Since the beginning of this generation, publishers have been trying to figure out how to sell AAA multiplayer-only experiences to consumers. What’s been confusing to me about these games is if you look at most critical thought on them, the biggest complaints are always about how there isn’t enough to warrant a full price purchase. This argument is divisive though it has fair criticism; The content of these kind of games can be slim and the problems they suffer from like balance and monetization of additional content can ultimately damage the selling points for why the game is worth the money you spend on it.
We all saw how Evolve sank to an all-time low with the season pass controversy when it comes to making consumers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, so why is it the same kind of criticism is labelled against games that have subsequently learned from those mistakes and promise more than what you get for in free post-release support?
Rainbow Six: Siege released to lukewarm reception with criticism aimed at its free-to-play hooks and poor progression, though it’s biggest praises were in how strongly it took elements from MOBAs (League of Legends, Dota 2, etc.) and applied it to the fast-paced first-person shooter tactics of Counter Strike. The strategies and counters you can invent in Siege are intentional by design and the maps are tailored for players to get creative in winning matches which makes the MOBA comparison even more apt when a lot of the strategies you choose to execute are high-risk-high-reward. The criticism of free-to-play hooks can be valid though I personally never felt they had any major impact on my experience in my over 130 hours with the game. I feel the in-game currency system (Known as Renown) feels grindy but since it was a game I rather enjoyed a lot, I was willing to commit the time since it felt so secondary in comparison to actually playing the game itself.
What I think publishers can learn from Siege is Ubisoft’s commitment to transparency and the promise of rewarding players that keep coming back. The reward is something that I feel is overlooked when criticism is leveled at the free-to-play elements in Siege; You can earn all of the DLC operators (Or heroes to further the MOBA comparison) by just playing the game. Maps and game modes are free at launch, but the operators are €4.99 or roughly 25 hours of accumulated Renown. While that may seem a tad high, that they even allow you to earn all gameplay-relevant content through just playing the game isn’t a big deal but it’s a lesson I think other publishers could learn from when trying to sell the idea of a paid multiplayer-only title as a platform rather than a flavour of the month game.
Ubisoft have been smart in how to engage their playerbase by using the Rainbow Six subreddit as their main platform for developer-player communication. Their community members highlight issues with videos, screenshots and text posts on an easily accessible site that gives users a platform to speak their mind and raise the biggest issues to the top posts on the front page of the subreddit for others, including devs, to see. What’s more is the fact that the team behind supporting the game are updating players consistently with their knowledge of issues raised by the community in short spaces of time, reassuring players that they are indeed working on the issues in upcoming patches.
I think these factors play into maintaining a healthy player-base for multiplayer only games. Marketing can do a good job of selling copies quick, but happy players can keep games making money well past their release. Since it’s launch the player-base of Siege on PC has climbed from 3,000 on launch day to a consistent count well over 10,000 according to Steam and that doesn’t even count folks using uPlay copies of the game. They’re doing what I think is a far more admirable job than most publishers do, and for that I think they deserve all the praise they get.