The hype continues and there is currently only one topic in the gaming community: the new consoles. Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X / S are being ripped out of the dealers' hands and are sold out almost everywhere. And that, although not yet there are too many titles that really make the most of the new hardware. Instead, we see various games that are being polished up by the old generation for the new consoles.
But in the medium and long term, players get one next-gen title after the next, which will then exploit the potential of the new consoles. This is good news for gamers and developers alike, because the employees of the game developers can finally achieve things that were previously limited by the performance of the consoles. But that doesn't apply to all developers. Because in contrast to the upcoming new titles, there are also games that have to continue to run on both generations. World of Tanks as Game-as-a-Service is one of them. Simply turning off Free-2-Play on PS4 and Xbox One makes no financial sense for Wargaming. The developers still want to pass the advantages of the new generation on to their players – but how can that work?
To this end, we spoke to TJ Wagner, who is himself Creative Director and Executive Producer for World of Tanks at Wargaming. He told us not only how the parallel development is taking place, but also why World of Tanks will look better on the new generation, but still all players can play together across generations and platforms.
TJ Wagner also chatted about how much better the cooperation between the developers and the console manufacturers has become, that the consoles are almost identical and that even the Xbox Series S makes no difference for the developers. And of course we also asked which console they prefer – from a developer's point of view – and which one is more important for Wargaming. The latter was revealed to us by Ingo Horn, who was also present, Communication Director Europe at Wargaming and, as the former Communication Director Consoles, very involved in Wargaming's console business.
Interview with TJ Wagner Creative Director and Executive Producer for World of Tanks at Wargaming:
PC Games: First of all, please introduce yourself. Who are you and what exactly is your job at Wargaming?
TJ Wagner: I'm TJ Wagner, I'm the Executive Producer and Creative Director of World of Tanks for Xbox and Playstation. I think we've been on the market for seven years now and with World of Tanks Mercenaries we have one of the most successful free-to-play games on consoles and one of the first. We're proud to say that we now also support next-gen consoles. From next year we will also have native versions that we support even more.
PC Games: When did Sony or Microsoft first let you know that they were working on next-gen consoles? And what were your first thoughts on that?
TJ Wagner: Microsoft visited us in Chicago (editor's note: headquarters of Wargaming West, the most important Wargaming office for console development), I think at the end of November or beginning of December 2019, and gave us a presentation of the new consoles. Sony followed suit around January with a video conference. We were immediately fascinated by the speed of the new hardware. I think we're used to every generation being an extraordinary leap in terms of features and functionality. But this generation is also a consumer upgrade. They care about improving things that the players demand. Speed, high-resolution graphics, almost no loading times. Things that are very, very important to the player. PC gamers, for example, upgrade their PCs almost permanently, which are faster and can display better graphics. This generation of consoles is really focused on that consumer experience.
PC Games: Has anything changed in the hardware in the year between your first presentation and the current release?
TJ Wagner: I think nothing has changed over the year. The information they gave us is pretty much the same. I don't think there were any surprises. On the Microsoft side, we are also developing the new GDK, which can also be used for Xbox One. This is practical, so we can develop with the same software for both platforms.
PC Games: Let's get to the specs of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Were they as strong as you imagined? Where are the biggest improvements compared to the previous generation?
TJ Wagner: Well, they are definitely stronger in every area. At the moment we are backwards compatible and can upgrade our games on PS5 and Xbox Series S / X to 60 FpS, previously we were always limited to 30. To do this, we can increase the level of detail and load higher-resolution models and textures. So we have native 4K, 60FpS, higher resolution textures and models. Next year the newly developed clients will come, which can use the more in-depth features of the new consoles. Including ray tracing, improved anti-aliasing and new lighting techniques. So there is a big update right now, and an even bigger one in spring next year.
PC Games: What are the main differences between PS5 and Xbox Series X from a developer's perspective? Or are they so close together that there is practically no difference?
TJ Wagner: I think this generation has consoles that are closer together than any before. There are minor differences in timing and access speed. But they are not really noticeable. I don't think a player will notice the differences anywhere.
PC Games: What about the Series S? What role does it play in the development? Since the games have to run on both the X and the S.
TJ Wagner: The only difference for us is that the Series X gets native 4K at 60 fps while the Series S gets upscaled 4K. So the versions are pretty comparable for our game and hardly make a difference.
PC Games: So wasn't there any extra effort that went into developing it?
