The Ubisoft Conundrum

I don’t like Ubisoft. I wouldn’t say I hate Ubisoft. And I certainly can’t say that I don’t play and sometimes enjoy their games, but I don’t like them. I’ve been playing Ubisoft games for quite a long time. Not counting Rayman, which I was never really a fan of and thus never played seriously, I’ve been playing Ubisoft games on a regular basis since before Prince of Persia in 2003. That in no way makes me the hardest of the hardcore Ubisoft fan/user, nor am I claiming to be, because they’ve been making games since 1986. But the point is that in the last decade I’ve shelled out several hundred if not over a thousand dollars out just to play their games specifically. And it’s even more important to note that I continue to give them my hard earned money. Yet, I am not at all happy with the company right now, nor have I been since at least 2014. That’s not to say that they haven’t made games worth playing since 2014. That’s not even to say that I haven’t at times enjoyed games from them since 2014. What I’m unhappy with is the company as a whole because of various poor decisions, a noticeable decline in the overall quality of their games, increased plot based paid DLC, and a general disregard for the opinions of their consumers, especially the loyal ones.

Several weeks back I found myself in an interesting scenario. I play a lot of games, but I’ve never been a trophy hunter type of guy. For me the story is what I play for and I take little to no pleasure in working my ass off to get that 100% if I don’t legitimately enjoy the tasks being requested of me. If you take the time to look up my PSN or Steam accounts, you will see that I have a very limited number of full completions and a measly eight platinums. I respect platinum hunters, but I just don’t have the patience or the time to do what they do. But I still make it a point to get at least one platinum a year. That’s platinum, not just hundred percent. Admittedly I don’t usually go for the hardest platinums. In fact, I’ll admit that I usually go for the easiest one I can unless there’s a game that I just really want to platinum like Skyrim. Still my most prized platinum by the way. I still hadn’t gotten this year’s platinum and we’re winding down to 2017 pretty fast so I needed to get on that. Ultimately I decided that my best bet was to platinum The Division.

At the time of this story, I had not played The Division for several months. The last time I had played it was before the Underground was even released. I think the last expansion I had done was the Clear Sky Incursion. And honestly I had to Google that to remind myself. Like so many others, I got fed up with the end game and just kind of stopped playing, never wanting to go back. It’s Destiny all over again. But when I was going through my trophy list I realized that the only trophies I had left to get the platinum were the collection ones.

platinum
Thanks to Kyndig_Vellanti for the assistance.

One of the worst things about AAA Ubisoft games is the fact that every single one of them makes you waste time collecting pointless bullshit for trophies. Going all the way back to at least Assassin’s Creed (2007), but almost assuredly before, they have been making players collect all sorts of useless garbage after the game has already been completed in order to get that platinum. Feathers, book pages, maps, puzzle pieces, and all sorts of other junk. It’s the worst experience ever. And since it almost never takes place before you finish the game, you don’t even get any serious benefits for doing it. Collecting in The Division is one of the worst examples of collecting bullshit because there is so much to grab and it’s hidden all over the place. Subways, on top of buildings, in gang territory. It’s just a bad time. But I wanted that platinum so I logged in.

As with all games of this sort, walking back in is exceedingly difficult because it’s been patched and updated several times since the last time I played. My gear was at least two gens behind the current standard and low and behold all the basic map NPCs have now been powered up, making me inadequate to say the least. Plus there’s trying to relearn the controls. And I hadn’t collected shit. I literally had an entire map’s worth of collecting to complete. Ultimately I couldn’t even get through the first area before I got super fed up and quit. Hopefully I’ll convince a friend who still actively plays to take pity on me and escort me around the map collecting trash in order to get this trophy before New Year’s. But what’s important is what happened that same day.

In the midst of me trying to deal with my The Division trophy woes, I received an email. See this happened to be the weekend of September 15th. For those of you not aware, that was the weekend of the For Honor closed alpha. I have been anticipating For Honor impatiently since the E3 reveal in 2015. I know that I’m ultimately gonna be unhappy with it and I’m well aware that I am mostly likely going to regret buying it altogether, yet I can’t wait. Even though they got me on The Division and have been selling me shitty Assassin’s Creed games for the most part of the last decade, this game looks amazing. Like the 14 year old COD fanboy or the douchebag who preorders HALO a year in advance, I just can’t seem to control myself when it comes to this game. I’ve actually considered paying the full $60 price tag for it and that never happens. Especially not with companies I don’t trust like Ubisoft. So when I got this email, I was ecstatic. I tweeted, I made a Facebook post. I cleared my schedule for the rest of the weekend. Had to rush play and write a review I had committed to getting done that weekend. I even told my girlfriend that I wasn’t available that weekend. I was ready to play the For Honor alpha.

