The Division 2 Developers’ Response To Crunch And Player Feedback Is A Game-Changer

GAMING

The demands of supporting live service games and their constant need for new content are far-reaching and complicated–which is true for Massive's The Division 2. Details about the game's new Expeditions feature came out during E3 2019, which is part of the game's extensive first year of free content updates.

In a new video feature, GameSpot's Jess McDonell looks at Massive's The Division 2 specifically and how the studio has gone about supporting the ongoing game and interacting with its community. Jess speaks with Massive community developers Petter Mårtensson and Christoph Gansler about how they engage with and incorporate player feedback with the live service game.

You can watch the full video above, while the entire Q&A is available below featuring joint responses from Gansler and Mårtensson. In it, the developers talked about the value of transparency in The Division 2's development, how to manage player feedback, and how to maintain a constantly evolving online game.

Gansler and Mårtensson also discuss the hot-button issue of crunch, which is an industry term for the practice of developers working overly long hours to finish milestones.

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GameSpot: How important is player feedback to what ends up in the game?

Gansler and Mårtensson: Player feedback is very important to us at Massive Entertainment. We’re always monitoring social channels and forums such as Reddit and YouTube to see what the players are saying about the game. We want our community to know that we see the development of The Division 2 as an ongoing relationship. That said, we and the players don’t always agree on everything. We need to constantly have a holistic view of what goes in and what goes out of the game. But we discuss the feedback we get on a daily basis.

When it comes to developing The Division 2 and incorporating player feedback, how strongly do you agree or disagree with the alleged Henry Ford quote: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

"We learned a lot from the first game that we took with us into The Division 2."

As developers, we must have a 360-degree view of the game. Our designers and production teams know the game intimately. They know what’s feasible and what’s not feasible, and they know how certain changes that are being requested would or wouldn’t work practically. Sometimes feedback can be laser-focused on a specific aspect of the game that, if changed, could have much bigger implications that you don’t directly see. At the same time, many of our players also know the game very well, so nothing is discarded.

In addition, we have a lot of data from the game. We have a great data analytics team that works together with our user researchers and the community team. Together, they see how our players play the game and sometimes the loudest complaints are not reflected in reality.

Has your perspective of how to respond to or implement player feedback changed from The Division 1 to The Division 2?

We learned a lot from the first game that we took with us into The Division 2. Updates 1.4 and 1.8 for The Division were largely based on player feedback and we even brought community members to our studios for workshops on the game’s development (big shout out to all our Elite Task Force members!). That mindset is something that we took with us to the second game.

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How often are highly requested features implemented?

For every title update we’ve released for The Division 2, we try to implement various features or tweaks that have been requested by the community. Some requests take longer to implement of course, but we have some cool stuff coming up that community members have discussed and requested that I won’t spoil now.

There are thousands of suggestions across your official forums and the Division 2 subreddit. Where is the line between seeing highly requested features and what can practically be implemented, whether that be for volume or technical reasons?

That line can be difficult to draw. As mentioned earlier, we look at all the feedback we get, see if it’s something that we believe would make the game better, if it’s technically possible to implement, and then decide based on those factors.

"We can’t always answer every question or respond to every criticism, which of course can be frustrating for some, but we try to talk to our players as much as we possibly can"

Even when your community doesn't agree with certain mechanics or changes, they seem to have an incredible amount of respect for how consistently they are heard and communicated with. Was this always the plan? How do you practically maintain that open line of communication?

We are fortunate to have a passionate community team that has a frequent dialogue with our players. Our Twitch channel is our main tool, where we do our weekly State of the Game livestreams. We also do gameplay streams since that’s a great avenue for us to just sit down, play the game and talk directly to our community.

We can’t always answer every question or respond to every criticism, which of course can be frustrating for some, but we try to talk to our players as much as we possibly can. The community team also has a close relationship with the developers themselves and information flows both ways as a result. Myself and Chris, the community developers for the game, sit smack down in the middle of the Live Team and are in constant communication with them to make sure we know everything that is going on.

And yes, this was always a part of the plan. State of the Game has been running for a long time, from before the first game even launched, and we have no plans to stop doing it. The community interaction has been incredibly important for all of us working on the game. Many of our developers show up on our streams or interact with fans on Twitter and other social channels.

Can you offer some examples of things that have changed in the game as a result of player feedback?

For the first game, Update 1.4 was eye-opening for us. For The Division 2, the drawbacks on weapon mods were very controversial within the community and we ended up removing them from the game.

Can you offer some examples of things that have not changed, despite player suggestions to alter them, and the thinking behind this?