TJ Wagner: No! In fact, none at all, which surprised even us. When we started development, we thought we would have to accept losses in some areas, whether in terms of exposure, models or whatever. I thought I was getting requests from our developers like, "What should we do? Where should we downgrade?" – but it didn't come to that. To our surprise, developing on X and S doesn't require any extra effort.
PC Games: What are the main differences in working with Microsoft and Sony? One hears often and gladly that Microsoft is less complicated.
TJ Wagner: I would say that has been the case in the past. But about a year and a half or two ago a large part of Sony moved into the California office, now everyone we communicate with is in the US, which means in the same time zone. The office for "functional testing", with which we work most, is always available and reacts very quickly to all inquiries. The collaboration is definitely great right now.
Ingo Horn: Plus, if I may add, we now have a first-party manager at Wargaming for World of Tanks, who is in permanent contact with Sony and Microsoft and is always in Seattle or California for various meetings – or, thanks to Covid, often in Zoom -Meetings. This does not only affect development, but also things like the PS Store or the Xbox Store. He takes care of these things. We have worked with Microsoft and Sony for so many years and have built a good partnership.
PC Games: Have you ever seen Sony or Microsoft talk you into decisions or development? Or can you in principle bring anything you want to the consoles?
TJ Wagner: We all have freedom. When we met her we asked: "What are your outstanding features? What do you want us to support?" But there were no actual requirements X, Y or Z that we had to meet. I think mainly because every game is different. A 40-player multiplayer game in a set server environment is completely different from, for example, a single-player brawler. So every game has different requirements, but there wasn't anything that was asked or we had to do.
PC Games: Sooner or later you knew exactly what the new consoles can and will do. What were the next steps a big developer like Wargaming took? What were the priorities – implement new ideas, improve old features?
TJ Wagner: The first thing to think about a new console is: How can we add to the current game? The game that has been around for seven years and has a huge player base so the focus was: How do we create a better experience for the players? And also, how do we manage that all players can continue to play together? World of Tanks is not only cross-platform between Playstation and Xbox, but also cross-generational between Xbox One and Xbox Series S / X, and PS4 and PS5. That was really our focus, everyone playing together. We don't want to subdivide our players who then have to choose between one feature or the other, or one console and the other. We are happy to say that we succeeded.
PC Games: How is the development going internally? After all, you have to develop WoT Mercenaries and World of Warships Legends for four (with the Series S five) different consoles.
TJ Wagner: For Xbox One and Xbox Series we use the new GDK (Glass Development Kit), so the development process is exactly the same. Playstation 4 and Playstation 5: There are differences in the operating system, but nothing that restricted us during development. We have not yet met anything that prevents us from keeping the game across generations. The Series X and Playstation 5 will have higher resolution textures, faster load times, higher frame rates, different lighting effects and different anti-aliasing, but nothing that limits gameplay from one generation to the next.
Ingo Horn: If I may add one thing, we dropped Xbox 360 support this year. If we had wanted to keep it upright, it would have become a bottleneck for us for obvious reasons, which is why we had to stop the support. Otherwise we couldn't have guaranteed the best experience on the oldest generation.
PC Games: So your goals are to keep the game playable on both generations. Doesn't that limit you from a certain point?
TJ Wagner: I don't think anyone can reach the full limits of a new console two or three years after they were released. You don't know enough about them, about the user experience and what can be adjusted and improved. We don't see anything on the PS4 or Xbox One that would hold us back from developing the next gen. The next generation is so focused on speed and graphics, there is no real influence or limitation on gameplay.
PC Games: So World of Tanks and World of Warships will still be playable on the old consoles for the foreseeable future and the plug won't be pulled at some point because Playstation 4 and Xbox One can no longer keep up?
TJ Wagner: So far, there are no plans in this regard that have been discussed so far. As you know, the new consoles are popular, sold out, and difficult to find. It will take a few years, however, before the player base on the new consoles is as large as on the old ones. So we will continue to support the old generation as long as they are available and it makes financial sense. And that will be the case for a long time, as there is hardly any additional effort to continue supporting the old consoles.
PC Games: What does the Next Gen mean for World of Tank Mercenaries and World of Warships Legends? How do you want to use the new power? Apart from the obvious and already mentioned points such as better graphics and more FpS. Maybe 8K? Or are there any deeper plans? New features, bigger maps and things like that.
