Interview: Boris Burangulov talks keeping PvP mech shooter War Robots in the limelight for a decade

Interview: Boris Burangulov talks keeping PvP mech shooter War Robots in the limelight for a decade
  • We spoke to Boris Burangulov about War Robots' impressive decade-long popularity
  • He believes the art style change was an important part of that
  • The game's community has also proved integral when making big changes

I often say it, but a mobile sticking around for ten years is impressive, particularly when you consider how many big IPs quickly fall by the wayside because they're not performing as the publisher hoped. War Robots is one of the few that recently hit a decade of existence, an anniversary absolutely worth celebrating. So, we spoke to exec producer Boris Burangulov about how the game has stayed relevant all this time and how it's adapted to remain popular.

Can you introduce yourself and your role on War Robots for our readers, please?

Hi, I’m Boris, an executive producer of War Robots at MY.GAMES. I started my way with War Robots more than 6 years ago as a product analyst and have been deeply involved ever since.

For anyone who hasn't played the game, what is the elevator pitch?

War Robots is a mech PvP shooter where players can customize their robot with weapons, drones, pilots and more to suit their playstyle. The game takes place sometime in the future and revolves around mercenaries fighting a proxy war for five megacorporations to grab the resources left on post-apocalyptic Earth that humanity had to flee. The game consists of Team gameplay (6 vs 6), which is slow and simple at the beginning, but turns into heated and skilful brawls in the late game.

War Robots' art style has changed over the years. Can you talk us through its evolution and why you felt a new coat of paint was required?

This change has been twofold. On one hand, in 2020 we gave the game a huge graphic overhaul (remaster) that allowed us to lift the overall visual quality of the game to fit the current player demand. On the other hand, we have over 80 robots now and we wanted to give players more variety over the playstyle and visuals. New mechanics required new solutions in models, animation and FX. The game has matured and, as wine does, got new flavours.

Why do you think War Robots has managed to stick around for a decade?

That’s simple - it is a freaking good game! No, seriously, it is. But it wasn’t just born successful - it is a result of the efforts of hundreds of people, constantly working on its further development. When talking about this, I usually bring up three main things. First off, we've come up with a way to handle the game’s meta and bring out new stuff. It's not just about adding cool robots or maps; everything has to fit the current gameplay and align with the meta.

Additionally, we've kept up with technological progress. Take our War Robots remaster in 2021, for instance. It not only brought the game's graphics up to date but also looked ahead to future tech advancements, taking into account the huge strides in mobile device performance over the last eight years.

Thirdly, we’ve continually adjusted and improved our workflow. Working on an existing game comes with its own set of challenges, different from starting from scratch. Managing rapid growth demands a proactive approach that not everyone can handle smoothly.

Nevertheless, accomplishing these goals relies entirely on a dedicated team committed to the project’s expansion. During my time with War Robots, I’ve had the honor of collaborating with many individuals who all shared a profound dedication to the project. It's not only about their readiness to take on new challenges or their knack for solving complex problems. It's about their ongoing stream of ideas and their determination to not just fulfil their duties but to consistently enhance the project.

War Robots is now ten years old. What do you think has been the biggest change in that time?

Over the past 10 years we’ve run so many experiments and released so many features it’s hard to choose just one. The best I can do is two:

First would be the addition of Titans. That was the first major content layer that turned the pace of combat and drastically changed the core gameplay. To give you a better understanding of the magnitude of the feature, Titans are a new type of robots which are not only bigger and stronger than the original ones but also have their own economy based on a separate currency and can only be deployed on the battlefield if the player fills the “titan-o-meter” with points by performing certain in-battle actions.

The second bit and risky endeavour of the past years was the addition of Extermination - PvE mode - last year. There the players have to defeat waves of AI spider-robots to receive rewards. We’ve never had PvE in the game before so Extermination was a leap of faith. And it found its fans within our player base. When once the mode got unavailable due to some maintenance, players immediately reached out to our support, asking for it to be restored. That being said, they still play PvP battles and the overall number of matches played by an average player per day has even increased.

