Ubisoft’s Xavier Marquis and Alexandre Remy on the future of Rainbow Six Siege
Creative director Xavier Marquis and brand director Alexandre Remy from Ubisoft Montreal talk about the past, present and future of first-person-shooter Rainbow Six Siege.
The original internal pitch for Rainbow Six Siege included this piece of medieval art.
Visually, you may notice there’s not a whole lot that’s familiar with Rainbow Six Siege, but in terms of the core concepts, it’s all there: asymmetrical combat with attackers versus defenders; destructibility; distinct roles between factions.
Rainbow Six Siege has been out in the wild for over a year now, and despite a rocky launch, Ubisoft Montreal managed to retain a healthy player base, partially thanks to transparency with the community. It also helped that Ubisoft Montreal refused to split the player base with each subsequent DLC release. Players are able to purchase a yearly season pass but, in terms of content, that only offers two weeks of early access to the new operators, who are automatically unlocked.
For Rainbow Six Siege players who don’t buy a season pass, after the two weeks of exclusivity pass, they can unlock new operators with earnable in-game currency called Renown. On top of this, all players have access to the new maps as soon as they’re released. Where other popular first-person shooters fracture their communities with every subsequent paid DLC drop, Ubisoft Montreal kept its community united, which helped it get through a rocky first year of technical issues, and saw peaks – not declines, like comparable games – with each DLC release.
We recently had the chance to sit down (separately) with creative director Xavier Marquis, then brand director Alexandre Remy, to talk about the past, present and future of Rainbow Six Siege.
(For context, it’s worth noting that both of these interviews started with Marquis and Remy commenting on a red Lucasfilm-branded A5 notebook that we use for interview questions.)
On red Lucasfilm books?
XM: No, not Lucasfilm.
The Moleskine ones.
XM: Yes, the Moleskine ones.
Four of them?
XM: Yes, absolutely. Designed the game step by step.
Was each notebook dedicated to different facets of the game?
XM:Oh, no. When I started Siege, I wrote everything, and any step of the design, everything, is inside these four books. And I’m an artist by background, so I draw everything since the first day. I draw the barricades, barbed wire, everything, etcetera. Everything has been designed and drawn step by step.
So, how much from that has yet to be put into the game?
XM: I think it’s at 80 percent.
Wait, 80 percent is in the game already?
And the last 20 percent, you don’t want to use?
XM: No, no. It’ll be notes for the future, etcetera. But if I pick, for instance, the first book, the first book is about the first year of development, I think that 80 percent of it is in it, yes.
That’s amazing. We wanted to talk about the road ahead for the competitive scene for Rainbow Six. We’re just curious about, for starters, as a general question, what are your plans for the competitive scene for year two, and how are they different to year one?
XM: For year two we are switching format on PC, mainly on PC. The thing we want to do, we want to stop to divide our resources because multiple support, multiple console… PC can be modified directly. I think as a player anywhere the console, support, etcetera, me, if I’m a Rainbow Six player, I will watch if it’s on PC. Me, I think, we are not with eSports event supporting the console or PC, we don’t care; we want to just support only one show. This was the main thing.
So we stop dividing our resources and me, also, I gave advice to Alex [Remy], because when I was at home I watched the final we did, and I think it was a bit confusing to have multiple champions of the world, multiple champions of the season, etcetera. So I said, “No,” in terms of a show, it was too complex, so I said, “No, it’s better to only have one final.”
Okay. So when you’re creating new operators, what is the process? Is it more that you’ve got a whole lot of operators that you want to put into the game, or is it more reactive to meta changes that you want to see?
XM: No, no, no, no. We are planning for a very long time. First, you have to know it’s a real dream internally that we’re able to build characters, we’re able to build operators, and we’re already imagining the reaction from the players. My team of designers are full of Dota players, and stuff like that, so we are living our dream. To react from the meta, from players, we’ve got a specific patch, which is called the Reinforcement Patch.
The thing that we love about the shooting in Siege, this high lethality, is this idea that it’s more of an information game, and it seems that every time you introduce new operators-
XM: -Oui, oui! Yes, that’s it. When you’re playing, for instance, StarCraft, you are thinking about what could be potentially the base location of your enemy, etcetera, the weakness, where you have to collect the information before the attack. The attack will be bang, and that’s all.
This game [Siege] has been designed for the things… instead of just being roaming and finding my enemy and having a reflex game, everything is there to collect information. The information will limit your casualties, it will limit the pro ability, and as soon as you read the information you will dominate your enemy. It’s designed for that.
