The 2011 Game Developers Conference continues in San Francisco, and we here at GameSpot continue to cover all the games at the show, including Wargaming.net's World of Tanks. This free-to-play action game, which lets you play as one of a variety of World War II-era tanks on a team of other tanks, has taken Russia by storm and will officially launch in Europe and the USA later this year. World of Tanks is already in beta, and players all over the world have been playing it (Wargaming.net has three server farms; one in Russia, one in Europe, and one in the USA), so the game has already seen content updates in the form of new, unlockable tanks added to the game. However, one of the most intriguing aspects of the game just became available to Russian testers about three weeks ago: clan wars.
The clan wars feature is World of Tanks' meta-game, a high-level, ongoing war across a map of all of Europe and Russia fought by clans--the game's long-term player associations (known as guilds in other games). A clan can have as many as 100 members, but each territory on the map can be attacked or defended in battle by a maximum of 15 players, who are represented on the map as an icon that resembles a stack of poker chips. Clan leaders can use the clan wars interface, which is a simple Web page outside of the game's client that shows the map divvied up into provinces. If that sounds familiar, it's because the clan wars interface was directly inspired by the classic board game Risk, a game that Wargaming.net frontman Victor Kislyi fell in love with years ago.
Once a clan leader decides to attack a specific territory by moving in troops, the game sends a message to the members of the clan that controls that territory, giving players about a 30 minute notice that a battle over the territory will begin soon. If the defending clan can muster up some defenders, one of World of Tanks' team-based battles erupts for control of that land. As it happens, clans can form alliances with each other and act in unison as a single team. Kislyi showed us the current clan wars map running in Russia, which was mostly dominated by a single alliance of clans and represented by the color red. Again, clan wars is still in beta, and this is the first time anyone has played the game, so Wargaming.net is watching and waiting to see how things turn out. For instance, some people might not like how one alliance is capable of controlling the map. And while the studio is definitely willing and able to take steps to work on any imbalances, Kislyi says, "Well…this is war, and sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose."
While controlling huge tracts of land is a highly lucrative activity that raises bonus gold (the in-game currency) in the form of taxes levied on all owned territories, world domination might be out of the grasp of smaller, fledgling clans. In fact, those clans that don't have a foothold in the clan wars map yet must fight for their right to enter the fray by queuing up around various marine landing points on the map (such as Iceland, Britain, and others) to fight against other up-and-coming clans for the right to storm the first beach. In addition, greedy landowners who levy taxes at too high a rate may incite a revolt, which will put out a call to any players not currently engaged in a fight to hire themselves out as mercenaries to come to the aid of the beleaguered province. World of Tanks will eventually have a full mercenary system that will also let clans hire unoccupied players to join in clan skirmishes.
In the meantime, established clans can freely deploy troops to any friendly territory or to any adjacent hostile territory. Kislyi concedes that as World of Tanks continues to grow, the population will likely become even more stratified among skilled veteran players with high-end tanks and inexperienced novices with starter gear. As such, it's quite possible that Wargaming.net may end up opening other clan wars maps tiered at different levels of skill. But for the time being, Kislyi suggests that he likes the idea of a drawn-out war between allied factions who wheel and deal with each other with the knowledge that in the end, there can be only one victorious alliance.
By all appearances, World of Tanks continues its gradual conquest of all of Russia while Wargaming.net prepares for the game's eventual, and official, launch in Europe and North America, hopefully later this year.