Clash of the business models: Wargaming vs PGI

More BOOM less pew
I spent most of this week being sick which meant little MWO/group queue time (say what you want, it's a tiring game due to pacing). Luckily I got beta access to World of Warships last weekend, so I thought it'd be a good idea to sit (lie) down and try to learn this very interesting looking game. I'm a huge WW2 nerd but unfortunately I neglected the naval side of the war completely. WoWs coupled with tons of Wikipedia reading was the perfect opportunity to make up for this and I really enjoyed it (spoiler: Japan loses).

Overall, it's a pretty fun game with generally slow pacing that rewards planning ahead and consistency over "BOOM HEADSHOT!" moments, which I will talk about in another post. What I want to talk about right now is the business model of Wargaming. While I was playing I couldn't help but draw similarities between MWO and WoWs when it comes to audience and monetization. For years I've been hearing about how PGI was doing monetization wrong from the MWO community, so it was interesting to see how a very successful F2P game developer monetized their games in comparison.

The Audience

Can you guess which is which?
The first thing I want to talk about is what each game offers to its potential audience. MWO has a very niche setting and its audience is equally niche, mostly 20+ grown-ups with lots of Battletech nostalgia with stable income and lots of whaling potential. PGI offers them the possibility of piloting the pretty 'Mechs they've dreamt of piloting when they played the tabletop/earlier MW titles or read the books. The game is easy to pick-up, but its complicated mechanics actually make it a pretty deep game with some RNG involved. It's almost a full-fledged simulation with some arcade elements making it easy to pick-up.

For me, WoWs also bears resemblance to this. As you log in and look at the ships and the gameplay features, you can see that Wargaming took almost every element of naval warfare, simplified them as much as they could and put them in the game. Yes, they're simplified but they're still there to spice up the gameplay. The ship models are just incredible, the details are even better than the most hardcore ship models in the museums. Each ship comes strictly with their historical loadout and every upgrade in-game corresponds to an upgrade/overhaul they went in real life. It's as much a warship porn for naval enthusiasts as MWO is a 'Mechporn for Battletech fans. Now, the correct number of 25mm AA emplacements in a 1936 model of a Japanese warship might mean little to your average 15 years old playing this game after school because mommy won't buy him the new CoD, but it's a source of satisfaction for those who care. Those who care also happen to be grown-ups with a stable income and an interest for these things.

Unfortunately, the number of BT enthusiasts out there are very limited. On the contrary, the amount of WW2 enthusiasts out there is just staggering. The internet is full of WW2 boards with people discussing every little tiny details of it. Some of them undoubtedly play games and having an easy to pick up game with some degree of historical accuracy is just the perfect recipe for them (besides, how many WW2 ship simulations are out there?). Being a WW2 game, Wargaming also has the nationality thing going for them. Even if you don't care about history, you may still want to keep playing to unlock your nation's greatest military equipment you're proud of.

The currencies

WoWs has three currencies, just like MWO. First you have premium tokens which you can buy for real money, corresponding to MC in MWO. These are used to buy premium ships, dock slots or all kinds of microtransactions. The second is the in-game money you earn, credits. It's used to buy ships and upgrades, just like C-Bills in MWO. The third is experience points gained for each ship, corresponding to 'Mech XP in MWO. Lastly, a percentage of a ship experience is gained as free experience which corresponds to GXP in MWO. Just like the XP to GXP conversion in MWO, you can convert experience to free experience using tokens to use them on other ships.

I'm surprised by how much MWO copied Wargaming in this aspect. Not only the currencies match each other, their rate of accumulation is also about the same. In an average match you gain about 120000 credits, 1000 experience and about 150 free experience. Does that sound familiar? 

How about premium currency prices?

Looking familiar?
Even these look somewhat similar. WG prices are borked because it apparently converts € to $ instead of the other way around.