If you’ve pre-planned operators in advance, if you notice a big change in the meta in the community from your last operator, do you then switch around where you’re going to place operators on that, or are you only balancing meta changes in the mid-season drop?
XM: For the [mid-season] Reinforcements [patch], it’s only based on the released operators, never a new one. The [start of a] season releases a new one, and then the Reinforcement Patch is only dedicated to the past of the game. The patch is only dedicated to the past. It’s always to maintain the existing operators in this meta. So with the new system, it will change the meta, it will modify the meta, and then in the Reinforcement Patch, it’s a specific patch that’s there to maintain all of the existing operators.
And when it comes to hardcore players, in tournaments in the past, in Siege they’re looking for a competitive edge and there are times when they might take advantage of glitches and things like that.
What do you to address that? Do you balance after a tournament happens or as soon as you find it, or are you kind of not wanting to remove the option for players to use exploits for a competitive advantage?
XM: For instance, often we can just fix the glitch, but if it’s the case that we have to fix it hurriedly before the competition, the teams don’t have enough time to learn about it, or we can also ban. So, for instance, if an operator is not working because of some glitches, the competition can ban, directly, part of the content, so an operator is not available, etcetera. This one is not going to play.
When the game first came out, there was a five-second window where you were allowed to leave as a defender before you were spotted, that was changed to two seconds. We’ve noticed in more mainstream [non-hardcore] games, that’s still considered to be quite controversial. That people feel that defenders should stay in the building. What are your thoughts on that? Have you talked about changing that, or are you happy with where it’s at now?
XM: No, no, no, no. Today, still internally, we are thinking about a lot of things. You have no idea about all the potential topics we are exploring. We have also a lot of phases, for instance, specifically for this feature; but why not have no time at all? So as soon as you get out, you can be detected and stuff. Yes. But we need to be patient.
It’s something that we learnt from a different point of view. We learnt that, oh, okay, it’s better to take a bit of time, play test it internally, do a lot of tests instead of trying it directly on the community. We want to take the time also and release it so it’s meaningful for the community. And doing some tests that, yes, trust me, we are exploring tonnes of things, even on the operators, a lot of tests or things we are noticing every day that we want to explore. The operator system, trust me, it’s insane for that.
Speaking of the operators, as the new ones come out, some of the older operators have become a lot more viable choices. Like, IQ stands out as a good example of that. But there are still some that aren’t being selected as often. Do you have plans and ways to change that?
XM: We are talking about IQ every season. We know because of some new operators, we know that IQ will always be more meaningful because she will detect their stuff. But we know it’s not finished. We’ve got a theory about how we want to envisage, etcetera. Some operators from the original design were a bit too simple, only one layer, like IQ detects and stuff. But we’re thinking about the different ideas, avenues to explore, we are looking for operators with different layers, maybe a skill with different layers of readability of how to use it. I don’t want to talk too much about it because I want to be sure and secure about the design, but honestly, the future will be extremely fun.
And for more than just IQ?
XM: No, it’s not only about IQ. No, no, no.
What are some of the other ones? What are some of the other ones where you can’t wait for the community to see what you’re going to do with them?
XM: Today, I cannot say how we’re going to modify her, but I’ve been talking with my team about Twitch, already, because I think some things would be rather interesting, as a team we’ve got a lot of things to do, so for another operator also Thatcher. We have a lot of discussions with Thatcher.
Do you have any plans for Australian special forces operators?
XM: Okay, you know what? It’s not official because it cannot come only from me, but it’s my dream to have Australia in our map for the seasons in the future.
Beyond year two , then?
XM: Year three . Why not?
Siege is easy to learn and hard to master, which is the hallmark of a great game; are you taking steps this year, as well, to try to educate players in how to go from newbie to good, from good to decent, from decent to amazing, and then amazing to potentially competitive players. And how will you go about training players to be better at your game?
XM: So this one is not an easy one, and we are talking with the designers about how to do this specifically, kind of the road to let players grow inside the game. From the casual to the ranked and onto the pro league, you will be able to design a world to learn and master it again step by step instead of receiving everything in one shot. Yes, it’s a discussion with designers. It’s not planned in terms of features, etcetera, and still we are in the kind of design process, but it’s in our questions today. We are talking a lot about it.
When Rainbow Six Siege was first announced at E3, there was that amazing trailer with a house that looked fully destructible, obviously when the game came out, the destructibility was toned back somewhat. But as the maps have gone on, there has been a bigger emphasis on more and more destructibility. Is there an effort to make the maps more destructible?
