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Published December 17, 2012

It's been a busy year! 

It's been an exciting year for fans of tanks. Just a few years ago, games that featured tank combat were few and far between; a niche in a niche market. World of Tanks has changed all this.
 
World of tanks has gone from strength to strength in 2012, adding new content, engine upgrades and some game-changing new features. 
 
Wargaming, the developer and publisher behind World of Tanks, which started out as a small business in Minsk, Belarus, has expanded into a multinational company and entered into the same league as EA, Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard, all in a very short space of time. 
 
In just one year their registered user base has gone from 1,000,000 to a massive 40,000,000 players and the company has grown from 400 to 900 staff. World of Tanks is currently holding the Guinness Book of Records "Most Players Online Simultaneously on One MMO Server", a record it broke three times and which currently stands at 500,000 concurrent players.
 
When discussing profits, CEO Victor Kisyli had this to say during an interview with gamesindustry.biz:  "Those would be millions of dollars per month. Many millions. I’m not going to give you the exact number, but double digits. Not high double digits”. Wargaming further went on to prove they're in the big leagues when they bought out the middleware provider Big World for $45m. This purchase allows Wargaming direct control over its game engine and adds an additional review stream through licensing. 
 
Wargaming has proved the free to play plus premium content model is not only viable but it's extremely profitable and for the most part, players...customers are happy with it.  Next year will not only see World of Tanks get bigger but the launch of two new products, World of Warships and World of Warplanes.
 
So here's a look back at 2012, the highs and lows of what was a new benchmark in the online gaming sphere. 
 
 

7.1 The unique French

On the 4th of January, patch 7.1 arrived which marked the arrival of the first new nation since the game was officially released; the French.
 
What can be said about these tanks that hasn't already been said dozens of times: no armor, autoloaders, oscillating turrets, annoyingly fast and alarmingly weak and incredible damage dealing. 
 
All this is personified in the Bat Chatillon 25t. First released as a Tier IX and then moved to Tier X later on in the year, its extremely fast, can unload just shy of 2000 damage in 14 seconds. 
 
 
Despite many questions as to the validity of French tanks being introduced to World of Tanks, given their marginal involvement in World War 2 and immediate post war conflicts, what they've added to the game is a new dynamic that no other nation's tanks would have brought. 
 
Not everyone is a fan of this but it did change things for the positive and later in the year the Batchat would become the staple of nearly every Clan Wars and Absolute Company Battle line up. 
 
 

The Type 59 Invasion is brought to an end

Despite obviously loss of profit to Wargaming, action needed to be taken, the Type 59 was dominating the game and its global averages were overtaking everything else. Even today, nearly one year later, the Type 59 causes China to have the highest average Win Ratio on the EU server. So on the 16th of January it was removed from sale.
 
It still remains popular today yet it isn't the fuel for thousands of rage posts on the official forums which it once was. It's been nerfed, nerfed again and recently buffed. It's forever a source of heated debate. 
 
On the other hand in China, just 2 weeks after the 16th, a gold Type 59 was on sale. Yes, a gold Type 59. You just can't buy taste. 
 
No doubt it will come back to the in-game store once the Chinese Tech trees have been released and players will be swamped with this Chinese T54 copy once again.
 
 
 

7.2 Brothers In Arms

7.2 was the first of several game changing content updates but it wasn't without a little controversy. It featured 22 crew skills, quite a few model changes and some new and highly popular tanks. 
 
The crew skills, while not fundamentally game-changing unlike like the later physics changes, did allow players to customize tank crews to be more effective in certain areas. Some skills that stand out include 6th sense, a skill that tells you when you've been spotted and Brothers in Arms, a skill that all members of the crew must have to function which increases a number of stats by 5%. Brother in Arms also works in conjunction with ventilators and other buffing modules and consumables.
 
7.2 also saw the introduction of new turreted US Tank Destroyers and some shuffling around at the top end of the US Heavy and Tank Destroyer trees. The T30 was moved to a Tier IX Tank Destroyer slot, the T34 was moved from a Tier IX Heavy slot to become a Tier VIII Premium tank.
 