We had planned to increase the Gear Score in the game from 500 to 515, with the latter only available in the Dark Zones. In the end, we decided to not go through with that change, which frustrated some players that were looking forward to it. We understand them, but with a series of PvE and PvP changes in our latest title update (Title Update 3), we want to improve the Dark Zone experience and make it more fun and rewarding. That said, we felt that keeping the gear score at 500 was for the best, from a game experience standpoint, as it is too early to introduce higher gear score items at this time.

How do you manage when your audience is divided in what they want out of the game (for example lowering versus maintaining the current mission difficulty)? With whom does the final decision sit on whether something should or shouldn't be implemented?

The final decision sits with the directors, designers and the production teams. As mentioned earlier, we need to always figure out if a change is positive and realistic. The community can absolutely be split when it comes to certain topics, but in the end, we must make decisions based on those factors. The sad reality is that there will always be people who are disappointed with any changes to the game, something that comes with every live game. You can’t please everyone, but we hope people know that everything we do, we do for the overall betterment of the game.

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To what degree is this communication or transparency a virtue (or a problem) for the development team?

Sometimes things go wrong, and we don’t believe in hiding from our mistakes. We’re human and mistakes happen. Transparency is very important for us; it’s part of the DNA of the project. Of course, we can’t talk about everything, even if we’d want to. That’s just the reality of game’s design and the business. Again, referring to Update 1.4 for the first game – that’s when we truly learned how important transparency can be, how important it is for our relationship with our players. That informed us moving forward.

It’s a virtue because the whole team is behind it. The problems arise when we have things we can’t talk about for whatever reasons. That can cause frustrations since players want answers to their questions. It’s a fine line to walk. You don’t want to over promise and under deliver, for example.

Does having a constantly evolving online game change the way you view the developer/player relationship?

Yes and no. This relationship is natural to us now. Of course, it changes over time, especially with new tools becoming available and new social platforms and groups popping up. Recently, we set up our own official Discord server and, all-of-a-sudden, we have a new tool to gather feedback, get a sense of the community mood and directly talk to our players in ways we couldn’t before. Having a live game means staying dynamic – when it comes to developing the game, as well as for how we communicate. Over time, I hope we can become even closer to our players in new and creative ways.

"We’re human and mistakes happen. Transparency is very important for us; it’s part of the DNA of the project."

What are the unique challenges and advantages to having a constantly evolving game?

The challenges and advantages lie in that dynamic setting. There are things happening all the time, but not everything is visible to the players. Small changes can inadvertently become huge changes, and vice versa. We need to be at the top of our game constantly, monitor what is happening in the game and in the community and react accordingly. It can be hard, but extremely rewarding too. It’s a team effort and our live and production teams are taking on that challenge on a daily basis.

How do you manage the swings between positivity and negativity that come from the community?

We do our very best to communicate, listen and be as transparent as possible. We talk to our players as much as we can, even if it’s not always possible. We gather all the feedback, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Those swings are a natural part of communities, but overall The Division community has been a supporting and welcoming place for a long time now. We also know that feedback always comes from the love of the game, so even if it’s something negative, players just want the game to be better. We appreciate that.

How much do you try and implement with each update and how do you manage constant rebalancing and bug fixing?

We try to implement the updates as much as we can, within the limits we have. For Title Update 3 that we just released, for example, we made a series of balance changes while also fixing hundreds of bugs – some visible to the players, some not. We’re not slowing down, and our different teams are 100 percent dedicated to making The Division 2 even bigger and better. It’s an ongoing process, but with the knowledge we have from releasing and operating the first game, we’re in a good position to take this game to new heights.

In regards to reports that online, evolving games require constant ongoing development, do your development teams undergo periods of crunch and what are your thoughts on the practice?

When it comes to developing online, evolving games or game-as-a-service, there is less ramp up and ramp down time than during traditional game production. The team working on The Division 2 has managed to respect a healthy work-life balance throughout the project. We’re actively working to prevent teams working overtime, and when it does happen we have very clear rules and communication about the practice. For example, overtime is always paid in accordance with Swedish work regulations. And HR follows up with every team member individually to assess workload and find solutions to strike the right balance.

At Massive, we are intent on providing a healthy and enriching work environment with the goal of keeping our team members with us for 10 years or more. Work-life balance is essential if we want to attract and retain the best talent to continue developing games on the same scale and quality as The Division 2. We were rated as one of Sweden’s most attractive employers amongst young professionals in 2018, so we’re pleased with how our efforts are paying off so far.

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