Sandbox: 1st Iteration Review

From the official portal
As you know, we have completed our first phase of the Sandbox test.  The Sandbox servers are now currently offline and we have been hard at work analysing your feedback and the collected statistics to make changes for the next phase of Sandbox testing.

The Sandbox test environment is a new testing format for us on World of Tanks since its release, and somewhat resembles beta-testing at early in-development stages of the game. This means it is a very experimental format: battles on this server offer a very different game experience, and we realized and expected that players would have mixed emotions about such big changes.  This is why we felt it so critical to involve our community in these tests well in advance of bringing anything to our live servers for the full game. And as expected, we have gotten a wide range of feedback on this first phase of the Sandbox, but the common trend is a desire to understand much more about what the changes you have seen on the Sandbox mean for the future of the game
So with all of this in mind, we wanted to share our current thinking around the Sandbox.  In this report we will talk about our original goals of the features we tested, the assumptions that we checked, the results that we received, and what we intend to do next.

Sandbox: Goals

Our primary intent was, and still is, to address the most prominent and consistent feedback we have had from our players. We understand your major concerns regarding balance (that includes the matchmaker, interrelation among vehicle roles, problems of some maps, etc.) These issues have been the result of a number of smaller changes accumulated over a long period of time that now collectively require a deeper change in order to be fully fixed. We couldn’t simply “quick fix” these away.  Over time, we intend to use the Sandbox to test many of our longer-term development solutions. First, the vehicle balance, then develop a new matchmaker, and creation of new maps and improvement of existing ones, etc. Your feedback will become the starting point of further development of the game.

So for this first step – vehicle balance – we intended to accomplish the following goals: 

  1. Reduce the cost of players’ mistakes, giving them better chances of survival and stay longer in battle.
  2. Reduce the average distance of combat, favouring more intense close up battles and encouraging more dynamic gameplay over “pixel hunting” and “camping.”
  3. Create a more varied gameplay by allowing different types of tanks to serve roles according to their strengths – so heavily armoured, defensive tanks can close with the enemy and set the battle line, mobile flankers can circle their enemy to find openings, scouts can effectively scout, etc.
  4. Rework SPG gameplay away from “occasional one shot wreck machines that miss a lot and take forever to reload” to something that is more interesting to both SPG players and their opponents.

We realize it is important to provide variety to gameplay for our players. Our goal is to create gameplay where different tank types allow for distinct experiences. Taken all together, the four individual goals above are aimed at achieving this one overall goal. This is why we are looking for ways of making changes that will allow players to perform different roles in tough battles and feel strong emotions using various tactics.

Aiming at The Goal – What Did We Do?

Penetration Drop and Shot Dispersion – Making Armour Matter

In order to reduce the combat distance, we increased the importance of armour. We made two big changes to accomplish this: we reduced the distance where shell penetration drop began and also increased the dispersion of shots within the aiming circle. These changes made firing from long distance much less effective: the penetration drop change meant shots didn’t get through from as far away, and the change to dispersion meant that players at a distance had to let their aim circle focus further in order to hit, in addition to making a pinpoint shot much harder at distance – so they had to wait longer to shoot effectively from distance as well.
This also reduced the effect of “focused fire” and allowed players to feel more protected and encouraged to leave cover for active combat. Well-armoured vehicles became more popular thanks to their capability of blocking damage with armour, and our collected statistics showed that these changes did reduce the combat distance.

Many players pointed out some problems with the first iteration of these changes: for example, it became harder to aim at weak spots of enemy vehicles not only from afar, but from closer distances as well. Our penetration drop change also significantly affected the course of battle and it may have been too significant of a change – but for both of these features, we decided to make more aggressive changes in this first round of testing, in order to push the boundaries.
In later iterations of the Sandbox, we will make further adjustments to the changed technical characteristics using both statistical information and your feedback. We have been discussing internally the possibility of individual gun adjustment that depends on roles of particular vehicles. We also are discussing individual adjustment of gun accuracy for particular vehicles: knowing the Technical Characteristics of your vehicle and those of the enemy’s vehicle you will be able to make better decisions in each particular situation, which will eventually vary the gameplay.

Varied Gameplay – Tank Roles

There are more than 400 vehicles in World of Tanks. Experienced players can easily evaluate the technical characteristics of a newly purchased vehicle and understand how to play in it. However, this is a much bigger challenge for new players. We decided to simplify this aspect for all players and preliminary divided vehicles into roles according to their most prominent characteristics, so that all players can find vehicles that suit them best. At the same time, we tried to make less critical changes and succeeded in it in several areas.
Dreadnought, cavalry, and scout players quickly understood the offered gameplay. In addition to the changes noted above regarding penetration distance and shot dispersion, we also made a general reduction of View Ranges, which allowed players to be less afraid of being spotted and destroyed from distance, since vehicles that are not intended for “ambush gameplay” were no longer effective in shooting from distance. It encouraged players to perform active manoeuvres and increased importance of scouts.
At the same time, cavalry vehicles and scouts easily circle dreadnoughts, i.e. they now can do what they are intended for.

However, there is much work to be done to improve the balance for some of our other roles: some vehicles do not have a distinctive role or a role has not been determined yet. As for ambush vehicles, their gameplay is not clear enough yet. In the course of the test we found out that fire-support vehicles require a little more attention, since vehicles of this specialization have hard times in battles due to their poor armouring.
In future, we plan making individual changes to vehicles and adjusting the interaction system among vehicles of different roles, keeping equal effectiveness for each one. Moreover, we are considering further options to compensate for the poor armour of fire-support vehicles, and want to further unlock the potential of scouts.

Reworked SPGs

We believe that any vehicle in battle should be interesting at least to two players: the one who uses the vehicle and the one who fights against it. Currently, on production servers, SPGs represent a combination of “the Sword of Damocles” and “Eye of Sauron”—all-seeing vehicles that may perform a sudden, instantly lethal strike to any point of the map. We want to reduce emotional pressure of SPGs upon players by changing the very concept of artillery vehicles while keeping them useful for the team, because the constant fear of being one-shot by an SPG was another huge factor causing players not to break from cover and close distances.
The Sandbox tests show that SPGs can remain useful in battle even without destroying enemies with a single shot with our new SPG mechanics: we managed to reduce effectiveness of “focused fire” at particular targets by reducing penetration and damage caused with HE shells. It resulted in less negative attitude to SPGs, because now they do not destroy enemy vehicles with a single shot. At the same time, changes to the burst radius increased effectiveness of shooting at enemy groups, and the aiming marker for allied SPGs contributed to team play.
This is one of the key changes in the Sandbox, since a completely new SPG mechanic (tested by a large number of players for the first time) was developed; we will keep experimenting with the burst radius and stun duration. It is possible that the final result will be completely different.

Looking Forward – Where Do We Go From Here?

There are many test stages ahead. At the next stage, we originally intended to add Tier VIII and IX vehicles, but after a month we came to a conclusion that we need to work more with Tier X to tune the current mechanics. So far, we cannot reveal all details about changes in the second test iteration, except for a few things that we are sure about. In addition to the changes we have already discussed, we also plan to work on switching between targets and change a little the mechanics of crew injury (known as “stun”).
We are grateful to everyone who participated in the test, shared their feedback, and asked important questions. We appreciate your interest and desire to make the game better, and we hope this note helps to provide more context for what you have seen so far. Stay tuned for more information – as we get closer to the release of the second Sandbox phase, we will provide much more detail about what is coming in that phase.  We will look forward to playing with you in the Sandbox again soon!