To replace these tanks in the US Heavy Tree, Wargaming gave us the Tier IX M103, a real US Heavy tank and one of the only Tier IX tanks to be used in front line service and actually see real combat. The Tier X T30, after being moved to the Tank Destroyer Tree was replaced with the T110E5. This tank with its strong frontal armor, high mobility and powerful gun has joined the IS7 as the backbone of most Clan Wars teams. 
 
 
Players who owned the T30 immediately earned a free Tier X tank because of this, so much rejoicing was had. The changes to the T30, however, were considered quite harsh by some. 
 
However, Wargaming, never to far from upsetting players and feeding the Soviet bias accusations implemented some 'historical accuracy' revisions. Changes focused on the size of several tanks and it was always going to be contentious: reducing the size of the IS7, arguably the most powerful single tank in World of Tanks and increasing the size of the Tiger II was asking for trouble. 
 
This further fueled the bias accusations against Wargaming. Why? Because the IS7 which is already a very powerful tank, with small and hard to hit front weak points was reduced in size while the Tiger II, a very popular tank was increased in size. Granted, it was only by a few percent so the change was negliable but it didn't really help players' perception of Wargaming.
 
 

7.3 Russian bananza

We move on to May and the release of 7.3, a patch containing numerous fixes and a shuffling around of the Soviet Heavy tank trees. 
 
The Soviet Heavy tree had been the source for a number of complaints. The KV1 had an option for a huge cannon, worthy of a tank 3 or 4 Tiers its senior; the KV3, a Tier VI Heavy was dominating Medium Company Battles and the Tier IX IS4 was clearly a little too good against its peers. Subsequently the IS4 was given a hit point buff, some equipment changes, a move to Tier X and sits on top of its own Heavy tree. An ST1 was added to that tree at Tier IX. Replacing the IS4 underneath the IS7 is the IS8. On Tier VIII the KV4 was introduced. 
 
Lower down the tree, the KV3 was moved to Tier VII, moving it to the same league as the Tiger 1 and the original IS while the KV1 was split into two tanks, lost its huge cannon but also had reduced match making.
 
 
All these changes led to a frantic rush to research and people buying as many of the original tanks as possible to take advantage of the free tanks, crews and garage slots that would result from all these changes.
 
7.3 also saw the introduction of the dreaded Dragon Ridge map. This map is a prime example of why developers need to provide comprehensive QA, not just at the final testing stages but throughout the development process. The map caused a whole host of video card and performance related problems, leading to its removal from map rotation. It later reappeared in 8.1, and remains an unpopular map.
 
 

7.4 French tech tree complete. 

In late June, Wargaming released the 7.4 update. As usual it featured balancing changes plus two new maps and the French SPGs and Tank Destroyers trees.
 
The French SPGs are generally fast and contain some stand-out vehicles including the AMX105 and a Batchat artillery.
 
Wargaming also saw fit to remove Komarin and Swamp from the map rotation in random battles but not Clan Wars. While there is some agreement that both maps needed to be reviewed, the case was especially strong in Clan Wars due to huge balance issues. 
 
Most of all, it will be remembered as the update where new game modes were introduced and that didn't prove too popular despite them being requested by players. While the principle of Encounter and Assault are sound, Wargaming didn't really think them through very well, leading to allot of negative feedback, especially about the Assualt mode. 
 
Assualt mode maps tend to have fairly unbalanced layouts, add to that the randomness of public games and you have a recipe for creating player rage.
 
 

7.5 Heavies finally meet their match?

In late July one of the most popular updates in 2012 for was released. After plenty of discussion and player requests Wargaming finally delivered Tier X Medium Tanks and Tank Destroyers and they did not disappoint.
 
On the whole these were well received by the majority of players. Despite the inevitable complaints about the death of Heavy tanks, because of the new Mediums DPMs being high and the obscenely large guns on the new Tank Destroyers, it was clear to the more rational players that balance was at long last being achieved at Tier X. 
 
The knock-on effect was Clan Wars, until then utterly dominated by hordes of IS7's and T110E5's, had finally become interesting. The new tanks offered many new strategies in both offensive and defensive battles. The Medium tanks offered fast moving and hard hitting flanking options, the new Tank Destroyers provided heavily armored defensive/blocking tanks. 
 
