What Will Ubisoft Learn from For Honor? We’ll Find Out at E3

It’s been a novel first three months for For Honor, Ubisoft’s revolutionary multiplayer melee brawler between Knights, Vikings and Samurai. But, as we all know, not all novels have happy endings. Such a story written of For Honor would outline a game of immense promise that, for several easily identifiable reasons, didn’t stand the test of time, as brief as that time may have been.

Githyp, a website that keeps track of the player count on Steam, released a three-month report of For Honor‘s player count since release. Digging into the details, the report reads much more like a eulogy: For Honor has lost 95% of its playerbase since its late-February release. This is an even worse pace than The Division, which, according to githyp, lost 93% of its playerbase in the same time frame.

The truth is, though, that For Honor likely still made Ubisoft a solid profit. It led February in sales all across the world, and that didn’t take into account the massive amount of pricey microtransactions in For Honor that supplemented the sales revenue. But, if Ubisoft is going to have another multiplayer title with any longevity (such as the suddenly resurgent Rainbow Six Siege), it will need to reform this model. If Ubisoft learns anything, though, we’ll find out at E3.

It’s public knowledge (see above) that Ubisoft will have some unannounced games and IPs debuting at E3. What we don’t know is what those titles will be. Will they be open-world, multiplayer shooters? Will they be something more innovative like For Honor? Regardless, here’s some things For Honor‘s lack of player retention can teach them.

Peer-To-Peer is Bad for Competitive Multiplayer

This is the very thing that threatened to doom Rainbow Six Siege. Peer-to-peer connectivity can work fine in a multiplayer game like Ghost Recon Wildlands, where the structure is cooperative. In competitive multiplayer where one or more people are facing another, peer-to-peer can give certain players an unintended competitive edge. That’s not to mention the immense potential for exploitation of the less secure connection, which can allow people to deliberately abuse the system in their favor.

Rainbow Six Siege has moved away from using peer-to-peer since its release, even for the secondary systems such as voice chat. And wouldn’t you know it, its player count increased. When connection is bad, people don’t want to return to the game, because they know it will be a chore. If the last time matchmaking took me several minutes to get into a match only to be disconnected after a few short ones, I probably won’t be too eager to try again.

This was certainly the case with For Honor. While I didn’t experience matchmaking issues nearly as frequently as others, those reports were rampant and legitimate. I did experience even small problems trying to get in and stay in a party with friends.

Don’t Monetize Competition

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When all was said and done, when everyone crunched the numbers, when the stats for high-level gear were revealed, For Honor was pay-to-win. The highest level gear was objectively better than lower-level gear, and you could purchase both experience boosters to access that gear more quickly and in-game currency (called Steel) to upgrade it more quickly once you unlocked it. Sure, you could earn the amount of Steel required to max out the highest level gear, but it would take a ridiculous amount of games played. Alternatively, you could pay a small sum of $10 to do it, skipping most of the work required.

This was the main reason behind the near-revolt by the few thousand For Honor players still remaining. At one point, For Honor players staged a one-day protest, where they would all stop playing for one whole day, that was eventually averted when Ubisoft released an eleventh-hour patch that buffed Steel income from matches and from Daily Challenges. Even if this decision was made under duress, it was an admirable step by a studio now willing to listen to the concerns of its playerbase. This buff reduced the amount of games it would take by a considerable sum.

But, by all accounts, it was too little, too late. This change, the first of many small changes to both Steel and For Honor‘s balance, had marginal if any effects on For Honor‘s playercount, which stayed dramatically low, despite changes.

Be Upfront

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Part of the reason players were upset about the gear in For Honor was because it wasn’t quite what they were told would be in the game. Ubisoft developers assured everyone that their gear would have both a positive trait and a negative trait, meaning it wouldn’t be strictly speaking better. So, even though you could buy Steel to upgrade this gear faster, it would only serve to benefit your playstyle, rather than make your character flat-out stronger. While this was true for lower-level gear, “Heroic” gear (the rarest gear) gave two separate positive traits and still only one negative trait. At that point, you can see heroic gear is clearly better.

Ubisoft deserves a lot of credit for being willing to listen to its community and make changes where necessary to mitigate the concerns of skeptical holdouts. The question is, though, since they were clearly so amenable and open to criticism, why did they wait until release to explain the gear system fully? Why did they let everyone figure it out for themselves, get angry about it, post about it on the forums or on Reddit, wait weeks to hear a response, get angry about having to wait and then post about that?

This isn’t to say that Ubisoft was trying to hide anything or deliberately deceive the consumer. There’s certainly nothing to back up that kind of conspiracy theory. The point is that, if they were upfront about what their plans were from the beginning, from the Beta, perhaps, the community could have weighed in then and maybe Ubisoft would have made these changes before release.

With For Honor‘s shrinking playercount and Rainbow Six Siege‘s renaissance, Ubisoft now has a roadmap of what works and what doesn’t. If their new IPs are multiplayer, they’d do well to avoid the pitfalls of what could have been 2017’s best title. Keep a close eye on Ubisoft’s E3 conference and look to see what they may be doing differently (or the same).