Interview with ‘The Chieftain,’ Nicholas Moran, Military Specialist for ‘World of Tanks’
Nicholas Moran, aka “The Chieftain,” has a unique role at Wargaming America, the American branch of the creators of World of Tanks and World of Warplanes. He is a veteran officer with experience commanding real tanks who contributes his experience and knowledge to the developers and fans through his “Chieftain’s Hatch” videos and articles. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions via email.
Matt Richardson: Please describe your role at Wargaming America as “Military Specialist.” What are your duties and responsibilities?
“The Chieftain” Nicholas Moran: Duties and responsibilities … Good question, they seem to be routinely in a state of flux. They seem to fall under a couple of different categories.
First, Customer Relations. I’m a fairly visible face of the company, so I get to work and play with the players, be it at community events, streaming, or just interacting with them on the forum.
Second, knowing subject matter. This is partially Production, partially CR. I will frequently travel to various tanks with a measuring tape and ultrasonic thickness gauge to try to figure out how thick armor panels are on tanks for implementation into the game. Similarly I have been known to dig around in the National Archives for the same reason; however, a lot of what is found in the Archives is not relevant to in-game implementation. If possible, it gets incorporated into a Chieftain’s Hatch article instead. This is where things start going into CR and Marketing: The idea behind the Hatch, and Inside the Chieftain’s Hatch, the video series, is that not only is it interesting information for the players, but it also is interesting information for general tank enthusiasts who may not be players yet. If they swing over, decide the articles/videos are interesting, and then decide to find out what this ‘World of Tanks’ thing is that this ‘Chieftain’ guy is associated with, then so much the better. But the primary goal is education; the other stuff (player retention and attraction) should follow if I do the first correctly.
Third, I give random hugs around the office.
Fourth, interface between the “real” historical community, and the company. We need a tank for FPS Russia, I find it. We have to come up with a vehicle to teach Pico to tank—come through me. Interface with a museum for partnership opportunities? I do that too. And so on.
There are probably other duties that I get involved with on occasion but have slipped my mind for now.
Richardson: Are you involved in research for World of Warplanes and World of Warships as well, or just World of Tanks?
Moran: Not Warplanes. Primarily, I guess, because it seems to be so much easier to find good information on airplanes. I have received no requests from Kiev for Warplanes research. The Warships lads in Saint Petersburg, however, have been using me.
Richardson: How did you find your way into your current position? Was the position created for you or did Wargaming recruit you?
Moran: I thought I was applying for an IT position. I was already playing the game, and I saw a forum post along the lines of “Meet the WoT Devs at a tank museum.” The museum in question, MVTF, happened to be the one I volunteered my time at, so I took a day off work, and went to the museum to give them the tour; partially to say “thanks for making a fun game,” and partially to say “Right, this is everything you got wrong.” After the tour, we adjourned to a local taqueria for a beer and some snacks—which, incidentally, is where the whole concept of our meeting the players at even local intimate events down the pub got started; it’s something the CEO believes in. At that point, they mentioned they had just opened an office in the San Francisco area, and since I was looking for a new job anyway, I asked if they were hiring. I sent in my CV for an IT slot and was told that they were interested in having me as a military equipment and museum/militaria chap. This caused some confusion as there was no particular position like that planned for. I guess it was a spur of the moment decision.
Richardson: What is your background in gaming? Were you an avid player before joining up with Wargaming.net? What kind of games did you like?
Moran: I’m a pewter-pusher. Started out playing Combined Arms/Command Decision, then got heavily into Harpoon. Finding opponents could be hard, though, so I ended up in the Games Workshop universe. Once I got into computers, it’s PC games, and the more buttons to press the better. Falcon 4, Steel Beasts—that sort of thing, and various “strategic” games such as The Operational Art of War or the HPS Simulations modern campaigns. I am also a fairly avid scale modeler, though my enthusiasm sometimes outdoes my skill.
Richardson: You do archival research, sometimes with the help of fan volunteers. What sort of material do you look for? Can you give an example of something you discovered that found its way into a game?
Moran: The problem with the Archives, at least the Ordnance Department’s stuff, is that nobody seems to have a good idea what’s in it. As I mentioned in my National Archives article, it’s very much a case of pot luck. Things aren’t helped by the fact that the Armor Museum’s and Proving Grounds archives are still boxed up after their BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) moves. I could find a huge binder on the effect of mold on rubber (probably important for the Pacific Theatre), and then some pages on the naming of vehicles. If it’s not useful in the game but still interesting (such as the vehicle names or the bizarre H.L. Yoh designs it goes into a Hatch. As for games, for example, I attach a file of ballistic test reports for the T69 oscillating turret (click to download pdf). Players who look at the game’s armor model will see that it is a strange patchwork of different thicknesses. The archive file is the source for this, as you can see the Army drew 10” squares on the real turret and measured each single one.
