There is a TL;DR below, but there’s a lot of data in this post that may help people understand game development in general and allow people to see bigger pictures.
I was going to make a video based on this entire subject, and I probably still will but Matpat has a similar video and I would like to differentiate my points from his so I don’t copy him.
First I’ll introduce myself, I’m not known or anything really, I’m just a guy. I work in eSports, and I like to network and gather information. I tend to look at the extremely large picture, as well as explain things in their basest form. It’s my opinion that a lot of online criticism and arguments essentially whittle down to someone plugging their ears and going “la la la la I can’t hear you” and when someone tries to have an actual debate about something they get called a “cuck” or something like that. It’s just how internet culture is. I wish people could look at something like The Division objectively and really think about all the factors. I’ll start from the beginning of The Division. I will get to my point and try not to ramble from here on out.
Year One Launch
The Division had a few years of marketing, I think it was officially announced in around 2008 that Ubisoft was working on a new IP. The first footage was released in 2013. The Division cost 50 million dollars to produce, this includes marketing, game development, licensing, manufacturing, etc. On launch day the box sales exceeded 300 million dollars. People tend to look at these numbers and assume that “Oh, they made tons of money, they can just create huge content blocks now.” but that’s not how game development works. You have the publisher, Ubisoft funding projects that are developed by a team or teams of people, in this case Massive. Just because they made 250+ million dollars in profit does not mean they have 250+ million dollars to play with. Ubisoft is a publically traded company and therefore has to watch out for the best interest of their shareholders, Ubisoft’s duty to them is to make them money. Having a game make 250+ million dollars in profit is great, that’s a 500% return on investment. Once the game is released, you need to look at how many players are playing it consistently. On launch day 117,000 players were playing through steam. 1 month later on March 31, that number decreased to 54,000 that’s a loss of 54% of the concurrent player base at peak time. This trend continued, losing roughly 50% of the player base every month for 5 months, stabilizing at around 10k concurrent steam users.
You can extrapolate that data to the total sales and players across all platforms. Seeing as there were roughly 5.5 million copies sold ($60/game, divided into 330 million dollars) The player base went from 5.5 million on launch to 171,875 across all platforms. Factor in the next 6 months and players leaving, let’s say another 50%, this leaves 85,937 players currently playing across all platforms, steam users peak at around 10,000 daily currently. Amended in the next section.
Platform and Current Number of Players
PC/Steam/uplay: 88,326 players Ranked this week
Xbox One: 147,947 players Ranked this week
PS4: 175,901 players Ranked this week
With all of that information, we can now take a look at how game development works, the costs involved, and the return. There are 3 main categories:
Production and Development
- Developer Salaries
- Voice Acting
- Music, Orchestra, Sound
Marketing and Promotion
- TV Advertisement
- Print Media
- Online Advertisement
- Events, Launch Parties, etc
Manufacturing and Distribution
Optical Disc Production
- Online Distribution
When it comes to DLC, we can knock Optical Disc Production off for online games, I’ll strike through it, but I wanted to put all the information there as a reference.
Massive is also only a 250 man team. That’s not 250 developers, that’s 250 total developers, marketing team, social media managers, management, etc. And you can look deeper into the term developer, 3d animator, 3d artist, 2d artist, sound design, motion design, etc. Not all 250 people are working on releasing content.
Perspective: Bungie 750 Employees, Blizzard 4,700.
Now, remember how we’re down to 85,937 players? Let’s assume they were to create a massive content block and sold it for $40 just like Year One. If 100% of players were to buy this expansion that would net them $3,437,480. I don’t know what development cost of a large scale content package would be, but based on all the math we’ve seen, 3.5 million dollars is not that great of a return for 1 year of development. This is also assuming 100% of players buy the package, which is highly unlikely. Amended directly below.
412,174 players, all buying a $40 package equates to $16,486, 960. That is ever single player buying it, as I stated before, which is unlikely. I don’t have the statistics on what percentage of the player base of a game is likely to buy expansion content. Let’s say that 70% of players buy the expansion, that brings our figure down to $11,540, 672. While this number is vastly larger than the initial 3.5 million dollar figure, it’s still not enough to justify a larger content block. This is a prettier number but still, doesn’t touch the returns of 500% on a 50 million dollar investment over 2 years. 11.5 million dollars is only 3% of the money they could make in 2 years based on the math. This is why games started creating premium shops, season passes, etc. it allows developers to give longevity to a game but players see it as a cash grab when in reality the game churn is the cash grab.
Now, if Massive and Ubisoft could come to the conclusion that given a small team to work on a series of larger blocks of content that the investment would be worth it, but how many people would be needed for that? These are numbers we don’t have. You need to pay writers, voice actors, sound designers, animators, 3d artists, 2d artists, the list goes on and on. It all racks up, which is one of the points of my post.
Year One, Part 2
That sheer drop in players we saw at the launch of year one is something I believe could have been avoided, not entirely but, if not at least mitigated in some way. At launch there were many exploits, bullet king comes to mind. Hackers were also another reason a lot of players quit. A mixture of exploits allowing players to become wrecking balls and hackers one shotting you in DZ01 from DZ06 put into the minds that the devs were working far too slow to fix all this. I do believe that this was Massive’s fault, their Quality Assurance team should have spotted/fixed exploits and hackers should have been banned much sooner than they were. They also listened to the community too much and made changes at their request, and pushed them out fast. This caused tons more exploits, imbalance, and still some adjustments the community didn’t like (DZ reworks, etc).
