The recent release of Operation Void Edge has kicked off Year 5 of regular updates and innovations for Rainbow Six Siege. But the coming year is shaping up to be more than business as usual, as creative director Leroy Athanassoff and his team revealed at the Six Invitational 2020. We spoke with Athanassoff about the team’s ambitions for this year, including creating new gameplay for the different Phases of a round, rewarding players for positive behavior, and reworking an Operator that few played, but many adored.
Can you give us an idea about your philosophy for Year 5 of Rainbow Six Siege?
Leroy Athanassoff: What makes Year 5 special is that it's a year of change. It's a year when we transform the game in preparation for Year 6. Year 5 is the year that leads us to Year 6, not only in terms of business model, but in terms of reinventing, reinvesting, and starting a full enhancement of this game. We’ll be reinvesting and reoccupying some gameplay areas that we haven't really touched since launch.
Year 5 will also see the launch of new consoles from Microsoft and Sony. How is the Siege team approaching the next generation?
LA: Siege is going to be on new consoles. The only thing we are communicating right now is the fact that we are supporting cross-generation matchmaking. For example, PlayStation 5 players can play with PlayStation 4 players, and Xbox Series X players can play with Xbox One players. The game will be backwards compatible, meaning that you can take your disc of Rainbow Six Siege on PS4 and put it in your PS5, or take your Xbox One disc and put it in your Xbox Series X. What we know for sure is that we don't want to break our community, to split our community, and we don't want to make you buy another Rainbow Six Siege at full price.
Let’s circle back to the changes you have planned for Year 5 and beyond. Can you talk about what you mean by “reoccupying some gameplay areas that (you) haven’t really touched since launch”?
LA: Inside the framework of Siege, there is still a lot of room for innovation and, as we say, fulfilling the promise that was not totally finished when this game was made. For me, I am interested in the kind of feature that really changes the way you approach things and develop new skills, and that allows for maybe a new type of player, a new mindset to rise in this game.
I think it will be super beneficial for our players, and it should be more appealing and more interesting for a larger population. So not meaning that we are going to be more mainstream or casual, but more meaning that there will be ways for people to express their talent and their skill through different mechanics, and not only by relying on pure mechanical skill or the creativity of destruction. All the things we are talking about are things that can be leveraged by a population that is not necessarily the best at playing first-person shooters in terms of “putting my mouse on your head as fast as possible.”
That, to me, is super-interesting and appealing, because it allows a different part of our population to express themselves and shows that everyone can bring something into a team. That is the thing that, to me, is important; I think we saw this at the Six Invitational also, that it's not only the team that has the best gunners that wins. To build a team, you need to have diversity, and that is true only if there are mechanics and roles in gameplay that support that.
“I am interested in the kind of feature that really changes the way you approach things and develop new skills, and that allows for maybe a new type of player, a new mindset to rise in this game.”
For example, right now, when cycling cameras, it's hard to say who cycles better; it's just the cycling of cameras. It's maybe just knowing the place where you see someone and saying, “There is someone in this place.” Most of the time it relies more on knowledge than on purely being smart, and that’s what we want to change, so it's not just about who knows the map by heart and cycles through cameras. We want to create interactive gameplay when you're dead that you can excel at and become better than someone else.
Have you prototyped any of these features yet?
LA: We recently tested some of the features we want to introduce in Year 5 and Year 6 in a workshop with pro players, and they were unhappy, to say the least. They are the people that make their living from being good at this game, so they are the people in our population of players that most want to have control of the game. The more they are in control, the better they are at their profession. If you are a professional, you don't like that the rules of something are changing constantly, because it challenges you to stay at the highest level. So, if they are not happy (with our proposed features), then to me that means we are going in the right direction.
It really depends on your mindset. To me, if I want to be the best at Siege, I don’t want to be the best because of this one thing or that patch; I want to be the best in general. So whatever features you are adding, it's a challenge for me to understand them faster than my opponent and leverage them better than my opponent.
Ultimately, there are some things in this game that will change. We are not changing the game just for the pleasure of changing the game. Inside the high-level framework, like the things in the Six Decisions That Made Siege video (ed. note – embedded below), there is still a lot of room for innovation. The Action Phase is the one where mechanical skills shine, and it is important; we don't want to touch that. That part is kind of a safe zone for pro players. Action Phase is all about action — moving and shooting and using your gadget, and stuff like that — but for the Prep Phase and Support Phase, we believe we can have much more interesting gameplay, as much as we have right now in Action Phase.
In addition to new gameplay features, Year 5 will also bring the first Operator rework. What was the team’s focus when reimagining Tachanka?
LA: When you play an Operator rework, you will have the feeling that you are playing a new Operator. That's really what we want for reworks. When it comes to balancing tweaks and stuff like what we did with Lion — we adjusted some mechanics — overall, the experience is still Lion, so you know how to play him. What we want with a rework is for you to have new gameplay. You are going to have to relearn the Operator. You're going to have a new way of playing them.