Richardson: In modeling vehicles, how strictly does Wargaming tend to hew to the historical stats? Or do they more broadly interpret the historical data for game balance?
Moran: Ultimately, people don’t play WoT because it is a highly accurate simulation of WWII–era armored combat. They play because it’s fun. As a result, if historical accuracy and gameplay balance are mutually exclusive, gameplay will win. Or we just don’t even try: A case in point might be the T58 heavy tank. We can’t get it to play nice with the other tanks without totally destroying its “real” character, which is why it’s not planned in the game.
That caveat out of the way, we do try to get as much right as possible. For example, armor values or gun elevations, figures, are about as close as we can get, with strengths or weaknesses being balanced by other, more subjective characteristics such as rate of fire, camouflage figures for spotting checks, or hit points. We will go back and change specifications if better information is found after the vehicle is released. I’m not going to say that we are a reference for reputable scholarly work, but we’re not bad for a quick check.
Richardson: World of Tanks is famous for including many obscure tanks and “paper panzers.” Which of these armored oddballs is your favorite?
Moran: Oof. As a general rule, the paper panzers probably stayed as paper panzers for a reason. Of the “obscure prototypes,” I think they are all deserving of greater exposure, but it is to my lasting regret that no examples of the T32 were preserved. Actually, I am a bit annoyed with the US Army. I have read a lot of project reports that conclude “One vehicle ordered to be preserved for the historical record,” but damned if I know what happened to said vehicle. They don’t seem to exist in any museum. The recently introduced Object 416 is also an interestingly designed vehicle, with a few neat creature comforts.
Richardson: Are there any tanks you wish they would include?
Moran: No. I have a slight advantage in that I know the long-range plan, and even if they’re not in it, nothing on my ‘want’ list is specifically off the table.
Richardson: Within World of Tanks, is the Wargaming team more focused on fleshing out existing tech trees or creating new nations (e.g. Japan, the rumored “EU-mix” tree)?
Moran: For now, it’s the existing nations and a limited focus on Japan. I’ve been asked to photograph/measure the Italian vehicles I can find, so I would assume that those are going to start showing up eventually, but there is no urgency to the request, so I would conclude that the pan-euro tree is still some way off.
Richardson: You drove and commanded real armored vehicles in the Second Gulf War; does World of Tanks capture the feel of these armored monsters?
Moran: Sort of. Cool factor, yes. Also, basic tank tactics do transfer over, things like use of cover, conducting berm drills, basic maneuver. Inter-tank tactics, however, do not. Things like focusing fire to melt hitpoints, for example, are completely alien to a real tanker.
Richardson: Do you follow any of the “World of . . .” fan community—YouTubers like The Mighty Jingles, Circonflexes, etc? Do you have any particular favorites?
Moran: Not really, mainly due to lack of time—I have little enough of it. Unless there’s a reason for me to go look, I spend my time either being productive at work or playing the game for myself! The only interaction I have had thus far has been with Jingles. I was directed to a whole trainload of inaccurate information on one of his streams and notified him of his error. To his credit, he made a retraction the following week, and also gave my Youtube channel a plug, so props to him. I’ll happily talk with any of them if they want me to, but I rarely will detour around to follow them. I do pay attention to For the Record, as the information is usually highly relevant, and I have a fair relationship with the contributors there; many of them hang out on the NA forum. I’ve also been known to drop by random clan teamspeaks if invited.
Richardson: How do you feel the fan community adds value to the game? Is Wargaming planning any initiatives to engage more with its fans and content creators?
Moran: Without players, we have no game. Without enthusiastic players, we have no successful game. It is the players who are far more successful at bringing new blood into the game than marketing campaigns. (Certainly on a cost basis!) Fans who do unusual things have a couple of benefits. First, they give the game exposure to people that we may not reach. Face it, our marketing department has not yet really tapped into pony fandom yet, but we have a large brony playerbase. I have to assume that the fan-made artwork of World of Tanks tanks crewed by ponies which goes around the pony community has got to have been helpful. Or the game players who watch the Youtube streams of the streaming players. Modelers who recreate their favorite WoT tank in 1/35 scale and then show it around on Armorama or FineScale.com. And, of course, they just make the community more interesting and engaging. They provide talking points to keep the community together, or they throw up things like bacon tank cakes for us to smile at. Nothing to do with the game at all, but all part of the fun.
Richardson: Thank you, Nicholas, for your time. We look forward to seeing what’s next in World of Tanks as the 8.9 patch.
About the Author
Matt Richardson is a freelance social media and online marketing consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a degree in History from Davidson College, with a special interest in military history and the Civil War. He has rotted his mind with video games since childhood. You can follow Matt at @MT_Richardson and read his blog at Ritalingamer.com.