Why Ubisoft believes it’s time for triple-A free-to-play games on mobile

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Ubisoft revealed last week that it is making Tom Clancy’s The Division: Resurgence, a new free-to-play, third-person shooter RPG mobile game from the Tom Clancy’s The Division franchise. And today it is showing off some of the gameplay for the title.

The game will be available for iOS and Android devices on the App Store and Google Play. And it means that one more triple-A game company believes that it’s worth a lot of investment — in this case, a couple of years of development — to take a triple-A game brand to mobile.

It’s consistent with other similar moves in the game industry. Electronic Arts launched a mobile version of Apex Legends, and Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Mobile had more than 500 million downloads. Blizzard also launched Diablo Immortal on mobile and PC.

Ubisoft is packing a lot of triple-A features into the game, as it is showing off some gameplay today that looks lot like the action in the original title. Players will see a new and independent story set in a “vast open world” where they will be free to roam around a detailed urban environment with high-end graphics, the company said. The game is playable solo or co-op with a variety of player-versus-environment (PvE) activities, from story missions to world activities. This title builds on all of the original game modes, while bringing new gear and weapons to try out.

I spoke with Fabrice Navrez, executive producer at Ubisoft for the game. He talked about optimizing The Division: Resurgence for mobile platforms, with controls and a user interface tailored for the mobile experience.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Fabrice Navrez is executive producer on The Division: Resurgence.

GamesBeat: It looks like it’s all cinematics so far, the footage that’s been released?

Fabrice Navrez: What we showed yesterday is gameplay. What was announced out in public this past Wednesday, that’s considered cinematics, but it’s in-engine.

GamesBeat: It looks like you went a highly realistic route, even though it’s a mobile game. What was that like? It seems almost like trying to jam a triple-A game into mobile.

Navrez: It’s a challenge. I would say the most important thing for us was to make sure we were able to put a faithful Division experience on the mobile screen. We’re very happy with the results. You have a believable urban open world on your mobile device. It’s a great technical feat.

Action in The Division: Resurgence.
Action in The Division: Resurgence.

GamesBeat: How long have you been working on the game?

Navrez: We started development late in 2018.

GamesBeat: It’s taken quite a while. What challenges did you have to overcome to get right?

Navrez: If I were to take one example, it’s making sure we have the gameplay of The Division, but adapting it to the mobile screen. Especially the touch screen interface. If you look at the cover system, which is an iconic part of The Division, moving from one piece of cover to another, that’s very smooth to play on console. A major goal was to make it just as smooth on mobile. We did a lot of trials and testing, both internally and externally, to find the right balance. We’re quite happy with the results. We were able to accurately adapt the experience to a mobile device.

The view of New York's skyline in The Division: Resurgence.
The view of New York’s skyline in The Division: Resurgence.

GamesBeat: What is multiplayer going to be like, as far as the kind of modes you have and how many players are involved?

Navrez: We’ve kept to the DNA of The Division. In The Division: Resurgence you’ll be able to play co-op or solo in the open world, completing different missions, story missions, and different activities in the open world. You can quickly join with people that are already in the open world, like in an MMO, or you can play with your friends. That’s the core of the game. Of course we’ll also have PvP activities where you can, if you’re mostly a competitive player, play different games against other players. The key, though, is you’ll be able to play with your friends in most situations.

GamesBeat: It felt like Call of Duty Mobile might have been a turning point for triple-A games on mobile. You saw something have tremendous success like that. Why do you think that changed? Early on we saw things like Grand Theft Auto on mobile as premium games and they never really took off. At some point the market shifted and free-to-play triple-A games have started to shine. How do you think that happened?

Navrez: The route we took with The Division: Resurgence–as the devices became more powerful, it became possible to bring a triple-A experience like The Division to a mobile device. That’s one of the key factors. With more powerful devices, we have more computation power and more possibilities. I think there’s a second aspect, though, where bringing a popular franchise to mobile is now a good opportunity to broaden the audience that can play those games. Mobile is now a legitimate gaming platform.

GamesBeat: What kind of cadence do you expect to be on when it comes to new content for mobile? It feels like live operations will be important to a game like this.

Navrez: That’s very true. We have an ambitious post-launch plan with a lot of new content. We’ll develop different game features, bring in more story, bring in more missions and activities, bring in more weapons and specializations, the classes of the game, in order to make sure that you always have a fresh experience. We always want to offer new challenges to players. We’re quite ambitious on that front.

GamesBeat: You talked about a unique perspective. Is there a way the mobile game’s story is different from the console and PC games?

Navrez: Here, the goal was simple. The game is canon. It’s very consistent with the events of The Division and The Division 2. But we also wanted to bring something new for people who already knew what happened in those games. You’ll start the game at the beginning, before The Division, and then most of the game actually takes place between The Division and The Division 2. If you’re a newcomer to the universe, you can start with The Division: Resurgence, but if you’re familiar with the first two games, you’ll still learn new things and better understand the universe.

Tom Clancy's The Division:  Resurgence is coming July 13.
Tom Clancy’s The Division: Resurgence is coming July 13.

GamesBeat: Is the team working on this just as big as one of the PC and console games?

Navrez: I can’t go into specifics on the size of the team. What I can say is that we assembled a team of experts in mobile games and the Division IP itself to support the development of the game.

GamesBeat: Was development geographically dispersed among different studios, or did one single studio work on the game?

Navrez: We can give further details on that aspect later on.

GamesBeat: A lot of people play with controllers attached to mobile phones. Will it be possible to play that way?

Navrez: The goal for us was to give options and agency to the players when we adapted the controls to a touch device. It was very important for us to make sure that players have choice, so they can play with a gamepad if they want. but they can also customize the touch pad controls – change the position of the buttons, change the size of the buttons, change the opacity of the buttons. It will give a lot of options for players. I don’t think either method will give anyone a competitive advantage, though.

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