Rainbow Six Siege may go free-to-play someday, but first Ubisoft wants to solve smurfing

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

There are more ways than ever to spend money in Rainbow Six Siege. Tally up the $25-$30 annual passes, $15 premium cosmetics, paid renown boosters, seasonal paid alpha packs, $10 battle passes and it’s a lot for a game that still requires a minimum buy-in of $20. When I sat down with game director Leroy Athanassoff at the Six Invitational 2020, I was curious to know: will Siege ever go free-to-play?

To my surprise, Athanassoff told me he wants it to happen and believes that much of Siege’s development team wants it too. But Siege’s price isn’t only up to Athanassoff. “It’s a company decision. I think on the development team we want that at some point. We want the game to be accessible to everyone,” he said.

Athanassoff said taking Siege free-to-play is more complicated than adjusting a price tag. “You need certain features ready to be a good and successful free-to-play game,” he said. One of those features, Athanassoff explained, is a good solution to smurfing. Smurfing is the practice of buying a new account to reset your skill rating and play against less-skilled players.

The ethics of smurfing is a long-debated topic in multiplayer games. Last year, Valve reset and banned over 17,000 accounts for smurfing in Dota 2. Epic upholds a zero tolerance policy for smurfing in Fortnite. Overwatch doesn’t punish players with multiple accounts, but purposefully losing or “boosting” your account by playing with highly-skilled friends is bannable.

You won’t be banned for using an alternate account in Siege either, but Athanassoff’s stance is clear: smurfing creates an unfair environment for players and should be thwarted as much as possible. Ubisoft’s team dedicated to player behavior is working on new solutions that would lessen the impact of smurfing. “What’s important for us is that we find out as soon as possible that a player is highly skilled in the things that matter,” he said. “The problem right now is that you can play a certain amount of matches with Copper players while you’re a Diamond.”

Currently, Siege determines your skill group through MMR, a scoring system that's highly dictated by your win rate. Smurf accounts can easily dodge detection by purposefully losing matches and tanking their MMR. Athanassoff’s team plans to fight this by taking more stats into account and reacting to skill disparity faster. For instance, a new account with a kill/death ratio of 4 and a win rate of 0.2 would be automatically recognized as a smurf account that’s intentionally losing games.

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(Image credit: Ubisoft)

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The proposed improvements sound very similar to a system Valve implemented for Dota 2 in 2019 that artificially raises the MMR of an overperforming player until they stop overperforming. That update helped, but Valve takes other measures to make smurfing and hacking a bigger hassle—players are required to log 100 hours in-game and link a unique phone number before ranked play is even possible. Siege has required two-factor authentication to play Ranked since late 2018, but Athanassoff didn’t mention plans for more rigorous requirements.

I don’t expect even the most sophisticated stat tracker to completely thwart smurfing. If an impure heart craves the empty satisfaction of stomping on new players, they’ll find a way. Still, there are ways to mitigate smurfing to the point of irrelevance. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was out for six years before it finally went free-to-play in 2018. It was four years before Team Fortress 2 took the free-to-play plunge in 2011. Now in its fifth year, Siege may be on a similar trajectory.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.