Rainbow Six Siege’s Year Six could be a turning point for the game

Five years of work later, Ubisoft Montreal is poised to tackle Siege's biggest challenges.

It’s hard to think of any other live service game that has changed so much and so drastically over the course of its lifetime as Rainbow Six Siege. In five years, Ubisoft Montreal has added 36 new characters and 10 new maps, and that’s even after taking months away from developing new content early on in the game’s development cycle.

It’s a tactic that’s clearly working. As of last year, Siege had 55 million registered players since its launch in December 2015, and SteamCharts clocked its average player count for January 2021 at almost 78,000 on just that platform. But constantly updating a game like Siege can be a double-edged sword. Sure, it keeps the lights on and players engaged, but all of these changes add complexity to a game that, for new players especially, can already be overwhelming.

That’s not the only challenge that Siege faces going forward. Though it’s made progress over the last several years, Ubisoft Montreal is still battling against cheating and toxicity within the community—issues that can be particularly damning for a five-versus-five game where every player’s contribution and attitude matters. These problems are compounded for content creators that make a living streaming and making videos of Siege. One prominent Siege streamer and esports caster, Jessica Bolden, recently had to stop streaming the game after a solo queue teammate discovered she was streaming at the time and threatened sexual assault.

Siege’s upcoming Year Six of content could be the turning point when a lot of these issues are addressed. It’s the culmination of years of work.

“Year Six is a really big stepping stone for us,” game designer Emilien Lomet told me during an online preview event. “There’s stuff that has been in our minds for a very long time that we’re finally getting to implement into the game.”

Tackling the Meta

The highlights of every Siege year are the new operators, and Year Six will continue the game’s recent trend of adding one new operator per season, starting with Flores in Year Six’s first season, Operation Crimson Heist. While the last few operators added to the game have interested but not excited me, I instantly fell in love with the bespectacled Argentinian attacker coming to the game in Year Six’s first season.

Flores’ gadget is simple to understand but trickier to implement effectively. The RCE is a drone with a bunch of explosives attached to it that you can remotely detonate. That might sound a bit overpowered at first, but the RCE comes with several caveats. Most obviously, defenders can simply shoot it to disable it like they can with any other drone. Then there’s the fact that the RCE never stops moving forward after you deploy it, so you can’t stop it or reverse it. Finally, once you detonate the explosives, the drone anchors in place, armors up, and gives defenders three seconds to clear the area. In other words, unless the opponent is really slipping or you’re exceedingly clever with where you choose to detonate it, the RCE isn’t meant to get kills. Instead, it’s a great tool for clearing utilities like Jager’s ADS and Maestro’s Evil Eye off the map.

Lomet said that the inspiration for Flores came from a familiar but exceedingly rare video game trope, and one that you might not expect from a tactical, close-quarter, mostly grounded FPS like Siege: the guided missile.

“What was in the back of our mind when we started working on [Flores] comes from all the video games that we all played when we were younger where you had those guided missiles,” he said. “You would shoot the missile, and then you would be in first-person and pilot the missile through the map to your targets. And that’s why [with the RCE] you have this device that you place, you[r camera] get[s] into it, it has a limited time, and it’s constantly moving forward so you have to quickly make decisions and drive around the map that way.”

The core of Flores’ design is a playfulness that Siege could do with more of, but it’s also geared towards solving an issue that’s plagued the game for a while now, and that’s the so-called “20-second meta.” If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, it refers to how every round is so dominated by defensive utility that attackers can only really make their moves on the objective in the last 20 seconds of a three-minute round. It’s a big reason why defenders have a higher win percentage than attackers on every map, and it’s something that Ubisoft Montreal is hoping Flores and his RCE—with its focus on destroying defender gadgets—can help mitigate.

“We know we can’t rely on just an operator to fix a larger meta issue,” Lomet said, “but we can have an operator support those changes, and that’s what Flores was designed to do.”

Flores isn’t the only addition to the game that will hopefully chip away at the 20-second meta. A new attacker secondary called the Gonne-6 might have an even bigger impact, given that several attackers like Dokkabei and Gridlock will have access to it. This one-and-done weapon shoots an explosive round that does minimal damage to other players but can take out gadgets like deployable shields and bulletproof cameras.