for-honor-alpha

For me alphas and betas are a serious thing. These are not demos and I hate the fact that people play them that way. For a number of reasons stemming from corrupt business practices and laziness, developers don’t really put out demos anymore. There’s a few that come out every year and certain key ones like Pro-Evolution Soccer, but for the most part you are now forced to buy before you try, borrow a copy, or get into an alpha/beta. But that’s not actually the purpose of alphas and betas. Yes I’m sure developers want people to try the games and tweet about how awesome they are to raise the hype, but let’s remember where public betas came from and why they exist. The reason that developers put out or are supposed to be putting out early builds of games is for user feedback. That’s the only legitimate reason for alphas and betas. Players are not supposed to be testing them for purchasing purposes, though that does happen. They’re supposed to be critiquing them on a serious level and submitting feedback about how the developer can make the game, which is supposed to still be in production, better before it hits the shelves. That’s the point of alphas and betas and that’s how and why I play them.

I take my pre-build feedback very seriously. Whether it’s a game I have a serious interest in like when I played The Division closed and open betas, or a game I don’t particularly have an interest in like when I played the Trackmania Turbo closed beta, I always take the feedback seriously. I clear my schedule. I take notes. I write blog posts about it for users to see. I make sure to provide developers with as much information as possible to help them ultimately release the best game they can. For example, I submitted, and then published publicly as well, about 15 single spaced pages of feedback on The Division closed and open betas. And this is serious feedback. Not trolls. Not “this game is so awesome I can’t wait to buy it”, but actual useful feedback based on mechanics analysis and comparisons to other games in similar genres. I am very thorough and in a perfect world we all would take pre-build feedback at least that seriously. You do a disservice to the developers, future purchasers of the game, and serious beta testers who were denied a spot when you play a beta and don’t leave feedback or don’t leave serious, detailed, quality feedback. The reason that this is so important is because a lack of feedback gives developers an excuse to release bad games.

excuses-devs

Now I’m not gonna say that all my feedback is necessarily what every other player wants in a game. And it’s ridiculous to think that Ubisoft or any developer actually takes the time to read every piece of feedback they get and seriously takes the time to consider implementing it into their games. What I will say unarguably is that if developers aren’t given feedback about an issue and then they release the game with this issue then you can’t rightfully blame the developer for doing it. They may honestly not have noticed or thought about it. But if even just one person plays a beta and tells the developers something like “spray paint skins for guns shouldn’t count towards your inventory limit” and they release the game having not made that correction, it’s on them if 70% of their player base is unhappy about that issue. They were warned. It may have only been by one person, but there is no legitimate excuse on the developer’s side because someone let them know it was a problem. That’s why pre-build feedback is such a serious issue.

Do you think No Man’s Sky would have ended up the way it did if they had done a proper widespread closed or open beta? It’s absolutely possible, but I seriously doubt it. Unless you think Sean Murray and the rest of Hello Games genuinely don’t care about user satisfaction, which admittedly could be true, the feedback would have led to a different game. Their issue was a lack of feedback. It was their fault for not doing a proper public beta, but it doesn’t change the fact that they at least have the excuse of saying “well we just didn’t know because no one told us before release.” I do my best to take that excuse away from developers and that’s how I approach all pre-builds.

While I don’t assume that Ubisoft takes all my feedback to heart, I did assume up to the For Honor alpha that they seriously appreciated my dedication to leaving thorough pre-build feedback. So I was not surprised when I got that email because I had been invited to a number of closed betas by Ubisoft in the past and believed that I was on their shortlist, especially considering I had signed up for this particular alpha and beta the very first day the application went live, and truth be told I signed up multiple accounts. But sadly I didn’t actually get to play the alpha. I got that email, but no code was ever given to me. I tweeted them and created a customer service ticket but I was ignored. The saddest part is that they didn’t actually fully ignore me. They did initially respond but then never got back to me. Thus I never got to play the alpha that I had waited so long for and I never will. And just to be clear, my disappointment in missing the alpha was/is not some fanboy impatience about getting to play the game. Not at all.

