Game publisher Wargaming continues to explore new ways to connect with its 140 million World of Tanks fans through history-themed virtual reality experiences. The company is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first real-life tank with an event showcasing the Mark IV replica created for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse film in London’s Trafalgar Square on September 15. The Mark I, the first tank, debuted 100 years ago at that same location.
For those who aren’t in the UK, Wargaming is launching the latest installment in its historical “Virtually Inside” 360-degree video series. “Virtually Inside the First Tanks” combines a 360-degree video walkthrough of the Bovington Tank Museum’s collection of early tanks. But Wargaming has enhanced this experience by adding in-game 360-degree scenes of the Mark I from its World of Tanks game, which Matt Daly, Wargaming special projects lead told [a]listdaily, allows anyone to jump into observer mode on any modern device without needing to download the client.
“Our hardware, software, production competency and methodologies have all drastically improved, and it shows, but I would say the biggest and subtlest innovation with this newest Mark I episode is the integration for the first time of World of Tanks in-game VR video,” Daly said. “Almost nobody is doing this right now, certainly not in this context, and the ability to provide something increasingly close to an in-game observer mode without the need for the viewer to download anything at all is a very big deal. This will become much more obvious by the end of 2017.”
Daly, who has been on all 10 of the historical 360-degree shoots, said he’s watched as the whole VR video space continues to evolve and grow. He said Wargaming’s 360-degree video view counts are currently among the highest in the medium.
“We’ve seen an overwhelmingly positive response from our community and the general public,” Daly said. “When people marvel at what they’re seeing, we know that we’ve brought them at least one of the first experiences of this kind, and that’s quite a powerful thing. We also see that people are ‘getting it.’ They’re expressing a deeper understanding of the history because they’ve just experienced it in a more immersive way, and ultimately drawing an even more meaningful connection between World of Tanks and the absolute ocean of heritage that it is built on. Creating those deeper experiences is what drives us.”
Daly said the platforms and tools for virtual reality are maturing very quickly. Since the creative community that is doing meaningful work in this medium is still small, they’re all engaging in regular dialogue with Google, Littlstar, Facebook and other toolmakers and infrastructure providers to help communally determine how the medium shapes out. “We’re seeing fewer to no immersion breakers like stitch lines or low framerates; we have better methodologies for dealing with all stages of production; and in general we have a better understanding of who is viewing these videos on which devices and what it is they’re interested in,” Daly said.
This library of videos is also working on a marketing level. Daly said if someone Googles “Mark I Tank Video” or “USS Alabama,” there’s a very good chance a top result will be one of Wargaming’s text articles, videos or VR videos. “We’re leveraging probably the biggest, highest-quality repository of combat vehicle 3D models, along with deep relationships with museums and heritage organizations around the world, to produce some of the most compelling heritage storytelling on the internet,” Daly said. “Our community, as well as anyone who might become a member of our community, tend to deeply respect that. VR video is an obvious extension of that storytelling we’ve been doing for years, and is just perfect for our online game audience because they already have the vocabulary to engage in dialogue with us about it.”
That audience is about to grow with the introduction of PlayStation VR on October 15. Littlstar has partnered with Sony as the official VR video platform for PlayStation VR, and Daly said the World of Tanks channel will be front and center on launch day. “That will increase our reach and help us stay platform agnostic,” Daly said. “Most importantly, it will allow more people to engage with these VR experiences in the most optimal way: with an actual VR headset. We also hope that the intrinsically communal nature of the PS4 living room situation will pull the medium, and our content, away from fears of isolationism.”
Wargaming isn’t just focusing on virtual reality, as the company has been at the forefront of augmented reality as well. Wargaming has just launched its fourth AR product, Tank 100, which is available on iOS and Android devices. It developed this AR experience with Ballista Digital, co-owned by historian Tom Clifford and BBC presenter Dan Snow. The app allows anyone to place 3D models of the Mark I tank onto the world, providing a sense of the scale and presence of the vehicle. That acts as a natural segue into the expanded information and storytelling about the vehicle’s history that’s offered in the app. The Tank 100 app also directly connects to Littlstar, which means users can experience any of the 10 VR experiences the company has filmed.
Daly said some of the types of data and community feedback they’ve been able to gather from their VR projects helped inform them about audience interests, population concentration, experience level, immersion threshold, etc. This inevitably feeds into the design of Wargaming’s AR experiences and vice versa. “We feel that if we keep pace with both VR and AR technologies, we’ll be best equipped to continue doing truly unique and awesome things with them at every step of the way, particularly once AR and VR inevitably integrate into an entirely new medium,” Daly said.
Wargaming is also celebrating the 100th anniversary of tanks in its games. Starting September 15, World of Tanks on PC introduces Convoy mode. Players can drive an entirely new vehicle type: the four-wheeled Lanchester armored cars, armed with fast-firing machine guns, which are quick and mobile. Players will be divided into two teams of seven with one team protecting and repairing the Mark I as it moves across a World War I battlefield, while the other team tries to use explosives to stop it in its tracks.
There’s also a special event in Wargaming’s mobile game, World of Tanks Blitz, which begins September 19. Players can take control of a modified Mark I in a 7-vs-7 battle. A special medal is earned once ten battles are completed in the Mark I during the week.