Ubisoft’s third-person shooter The Division has been one of 2016's most interesting successes and one of its worst fiascoes. The people who make it now hope it can also be the year’s best comeback story.
On Tuesday, the game’s developers will issue a major patch that is designed to do nothing less than overhaul a game that, in the words of the developers, was no longer sufficiently “fun,” especially in its endgame. Patch 1.4 is Ubisoft’s big hope, a fix meant to arrest the wilting of a player base that has shrunk from millions at launch to scant thousands today. Over the weekend, the game barely clung to a 90-something spot on Steam’s daily activity charts below Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Doom, Dying Light, the gradually-improved fellow Tom Clancy-branded game Rainbow Six Siege and dozens more.
In March, Ubisoft bragged that The Division was the hottest new franchise they’d ever put out. By August, the game’s developers were announcing that they were postponing the second major expansion in order to revamp the core game..
We’ve covered the highs and lows of The Division since it came out in the spring. We were pleased to find out recently that the game’s creators were interested in talking to Kotaku about the journey they’ve taken. I got in touch with them over e-mail, firing off a battery of questions to Ubisoft PR reps, who collected answers from Division creators at the game’s main studio Massive, as well as partner studios Red Storm and Reflections. I asked for frank answers. While some of their answers were dodges, the team offered a lot of insight into what their rollercoaster of a year was like and what they’ve learned from it.
“A very wild and talented teenager”
“In many ways, creating The Division has been like living with a very wild and talented teenager,” David Polfeldt, the managing director at Massive, reflected over e-mail. “It’s been a colorful, complicated, fascinating, jaw-dropping and finally an amazingly rewarding journey. It wasn’t always easy to manage the development, but to be honest, I don’t believe any game of this scale is.”
The Division was announced at E3 2013 with a haunting debut video presentation that described a terrorist attack on New York City that used contaminated money to kill great numbers of holiday shoppers and other civilians, putting the city on lockdown. The Division would be a shared-world shooter set in snowy, lawless New York. The players would fill the boots of a member of a special forces unit called The Division, comprised of regular people who’d been trained to mobilize when urban catastrophe strikes. It wasn’t expected for a year or so and eventually got a 2015 release.
Then, something changed. Early promotion and press previews gave way to silence. Ubisoft’s official blog, for example, didn’t post about the game between July 2014 and May 2015 when it was announced that another studio, Ubisoft Annecy, was joining to help finish the game. The release date slid to 2016.