Ubisoft has come a long way in recent years. I remember being mighty pissed that story content was being chopped up and sold as DLC for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. I was sour. Absolutely furious. I still paid for the content, mind you, and I guess that made me a part of the bigger problem.
For most of the PS3/Xbox 360 generation, I’d sit seething in silence as Ubisoft announced one game after another, each with varying levels of bullshit Season Passes that were, at least I thought, designed to extract as much money from my wallet as possible. The offerings were often poor, though there were some decent exceptions, notably, the Season Pass for Assassin’s Creed III. Man, that was some good DLC.
Then we had the Online Pass system. What a ball ache. For those who bought the games brand new, it wasn’t a problem. For those who were perhaps a little tighter on funds and could only afford to buy games pre-owned as an occasional treat, it was a nightmare. You’d get the game but you’d also get a message telling you that you need to pay around £10/$10 to access online content. Not a problem if you’re not big on social gaming, but this was coming at a time when just about every game was shipping with an online mode. In gaming circles, if you’re not playing online, you’re out of the loop. Naturally, then, Ubisoft jumped on board and began charging second-hand players to play online. So yeah, I wasn’t too pleased with that, given that at that time I was still just a poor college boy struggling to scrape together beer money for the weekends.
Video representation of my college drinking troubles.
Then there’s the whole downgrade saga. Remember the original Watch Dogs reveal at E3 2012? I do. I was living in Vienna at the time and the internet was an absolute joke. I had to tell my housemates to turn their phones off and forego any internet activities, lest they ruin my mini-Christmas. And it was a mini-Christmas. Watch Dogs was the best looking game I’d ever seen at that point and I was longing to get my hands on it. All. That. Detail.
And then it released. And it wasn’t very good. Well, it was an alright game, sure, but it didn’t look a lick like it did in that E3 reveal, not even on the next-gen PS4 and Xbox One. To me it was tantamount to pissing on my head and telling me it’s raining. I was disappointed to say the least.
Now here we are in 2018 and Ubisoft has quickly become one of my favourite video game publishers. What the hell happened? A few years ago I was vowing to only buy Ubisoft games second-hand or steal them off of the back of lorries. These days, providing I’m not the one on the receiving end of a review code, I’m buying up Ubisoft’s games either on day one, or at most within a week or two of release. That might not sound like a lot to you, but to me it’s a big deal. Games are expensive here in Germany. I grew up in Britain where it was common to get new games for around £30, and even when the prices slowly rose, I was still always able to get a good deal in my local video game retailer through various promotions, store credit and what have you. For me to walk into a store and place 70 of my hard-earned monopoly money on a game is a big deal. It means Ubisoft has won my trust, and that’s a difficult thing to win at the best of times. So how has this happened?
I’d argue, firstly, that Ubisoft is finally taking its customers seriously. It’s a publicly traded company, so that means it’s got investors to please, but unlike some other publishers, Ubisoft isn’t forgetting about the folks who keep them in business. Us, the players. I’ve witnessed the transformation first-hand over the last few years, and it all started with the release of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
The vocal outrage online when Black Flag released with an Online Pass was enough to get Ubisoft to do a turnaround. There had been outcries before, no doubt, but Black Flag differed in that the Online Pass actually affected the single player experience. Gamers were having none of it and in a rare showing of unity across all platforms, they spoke out and demanded Ubisoft right its wrongs. And it worked. It actually bloody worked. Just a few days after the release of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Ubisoft did away with the Online Pass for the game, and then it went further by completely doing away with the Online Pass for all of its games. Hooray! It was the first step towards Ubisoft becoming a trusted video game maker, for me at least.
The next big moment for me was the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity. Yes, that one. I managed to get the game early and by own memory, it wasn’t terrible. I must have been incredibly fortunate as I didn’t have to put up with nearly as many bugs as many players reported. I had the odd glitch here and there, but I swept it away as being just typical video-game jank that’ll be sorted out in a future update. It was, for the most part, but that’s not my point. For me, Assassin’s Creed Unity was an amazing game. It still is, too, even if the story is little lacking… Oi, Ubi, why’d you kill Desmond?
Unity was the first time I really looked at a game and thought “holy shit, they’ve gone and blurred the lines between video games and real life.” Of course it pissed a lot of people off being a bit of a state, but for me it was a real “wow” moment that made me happy to have bought a PS4. It was my first “proper” next-gen experience. But I wasn’t just blown away by the graphics and all-new gameplay. It was the fact that Ubisoft had so clearly overreached. It was going for something that we, nor our little consoles, were really ready for. And I respected that. While most other publishers were playing it safe with the new gen by making many of their games cross-gen releases – even in 2014 – Ubisoft was busy seeing what these new machines could really do. They couldn’t run Unity at a decent frame rate, that’s for sure, but Ubisoft went for it anyway. Ball and all.