The Gonne-6 was based on suggestions from the community and specifically designed to address the 20-second meta. However, other new features that benefit attackers have been in the works for a long time. Tweaks to defenders Goya and Melusi will slightly mitigate the impact their gadgets have on how attackers move around the map, but the opportunity to repick attackers during the prep phase, after scoping out the defenders and their utility setups, is probably something that will have the biggest impact on the meta.

“These [changes] were not reactionary to a meta problem,” Lomet said. “These were ideas that we had for a very, very long time that we wanted to have in the game for so long because they made sense. That’s how prep is supposed to work in our mind, right? The fantasy of collecting information and reacting to it, it would make sense to be able to choose which operator you want for the proper situation.”

It will hopefully also make for more interesting team compositions, as the attackers no longer have to make sure they have an operator for every possible counter. “Instead of choosing a jack-of-all-trades type of lineup, now you can choose operators that are more specific, that are a bit more situational. Hence, introducing [the ability to repick operators for attackers] allows for more diversity in the operator lineup. That was very important for us,” Lomet said.

Breaking Down Barriers

These changes are all well and good for longtime players who are familiar with the meta and more versed in the game’s mechanics, but it doesn’t necessarily help onboard new players. Finding the right balance between keeping the game exciting for veteran players while not making it completely exhausting for newcomers to jump in is one of the trickiest parts of Ubisoft Montreal’s job. And even if no new content was added, onboarding players still presents problems.

“[Siege] is a very difficult game,” Lomet said. “It’s a very difficult game to get into and we focused on a lot of aspects of the game over the years to make it as good as possible, to focus on our vision as much as possible, but we still need to help the people that want to discover Siege. By adding so many things over the past six years, it makes discovering Siege today even more difficult than it was back in the day. It’s something I can’t even project. I can’t even imagine what it is [like].”

Some of the changes coming in Year Six might help. Tweaks to the Newcomer playlist—which bring a player’s first matches more in line with what they’ll be experiencing in Quick Match and Unranked—is part of the strategy. Armor level displayed numerically as part of the actual health bar will make the impact of that mechanic much more readable. Activities After Death will let players control their operator’s deployed gadgets even after they’re taken out of the round, so a dead Maestro can still operate his Evil Eye, for example. The hope is that it will keep players more engaged even if they can’t directly contribute.

The other major addition is a replay system that will let players rewatch their matches with the same kind of presentation that you’d see in a Siege esports match. You can view from different players’ perspectives or even watch from a top-down view so that you can get a better idea of how your opponents and teammates move through a map and utilize their gadgets. There’s probably no hope of ever getting a minimap in Siege, but replay could be just as useful in being able to learn maps, which is one of the most important aspects of the game.

While all these additions and improvements will benefit normal, everyday ranked warriors, it’s the focus on how to address issues specifically facing content creators that could have the biggest impact on Siege’s sustainability over the next year. The impact that streamers have in keeping a game relevant, especially five years later, is undeniable, so Ubisoft Montreal is making several changes that will hopefully make it possible for someone like Bolden to more comfortably play the game live.

Ubisoft Montreal is specifically targeting stream sniping by allowing streamers to hide their names and the names of their opponents and adding a hidden timer into the matchmaking so players watching their streams can’t queue up at the same time as them. These are features that are slowly becoming bigger priorities in multiplayer gaming, so it’s a promising start, but it’s unclear whether it will be enough.

More importantly, Siege is more fully implementing a player behavior monitor that will rate players depending on what actions they take in a game. Are they constantly team-killing on purpose? Their rating will go way down. Are they playing the objective and getting good feedback from their teammates? Then chances are they have a high player behavior rating. In a game where communication and interaction is so key, rating players based on how well they adhere to the tenets of good sportsmanship just makes sense.

Ubisoft Montreal walked a long road to get to Year Six, and it’s unclear how well-received the changes the team is making to the game will be received by fans or even have their intended impact. One thing that Siege still has going for it is that, five years on, there still isn’t anything else like it on the market. Of course, that also means that it’s facing specific problems that other games don’t have to worry about as much.

Maybe it’s no coincidence the developer turned to that classic “guided missile” mechanic as inspiration for Flores. After all, it’s a pretty good metaphor for how working on a game like Siege must feel: piloting it around obstacles, reacting as quickly as possible, never stopping, and, with a little luck and a lot of skill, hitting your target.

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