XM: To be honest, the destruction is the same as at E3, but it’s graphically different, but in terms of potential to create more of that, it’s the same amount of technology behind it. Graphically, it’s different, because we did it on a PC version when we first showed it at E3, and because of all of the optimisation after and trying to be at 60 frames per second [on consoles, assumedly], because that point was absolutely important. It was forbidden to run below 60 frames per second. Absolutely not. If you want to be competitive, it has to be at 60.
We re-increased [destructibility] after because we relearnt some new processes to optimise, etcetera. We are on the road to again and again to gain some graphical resources, etcetera, just because we are learning, also, the more you spend time on working, the more you are able to optimise, and the more you have space to increase the rest of the game.
You mentioned during the presentation that you’re going to have a server test environment but not a community test environment. Have you considered introducing a community test environment at some stage?
XM: Yes, but no it’s too early. It would be an issue to provide a community test server too early. We need to do everything in the right order. First, technical. The technical server for us to maintain everything, matchmaking, etcetera, to be extremely clean and powerful in our systems. As soon as it’s done, yes, we would like, but it has to be in the right order. So first technical, community maybe after.
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Mindfreak waved the Australian flag during the Xbox One portion of the tournament, but were unfortunately knocked out in the quarter finals by US team Lethal Gaming. There was some promise in how Mindfreak played that wasn’t represented in the final score but, after we spoke with captain Jayden “Dizzle” Saunders, he said his team would be heading home with the hopes of shaking up the Australian meta to a more aggressive form.
Unfortunately for Xbox One teams like Mindfreak, Ubisoft has chosen to focus purely on the PC for world championships in year two. This was just one of the topics that we wanted to talk to Remy about during our interview. We also wanted to talk about the evolution of Rainbow Six Siege’s meta, specifically because – unlike other shooters that tend to stay the course – Ubisoft Montreal unashamedly goes out of its way to change the meta with its new operators every quarter.
Tactics that dominate with the player base for part of the year may be undermined by the introduction of an operator who’s purpose-built to counter such tricks. Read on for our interview with Remy.
We just wanted to start with looking forward in terms of the competitive scene, and specifically, how do you feel that year two of the content will influence the competitive scene moving forward?
AM: It’s extremely difficult to say how much the meta is going to be evolving based on the new content. I think the new content, and we’re pushing now in year two, we’re sort of, I believe, getting a little better about our operators, I think, in the sense that now we have so much data, so many ways to look at how players can play much better than us, obviously, play the current game. We know there are weaknesses and areas of improvement for the meta. One of the examples that we’re using a lot is how Thermite, the whole first year was an automatic pick. There was no attacking team without him, and the idea we started introducing Hibana, which starts to be an option, like, a true choice.
Do you have to take into consideration the idea that you want to evolve the meta versus you want to completely shake it up, or is it that you do want every season drop to be this is going to be a complete shake-up, or do you want it to feel more like it’s an arc moving in a specific direction?
AM: That’s funny because it’s a little bit of an intention and something that happens out of necessity. The moment you drop two new operators every three months, the meta is going to be different, the meta is going to be shaken, even, by a high margin, so the only way you would say, ‘Let’s not shake the meta that much,’ would be to say, ‘Let’s not introduce any new operators,’ and we absolutely feel that this content is necessary for several reasons. This is what keeps the game cool, fresh, more meaningful, and I think we have 10 more years at least of new operators to come, from the drawings like this [points to our A5 notebook] from Xavier [Marquis], and at least two [A5 notebooks] like this filled with operators, so I’m super confident of how much we can further push the number of operators.
And to be very, very honest, a lot of us are super fans of those community multiplayer games that you tend to play for long periods of time. And as a player, I want to be surprised. I want to be shaken from my habits and my customs. I do play Dota a lot, for instance, and for me, each time there’s a major and a compendium, that’s like Christmas. And I think that’s super important to keep the content, the meta surprising, changing, so clearly we have more and more intention every season it’s going to shake up the meta with mid-season Reinforcements, we are rebalancing the meta as much as possible, and every trimester, yes, it’s going to change.
Okay. How does the competitive scene compare from now to where it started and, in between that time, what were some of the biggest learnings that you’ve been able to take from the telemetry data and from watching the competitive players pull your game apart?
AM: That’s funny because that’s exactly one of the discussions we’re having in the room downstairs. I’m extremely surprised and excited, especially when I do compare to season one, by how the games are now more and more tied. We often go into overtime. We often go extra rounds, meaning that the games and the teams have grown a lot in experience.
