We were recently lucky enough to attend a very special event as guests of Wargaming – the filming of their new 360-degree, VR commercial promoting World of Warships. Not only did we get to visit the HMS Cavalier in the UK – which was as awesome as you might think! – but we also had a chance to sit down with Wargaming’s real-world military head honcho, Richard Cutland.
Before taking Wargaming’s shilling, he took the Queen’s as a tank commander in the Royal Tank Regiment. He knows Chieftains and Challengers back to front, has actually met the Queen (and tripped in front of her!), and has taught tactics and history to soldiers in Germany and the UK.
Here’s our chat.
So, you’re heading up military relations for Wargaming?
Richard Cutland: The title’s just changed, actually – it’s Head of Military Relations for Europe.
What does that job entail?
RC: To be perfectly honest, what it is… my work is multifaceted. Obviously, as a company we deal a lot with everything military, the idea is literally to liaise with every institution, mostly museums, and of course a lot of private collectors.
With the advent of [World of] Warships we turned to places like we are at the moment (Chatham Historic Dockyards in the UK), and I’m the initial liaison. Initially, in my early days with the company, quite a lot of that was literally going in and looking at particular tanks for research and that sort of thing, gathering all the information, and then working with marketing, and special projects – like this one. So really it’s anything that’s of a military bent, any aspect of the real world.
You served yourself, so is that a bit weird? Do you have mates that poke a bit of fun?
RC: It was incredibly weird. I mean, I was still serving when Wargaming came to me; it wasn’t that I was looking for a job, or anything – they sought me out.
How did they get hold of you?
RC: I was in the Royal Tank Regiment, and there’s a serving association, and this company – Wargaming – came to them and was looking for someone with knowledge on tanks at that particular time, someone who had experienced that sort of thing, so it just happened that someone who works there thought of me, and then…
And I always remember vividly the first conversation – it was on the phone with the Paris office. So Wargaming asks “Do you know anything about us?” Um… “Do you play World of Tanks?” Uh… No. “Are you a gamer?” Well, I’ve got a teenaged son, and so that’s all Xbox and PlayStation, that sort of thing. “What sort of games do you enjoy?” I love FIFA. “Wargames?” Yeah… we do a bit of Call of Duty, that sort of thing.
So then I went over for the first interview.
And yeah, people I served with… they think it’s a strange business. It was a real eye-opener to get into it, actually. I suppose the bit that fascinated me the most was the fact that so much work goes into it. I mentioned the research side of it, but initially, I was QUITE amazed at the level of detail that goes into getting these models right in the game, and for me that was really interesting; and also what sold it for me was the fact that Victor (Kislyi, the Big Boss) is incredibly keen on history. My passion was always history: my degree’s in history, I’d ALWAYS loved military history, so when they said on top of that you’ll be doing some writing and content, working on projects like this one…
I’ve always loved that fact that the company isn’t just take-take-take – there’s a lot of giving back, as well. That was the bit for me that sold it, to be perfectly honest. I’m not sure whether or not I’d take the job, if it were purely the gaming side of it.
I’ve interviewed a couple of people in the military who have gone on to have jobs like yours, or even been pulled in to PR for game events… Do you think it’s a bit silly that there’s you, who is the real deal, now in this job, dealing with gamers who may have no more idea of it than the controller in their hand?
RC: Yeah, there was always that. I suppose the biggest question – to myself – is initially “Are we glorifying war” and all that sort of thing – that debate. We have to specifically consider that we’re talking a lot about World War II – millions of deaths, atrocities, and so on. That was for me probably the biggest internal debate. It wasn’t really until I started playing the game as well that I understood what it was about.
Have you fed back into the process of the game's design, explaining the nature of the thing Wargaming's making a game about?
RC: Yeah, we do. Specifically, probably on things like advertising – there’s a fine line between promoting a game… getting that level right between…
Between showing a fun and exciting game but at the same time…
RC: Yeah, but at the same time this was a terrible time of history.
And I think that’s the thing about World of Tanks – it’s not gratuitous violence. But then, I’m not lying, I do love games like Call of Duty, but you speak to any soldier they all love that sort of game.
They all do! Because it’s not dangerous.
RC: Yeah, exactly.
I’ve had some Australian ex-soldiers tell me they could relax playing CoD because no one was actually trying to kill them, and they weren’t stressing about what they were trying to do. It really is JUST a game.
RC: Yeah, it’s just a game.
But then, I am a firm believer that history needs to be remembered, but you have to be very cautious how you approach it. And obviously part of my job is that I’ve interviewed many veterans of World War II and that sort of thing. So how you implement that… into a game, but then on the other side remember that it’s not JUST game. There’s always that fine barrier between the two.
Do you think Wargaming’s work with preservation and archaeology helps maintain those two sides?
RC: Yeah, I do! From a historical perspective, as well, I think it’s important. Bovington [Tank Musuem] is a prime example of somewhere where we’ve achieved a lot education-wise. Victor has always been incredibly keen on the education side of it. And I taught history in the army, and like any lesson, to any group of young people, it has to be interesting. And for a lot of people, history hasn’t been interesting – it’s 1066 and blah blah blah… And I think it’s just a great way to make things interesting.
We have Richard Smith, who’s the director at Bovington – we’ve worked with him for the last few years – and he said to me “I cannot believe that sometimes we get these young people in, and I’m talking to them – six, seven, eight year olds – and they’re walking around, and they’re looking at these vehicles, and they’re telling me all about the tanks. And he says “How do you know so much about that?”
Because they play World of Tanks!
But then it goes on another level, that they get interested in the people involved, and the events, and the battles… I think anything that promotes history is a good thing.
What would you say has been the project that has excited you the most with Wargaming?
RC: The Spitfire Project fascinated me. Purely because it was Boys’ Own fantasy. It’s a shame not much came of it, but it was a fascinating thing, though.
A lot of the recovery projects that we’ve done have been good; I like that we’ve done a lot with Bovington, with the restoration of tanks. I like to see that we can be a part of this very expensive process – because it is very expensive. We’ve worked on over half a dozen vehicles down there. To be fair, we've come to the stage with Bovington where we tell them “You pick what you want to do, and we’ll help you with it”, so we’ve done a fair few cool things now.
So would you say there’s a lot of preservation and recovery projects that otherwise would not be happening without Wargaming.
I found the Dornier project fascinating, too. Planes are not my thing, but it was still a fascinating project to be involved in. There’s been a lot of things I’ve found interesting.
In terms of getting the gameplay right, you’re a tanker yourself! Has that ever helped - considering of course that it’s not quite the same thing!
RC: Yeah, there’s constant debate between the players and the community. Ultimately it’s an arcade game. You have a line between – and I tried to explain this to the players… Anybody can make a tank simulator, you could make one, anybody’s who’s interested enough. But it’s not particularly interesting – unless you’re a real, hardcore war-nut. And we have multiple debates about ranges, and armour penetration, and all these sorts of things as you can imagine… And matchmaking and so on.
There’s always that fine line between historical accuracy, and making a fun game.
Thanks for your time.
We'll have some articles coming up about our time on the HMS Cavalier, and keep an eye out for some behind the scenes footage when the trailer does actually release!