Speaking at the Interactive Futures 2020 conference in Leamington Spa, Ubisoft game designer Lara Coulson opens with a question: "So, why did we want to add clans to The Division?" As with many online games, the social aspect of playing with others is one of its biggest draws, and giving you better ways to connect and play together was something Ubisoft was paying some serious mind to when it came to The Division 2. As part of a 10-person team dedicated to creating a new social system for agents to use in post-apocalyptic Washington DC, Coulson offers insight into the process of designing the new clans feature, and what was taken into consideration both during development and after launch.
"It was already a very social game," Coulson continues. "You could group up and chat with people using the game chat, but we wanted to give players more social tools." When Ubisoft released The Division back in 2016, the inability to form dedicated groups to complete missions left the social side of the game feeling a little hollow. Coulson tells me after the panel that the idea to bring clans to the Division was sparked by the fact that players were making clans on The Division's forums before it was an official feature, and so the systems' inclusion was a "natural choice" when it came to the development of its sequel.
Getting to know you
"Once we decided that we wanted to add clans in the game, we had to decide what we actually wanted that to look like," says Coulson. That process begins with an extensive amount of research, from both inside and out of the industry. After looking at clan systems in competitor games – such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Destiny 2, and Diablo 3 – the team brought in focus groups and examined academic studies to gain insight into the statistics of clans and clan behaviour in games.
In one focus group, the Ubisoft team asked participants who've never joined a video game clan before what has kept them away, and what it would take to convince them to join one. "The main thing we learned from this is that players find clans intimidating," Coulson explains. "Just the mention of clans in a game gave people this really negative stereotype, so we wanted to make sure that the design for The Division was much more welcoming."
The successful implementation of new social systems, clans, and guilds in any video game will often hinge on how easy they are to use. Ubisoft was eager to ensure that clans in The Division 2 were accessible to all; a frictionless addition that doesn't impede a players experience in the game in any way, but rather enhances it.
"Once we'd gathered all of this research together, we were able to decide what our goals were for the future. Firstly, we wanted to create the most easily accessible clan system for PC and console," Coulson continues. "This was specifically looking to address the differences that some console features had between their PC counterparts. We wanted to make sure it was a really good user experience on every platform. Our second goal was to create a clan system that is welcoming and appeals to all player types. We didn't want clans to be intimidating and we wanted them to be for everyone, not just the most hardcore players."
Five's a crowd
With all of the research gathered, and the design for the clans feature set in stone, the new social system was ready to go when the game launched in March last year. It was a big moment for Coulson and the team: "The whole clans team were gathered around a PC waiting for the first clan to be created – that was a very exciting moment. We had a lot of positive player feedback, but there was also some room for improvement."
A few weeks after the game launched, just under half of all The Division 2 players had joined a clan, but there were still some teething problems to contend with. "Initially, we thought the average clan size would be 35, but it was actually 5. Because of this, players found that progression was a little difficult."
With Ubisoft initially anticipating larger clan sizes, players forming in smaller groups struggled to hit set XP thresholds or complete the weekly challenges inside of the game. Thankfully, the studio responded quickly to feedback, taking steps to get the clan system realigned to better serve players that were eager to utilise it. "We rebalanced all of the progression in terms of the XP that you need to level up and we also rebalanced the targets for the weekly projects, as well as changing the structure of the weekly projects too," says Coulson.
The clan system is a small part of the wider The Division 2 experience, but the way in which this small and dedicated team worked to research, implement, and react is indicative of the way the entire game has grown over time. The Division 2 is in a better place than it has ever been before, particularly with the recent release of its Warlords of New York expansion. It's a game that, thanks in no small part to the work of developers like Coulson, is almost certain to continue evolving and shifting in line with the requests of its players.
If you're jumping into the action yourself, be sure to check out these The Division 2 tips from the developers themselves.