TJ Wagner: Larger maps, more opulent and also denser maps are something that we are planning for our next release. Since we no longer support the Xbox 360, this has enabled us to publish a lot more on the platforms. When we release our new clients next year, we'll be looking specifically at 8K, hardware ray tracing, improved anti-aliasing, and new light models. It's all a "work in progress" process for us right now.
PC Games: Are there things that you could have done with the new hardware that you had to say goodbye to because it would not have been compatible with the old one?
TJ Wagner: I don't think there is anything in this direction at the moment, there will already be larger maps that will also be available on the old generation. We haven't seen anything where we had to say "well we can't do that, the Last Gen wouldn't go along with it". I think this is mainly because it is an existing game that is very popular. If we were to develop a new game, we would probably be looking for things that the Last Gen couldn't do. But since we have a game that already exists, we try to keep players together, let them play together, and keep the experience the way they love it.
Ingo Horn: And you always have to keep in mind that since we are an online game, we depend on our players. If we offer a feature that is only available on Next Gen, only those few players can use it, and there aren't many who own the new console.
PC Games: Did the Next Gen have an impact on the planned content before the release? Any features that were roughly planned, but where you then said: "We were on the new generation until we released this feature, because with the new technology it looks even more impressive."
TJ Wagner: Not specific to the consoles. Just the graphic improvements I was just talking about. It's a very smooth development process from the start.
PC Games: How does the detail difference between Xbox and PS5 affect the development process? Things like the different force feedback of the controller or the different sound options? Are you planning to use such features in a targeted manner or would you prefer to save yourself the work because it only benefits some of the players?
TJ Wagner: We always try to make use of what the consoles offer the players. There are many gamers who are very confident about the console they own. And they want all of the console's features to be used. We always listen to our players for what they want from us. For example, we brought full real 3D sound to the new Xbox consoles and reduced the latency of controllers on both platforms. We keep looking at what our players want.
PC Games: With the new consoles, publishers are trying to bring subscription models to the fore. Does that affect Wargaming?
TJ Wagner: We already offer Gamepass users a special bundle that includes tanks, virtual currency and cosmetic items, just like for PS + users. So players who pay for the special subscriptions get special benefits for World of Tanks.
PC Games: Wargaming is unlikely to simply use the new consoles to continue the existing games. What other plans do you have?
TJ Wagner: Of course, I can't go into detail, it's much higher up the food chain for people than me. I can only confirm that there are games in development at Wargaming worldwide. It's great that we have so many studios in so many countries because we get feedback on games in development from all over the world – from different regions and cultures, what they like and what they don't. We are currently around 5,500 strong. This is a large group of employees who test and create our games. It's really fantastic to work with people from all over the studios and get feedback on games in development.
PC Games: Are there any plans to reach new groups of players with the new generation of consoles? Especially in Europe, where Wargaming players are mainly on the PC?
TJ Wagner: Nothing special from the developer side. Our publisher team is always very very focused on different regions, and we also have publisher teams in many different regions. We have a large presence in the CIS region thanks to the success of the official PC version, but we also have a lot of console gamers there. We have an office in Tokyo that always gives us feedback on how our events and actions are being received in the APEC region and outside of America in general.
PC Games: Which console is more important to Wargaming. PS5 or Series X?
TJ Wagner: It's a tough question because the Xbox is much more popular in North America, while the Playstation is more popular in the East and Southeast.
Ingo Horn: That would also be my answer from the publisher's point of view. You really have to pay attention to the region. If you look at it globally, the consoles are so close together that you can't say Xbox or Playstation is more important. It's too close a race in terms of copies sold and our player base.
PC Games: Which console do your developers prefer – from the point of view of a developer who has to work with it, and not from the point of view of a gamer?
TJ Wagner: That is probably not a question for me, as I am a former employee of Microsoft and have many colleagues and friends at Microsoft with whom I have worked for a decade and a half. That's why I'm a little partial. From a developer side … well, our engine has been running on four generations of consoles, it's very adaptable. When it comes to things that used to be quite difficult, such as queries, comments and confirmations, both manufacturers respond very, very quickly. We can now send in a draft and have the answer within a day – that used to take two weeks. At that time there were also big differences between Microsoft and Sony in how the collaboration and all processes had to work. But now it's very easy and very similar to work with both.
PC Games: And finally, please complete the following sentence for us: "For Wargaming, next-gen means …"
TJ Wagner: "a better user experience."
PC Games: Thank you for taking the time and for the many answers.
TJ Wagner: Thank you, Philipp. It was a pleasure to talk to you again!
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