 
Sadly, this also caused the E100 and Maus to fall further out of favor in Clan Wars and further highlighted their inadequacies in random battles; so calls for buffs for both these tanks reached a crescendo, but would Wargaming listen?
 
That wasn't all there was to get excited about. The Soviet tree had long contained three Lend/Lease tanks from Great Britain, but as yet no tank was present in World of Tanks flying the flag from the country that invented and first used the tank in combat.  Wargaming saw an opportunity to remedy this problem with the introduction of a Tier V Premium, the experimental Matilda Black Prince.
 
 

8.0 World of Tanks shifts up a gear

Earlier in the year, Wargaming had announced they would be entirely reworking the physics engine in a video which could only have been a deliberate effort to cause a reaction within the community - it had a Leopard scout tank doing a back flip! Once players saw what Wargaming was planning, all they could say was "When?".
 
Not only would Wargaming add physics to World of Tanks but by proxy would be required to remodel all existing maps. This lead to a total revamp of all the maps, many of which also got a visual remodeling as well.
 
 
Wargaming had clearly learnt lessons from the past and players were invited to test out the physics engine and remodeled maps on the test server. It proved an instant hit. Tanks now moved more realistically and actually had weight to them; if they had enough horse power per ton they could literally go anywhere. This would completely change how World of Tanks was played and change map strategies drastically. 
 
The release was smooth and players lapped it up, the long QA phase eliminated nearly all the issues with tanks becoming stuck on objects. The introduction involved a little bit of a learning curve as players got used to tanks actually having weight for the first time which caused inevitable problems and humor. Tanks gaining excessive angles or height after leaving the ground would break tracks or worse, damage modules when they landed; heavier tanks could now push lighter tanks around including off cliffs, into water or trap them. 
 
The controversy, however, wouldn't stay away for long. In 8.0 Wargaming changed the way camouflage on vehicles worked, including the pricing. All camouflage was removed from players' vehicles and the original purchase price in gold was returned. To replace this, Wargaming introduced a new camouflage and decals system into the game. Tanks could have 3 camouflage schemes, 1 for desert maps, 1 for summer maps and 1 for winter maps. The price was lower than before for individual patterns but if a player bought three patterns it would cost more than it did prior to 8.0. Additionally, the new system allowed players to pay gold to add a number of decals on tanks e.g. flags, names and emblems. 
 
The benefit of buying these is that each camouflage pattern adds 5% to the tanks camouflage rating...and you get a personalised war machine, as you can see from my ride of choice below, Brunhilde the Leichttraktor.
 
 
Players were understandably peeved due to the costs of this change despite any benefits or customization options they offered. Although Wargaming needs to make money, the price to buy three camouflage patterns on higher Tier tanks was seen as excessive as 750 gold, especially as the CEO had recently announced Wargaming were making tens of millions of dollars profit a month. 
 
If all that wasn't enough, the normalization model was also changed. Normalization is the calculation which works out the angle of the armor versus incoming rounds. To cut a long story short, the calculation became more generous when taking into account the angle of armor, meaning tanks became more difficult to penetrate. 
 
 

8.1 Pudding and Tea

Originally slated to arrive earlier in 2012, the first 22 British tanks arrived in November.
 
No one was 100% sure what to expect given the problems the British tank industry had until the post-war years. Essentially a cottage industry compared to their aircraft and ship building operations, British tank doctrines and designs both pre- and post-war defied Wargamings Light/Medium/Heavy tank classes.
 
Reception when released was largely mixed, predominantly due to balancing issues with the higher tiers. The lower Tiered tanks were either relatively well-armored and marginally under-gunned or fast- and lightly-armored. They were, however, a great deal of fun. At Tier VII and above, things are a little different. 
 
Some of the upgrades offer little or no real difference in performance and the top Tiered tanks are unsuitable for Clan Wars due to their lack of inherent ability to either soak damage, deflect damage or get in position quickly.
 
 
The majority of disappointment was heaped on the mighty Centurion, a tank with a prestigious combat history spanning 40 years and often acknowledged as one of the best post-war tank designs. Sadly in World of Tanks this hasn't translated well as the tank is large, under-armored and relatively slow.  This is possibly down to the game engines lack of ability to factor in the vital brinnel index of steel used in armor.
 