It’s not just the big name releases that deserve recognition, though, as Ubisoft has done a great job in letting its creative folk get, well, creative. We’ve been treated to a few top-notch Rayman games across pretty much all platforms. We had the moving Valiant Hearts, and then we got Grow Home and its follow-up, Grow Up, both being decent little games in their own rights. Ubisoft was doing what most other publishers were afraid to do: taking risks on no-name games. It paid off, too. I thoroughly enjoyed Rayman, I finished Valiant Hearts, and I finished Rayman again. I don’t really like side-scrolling platformers! Again, it’s not that the games were amazing, it’s that Ubisoft was doing something different. That’s something I really respect. It’s the whole foundation of this site, actually. The idea was to be different, not just be another site regurgitating press releases and writing boring, monotonous reviews. I suddenly found that my Ubisoft’s way of working was falling in line with my own.
And finally, its current games. The early PS4 releases were decent, albeit predictable in the sense that you knew you’d pay for your game, get a few weeks of fun out of it, then move on to the next one. Sometimes you’d feel hard done by if the game was short or shit, but they’re the odds us gamers play. These days you pretty much know before the game is even in your hands that you’re going to be keeping hold of your copy for a long while. Ubisoft has become the face of post-release support, whether it be free or paid updates. I’m not even annoyed that there are paid updates. They’re typically well done and offer you value for money. Unlike some others. Jeff you, Warner Bros., and your awful Batman: Arkham Knight Season Pass.
It all started with The Division. It was another one of Ubisoft’s hyped-up E3 reveals that didn’t quite look as good as it was being shown to be, but it made up for it in having some decent gameplay and a massive amount of post-release support. In this case, it wasn’t just “hey, we’ve got new shit for you, give us some money!”, but it was constant updates to fix even the littlest of things. It was show of commitment, and one that would be carried over to its existing and future games. Notably, it saved Rainbow Six Siege from dying a dirty death. Siege could have easily gone down as a failure, but Ubisoft kept on tweaking, twisting, kicking, praying, and whatever else it took to get the game to where it is today. It’s now in its third-year of life and it’s just getting better and better. It doesn’t need an annual sequel to keep its players engaged, unlike Call of Duty and Battlefront. Keeping you, the player, is all part of the service these days.
And I suppose this is the biggest thing for me. If I’m going to be slapping €69.99 on a brand new game because Ubisoft, ahem, forgot to send us a review copy, I want to know that I’m not going to be sat in front of my TV in a week’s time watching the end credits on my very expensive game. I like that I now know I’m going to be catered to. I like knowing that Ubisoft wants to keep me engaged, even if that does mean I’m just another number on the spreadsheet. I like knowing I’m getting good value for my money, basically, and I like feeling valued as a customer. It’s customer service basics that, as a faceless entity, Ubisoft hasn’t really had to deal with in the past. Heck, no publishers have to deal with customers on a daily basis. That’s all being left in the hands of spotty-nosed lads in the GameStops of the world, and even that’s dying out as digital storefronts are slowly becoming the norm. I think, and I could very well be wrong, that this has been a part of the problem for the industry at large. We’re never spoken to individually, unless we’re attempting to get a refund, we’re just spoken to en-masse. We’re told to watch these fancy new trailers. We’re told to read this exclusive interview with by-the-books-site-#1452. We’re told to be excited. But now, thanks to the Games as a Service model, we’re actually getting, you know, service.
These days I’m very wary of what a company tries to sell me. Not just video games, mind you, but anything. Everyone wants your money and as an adult, I’m all too aware of the tricks they’ll pull to get it. So it’s with a very keen eye that I read press releases, watch trailers, and listen to developers and publishers talk about their products. I’m always on the sniff for bullshit. While there’s still a faint aroma of dung in the air when it comes to Ubisoft, it’s positively pleasant when compared to other big publishers. Again, it’s Ubisoft not treating its customers like backwards idiots, and that’s also something I respect. That faint odour is fine in small doses and I understand that it’s all a part of the game. Heck, I’m guilty of it myself. When I’m not pumping out articles and reviews for Pure PlayStation, I’m the manager of a shoe store. My sales technique? “Yes, sir, that’s the best shoe we’ve got and I’m going to give you one of my few 10% discounts that are only for friends and family.”
33% is for friends and family. 10% is for shoe-buying suckers. So yeah, I stink of shit too.