May 12, 2022

13 Min Read

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How The Division 2 Bounced Back With New Content for Season 9, Out Now

The Division 2's Title Update 15 is out now, and it's bringing its first all-new Season of content in more than a year to Warlords of New York players. TU15 includes Season 9: Hidden Alliance, a new co-op mode - Countdown, available to all The Division 2 players, in which up to eight Division Agents team up to stabilize a power plant - a new high-ranking enemy to track, a new Expertise feature for boosting your gear's base stats, and much more.

To the developers behind The Division 2, Season 9 represents much more than just new content - it's a sort of resurrection. After the release of Warlords of New York in March 2020 and its subsequent Seasons of content in Year 2, development for The Division 2 wound down. The Seasons ran again through Year 3, regularly re-introducing familiar targets and events to keep the game open and alive as players' interest gradually waned - or so the thinking went. Rather than drop off, however, Division 2 fans kept right on playing. Not only that, but their numbers swelled to the point that an unprecedented decision was made: The game was no longer in "sunset" mode. Development was back under way.

There was one big hitch: Much of the development team had already moved on to other projects, so a new team would need to be recruited and brought up to speed on how to make more of The Division 2. Season 9 represents their first efforts; to find out what went on behind the scenes to make it happen, we spoke with Creative Director Yannick Banchereau about how The Division 2 "ended," how it began again, and what's ahead for its second chance at life.

Let's cut right to it: Why is The Division 2 getting new content again after a year of rerun Seasons?

Yannick Banchereau: When we look at the player base, and we look at our fans and where they are today, they haven't gone anywhere. They're still here; they're still eager to get content. They're asking all the time, "When can I get something? When is something new coming?"

You'd think that when we were rerunning Seasons for a year, people would just go away and play something else - but when we look at the performance indicators of our game, we can see they still log in on a regular basis.  So there is still a very active and very hungry community, and it's just asking for more content for the game. When you have the luxury of having such a passionate community, it would be a waste to not keep supporting the game and giving them more content.

How did the post-launch roadmap for The Division 2 initially take shape? Was it the intention from the outset to create two years of content? Was there ever a plan beyond that?

YB: Initially, we had plans for two years of content. We made the first year of content with the Episodes, and it was very story-driven, and that led to Warlords of New York. Then, when we were working on Warlords of New York, the decision was made that we were going to do a year (of content) after Warlords of New York. That was always the plan, but this would be the final year, and when the year ended, Title Update 12 would be the last update for The Division 2.

So we worked with that in mind, and we worked with all the consequences of that decision, like transitioning people to new projects to ensure that everybody still had a job. But that meant that the way we approached making content, including each of the updates in that second year, had to take all of that into account. That's why the Seasons were a great opportunity for us, because they were a way to provide reasons to come back, with activity and story. Not on the scale of the campaign of Warlords of New York, but still an advancement of the timeline, and new story elements for players. We would make sure we could keep doing that for one year, and then try to end the story at a place that we were comfortable with.

When was the decision made to start rerunning the content? Was that always the plan, like, "we'll just do this until people stop playing?"

YB: (laughs), initially, yes. When it was decided that Title Update 12 would be the end, we made all the adjustments possible to rerun Seasons, and that was the plan: Even if we stop making content, that doesn't mean the game shuts down. We have a gigantic pool of things to do in our game, so it is still a good product, and it's still something people can play.

[UN] [TD2] Season 9 Creative Director Q&A - SCREENSHOT COUNTDOWN

That's how we decided to just rerun the Seasons, and use that as the actual life of the game past that final update - there are still going to be things to do. There are still going to be new activities every week, because the Seasons are going to rotate. It gave us great confidence that, even if we weren't doing new content, we could still retain players in the game for some time, and it would still be welcoming to new ones who hadn't experienced the Seasons.

How was it decided that new content for The Division 2 should resume?

YB: After the first couple of Seasons after Warlords of New York, the conversation started. We looked at the results of Warlords of New York, and the Seasons, and what the live game had become at that point. And we saw that the game was thriving - not only Warlords of New York, but the content we were producing after that. Even though it was meant to be driving towards a sunset of the project, we saw that our players were consuming the content we were creating, and they were asking for more. All the indicators we had were in the green, showing that this is a working model that we have here. So the conversation started: "Maybe we shouldn't stop it. Maybe we should just keep going." And, well, those kinds of conversations take time.

The biggest challenge in that was that, as I said, we had started sending people away to other projects. And so what became the make-or-break in that conversation was, "can we actually find the team, and can we build a new team that's going to produce that content? And who is going to be driving that from Massive, to try to carry over the experience and the vision of Massive?" So that's what actually took some time until we found all the confidence we needed to be able to validate the plan and say, "OK, now let's keep going."

What was the process like of building that new team?

YB: There are two things that happen in parallel in that situation: On one hand, we look at what content we should make, and we make a content plan. But to make a content plan, you need to know what and how much the team can produce. Usually, you can do your content plan by looking at the people you have, and what content you can make with them. In our case, it was the opposite. It was, "what's the content we want to make, and what's the team we need to actually achieve that?" That was our foundation to go out there and try and find a studio that would help us - and Ubisoft Bucharest was more than happy to jump in.