The grind

Here's when we see a big difference. World of Warships (and probably WoT too) is designed to be 100% grind game. Unlike MWO, there's a tier list you have to strictly adhere to. You have zero choice but to follow these progression paths WG set for you. Accustomed to the freedom I have in MWO, I really despised this design decision. Not only this reduces the amount of variety in each match (A Tier VII cruiser can't drop in the same match with a Tier II cruiser for example) but it also lets Wargaming not to worry about balance and less-desirable variants so much since everybody has to play them even if they really hate them.

The Japanese warship tier list
In order to advance down the tree, you are required to play with each ship for a while until you acquire enough experience to unlock the next one. If you want to go for a Mogami you have to grind through the Aoba which is an absolute trash. When you get to the Mogami though, things don't get easier for you as you're likely to be matched with higher tiered ships which are better than yours. You'll still feel inferior and feel the need to advance. Imagine when you picked a Dire Wolf in MWO, being dropped against nothing but other Dire Wolves, Timber Wolves, Firestarters, Stormcrows and other "tier 1" stuff and never see any Locusts or Centurions running around. The experience and credit requirements to unlock each successive ship also increases exponentially, so don't expect to get to Yamato without nearly months of grinding.

MWO on the other hand, offers you complete freedom. Do you want to get the best of the best right out of the bat? Great! Go grind the C-Bills for it and get yourself a Timber Wolf and enjoy playing it against hundreds of other 'Mechs in MWO. No need to wade through MDD's, HBR's and SMN's to get there. I find MWO much more user-friendly in this aspect. The only grindy aspect here is the requirement to basic three variants of each 'Mech to elite them, which is fair considering there needs to be a grind for it to be F2P.

When you unlock a ship, you are then required to unlock and buy its main modifications with XP and credits to get to the next ship. You also can not unlock the next ship purely by paying unlike MWO, you absolutely have to grind. Take a look:

One does not simply get a Mogami
Currently the grind doesn't seem too bad in WoWs, but the developers stated that the earnings are inflated in order to make it easier for close beta testers to unlock the ships. Once open beta starts and stats are wiped, the average income is probably going to plummet. 

You can also put upgrades on your ships (bottom). These correspond to the module slots in MWO but unlike MWO your decisions are final here. You cannot unmount an upgrade unless you pony up. There is no "premium" ammunition bullshit yet and hopefully won't be, but the tab is there albeit greyed out.

The grind in WoWs doesn't end here though. In WoWs you can have commanders for your ships. These commanders level up as you play and grant additional bonuses to your ships like extra AA range, better battery accuracy, better damage control and so on. It's kind of an analogue of the skill tree in MWO, except even in closed beta it takes forever to level up these commanders.

This "takes forever to level up" seems to be intentional, as you have a huge "Redistribute" button on the left, suggesting whenever you fuck up and decide the skill you got was worthless for that ship, you can spend real money to fix your mistake. More on that later though.

Another thing is, you can only have a limited number of commanders. When you reach the limit you are forced to transfer your commanders to your next ship, but in the process they're going to lose some skills points because they have to "retrain". Just like a new ship slot, you're also forced to buy individual commanders for each of your ships if you want to keep everything elited. Whereas in MWO when you elite a 'Mech, it's elited forever and it doesn't take much time to do that (2-3 hours per 'Mech without premium time). 

One last thing is you also have a player rank in WoWs. As you level up yourself, additional functionalities of the game slowly unlock (such as being able to hire commanders or mount flags for extra bonuses). Leveling up the player is pretty fast in the beta and I didn't consider it a grind, but it's there and it can change. Just another progress bar to be filled.

Overall, the grind is absolutely horrible in WoWs compared to MWO. There is little freedom you can exercise and you have to go through the salt mines if you want to get the best stuff. Ships are the most valuable thing for WG in WoWs and they sure want you to work for them, even if you're paying. In MWO you have less grind overall and if you're prepared to pay you can skip the grind completely. It'll still take you years to get every single 'Mech as a freeloader but at least you are free to choose which ones to get or simply not.


