Ubisoft have had their fingers in many different pies of late. The Assassins Creed movie releases this year (starring none other than Michael Fassbender) and many new sequels and IPs have been announced at this year’s E3 such as Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Watch_Dogs 2 (don’t forget the underscore) and For Honor. They’ve also actually released a wide variety of games to varying degrees of success, such as Assassins Creed Syndicate, Far Cry Primal, Rainbow Six Siege and their biggest, most marketed release of this year, The Division, another spin off of the Tom Clancy’s franchise. All these titles did well financially this year raising the company’s profits by 14.8% from the previous year, a large part of which is thanks to The Division which grossed over $330 million in its first 5 days and became the most successful new IP ever beating out its rival, Destiny.
The game itself was generally well received by critics and the public alike. The shooting was actually enjoyable, the world looked amazingly beautiful and then there was the co-op feature. Players could drop in and out of matchmaking and co-op sessions with their friends extremely easily and could complete all the game’s missions together. The real unique feature of the game was the much hyped Dark Zone which pitted players to either join with, or battle against each other in a fight against its high level NPCs, all in the pursuit of that precious and elusive, gaming commodity, loot. It was an interesting idea, something that is, at times, lacking in AAA gaming. The first month of Ubisoft’s new IP saw champagne corks flying and rapturous applause from all angles. A few months on we have a very different story.
Firstly, there was the issue of the Endgame. When the player reached level 30, more or less the only thing to do whilst waiting for the DLC was to look for rare guns and armour in the Dark Zone which contained extremely tough enemies. Teamwork, courage and luck were all needed if one wanted to secure the best stuff, which is fine and can be incredibly rewarding. However, what the player had been taught throughout the game was effectively thrown out the window. No longer could you stay in cover and chip off the enemies’ health bit by bit, you had to use a combination of all the complicated perk systems which would yield the highest amount of damage to even dream of hurting the NPCs and in some cases, if you hadn’t upgraded the right stats or acquired the right guns it would become almost impossible.
This might sound like I’m complaining about a game being too difficult but this is not the case. I am all for difficultly in games but there are two distinct types of difficulty; games where the player does something wrong and is punished and games where the player does nothing wrong and is punished. Dark Souls is a perfect example of the former and unfortunately The Division is the latter. If you hadn’t levelled up certain stats it became nigh on impossible to progress in the Endgame, which is a shame. The results of this imbalance were seen recently when it was reported that the game had seen player numbers drop by 90% in just 3 months on the PC. That’s going from an average of 65,065 people in March to an average of just 6,174 over the last 30 days (according to steamcharts.com). A pretty steep drop by any means. But this was not the only problem plaguing The Division.
The second issue was much more problematic. Something dark started happening in the Dark Zone. Players found themselves coming up against more and more hackers. People with infinite ammo, unlimited health and an ultimate level of dickishness. Usually a game would quickly ban this type of behaviour especially in the case of a primarily online game (which is what The Division is) as it can lead to legitimate players feeling hard done by and leaving. A prime example of an effective way to stop this is what Blizzard did with Overwatch this year by giving cheaters straight up and permanent bans, no questions asked. From a marketing perspective cheaters are incredibly detrimental as the more people that leave the game the less people there will be to buy the DLC which Ubisoft has already outlined for “Year One”.
So one would think that Ubisoft would be clamping down on their hacker problem pretty seriously and pretty quickly. The issue is that they can’t. This is due to the developers use of a Trusted Client Network Model. Now that may sound confusing for all you non-programmers out there but it’s actually not that complicated, at least at a basic level. When you play most multiplayer shooters, you (the client) input an action like shoot. You then send that action to the Server which authenticates that action and tells the other players what you have done. This process is much less susceptible to hackers as the game happens on the server not with the client and a hacker cannot alter the server.
In The Division the server simply trusts whatever the client says to be legitimate which means that people can easily alter code on the client side (like infinite ammo) and it will happen in the game without the sever doing anything to stop it. Therefore, cheating is far easier in The Division but more importantly the way of doing it is built into the very foundations of the game. Game developer Glenn Fielder posted about this a couple of months back and we are seeing the results of this now, mainly in the form of extremely negative Steam reviews. Presumably they made this choice in order to allow for a smoother online experience.
The Division’s first paid DLC , Underground, dropped this week and there has been a rise from around 6,000 players to 10,000 playing. But how many will stay for the next two DLCs which have already been announced in the “Year One” instalment? Will there be a “Year Two”? Presumably Ubisoft thought so at some point. If we compare The Division to Destiny, its rival, Ubisoft’s shooter has massively lost the battle. Destiny clocks around 800,000 players on Xbox One and PS4 each day according to guardian.gg . I know that my stats about The Division have only been regarding the PC version but even so that means that the console versions have to make up over 700,000 players to even equal Destiny, a game that came out nearly 2 years before.
Ubisoft’s punt at a smooth, continuously online shooter was indeed a valiant attempt of launching a new IP, one that could compete with the financial success story of Destiny. The Dark Zone feature was genuinely novel and that is to be applauded. But it has begun to flounder due to an unbalanced Endgame and a huge design flaw which is still undermining the online experience for many. Those who have stuck with the game after reaching the level cap will more than likely be wanting to play in the Dark Zone almost exclusively and this is exactly where hackers are at play. One can spend hours to trying to get one piece of rare loot to have a cheat take it off them in a matter of seconds. Most of the problems have been on PC where hacking is far easier so there may still be some hope for console players. However, gamers who have committed so much time and money have little hope that their semi broken game will ever be free from the elusive threat of cheating. It looks as if “Year One” may well become the final year for The Division despite Ubisoft’s multiyear hopes.