Luckily, even though people had moved on from the project, we still had people with experience from Massive who were available to help us. So while we were doing the ramp-down, we tried to document everything as much as possible. We asked people before they left the project to have everything documented, to tutorialize all the things they do, so if we need to continue, we have documentation we can give to those who will carry over.

When you have a huge AAA team, everybody is a specialist, everybody is an expert on that very thing that they do, and you can rely on that. The example I like to use is, when you look at game design in The Division, we used to have AI designers, combat designers, gear designers, systems designers - designers specific to each area of the game.

When you build that new team - and of course, we're talking about a smaller team here compared to what we used to have - game designers have to know about all of those things. So instead, we have one game designer who is in charge of Countdown, the new game mode. Another game designer is in charge of another piece of content - and when they work on that piece of content, they have to look at all the aspects of game design.

We are still recruiting, we are still growing, and I think that's what's exciting. We have a team now that can run, but we're also still growing and building it up. That means that to us, TU15 is really just a start, and we are only going to do better after that.

Can you talk a little bit about what's included in Title Update 15?

YB: The main big piece of content there, of course, is Countdown, our new game mode. The idea with Countdown was, let's have a game mode with short sessions, where after 20 minutes you will be done. Then you can decide to do something else, you can decide to play it again, you can decide to log off. We wanted that, and we wanted something for eight players, because until now, the only eight-player missions are Raids, which are extremely challenging. We wanted to offer a chance for less-hardcore players to experience content with a group of eight. So we married that together and the idea of Countdown came as a new game mode.

There's another reason we decided to do a game mode: As I mentioned, we are building a team. And when you have a new team, and you want them to learn, it's better for them to learn and start building experience on something that is isolated from the rest of the game. Everything is contained; it touches on a lot of systems of The Division, but in an isolated environment, so they can learn everything they need to know about the game. But again, the scope is much reduced compared to the rest of the game.

We also have a new progression feature called Expertise. It's here to give players a new way to gain power, because with Title Update 12, we released the feature called Optimization, and that feature was more or less part of the sunset plan; since it was the last update, we released a feature that allowed all players to reach maximum power. Now that we've resumed content, we need players to start to find new ways to gain power, because now everybody's on the same level and at the maximum. And so that's what expertise is here for: It's a new progression that people can invest time into in order to gain new power.

[UN] [TD2] Season 9 Creative Director Q&A - MainPoster S9 01

The third piece of content that we focused on was a revamp of Specializations, one of the key features of The Division 2 at launch. We've always seen that they did not perform; people did not use them and engage with them the way we wanted. The revamp includes a lot of a lot of different things: making the signature weapons more interesting and more powerful, and adding more choices to the Specialization Tree, as we call it, that are really going to allow you to lean deeper into a playstyle. This tree is going to give you tools that are going to be new, playstyle-defining elements. Unfortunately, we couldn't quite finish it for this update, and decided to postpone it to later in the year. But it has been worked on in parallel to the rest.

Can you tell us anything about your plans for the rest of Year 4, and even after Year 4?

YB: Well, we're working on our plans for the rest of the year. We are making a year of content, and that's the way we are approaching TU15; it's not one update and then we are done. It's really one part of a whole. We have the Specialization revamp. We're working on more Seasons, of course; as part of TU15.

We've also made a lot of improvements to Seasons, especially their narrative delivery, because we want the story to be more compelling and more meaningful moving forward. We have ambitions in terms of where the story is going, and we want the Seasons to deliver that, so we have more Seasons coming, and then we're looking at different pieces of content that are going to keep adding to, and refreshing, the endgame experience. We really want to look at, on one hand, refreshing existing things to make them more interesting, but also adding new ingredients that are going to surprise the players.

So it's a mix of all of that, plus a more compelling story, more engaging Seasons. It's all about finding, for all players, a reason to come back. We want to appeal to as many of our players as possible, so we're looking across the board, at all types of players, and what content each type wants.

Do you see this as a potential long-term experience, like Rainbow Six Siege or For Honor, where this continues with new content for years into the future?

YB: I really hope this is what we can achieve here. We're working on the year of content, with the team we are building. We've always thought of this as a team we're building long-term, and this is a relationship we're building long-term. We are not interested in - even at a personal level - coming in, shipping what we're asked to ship, and then that's it, and move on to the next project. Everybody here that we have on this team is extremely passionate about The Division, and extremely passionate about keeping the project running. So we are doing everything to be successful and secure a longer future.

The Division 2 is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC, Amazon Luna, and Stadia, and is included with a Ubisoft+ subscription. Find out more about what's included with Title Update 15 and Season 9, and for more behind-the-scenes stories, check out how Ubisoft Toronto is gearing up to remake Splinter Cell, and how Assassin's Creed Valhalla crossed the finish line during the pandemic.

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