. For example, the latest major update (1.91) launched earlier this month, adding Night Vision and Thermal Sight devices, a new and improved sound engine, a brand new nation (China) and even an improved tone mapping system.
Recently, we had the chance to talk about War Thunder with CEO Anton Yudintsev, who was also happy to discuss side topics like cross-play, the Steam vs. Epic Games store war, and the imminent advent of platforms like Google Stadia and next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft.
Read our full chat below.
New cross-play games are announced almost on a daily basis now. What's the status of your discussion with Sony on enabling full cross-play between PC, PS4, and Xbox One in War Thunder?
New policies are not just “better for cross-play”. They also probably can add some limitations compared to the old ones. For instance, our PS4 players are currently able to play on PC keeping all their progress on the same account. It looks like that won’t be possible with new policies applied.
The new PlayStation crossplay policies do not prevent all cross-progression, but we're still discussing some nuances about progression/purchases transfer and unfortunately, we aren't at liberty to talk about this in detail.
War Thunder was launched by Gaijin in August 2013. What is your medium to long term plan for the game? Will you just update it or is there any discussion regarding a potential sequel?
Making sequels to living and evolving online games doesn’t make sense. Such sequels will compete with the existing games, cannibalizing the audience and increasing waiting times in queue. War Thunder is being constantly updated with the new features, content and gameplay modes. Each year we release more content and features for War Thunder than most premium titles usually offer.
Since the game release we have introduced not just new nations with their vehicle trees, but a whole new and completely unique gameplay experiences - like Ground Forces, Naval Forces, Modern Jets, Modern Tanks. I am not even counting new game modes, numerous graphical and content updates. There are more than 1500+ vehicles available in the game right now. The most recent updates included a Chinese vehicle tree, Modern Jets and Night/Thermal vision support for vehicles that had them in real life.
And we still have plans for adding even more cool stuff over the next years.
In our last chat, you mentioned that the large scale Global Illumination solution you first devised for Enlisted would also be added to War Thunder. Is that still happening and if so, when?
Yes, it is still coming this year to our games.
Are you planning another major technological update for your Dagor Engine? Also, is there any update on your testing to port the engine to the Nintendo Switch?
The next obvious update will be the support of modern APIs - such as DX12 and Vulkan. With a recent Microsoft initiative (adding DX12 support to Windows 7), it is going to be possible to enjoy the features of the new hardware by our whole audience.
Also, this will allow us to add DXRT support (DX11 does not support DXRT/RTX).
We recently launched one of our classic Dagor-based games on the Nintendo Switch (we didn’t begin with War Thunder). So the Switch Gaijin team has already started to work with the console.
It is not uncommon in the game industry for a game development to be late, and unfortunately Enlisted is late. The team is working hard in order to deliver a fresh and high quality experience in a very competitive genre. We decided to keep things low on our radars until we will have a solid alpha on our hands so that players won’t be exhausted by the news.
Is your Gaijin inCubator project still active? As far as I can see, only Shadows of Kurgansk came out of it so far, and it didn't exactly get the strongest reception.
Yes, there is another title coming to Closed Beta probably later this year. There were several other titles that received funding, unfortunately, not all of them have managed to deliver a product.
What's the current size of Gaijin as a development studio? Do you plan to get bigger in order to take on even more projects in the future?
The War Thunder development team is currently about 100 people. We also have other smaller internal teams working on other unannounced projects.
PC is the most important platform in Russia. What's your take on the subject of Epic Games store and its aggressive market offering based on the acquisition of (timed) exclusives? Would you ever accept for one of your games to be a timed exclusive on EGS if they paid you reasonably well?
Well, our main sales channel as Gaijin is our own website. Generally speaking, any competition is a good thing for the industry on the whole - including developers and gamers.
(Timed) exclusives is a very typical way for a platform to be competitive, and we have seen that for years on consoles, and now we are seeing it on the PC market as well.
As a platform for online games, Steam has several long-time unresolved issues and very small added value (things like CDN, “cloud saves” and “forums” are obviously not applicable to online games, they usually already have all of these anyway).
To name a few: currently, it is an overcrowded store with very small visibility, a complete inability to track leads (and so the inability to use performance marketing), lack of AB tests and general options to customize game pages.
Although we do have War Thunder launched on Steam, that launch was done a long time ago, when Steam actually exposed games to a broad audience. In Steam’s current state, we wouldn’t have launched this game on Steam at all (regardless of the appearance of EGS) . Most users that we have there, we brought there ourselves, and Steam just gets it’s (rather big) commission benefiting from our efforts.
As for EGS, they currently have some obvious advantages - better visibility, customizable game pages, and a smaller commission. At the same time, they haven't launched any free-to-play third party titles that do performance marketing so we have yet to see if they will allow lead tracking.
Anyway, let’s hope that companies will learn something from their rivals’ strengths, overcome their weaknesses and we will be living in a better world tomorrow.
I would like to emphasize that for the online games that aim for a big success, “paid reasonably well for exclusivity” part (such as sales guarantees) is not important. Successful online games, like War Thunder, operate for _years_. No reasonable upfront payment is really important.
Of course, I imagine that for smaller studios and premium titles this payment can be a “life or death” question, as the distributor covers all the risks and pays “long tail” of sales upfront.
Google is about to enter the games industry with its cloud-only platform, Stadia, promising not only much greater accessibility but also unique hardware capabilities due to its data center structure. What do you think of Stadia so far?
Gaijin have been supporters of the idea of cloud gaming for a long time (starting from OnLive). Stadia offers good hardware and distributed data centers, so it is a step in the right direction. However, they are not currently launching free-to-play games, so I think they should do it 🙂
Lastly, the next generation of consoles looms on the horizon. Sony and Microsoft have already released some early specifications of their AMD-based systems. The 'Ultra Fast' SSD storage stands out, which some developers believe will radically change the way open world games are designed. What do you think about this and the systems as a whole?
I am not sure how much I can reveal publicly 🙂 Let’s just say - I am very excited about the features and capabilities of a new console generation.
Fair enough. Thank you for your time.