You will see Tachanka; he is going to be played as a new Operator—especially because he was never played anyway—so it's hard to say there was really a "playstyle of Tachanka." (A reworked Operator) is something that you are not using that we recreate and add new value to, and we make it as interesting, as (relevant to the) meta, as meaningful as a new Operator, even in terms of power level and stuff like that. We take something that you already own and make it better and kind of new.
We saw it with the map rework; we take something that you know, that you care about, and we make it better. So the relationship is much stronger, and the reaction every year when we talk about map reworks is way bigger than any season when we announce a new map, because people can relate. People can understand what we are doing, what areas we are improving, and can more easily imagine themselves enjoying it.
You are also planning to improve and expand anti-toxicity measures in the coming year. Can you explain the upcoming player reputation system and give some insight into your general approach towards improving player behavior?
LA: What is interesting with this new player reputation system is that we are going to build a kind of memory, because right now, you can kill someone, activate the Reverse Friendly Fire sanction, finish your game, start another game, kill someone, activate the RFF, and so on. And at the end of the day, you will have killed 20 teammates, but because you were waiting to finish your games and starting new ones, we lost memory of your action. So what is important is to build a memory, a kind of persona of who you are, and be able to put you in control of that. You are only going to decrease your score by doing mean and toxic actions. There is no way for people to impact your behavior score by avoiding or reporting you. What is important to us is control; you are in control of what is happening to you.
We also want to be better at saying, “This is bad behavior. You should not do that.” We will give you warnings, give you notifications so you know. I am not too much into punishment and stuff like that; I'm more into prevention and incentivizing to give you opportunity, feedback, and notifications to do good stuff. To show you what kinds of behaviors are expected, cool, and make the community better. Being friendly, being fair, being a teacher, being patient, taking time to use your mic to do callouts, and stuff like that. And I want you to get rewarded for that and access a higher level of enjoyment when you play this game.
Ultimately, I feel like the toxicity of the game is the responsibility of the people making the game. We don't put the responsibility on the people. We are not saying, "There are people that are toxic and people that are not toxic." We don't believe that on this team. We believe that there are just people and systems, and that everyone has a threshold.
I will give you an example that illustrates this in a super concrete way. In this game, if you are playing House, and you see someone reinforcing Kid's Bedroom (ed. note – widely regarded to be a terrible idea), you might want to teamkill him to prevent the reinforcing of Kid's Bedroom. So, you might then be punished for teamkilling, as we do now. But what if we had made the decision that when you reinforce, you are able to unreinforce, or someone can unreinforce your reinforcement? Suddenly, when I see someone doing a bad action, I have a way to tell them, whereas right now, you can see how the system almost doesn't give you any choice but to kill the guy before he finishes reinforcement. Maybe if we added a mechanic that just allowed people to take away their own reinforcement specifically—to avoid another kind of toxicity—then we would be able to have people correct their action, and then you decrease a bit the frustration, and you lower the things that trigger toxicity.
"Ultimately, I feel like the toxicity of the game is the responsibility of the people making the game."
Another big Year 5 announcement was the reveal of the Arcade playlist and the Golden Gun mode. What is the team’s approach to limited-time events and special modes?
LA: Have fun! Try to bring something that is as fresh as possible, as new as possible. That’s why we split (events) in two categories — the main one and the Arcade one — because the Halloween one (Doktor’s Curse) and the cowboy one (Showdown) are super costly. It's not only pure gameplay; you also have a map, event mode, and stuff like that. There are a lot of other variations that we could do, but we don't want to mess with people's expectations, so we realized that, at some point, having only one name for this level of variety was putting people in a bad situation where sometimes they were expecting something more. So that's why we split that into what we call seasonal events, which are not only just gameplay modifier but also theme, map, art, and stuff like that; and the arcade modes, which are still, I think, interesting and fresh to play.
Siege is so serious, so competitive, so tense. The idea of events and special modes is to have something in the game that allows you to relax and enjoy playing with your friends without the pressure of performing, being on the top, etc., and still stay in the same ecosystem with Operators that you love, with environments that you love. But in a context where it's OK to do funny things, to not be the best, to laugh, to try and experiment and stuff. What we saw with Newcomer and Casual playlists it that as long as you are playing the same game mode with the same Operator, people come with different expectations, and there is no way to allow you to experiment in those kind of playlists. So really, for us, Events are the place where you can relax, do funny and silly stuff, and there is no problem and no one will report you, because everyone expects it to be fun and not serious, so there are not people that try hard and are disappointed that you are not trying hard.
Operation Void Edge is available now for Rainbow Six Siege, bringing two new Operators, a map rework, and a host of gameplay updates. For more, visit our Rainbow Six Siege news hub.