When Rainbow Six: Siege came out in 2015, it had a huge fan following. A large number of people willing to take a break from all of the popular existing squad-based FPS games jumped into it. The gameplay was pretty unique for an FPS, allowing players to select their characters – called ‘operators’ – like in a MOBA, and steer them to victory. Each operator has a special ability, as well as other gear to help in a variety of situations. Mixing the gameplay elements of a MOBA and the essence of an FPS, the game thrived pretty well, with player numbers mounting up, at least for a year.
The problems started showing in Year 1, with the announcement of the season pass. Purchasers of the season pass get access to new operators that will be announced throughout the year, along with a boost to all in-game currency earned. This meant that players buying the pass will not only extend their arsenal of ‘characters’ or operators but also get extra in-game currency for spending on cosmetics. That does look like non-paying customers are at a huge disadvantage. Or are they?
Rainbow Six: Siege is one of the first shooters to have tried something really unique after a while, which is the addition of ‘class’-based gameplay (or rather, ‘operator’-based, whatever goes well with you) which resembles a MOBA or a hero shooter, but is an FPS at its essence. Each operator has a special ability, besides having access to other gear, which can be swapped depending on the situation. Even access to other gear depends on the operators – a general example being that some may have access to smoke grenades, while others may use frag grenades. Moreover, the health and movement speed varies depending on the operator. Operators are literally the base mechanic on which Rainbow Six: Siege was built upon. Naturally, ensuring that players have better (and most importantly, equal) access to them is fundamental.
There are two ways of gaining operators. Either you buy R6 credits using real-world money, and use them to purchase operators, or unlock them with renown by grinding for them in-game. After the first year of release, this model was slightly shaken up with the arrival of the ‘Year Pass’. The Year Pass grants an XP as well as Renown boost, besides allowing players access to operators that are released during the year. Not only that, owners of the Pass get early access to operators too. Of course, when a business model like this is implemented, it is guaranteed to cause some rift in the community, creating the divide between haves and have-nots (in terms of operators).
The cost of a DLC operator is 25000 Renown, or 600 R6 credits, whereas the cost of a standard operator increases with every unlock (starting at 500 Renown). The issue worsens if you’re in the Starter Edition of the game, where the standard operators cost 12500 Renown each, almost half of that of a DLC operator (with the DLC operator cost remaining the same). After the first year, the system was slightly changed, making all standard operators free for anyone owning the Standard Edition (or any other ‘better’ edition, like the Advanced Edition). In every casual match, you get approximately 150-200 Renown (based on your performance), which is a bit greater in case of the PvE mode, Terrorist Hunt. Daily missions in the game help you get a little extra – mostly around 150 more Renown. This means that if you’re not buying a DLC operator, you still need to grind like a mad dog in order to get access to all the new operators everyone else might be using. That, or buy them separately using R6 credits, or through the Season Pass using real money. The situation is progressively worse if you buy the Starter Edition, which needs you to forget everything else and grind in-game for hours on end to unlock just one operator. Of course, boosters help improve the Renown gain, but that’s only temporarily, and you need to grind fast after you activate the booster in order to get your money’s worth.
Of course, there’s no denying that money is needed to produce new content, and most of the money comes from the purchases of R6 credits for unlocking cosmetics or operators in-game. Not to mention recurring support for big tournaments does need funding, which it gets from all the people who purchase content. (Esports is a pretty competitive field, and making a mark there does require money) There are other games which try to build something unique (or disguise something ‘not unique’ as unique) but stop supporting the game when they find that they have enough made enough money off them. A good example is Call of Duty, and to some extent, Battlefield. Rainbow Six has had continuous, tireless support of Ubisoft since day one right on to its third year after release, and its doing better than ever. Not to forget that Rainbow Six is getting a constant stream of players due to the influx of gamers from other games, primarily Counter Strike : Global Offensive. Valve’s negligence about the hacker menace in the game, about the lack of a proper ‘metagame’ as well as stale gameplay which receives a revamp long after people make themselves hoarse on Reddit and elsewhere has made people jump ship to other FPS games, including PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS and Rainbow Six: Siege.
Of course, microtransactions are completely optional. You can choose to buy, or not buy R6 credits, since operators can be unlocked with Renown. In other words, there is no explicit advantage that players get by coughing up money since the operator pool is the same for all players. You are only paying to decrease the grind, which is pretty handy if you’re someone who’s seriously strapped for time but want to experience the operators at their full glory. The game is ‘pay to reduce grind’, allowing you to pay your way out if you don’t have the time for grinding. Not that White Knights are going to gulp that down, but anyway.
When you acquire some experience in Siege, you’ll know that not all operators actually define the meta. Only a few of them get played every now and then in competitive. Having access to all operators, while expanding choice, also increases the confusion one might have in a competitive match (‘What operator should I pick to win this round?’) Not to mention that you do need quite some skill to handle an operator. Each operator handles differently, with their different set of gadgets and weapons (with their attachments and scopes), and it takes time to learn how each one of them works. It’s always better to keep playing using one operator, taking the time to grind while mastering it, and then moving on to another. Rainbow Six: Siege plays differently from other FPS games, and it takes some time to understand the maps with all their nooks, corners, crevices and walls – something which the clowns playing dress-up using the operators can never understand. Also, unlike most other FPS games, Rainbow Six has an active metagame, which changes with the release of ‘operations’, which add new operators to the game. Every operation changes the way the game is played heavily, so the game never feels dull.
Rainbow Six: Siege, while delivering the tactical gameplay everyone really desired, does have its shortcomings. The large number of ‘editions’ the game has is enough to confuse any potential buyer. This is particularly evident in case of Starter Edition buyers, who get caught in an astronomical grind for adding operators to their collection. Unlike PvE games, the advantages granted by purchasing more expensive editions isn’t exactly restricted to cosmetics only. Also, the fact that a multiplayer game with a non-zero base cost actually charges more for not one, but multiple Season Passes, but also has microtransactions reminiscent of free-to-play games. Not to forget that while grinding does help you learn the way an operator works, the grind can get pretty insane, especially if you’re on a losing streak. The amount of Renown required for unlocking DLC operators is pretty high, which does create problems of player balance – widening the divide between paying players and grinding players. If you have joined the game recently, and are on anything except the Complete Edition (which does require the payment of an arm and leg to acquire), you do require to either cough up money for R6 credits to purchase the previous operators, or to grind without thinking about anything else.
Reducing operator pricing, as well as allowing periodic discounts on operator pricing as well as pricing of R6 credits does help improve the player experience. However, in the long run, the most drastic solution to improving the game is to make the game free-to-play, while allowing the microtransactions to exist, or to remove the microtransactions while keeping the yearly DLC purchasable separately with the game. Seeing how microtransactions have become a lifeline for most AAA game companies nowadays, the first solution seems more feasible, but still, something that isn’t a consideration in Ubisoft HQ unless a PR disaster happens, just like EA’s Battlefront 2.