One of the great challenges in producing a free-to-play title such as Blitz is tiptoeing the tightrope of revenue streams. To one side lies the ever tempting bounty of immediate returns from offerings such as high tier premium vehicles and booster bundles, which are oh so attractive to the newly minted player. On the other lies the rockier vista of long-term returns such as those driven by player retention and their ongoing ambitions for expansion of garage inventories and personal development. It must be fiendishly difficult to predict the optimal balance between features that are often counteractive, whilst steering the most profitable route over the lifetime of the game. Behind it all lies two fundamental truths:
- Blitz is a commercial exercise that must make profit for survival, and
- Its demise is inevitable.
Technological advancement in itself will all but ensure the latter, which is largely outside the influence of WarGaming itself. Who knows what next-generation title will come to compete with Blitz down the line? The producer does however have directional control over the first equation and is largely responsible for setting the tone of the experience while the game progresses through its lifecycle. WarGaming are, of course, fully justified in making whatever decisions they deem necessary to maximize profit from their investment. Unfortunately, when one takes a step back and considers the impact of the bulk of the development decisions that have been implemented recently, the following seems apparent to many:
Blitz is dead. (Or, perhaps if not dead, then seriously unwell.)
Why has this sentiment become a recurring theme among veteran players? A large part of the problem lies in the wanderings WarGaming have taken in bumbling along the revenue tightrope. Despite efforts to provide suitable ongoing challenges for veterans, such as rating battles and tournaments, WarGaming have been far more focused in their efforts at attracting new players or re-engaging casual participants. This has become self-evident through the plethora of events offering premium tanks as prizes, experience multiplier weekends, the huge container system, and the Blitz Fairs with the petty gambling system they introduced. A common end result of these efforts is the furnishing of high tier tanks upon drivers who have little to no concept of how to play them effectively.
The impact of flooding the game with unseasoned participants, who can typically be diagnosed in their premium tanks on sight, means that the game-play experience for those whom are competent is worse than it has ever been. While the developers can point to concerted efforts to build advanced functionality for veterans, it doesn’t seem coincidental that these have been fraught with missteps. The tournament system apparently has reached a point of maturity where it can become a major focus, but not before several aborted launch efforts and substantial flame-outs. The military honor system seems to be completely ineffective at reigning in even the most egregious behavior. Indeed, there are players running deliberate troll accounts to determine just how bad one has to be to get even a temporary ban (answer: very very bad indeed). A projected replay system, which could be of immeasurable utility, has all but vanished from the developmental radar. And finally, the rating battle format which promised so much in reducing variability in potential between teams, is completely compromised by its own calibration/recalibration mechanics. The upshot of which invokes brutally long queue times, teams that are as uneven as random battles, and a strong disincentive to participate in the format. Time and time again over the past few years “improvements” to Blitz have therefore skewed the balance of the playing experience away from “long-term revenue generators” to “immediate revenue sources”. It begs an obvious question regarding the commitment of WarGaming to the longevity of the game.
The simplicity of the battle experience was a major initial drawcard the 2014-15 time frame, a characteristic since completely buried in complexity. A glance at an original garage would recall days without an overwrought equipment system, nineteen individual crew skills, missions, containers, events, camouflage, provisions, consumables, supremacy mode, boosters, certificates, tournaments, training rooms, and so on. The changes, while adding great depth to Blitz, have moved the experience far beyond what a rank beginner can absorb and process effectively. To invite these same beginners into the full spectrum of battle queues is completely myopic and materially harming Blitz.
Long Live Blitz
Its somewhat surprising then that WarGaming have just provided a glimpse of a development option that could navigate the enigma of co-nurturing immediate vs long-term revenue streams. It may sound quacked but the World of Ducks (WoD) April Fools event inadvertently just framed out an elegant solution. Ignoring the fact that an in-game event in an armored warfare arcade game featured bubble and shark fin shooting rubber duckie facsimiles, the battle mechanics were deceptively engaging. In essence these included: a limit of three vehicle types, each with different yet generally balanced characteristics, vehicle selection by the matchmaker rather than the player, a small map to limit the number of draws, inability to play in a platoon, lack of soft cover for concealment, lack of a base-capture mechanic, and lack of economic and experience components. The result was, in my ducked opinion, an accessible and focused format for all skill levels with a sufficiently broad gameplay experience and lack of complicating elements.
Adoption of such a game mode as a permanent feature could provide a degree of lifecycle stability to Blitz. Incorporating it as a “proving ground mode” (PGM) would provide a much improved training experience for newcomers at low tiers. It should also remain available for all players as a stand alone fun-mode, much more akin to the original Blitz than the current jumble of content. Imagine a first iteration that consists of a the low ground of the current Rockfield, and teams comprising of DW2’s, Hetzer’s and Ke-Ni Otsu’s? With randomly assigned vehicles exhibiting a breadth of capabilities spanning the armor-mobility-firepower triangle, it could be an engaging contest. As with WoD, battle stats would not contribute to a players general record. Without battle exp and economic components, the game mode would not necessarily attract dedicated seal-clubbing, which could also be minimized by uniform equipment load outs across a single vehicle type.
A simple structure for implementing PGM’s could look like:
- Newcomers have access to random battles, tech tree and premium vehicle purchases, but are be restricted to playing tiers I-IV until they “graduate” from a tier III/IV PGM. Graduation requires playing a certain number of battles (eg 1000) and completing a series of simple tasks (eg win 5/10 games in a sequence, and a range of missions involving spotting, tracking, damage, survival etc). After graduation, players can participate in random battles with any tech tree or premium tank.
- A second PGM exists at tier VIII, consisting of three suitable and diverse vehicles (eg T-44/T32/Borsig) and a different map, such as Mines. Researching/purchasing a tech tree tier VIII vehicle or acquiring a tier V-VIII premium (via purchase or containers) permits entry into this PGM. The mechanics of the tier VIII PGM are the same, but graduation involves more rigorous tasks (eg play 2000 battles, and achieve a 50% WR over a sequence of 100 battles). A player only gains access to rating battles once these graduation requirements are achieved.
How could PGM battles contribute to both the short and long-term revenue streams and also improve the veteran experience? By incentivizing premium tank purchases, educating and stratifying the player base in ways that are not currently achieved. Newcomers would have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of Blitz by running vehicles that teach specific attributes of various classes, without the grind pressures of the current in-game economy. The PGM and graduation structure would likely perform a vital educational role left unfulfilled by the current anemic tutorial. Overlaying PGM into the game could be implemented without adjustment to key in-game mechanics, and at the same time would return a low-key mode akin to the original “Mobilize” ethos of Blitz.
For the past few years Blitz has been an engaging, perhaps all too engaging, experience. However, dedicated players are sensing a growing sense of disquiet as to what the game is becoming in light of growing competition from other titles such as WoW Blitz and PUBG mobile. Make-or-break decisions are looming for WarGaming that will determine whether the reign of Blitz burns brightly, or burns out.