Rainbow Six Siege has turned into a games-as-a-service success for Ubisoft, but it didn't start that way. In a session at the Montreal International Game Summit next week, team lead Noémi Rouleau will discuss how the approach to the game has transitioned since its launch just over two years ago. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz today, Rouleau said part of the game's growing pains were the result of coming into it with a more traditional AAA approach.
"The mentality in year one was way more adapted to when we ship a boxed game, when you have a lot of content but you don't release that often," Rouleau said. "That's what we really had to change in year two, to basically produce less content but release on a more frequent basis."
One of the bigger parts of that transition was an investment in more tools to help the development team run the game as a live service. Rouleau pointed to the launch of a technical test server in the second year as a particularly big assist. The technical test server runs a parallel version of the game, letting Ubisoft test out new features and content and troubleshoot problems for a select group of players who have opted in before taking changes live for the masses.
"When you work in games-as-a-service, you need to adapt the mindset of your team because your rhythm is not the same. You're going to produce less content, but release more often"
"In year one we had a few unfortunate releases, especially in the first few seasons. We had issues with our servers, our matchmaking, with game-breaking bugs that were [introduced] with the seasons," Rouleau said. "So having a test server became an idea we had to invest in so we could have cleaner releases in the long run. It also allowed us to iterate faster and test fixes for potential bugs. A good example is in year two, we changed the way we matchmake in the game, and that's something we tested on the test server. It allowed us to gather information in a real live environment, gathering data on how the new system was behaving and maybe to iron out some kinks that were still in the new features.
"It didn't eliminate all of the problems, but it really eliminated a lot of them. We just launched our latest season this week, and before that, the whole season was on our test server for two weeks. It really helped us to fix some gameplay bugs before [launch]. Our season gameplay-wise was very, very clean, so for me that's a sign we were successful with what we wanted to achieve with the test server."
However games-as-a-service requires more than technical adaptations. Rouleau said her biggest takeaway she's had from making the shift from the AAA boxed model is just how much adaptation the shift requires.
"One of the big things is the rhythm of work and releases is very different," Rouleau said. "When you ship a boxed game, you work a long time on one product, and it's going to be released once, so you have this big push at the end to really put it out the door. When you work in games-as-a-service, you need to adapt the mindset of your team because your rhythm is not the same. You're going to produce less content, but release more often.
"On Rainbow, in year two, we're releasing a new update to our game client almost every month, or every six weeks. We have brand new content we're releasing every three months. That's a very different rhythm, so as a manager, you need to change your mindset and not rely on your years of AAA experience. For me, that really translated to not burning out your team."
Rouleau will be going into more detail on the lessons of Rainbow Six Siege's live ops in her session on Wednesday, December 13.
Disclosure: MIGS has a media partnership with GamesIndustry.biz, and is paying for our travel and accommodation during the event.