Season one, you saw, like, matches that came 5-0 and it was not even fun to watch, and I’m guessing not fun to play either for the losing team. So I think the game as it grows and as the players especially are starting to become more and more experts about it, discovering new tactics and such, we are seeing much closer rounds and matches and that’s, to me, the biggest evolution that we’ve seen.
Since the introduction of BattlEye, the additional anti-cheating measure, have you noticed changes in more people coming to the competitive scene, or more people being attracted to play Siege since the cheating has almost been eliminated?
AM: There’s, for us, a before and after BattlEye, and not just on PC, let’s be extremely clear on that. That’s crazy. The switch of feeling and sentiment that it gave to the whole community, like Xbox and PS4 players, while they were not at all impacted by cheating, or very little, it almost does not exist. They were re-joining by the fact that there was an anti-cheat. I think they were happy obviously for the PC players as a whole, it was a good move but, also, I feel that the message to them that they received is, okay, the developers at Ubisoft do care.
If there’s something that is harming the game, that we will at least try and try their best to fix it. So I think that BattlEye, even though it was only for PC, not only did it totally clean the PC format and the PC platform, it was a super good message obviously for the competitive scene, but overall, for the whole base of players, it was a super positive message. They do care, they do want to do what’s best for the game, and there was a sort of good moment, I think, and a shifting moment where people started to give us more trust about, okay, those guys are serious about keeping that game.
There’s talk of Xbox being dropped and PC being the focus for next year. Can you tell us a bit more about that and the decision process behind it?
AM: What we are deciding for year two when it comes to the overall eSports pro scene is two main big decisions. One of the decisions is to put a high focus on one of the platforms, and the decision has been made to put PC as the lead platform. That being said, the other good news or the other news or the key point for next year is the introduction of major league for both PlayStation and Xbox. So we are keeping an entry point to the competition for every format and every platform. Year two, by putting the lead on one platform, it’s going to create stability, and because we’re giving away one full year of visibility, one high focus on one platform, so there are more teams that we can enter with our investment and efforts that those guys have a sustainable year of competition ahead.
Is that also based on viewing patterns of what people tend to watch more, Xbox versus PC?
It’s part of the… as you can imagine, it’s almost a two-step decision that happened. The first step was, we are going to be concentrating on one platform. And I think everyone around the table that was involved in the discussion and decision was, like, “This is almost a no-brainer. Yeah, focusing on one platform is what we should be doing, no doubt.” Then, obviously, the most difficult in the decision-making was, “Okay, which platform shall we focus on?” and we re-evaluated everything, I mean, “Why not even PlayStation ?” after all. So we looked at it, and some of the factors, including what you’re mentioning, the viewership. It doesn’t mean that Xbox viewers are not important at all, but I think there’s a little or even a big majority of watchers who are more of a PC background at least on Rainbow Six. And the last aspect of that viewership that’s more qualitative and it’s super interesting, and we sort of had to make the decision as well is while Xbox players and watchers do watch Xbox streams and PC streams, the opposite is not true.
So, alright, we do have a larger PC viewership audience that is sticking to one sort of format or one scene and not watching the other. It’s showing a sustainable and potential… like, the growth was interesting for us, developers, PC is the lead platform for development, and so this is what we’ve been doing for the first year is the whole game is first and foremost developed and balanced on PC, and, obviously, we’re deploying everywhere at the parity level. But we’ve had the pro teams, Continuum for instance, come in the studio two, three times every season to try the content, give feedback, help us balance overall, so we do have constant workshops and discussions, and we can do this on PC, but not at all on console. We can’t have them test easily online or somewhere else the build on any of the consoles. So PC for us on the development side of things is easier.
The community is separated into the casual players, then there are people who want to try ranked, and then there are the extremely high level that we’re seeing right now. Are there any plans for how to incentivise and train people to go from casual to ranked, from ranked to competitive scene, and what responsibility do you feel that you should be helping to train these people and how you would do that?
There’s almost two aspects on your question. One aspect is how we take a dedicated bunch of players and help them go through the different steps if they have the will to become potentially pro or semi-pro. I think the PC structure for next year that has a community or grass-roots level of competition, almost anyone can join, it’s easy, etcetera. Then there’s a challenger league that is one step beyond with the bigger prize money, and a limited number of teams, now you start having a responsibility as a team and as a player to show up for matches, be on time. There’s a whole process of growing you as a potential athlete. And then, obviously, the pro league which is the top of the thing. So we are starting to structure the thing with more layers to help more people getting in and potentially getting to the top. That being said, even in the wildest dreams you can have, you would never have even the grass roots competition that are happening on the weekend and the tournaments, you’ll never have one million players getting in.
