Lara Coulson, Ubisoft’s game designer, opened the Interactive Futures 2020 conference at Leamington Spa with a question. “So, why did you want to add clans in The Division?” Ubisoft paid attention to The Division 2 because it was a social game. Coulson was part of a team of 10 people who worked together to create a new social system that agents could use in post-apocalyptic Washington DC. He also shares his insights into the design process for the new clan’s feature.
Coulson says, “It was already very social,” You could chat with others using game chat. But we wanted to offer players more social tools. The social aspect of The Division felt a little hollow when Ubisoft released it in 2016. After the panel, Coulson told me that the idea of adding clans to The Division was inspired by the fact that players had been creating clans on The Division forums long before it became an official feature. So the inclusion of the systems was a natural choice when it came time to develop its sequel.
Getting to know you
Coulson says, “Once we decided we wanted to add clans to the game, it was time to decide what that should look like.” This process starts with extensive research from both within and outside the industry. The team looked at clan systems in rival games, such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars, Destiny 2, and Diablo 3. It then brought in focus groups to examine academic studies and gain insight into statistics about clans and their behavior.
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The Ubisoft team conducted one focus group. It asked participants who have never joined a clan to explain what kept them from joining. Coulson says that the main lesson was that clans could be intimidating for players. “The mere mention of clans within a game created a negative stereotype. We wanted to make The Division more welcoming.”
How easy it is to use new social systems, clans, or guilds in any videogame will often determine their success. Ubisoft wanted to make The Division 2 clans accessible to everyone. This frictionless addition doesn’t hinder a player’s experience but enhances it.
“Once all this research was gathered, we were able to decide our future goals. Coulson says that we first wanted to make the clan system accessible for both console and PC as possible. This was done to fix some of the differences between console features and their PC counterparts. The second goal was to make the clan system welcoming and accessible to all players. We did not want clans to be intimidating. We wanted them to be accessible to all players, not just the most dedicated.
Five’s a crowd
The new social system was complete after all the research had been done and the design of the clan’s feature was set in stone. It launched last March. Coulson and his team celebrated this moment with great excitement: “The entire clan team gathered around a computer waiting for the first clan creation – it was an exciting moment.
Just under half of Division 2’s players had joined a clan within a few weeks. We initially thought that the average clan size was 35. But it was 5. This is why players find it difficult to progress.
Ubisoft had initially planned for larger clan sizes. Players who formed smaller groups could not reach the XP thresholds and complete weekly challenges within the game. The studio quickly listened to players’ feedback and restructured the clan system to serve them better. Coulson says, “We rebalanced all the progression in terms XP required to level up, and we also rebalanced targets for the weekly project targets as well as changing their structure.”
The clan system is only a part of Division 2’s overall experience. However, the dedication of this small team to research, implement, and react shows how the game has evolved over the years. With the recent release of Warlords of New York, Division 2 is a much better place than ever. This game, which is largely thanks to the efforts of Coulson and other developers, will almost certainly continue to evolve and shift in accord with its players’ requests.