What constitutes a dead game? How much of a player drop off do we need, how hands-off does a studio have to be before we bury the remains of a game deep in the New Mexican desert?
To read gamespulp’s original thoughts on The Division’s future head over here.
The Division has had a lot of ups, and way more downs since it unleashed its infamously upgraded trailer at E3 2013. First came the closed beta – or what a lot of studios call a demo these days – which proved popular enough for it to be rolled out to every gamer. Then came the cheating, the exploits, the absolute grind that was the raid Incursion mode. The DZ was too friendly, then it became too vicious. Despite becoming the fast-selling Ubisoft title ever, players dropped off in their droves. The way some gamers talk, you’d be forgiven for thinking anyone still playing The Division has irreversible brain damage.
Back in April, we asserted that The Division isn’t dead. And we stand by that now. Sort of.
The Division is dying. On life-support. Needing CPR. And Ubisoft hasn’t fully upgraded the medical wing yet.
But after E3 2016, it seems they’re prepping up to give their cherished MMO-lite the kiss of life. During their press conference, one of the Ubi-men stated – or threatened, if you’re so inclined – that The Division is a ‘long-term commitment,’ for the company, so now the plague-addled players of snow-stricken NYC know what’s in store for the coming year…
The Division’s Going Underground
The Underground will be The Division’s first piece of paid content, dropping 28th June on Xbox (and a month later on PlayStation and PC). The expansion pack will be loaded with a new Base of Operations, The Terminal; a social space that acts as a hub to in order to access the new DLC incursion, Dragon’s Nest, and Underground missions (along with all the usual BoO vendors, crafting, stash).
These 20-to 40-minute missions take place in a labyrinthine underground Manhattan that’s randomised with every mission to increase variation. And a ton of game modifiers to unlock, like radar-removing ‘Fog of War’, to keep you on your toes. Basically, then, The Division’s set to become a procedurally generated dungeon-crawler.
Gilles Matouba, the game’s director, said ‘thanks to the sheer amount of level combinations we can have, it will be rare to encounter the same one twice.’ That’s not some fancy dick-swinging; that’s addressing a core complaint of The Division: it’s the same damn game, over and over. Oh, and they’re throwing in a ‘heroic’ difficulty mode for those not part of the 94% player drop-off or those banned for cheating.
The Division’s Dressed to Kill
Ubisoft’s next move are…outfits. Yawn away, pal. Figuring gamers love customisation, the studio’s throwing out new character costumes. This seems to us to be more about cashing in, but not checking out, to recoup losses from the steep decline of players. You know, one of those gaming certainties that scuttles around with the inevitability of an unloved season.
What’s really telling, though, is how Ubisoft are stamping themselves all over this expansion more than any other. In order to celebrate their 30th birthday, each of the new Division outfits are Ubi-themed around games like Ghost Recon and Rainbow 6. That’s more than just a money-grabbing statement – it’s a sign of defiance and a pledge to the players.
The Division’s About Survival
Survival is Ubisoft’s final – for now – expansion. You’re gonna get thrown to the wolves here. According to the studio, the plan is that ‘SHD agents have run out of supplies in the middle of a harsh Manhattan winter and will have to survive as long as possible in a very hostile environment.’
This one could spin The Division off in a whole new direction, bringing in a whole different type of gamer to replace the flagging player-count. Or at least offering even more variety to a game that’s currently festering like the body of a Rogue Agent backed into a corner. Because that’s another complaint about The Division – despite it being an open-world, you’re not free to play your way. You have zero hope of scoring any of the good loot if all you want to do is potter about outside of the DZ. And you can’t go into the DZ because illegitimately high-level players will down you in seconds. And besides, how many bloody bobble hats do you really need anyway?
Our first thought, when watching Survival’s teaser at E3 2016 was: That looks like something new, as the protagonist stealths past enemies in a snow-drenched city. Constant tweaking, refining, of the game is welcome, but Ubisoft appear to want to go further, and do more – for the sake of themselves and their game, as much as for the players.
Is The Division Dead?
Our position still stands, then. The Division isn’t dead – yet.
The game’s still averaging 10 million gamers playing three hours a day, although 3 hours a day doesn’t seem a lot for a game that’s designed to be a time-sink in the RPG style. But constant (and usually deserved) criticism of the game has shredded its reputation among hardcore gamers, meaning Ubisoft – as they should – are combatting this with their fresher updates that build on the game, rather than offering more of the same.
On their Youtube channel, Ubisoft place The Division first in line after their three upcoming games. That suggests a company that’s not going down without a fight, although it does suggest they’re nervous about how well this will play with the crowd; their initial confidence shot to the proverbial. Besides, we’ve played Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, which is a fine example of Ubisoft’s blind perseverance; unlike their most famous series, which suffered repetition and fatigue, they’re changing The Division in new ways. Or trying to.
We’ll be holding a funeral for The Division only if these new expansions fail to either coax back veteran players, attract rookies, or both. Perhaps that’s the main reason it struggles, because while the endless grind that is Destiny is a competent eSports-style game for the hardcore, The Division aims itself slightly below that market and ends up appealing to no one run’n’gunner in particular for any real length of time.
Right now, they stand just about a better chance of surviving than not, because there’s no game out there that’s quite like The Division. Nature abhors a vacuum, so Ubisoft aren’t about to rage-quit on it yet and let some other studio reap the benefits of an engaged player-base with money in their pocket and time on their hands.