War Thunder, the massively multiplayer online military combat game from Gaijin Entertainment, has been in an open beta on Windows PC for a year now. And once Gaijin launches the World War II-based shooter on PlayStation 4 later this year, both versions will effectively be the same game.
"In terms of gameplay, content and everything, it should be the same game. It should be updated simultaneously; it should be working the same way," said Anton Yudintsev, president and CEO of the Moscow-based studio, in an interview with Polygon today.
That has to be the case, since War Thunder supports cross-platform play between PC and PS4. That feature is made possible by two factors, according to Yudintsev: an innovative, easy-to-grasp control scheme that debuted on the PC version and immediately made the game accessible, as well as the way Sony's old policies are changing as the company embraces free-to-play games on PS4.
Gaijin counts more than 5 million registered users for the PC version of War Thunder, and according to Yudintsev, approximately three-fourths of them are new to flight combat games, which are usually complex titles reserved for hardcore gamers. Yudintsev attributes that to War Thunder's simplified airplane control scheme: A reticle appears in the center of the screen and you simply move it around to direct your aircraft, rather than having to worry about complicated flight terms like pitch, roll and yaw. The PS4 version offers the same controls, although skilled players will have more detailed options available to them.
Keeping the PS4 and PC versions in lockstep isn't a simple proposition, said Yudintsev, because even on PS4, Sony still has some "legacy policies" in place regarding the publishing of content. But the platform does allow for a faster pace of updates, which is crucial for an online game.
"In order to make [an] online game working cross-platform, you need much faster updates," said Yudintsev, describing the update frequency on PC. "One month of QAing of [an] update is not suitable for an online game. And you need the infrastructure [and] ecosystem suitable for that."
Sony is supplying that with PS4, which will allow Gaijin to maintain a cross-platform experience across PS4 and PC for War Thunder. And the game's free-to-play model is crucial to the studio's ability to make the game in the first place. Yudintsev explained that Gaijin has been working on War Thunder at a slow pace since 2008; the studio had the concept and design laid out back then, and attempted to get the game made on PlayStation 3, but was unable to get publishers or investors on board for a retail title. Self-publishing War Thunder as a free-to-play game was the key.
"For us, it [...] was the only way we [could] be independent and [...] not lose our creative control, do what we want," said Yudintsev. "But if it wouldn't be free-to-play, we would not be able to convince any publisher to do that. We were trying this, starting from 2008, to find a publisher for our game — for our online, free-to-play game. And we hadn't succeeded. Finally, we made it ourselves."
Yudintsev also expects to see a continued shift toward free-to-play titles over the course of the next few years, because the model has a number of benefits for developers.
"In general, the whole world is changing toward free-to-play. It's more fair, and it shortens the chain between developer — content creator — and customer. Because we're talking with our customers ourselves: We're getting feedback, we analyze feedback, we're talking with them directly, we're addressing their needs and we're getting revenue from them directly," said Yudintsev. He added that with a free-to-play game, you don't have to convince a customer to pay for a game — just to try it.
War Thunder will be released at the European launch of the PS4 Nov. 29, and will be available in North America by the end of the year. It is also in development on Mac.