What's happening in-game to commemorate the occasion?

10 years is a huge milestone for a mobile game, so we decided to celebrate like never before! Apart from a gift marathon and a number of community events and competitions, we launched the biggest ARG yet where players had to solve complex riddles to learn more about the history of the War Robots world. Our audience was very enthusiastic about it.

On top of that, we created a new themed map for the occasion - Ground Zero - and had the player liberating it by playing Extermination. It seems that people quite liked the activity and they’re raving about the new map of course.

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We also performed the War Robots Live Show - an event for our community, which culminated with a cinematic wrapping-up ARG, the new map, and finishing the story arc that started a few years back. Now players know what caused the Cataclysm, a key event in War Robots lore, that forced humanity to flee to Mars, and have a better idea of the origins and purpose of the ominous spider-robots which remain a constant threat to all pilots.

Can you tell us how you have approached storytelling in an online service game?

Well, that was an interesting process. Years ago it was just a game about huge metal machines clashing with each other in heated battles. The story element wasn’t really there, we were focused on gameplay and meta. But in 2019 we introduced the “Pilots” feature. We added faces to the giant machines - actual people who are behind the controls. That called for a storyline as, unlike robots, people can’t exist in a vacuum. Each pilot has their “biography” in the game, which started with simple stories, but soon were enriched with more detailed information about the world of War Robots, began to intertwine with each other and form the very lore of the world, which has now become important both for us and for our players.

Community is always an important part of a live service game. How involved with changes to War Robots are players? And can you think of any major changes that were fan-led?

First of all, let me say that our community is the best! Our core audience is mature and rational people who understand what they came for and what they’re looking for very well. We monitor the community reactions very closely. For our content we always run beta-test sessions where any engaged player can come to check out robots and weapons in development and leave their feedback - that gives us important information helping to fine-tune the content before the release. We also collect community feedback on the game every update and source out quality-of-life features that are the most called for. Sometimes we also run polls on our social media to decide what content to make.

As for major fan-led changes, well, from the top of my mind, I could name a new aiming system. Aiming at shooters is a big deal. And for a long time, we accumulated feedback about possible improvements. But fun fact - when we gathered all ideas together it appeared that they sometimes contradict each other and are impossible to combine all together. So, our game designers suggested not to adjust the current aiming system, but to create a constructor with different tuning options to address the feedback of most of the players.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced over the years and how did you overcome them?

For the game to be successful for over a decade we have to set ambitious goals and reach them. That is why I would say we face challenges every year. The latest example: War Robots returned to the Chinese market this year, and this journey proved to be very challenging and required a lot of patience. First, it took us several years to create a game build that would account for all the nuances of China’s legislation. Then we waited another couple of years for the application to be reviewed.

To be honest, at the end we didn't hold out much hope. Receiving an ISBN license in 2023 was a big surprise for the team, and it was just the beginning. We spent almost a year adapting the game for the Chinese market once again. A lot of adjustments needed to be made both technical and content related.

After all, many years had passed since the build was prepared for review, and the global version of War Robots had been developing very actively during that time. The key to overcoming such challenges is the strong motivated team and flexible approach to its management. We had to cut some scope and push the release date more than once. But it was totally worth it in the end – our return has been an immense success. Go team!

What can fans expect from the game in the upcoming months and even years if you plan that far ahead?

We always have loads of plans! Our production cycle is quite long so we’re already looking into 2025. But that’s all up to change now and thus I alas can’t disclose it.

In the short term, our aim is to improve social interactions in the game. While War Robots primarily focuses on PvP gameplay, our social systems have traditionally been less robust. Now we’re working hard on turning that around. Last year we’ve already reworked and improved the friends system, and now we’re onto the clans.

Our hope is that new clan systems will make it easier and more fun to team up and play together, because what can be better than crushing the Reds with your mates?

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Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.