 

8.2 Chinese Invasion

In late November and Wargaming have announced that 17 new Chinese tanks will be arriving in 8.2, alongside a number of new US tanks and 3 new Premium vehicles.
 
This creates both interest and controversy as China isn't exactly known for either producing indigenous tank designs or taking part in any famous tanks battles. 
 
The line-up consists of two distinct sets of vehicles: The first set which make up the lower tiers are all designs from other countries, including one from Japan. The second set are all tanks produced in China but are either copies or adaptations of Soviet designs and are all largely similar in principle to many post-war Soviet tanks e.g. fast moving brawlers. 
 
Wargaming then changed their minds and postponed the whole thing! True to fashion, Wargaming's statement to players was vague and contradictory to previous press releases. I don't think anyone ever expects them to give an honest reason for anything they do, however what they claimed was that the data gathered from the test server highlighted that Chinese tanks are not ready for release. They cited that the Tier X Heavy required replacement and that it would follow in a future update.
 
It's certainly an odd decision considering the Tier X Heavy is essentially a highly mobile IS7 clone and was close to a 70% win rate on the test server. They've further stated its replacement will be even more heavily armored!
 
As to the real reason it will pulled? Well, who knows. Wargaming will likely never say. What they have said in the past is data from the test server is unreliable, which completely contradicts the action they've taken.
 
Anyway, this is what you could have won:
 
8.2, minus the Chinese was released to the RU servers on the 6th of December.
 
 

Still lessons to be learnt?

2012 has been a good year and 2013 looks to be equally fruitful but Wargaming does need to learn from its mistakes.
 
A few key areas of contention which are often discussed include how tanks are balanced, skill based match making and Wargaming's communications.  
 
There is always a need for a company to maintain a level of PR when talking to customers however Wargaming just won't answer the difficult questions, its communications are often contradictory and occasionally inflammatory and its producers not only ignore player feedback, they often joke about it. As someone who has put in some hard years in the gaming industry in a top flight publisher, I find this quite  unprofessional. Something needs to change and soon.
 
The discussion about balance is both complicated and, in respect to how Wargaming does it, vague but it's clear that the current methods do not work. They've stated they use two methods. The first is the 49% rule; that is if a tanks global win rate is over or under 49%, it's in the pool of tanks that might get rebalanced. 49% is the server average win ratio for the average player.
 
The other rule they use is what some would describe as the most sensible rule; they take a slice or section of the player base and compare their average win rates for all tanks and then with individual tanks they own. For example Wargaming selects 1000 players all with a 54% global average win ratio and own the Tiger II. If the trend is that the majority of these players have an average win rate of less than 54% in the Tiger II, its potentially going to need a buff. 
 
While this is all well and good and should work, looking at the competition leagues none of them feature default game modes, often restrict certain tanks and Tiers, restrict the line-up numbers and the maps used. That says a great deal about the balance of this game and why the current methods simply don't work very well. 
 
So what about skill-based matchmaking. This is an often requested feature that Wargaming have stated would kill the game. Skill-based matchmaking is a common feature of many console based multiplayer games. Usually the player has a score based on thier performance which is then used to match them up with similarly skilled players when they enter the matchmaking queue.  This puts players with similarly skilled individuals, be that good or bad, into the same matches for an overall better experience. 
 
The question is, why can't World of Tanks adopt this method? Why would it kill the game? They've not stated.
 
 

So what does 2013 have in store? 

We'll cover that in another feature but the future looks good. Assuming the delay in the Chinese tank tree doesn't hold things up, we'll see a new German Medium line very soon, including the Leopard 1, British SPGs and TDs and likely a European tree featuring Czech, Polish and Italian tanks. There is also talk of a Middle Eastern tree which will feature Soviet, French, German, British and US tanks that fought for Israel, Egypt and Syria amongst others.  
An Isreali Sho't Centurion? Yes please.

So, looking back at World of Tanks this year, what did you think of 2012?

 
Knobber
QA manager by day, avid World of Tanks and EVE Online player by night. Having worked on AAA MMO titles in the past, I bring the perspective of both the gamer and former games industry professional.