By announcing the Year One content so far ahead of time as well, they backed themselves into a corner, they couldn’t devote resources to another type of project because they needed to accomplish the tasks they officially announced. How much of an uprising would there have been if part of the Year One content was scrapped for something of equal or greater value? With how the internet works, people would have been up in arms about it. I will stress, Massive always seemed very transparent, honest, and truthful when talking about anything on stream, forums, etc. What other game dev does a “State of the Game” style update EVERY WEEK?
While I Was Gone
I quit before Underground. I came back and saw the Year Two announcement and bought the season pass. The content the provided over the year is a great amount and quite varied, I think the issues lie in the risk/reward systems and time investment/reward systems.
- Underground: Modular dungeons with random objectives, modifiers can be applied to further change up the game, it’s unlikely to have the same experience twice when playing this.
- Survival: H1Z1 but optimized and much more complex. I’ve been having a great time in here.
- Last Man Standing: Structured 8v8 PvP with multiple maps.
I recently saw a post on the front page saying that adding a game mode isn’t new content. If it offers a new and unique aspect to the game, it is. When they do things like “Legendary” mode, that I will agree is not new content.
Year One, if they hadn’t been hamstrung by the sheer drop off of players, would have piqued the interest of a lot of players, allowed for variation in play, different types of players playing the game, etc. But as shown by the math, the player base is very low, I will get to a solution farther down.
Year Two Announcement
People are understandably angry about the Year Two announcement, it was rather lackluster. They phrased everything very poorly, but that’s because as a developer you love your product and they want to share the details, even when you can’t share them all because of contracts. This led to information that didn’t live up to the hype that was created by announcing they were going to talk about Year Two. People also cherry picked a lot of what they said and didn’t listen to the full context. This isn’t the fault of the community fully, as I stated the announcement was lackluster. The fact that the devs during the Year Two announcement stated definitively that map expansion level increase, new talents, mechanics, etc are off the table hurt really bad. I think you could tell also in the way he spoke that they were disappointed and angry that it was off the table and that they just didn’t want to give it thought because they’re sad about it. This might be over-analyzation, though.
Why Larger Scale Content Is Off the Table
Remember how earlier we were talking about only 85,937 playing, and if a content block were to be released it could only maximumly net $3,437,480? Which is highly unlikely anyway. Development is a time investment, as we already talked about what’s involved in game development, everyone has salaries or are contracted for a part of the project, there are costs in production and manufacturing, etc. Why would a Publisher invest a year worth of effort of a development team for $3,437,480? When they, in 2 years, could release a new game and have a return of 500% on a 50 million dollar investment? This is one of the main points of the argument I want to make, it is not the fault of Massive, it is the fault of Ubisoft, but it’s just business, they’re not doing anything wrong, it’s all based on perspective.
Game Development Problems and Solutions
The inherent issue with the system is that a publically traded company needs to watch after its shareholders, this is always reinforced by data. Do you know what works? Creating a game every 2 years and having a 500% return on investment. The blame isn’t on Massive, they’re doing what they’re paid to do.
- Publishers push game developers to just churns out new games for the highest return on investment every 2 years.
- The player base has shrunk to the point where the return on investing a year’s worth of development might even operate negatively.
- Larger scale content shelved for foreseeable future.
- The argument that’s always used, do not pre-order or buy games in protest. I know people always hear this argument, but it shows that players just won’t settle for a lack of longevity in a game. I hope with the full context of this post that people can fully understand what kind of statement this makes. Organizing 5.5 million people is quite the feat, though.
- Get players to return, there’s a vast amount of content now that applies to many different styles of play. I will elaborate on what should be done in the next section.
- Develop a revenue stream that allows for more flexibility in funding for larger scale content. I’ll elaborate on my opinions about this in the next section.
The Division Problems and Solutions
We can’t fix the past, we can’t go back and protest the game, we’re in a strange position. I think The Division release numbers justified a sequel in Ubisoft’s eyes, so that might be the plan. This is all conjecture, though.
What we can do is the following:
- Get players to come back, increasing concurrent player numbers, justifying larger scale content releases to get that 3.5 million dollar figure for larger scale $40 content releases.
- Support revenue stream options like the premium shop (This argument is a whole other video, but the gist is, if the premium store is only cosmetic items why does it matter? It allows them to have a positive inflow of money to justify the content.)
- Suggest ideas for the premium shop that you would buy to support the game.
Now, if we can do this and send a message this way, it might have an effect. Ubisoft might also cash grab this and churn out Division 2. Do you know what you do in that case?
- Protest its release by not buying it or pre-ordering it and sending a message at a much larger financial scale.
This hurts the developers, yeah, which sucks, but money talks. If after that they try and cash grab with another product with another developer, you protest that too and just move to games with publishers that are willing to listen and allow the developers to work on an IP. I’m sure developers don’t like churning out loveless projects.
Game development is much more complex than people tend to think about. It’s not that people are stupid, it’s just that people don’t tend to think about something at the base level and how business works.
I hope I expressed my opinions fairly, in an unbiased manner, and concisely. I just want people to think about the larger picture and why things are the way they are. Please feel free to suggest any changes that should be made to this, any information I should add, or anything I may have gotten wrong. I know the math isn’t 100% there, there is some extrapolation and conjecture, but a lot of these statistics are closely guarded secrets in the industry and hard to draw conclusions on without insider knowledge.
I will provide a list of references I used down below.
Development and Development Cost
Sadly I didn’t have any data on games to compare The Division to, which I stated I would do in the title. It’s currently 3 AM and far too late to keep looking up research.
Deleted Social Media
Added a source for the true amount of players.
Added Section “Platform and Current Number of Players”
Added Section “More Math”
Replaced language that was offensive with something more appropriate
Thanks everyone for helping make this more accurate.