GDC: How live games have changed the Ubisoft development process

Player activity in Ubisoft games has doubled over the past two years, and live games – that is, games that receive continuous, post-launch support and content updates – have been a key part of managing and supporting that growth. As the Game Developers Conference kicked off in San Francisco last week, Vice President of Online Services Stephanie Perotti detailed the ways in which the live strategy has come to reshape Ubisoft’s development process in recent years. During Ubisoft’s annual corporate GDC event, Perotti illustrated how live operations have become integral to every step of development, from continual post-launch updates to creating a scalable infrastructure of tools and resources to help developers do their jobs.

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“Launching a game is only the beginning,” says Perotti. “[It’s been] a very big shift from the way we used to ship and manage games to live services, and that also meant a big shift for our production teams. The way we used to ship games, the way we used to build games, was not necessarily adapted to… that kind of constant updates and constant content releases.”

This meant implementing new, faster, largely automated pipelines and tools to ensure that development teams could release new code every day, if needed. Ubisoft is continually investing in its internal data centers, Perotti says, and has partnered with leading cloud services to make sure that game servers are readily available and scalable to the number of players online. The initiative also led to the creation of new roles, with support staff embedded into development teams to provide 24/7 support. Teams have also enlisted the community, with projects like R6 Fix, The Division’s Public Test Server, and the Space Monkey Program bringing player feedback to the developers more quickly.

Despite the scale of the shift, Ubisoft was ready for it, because its teams were eager to collaborate and participate in the transition. “Everything was fluid, if not perfect with all the different groups,” Perotti says. “It’s a chain. It’s production. But a lot of the teams involved got together, learned together, and adapted together. That’s the Ubisoft way.”

That methodology has helped contribute to the ongoing success of games like The Division, Ghost Recon Wildlands, and Rainbow Six Siege, which is now in its third year with a community that is still growing. Still, Perotti admits there were a lot of challenges on the road to that success. “We did a lot of these things before, not all of them were successful,” Perroti says. “Growth was a challenge. A lot of things needed to be done quickly, which isn’t necessarily the best way, but you have to adapt and improve continuously.”

Ubisoft has already shown how its services can span multiple platforms and connect players in new ways. Its current lineup of VR games (Eagle Flight, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, and Werewolves Within) and user-generated content for Trials all support cross-platform functionality. And while it seems like everything is in place for Ubisoft to expand that functionality to other games, it’s up to the individual teams to decide whether or not cross-platform balancing would become too much of an issue. “If we want to go there, we’re ready,” Perroti says.

As for the future, Perotti sees Ubisoft opening more of its services to players, giving them the opportunity to modify and potentially create their own new services. “[We want to] put more services in the hands of players,” she says. “At some point, we want to open services to the community, so we’re working on that right now. That’s one of the next key steps.”