It takes a certain dedication, mindset, they are competitive people that are willing to sacrifice, do tournaments, take their computers and go to a LAN, for instance, and some that are not in that vein. I do play soccer with my friends once in a while, I’m not practicing soccer in a club with matches and training and practice, so there is already, I think, in the players there’s a natural selection or difference, should I say. To me, back to your sort of question of how or the larger question, to how we on-board people to get better in the game, regardless of most of the competition, this is a clinical question. And how we attract more players knowing that the game is deeper, richer, so sometimes it’s almost more complex for newcomers, and that’s clearly a challenge for newcomers we face next year and we’ll have to find solutions, and we have the discussions. I think we have interesting avenues that we can go. We haven’t made any decisions at the moment, but this is very likely to be the biggest challenge we will face moving forward.
Do you have a timeline for the transition away from the peer-to-peer systems to the client-server system and, once that’s done, do you foresee that having a big impact on the competitive scene and the ability for there to be online tournaments?
AM: This is pretty much going to be over and across the whole year, starting with the 5.2 [patch] which is season one Reinforcement, mid-season Reinforcement, sorry, the mid-season. One of the aspects in the tech road map that we’re putting this year is we are pushing the tech features on the mid-season and not at the beginning of the season with the content.
That will help us and that’s going to make it cleaner overall for everyone. So the roadmap of migrating to all the second line services from peer-to-peer to pure client-server starting mid-season one and that’s going to go over the whole year, service by service.
What are some of the bigger requests that you’re getting from the competitive players that are here today for feature or support in Rainbow Six Siege?
AM: Most of them, the top three, it’s regarding overall what we’ve called health, so hit registration, matchmaking stability, connection overall. So something that they’re obviously because they’re playing so many hours, that would expose much more often I would say than someone who just plays an hour, so that’s the main, main aspect for them.
Then when it comes to content or ideas, usually the number one discussion we’re having is about the state of the meta and what’s not balanced enough, so that’s tonnes of discussion about the operators, about the guns, about every of the values on every of the aspects of the game, so that’s a lot of the iterative process, and now we’re starting seeing, it’s more recent as a request, it’s those players saying, “Hey, I’m now at the top of the ranking system in Rainbow Six, I’ve reached the endgame, can we have like, a ladder, a leaderboard, or another extra step and keep on having that… and keep on doing and grinding and getting a lot?” So that’s something we’re looking at, yes.
You mentioned the meta, and that word seems to be used as a global term when we’ve already noticed some regional differences in meta between discussions with players and the different tactics that we’re seeing on the floor at the Six Invitationals. Do you approach meta balancing from a global point of view, or do you take regional considerations into account, too?
AM:: So we are equipped and there’s a whole department at Ubisoft Montreal that’s a user research lab whose sole purpose is to look at all the data that the game is generating on every of our user. We know the operator they pick, the weapon, the win/lose, when they die, how they died.
We generate heatmaps on every level of every game if we can. And this is that huge big data that we’re having on the game that we are looking and the research lab is looking and creating reports and bringing questions, issues, etcetera. So when it comes to balancing the meta, it’s not, “Oh, we think that.” It’s not, “Hey, someone told me this.” It’s pure cold data that you look at—the win rate, the pick rate, all of those aspects—and this is how you balance. Most of the time, in order to be sharper in our balancing, we look at the top of the players on PC, to be honest, so that particular population that we are looking at more closely to readjust our balancing overall, especially on weapons and operators, and from there we deploy to everyone, then we monitor all of the platforms, casual, if the choices we make looking at that sort of one percent if you will applies well and is not creating this balance.
Thanks so much for your time.
AM: Thank you. So you play?
AM: What would you like to see changed?
We were talking to Xavier about it yesterday, but we’d like to see some changes to the timer for defenders leaving the building, mainly because of defenders that run outside to spawn kill at the start of the round
AM:: It’s tough, this one. Maybe we should go see the research lab and ask them about exactly that. If there is any sort of learnings we can get, because there are purely opinions on pros and cons, but when I say, yeah, it’s super cool because certain defenders roam and change the state of the match by roaming outside, taking a high risk, and it’s a high reward, but at some point at some times, it happens to be, like, ‘Guys, come on!’ Especially at the point where it’s almost spawn killing.
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