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Ubisoft is missing an opportunity by punishing Division exploiters

Ubisoft has warned that players who took advantage of a design flaw in The Division's first Incursion could be banned from the game, citing the company's Code of Conduct which prohibits "exploitation of any new or known issues or bugs". It's a move that seems reasonable at first glance; after all, rule-breakers need to be punished, right? But this is a bad strategy, and it shows no understanding of the most important aspect of the exploit: the why.

The mission, Falcon Lost, is meant to be completed with a full fireteam working together to take out 15 waves of enemies before destroying an APC. Not long after it went live, players figured out a way to get around those pesky bad guys and skip straight to blowing up the vehicle and reaping the rewards.

This wasn't a hack or a mod, but simply players utilizing in-game abilities to glitch their way through the Incursion. And it's not like this is an easy thing to do or that it could happen by mistake. You need to actively try to break the game to make this exploit work. The people who cheated the system knew what they were doing. The question, then, is how should Ubisoft deal with these virtual swindlers?

For the answer to that, we need only look to Destiny, a game that - despite its aesthetic and setting differences - is quite similar to The Division. In Destiny, when players began amassing outside a particular cave and shooting to exploit enemy spawn rates and thus fill up their inventory with shiny new gear, Bungie acted with a sense of humility and humor.

Rather than punish players who participated in the exploit by taking away their newfound toys or kicking them off the servers as Ubisoft has threatened to do to Division scammers, Bungie plugged the hole, and added an in-game joke for those who would visit the cave in the future. But most importantly, Bungie changed how loot drops worked.

It was a long and painful process to significantly alter one of the most fundamental aspects of the Destiny experience, but it needed to be done. Bungie realized something that Ubisoft's attitude toward Division exploiters doesn't reflect: the 'why' of the problem.

Players weren't going to Destiny's 'loot cave' because it was fun, they went there because the path they were supposed to take felt like a grindfest and a slog, and by comparison, standing still and shooting at the same spot - sometimes for hours at a time - was more bearable. By the same token, Division players weren't glitching through Falcon Lost because the exploit is fun to pull off, it's because fighting off 15 waves of enemies is, frankly, boring.

That being said, I'm sympathetic to the perspective of a game designer. Knowing there are people who would stand still and do virtually nothing or skip 90% of a mission rather than play your game the way it was designed to be played has to hurt. If I worked at Bungie or Ubisoft, you can bet I would've been pissed, and the temptation to swat anyone who gamed the system would have been very strong indeed.

I think that's because there's a certain level of catharsis in punishment. It makes us feel good to see someone 'get what they deserve', and we feel even better when we're the ones doing the hand-slapping. But the health of a game's community should be bigger than our individual desires for vengeance. Bungie realized that, swallowed its pride, and has been trying to better the game.

"We've learned so much from the way the community plays Destiny," Bungie community manager David Dague, AKA DeeJ, told us ahead of the recent April update. "A lot of times we learn from the community and iterate based on the way they behave in the game." In other words, Bungie is letting players show the studio how to improve the game rather than the other way around.

Ubisoft, of all the lessons Destiny's failures and successes could teach you, this is the one to remember. The players who exploited the Falcon Lost Incursion didn't do it because the exploit was fun or challenging, they did it to get around what felt un-fun. You promised cheese at the end of a maze, and your players have found a shortcut.

I'm sure that's frustrating. I'm sure that stripping away ill-gotten goods and kicking these cheaters to the curb would be satisfying. And yes, the fact that this impacts PvP in the Dark Zone is a problem that needs to be addressed. But don't waste your time or focus punishing players for taking advantage of the situation.

At best, booting players or taking away gear will serve as a temporary fix until another exploit is found, and at worst it'll make your community angry, resentful, and more likely to leave the game. People don't want to be punished, they want to be rewarded. If there's a silver lining in this, it's that a desire for loot was the whole reason they exploited your game; they want the cool stuff you're offering. Now you have to make the journey worthwhile.

Listen to your players. Look at the why. Then use that knowledge, and build an even better maze next time.

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