In MWO MC is used mainly for these things:
  • Buy new 'Mechbays (primary usage for many).
  • Buy 'Mechs (standard or hero).
  • Buy premium time (speed up the grind, unlock private matches).
  • Convert XP to GXP (we've all done it).
  • Buy customization (camos, cockpit items).
In WoWs tokens are used for:
  • Buy new ship slots.
  • Buy premium ships.
  • Buy new commander slots.
  • Buy premium time.
  • Convert XP to free XP.
  • Unmount ship upgrades (yes, you can't if you're a freebie).
  • Redistribute ship commander points.
  • Retrain ship commanders when transferring them to a new ship.
In both games you don't need to buy in to advance but only to accelerate the grind. The difference in WoWs is you're forced to pay if you change your mind about things. It's little and 25-200 each time, but they add up if you get used to them.

The we get to the price of premium stuff which is a very controversial subject in MWO forums. The pricing model of MWO is often reviled in this aspect as people (rightfully) can not justify spending 5-35$ on a single 'Mech. How is WoWs in this aspect? 

Well, let's take a look at the price of Atlanta, a premium tier VII ship in the US cruiser line. It costs 9000 tokens. Considering you go economical and buy the 50 pack which gives you 14500 tokens, you're paying about 30 for the ship. This being a Tier VII ship, let's say it's comparable to the 75 tonner hero, the Protector in MWO which sells for 5625 MC. Considering you buy the 6500 MC pack for 30$ to get it, you pay about 26$ (22€). Does this comparison make sense? I don't know, but take from it what you will.

Another thing to note is, MWO heroes give you a flat 30% C-Bill bonus per match which stacks with 50% premium for a whopping 80% more. In WoWs premium ships give you "more" free XP (think GXP) and "more" credits. How much? I looked around the web but apparently nobody knows as WG seemingly uses a formula that determines the bonus in a per tier basis. So if you have a VII tier premium ship you earn more bonus compared to a Tier X premium ship. It's as if you're spending money to have that special 'Mech not many people has, rather than benefit from its bonuses in WG's eyes.

Open your wallets for your delivery of nostalgia has arrived
Lastly, I must mention that PGI is moving away from an MC based economy to a web store based economy. They're finally evolving their monetization strategy to focus on expensive but shiny packs (still lots of value compared to the MC stuff though). They haven't released any new hero for nearly 6 months, but they've announced 2 more 'Mechpacks in the meanwhile. It clearly is easier to make people pay premium for good looking artwork rather than just another variant for a 'Mech they already played. This clearly comes with all the P2W accusations since these 'Mechs are locked for months and months behind a paywall and I also agree that it's not a very "freebie-friendly" way of running things. Still, it clearly keeps them afloat and I don't see anything particularly unfair or uncomfortable about making people wait (that's the whole idea of F2P anyway). 

Their "give-away" frenzy since last fall kind of affirms this move. PGI was very reluctant to give away MC-only stuff for years, yet ever since the success of the Clan packs they've been devaluing their MC stuff with constant prized tournaments or challenges. I didn't feel the need to buy mechbays for months as I had a constant stream of 'Mechbays from challenges. They even give MC away for free with CW achievements and in sizable sums. I can't complain, but for those with a lot of MC banked, these are bad news as their investment is now worth a lot less.


Compared to what I've seen on the WG side, the accusations that PGI is completely evil in their business model are rather exaggerated. MWO has considerably less grind, more choice and less "pony up to do that bro" moments than WoWs. Also note that I've been talking purely about monetization and grind here, not about gameplay or how deep/fun the games are. I'm also new to the WG realm here, so obviously I've made a few terrible mistakes I didn't notice.

There are obviously better models around, but not what I've played seriously so far (Tribes: Ascend isn't even worth comparing). Maybe WarThunder or WarFrame?
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About Rak

I'm an engineer who likes to write extremely long articles about games that border simulation and mainstream.
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