My issue is that now I haven’t been able to give Ubisoft feedback about how not to ruin yet another game in their current release pool. Now they have an excuse. Sure other people may have left feedback and again they may never have actually read my feedback. But my having not been given the opportunity to personally leave any feedback means that now if they release a shitty game that I end up buying, I won’t be able to say that I let them know about all the problems. I won’t have proof that they should have known better because I gave them the information. I’ll have no legitimate grounds for accusation. I’ll just be another whiny fanboy who purchased a bad game and did nothing to try and solve the problems beforehand. That’s what I take issue with. And while yes that position may be slightly arrogant, if we all took pre-build feedback that seriously do you think games would ultimately be better or worse?

just-dance-2016

The third thing that happened was that I then tried to play Just Dance. I play Just Dance regularly. I’m quite good at it and no I’m not ashamed of it. So hate come at me, but I bet I’ll beat you on the dance floor. Just Dance is a franchise that I own several editions of, but I have to say that it is now in decline. Up until 2015 it was improving with each year, but 2016 was a complete drop in quality while at the same time raising the price. They dropped the base price to $40 but added a subscription service so now you have to pay extra money every month if you want access to all the songs from past editions, many of which I’ve already paid for. Just Dance players had waited years for the ability to play past songs without having to change discs and this would have been a great feature had it of been free or a flat rate price. Now it’s just a feature that many players, such as myself, don’t use but wish we could. That’s not the only problem with 2016 when compared to 2015 and other past titles, but it’s the biggest one and it’s a problem that will be taken into the 2017 version as well. I say tried to play on this particular occasion because the servers were down. It’s possible that it was because of the alpha that I couldn’t get access, but I play Just Dance on the Wii U so that shouldn’t necessarily be the case, but who really knows with Ubisoft. Then ultimately I opted to continue playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity which wasn’t a bad game mechanically, but it certainly had its issues which should surprise no one considering its disappointing initial release. And even if it had no bugs gameplay wise, it still wouldn’t change the fact that they haven’t written a good Assassin’s Creed game since Revelations or arguably before that depending on your opinion on Ezio’s final title.

Remember that all this took place over the course of less than 24 hours. So basically I had a really shitty night and overall weekend experience. But what’s important to note is that all three of these gaming mishaps and the fourth game I ultimately settled for were all published by Ubisoft. More importantly they’re all properties at the forefront of the company’s current portfolio. I was interacting with supposedly four of their current best IPs, granted Unity is not the newest Assassin’s Creed because we’ve had Syndicate for a year now, which I know I’ll inevitably end up buying. But why? That’s the question I’m suddenly asking myself. Why am I still buying and playing Ubisoft games? I know the company disappoints me much of if not most of the time. I know they no longer write good stories. I know they’re products are now riddled with overpriced DLC and a combination of broken and troublesome mechanics. I’ve written several pages on the various problems I have with Ubisoft even before this post, yet I keep buying their games.

ac-unity-glitch
I did not experience this glitch, but I wanted to remind you of it.

They must actually have a piece of Eden because otherwise I must be insane. And I’m not alone. Ubisoft sells millions of games every year. And so many people are unhappy with them as a company. Watch Dogs 2 is already getting tons of hate and it’s not even out yet. I know tons of people who have completely given up on Assassin’s Creed ever actually being good again. But so many people, even while knowing how bad the company is right now, continue to give them loads of money and put up with their bullshit, myself included, and I can’t figure out why. Why don’t we just give up on them and put the horse out of its misery? I don’t claim to have the answers to these questions. I honestly can’t understand how we keep allowing ourselves to be duped. What I can do is tell you what buying Ubisoft games looks like for me and ask if your current experience with the company is similar in hopes of discovering some real answers.

I never buy Ubisoft games at full price anymore. Honestly I don’t pay $60+ for any games anymore because I’ve learned my lesson. The last game I preordered was Destiny and I’ve never stopped regretting it. The last game I paid full price for was probably Destiny as well. And before that it was God of War: Ascension by my recollection. The last Ubisoft game I paid full price for was probably Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and honestly that was for the multiplayer, but specifically to get the Ottoman Jester as a playable character, because yes it’s been that long since I fully trusted them. Take note that I’m only discussing AAA titles here, but I do play their smaller projects as well and many of them are quite good such as Valiant Hearts and Child of Light. But I don’t pay full price for those either, just for the record.

child-of-light
Probably one of the best RPGs of the modern era.

What usually ends up happening is I play one of their games and I finish it. I always finish their games. Almost always do I leave the game disappointed. Not always angry, but that has happened on more than one occasion. Looking at you Assassin’s Creed III. Usually it’s just some combination of dissatisfaction and apathy. Then they announce a new game. Usually it’s an Assassin’s Creed game, but not always. At first glance I’m usually not surprised, because 9/10 times it’s a sequel to a series that I’m either not interested in or think needs to end. In the latter case I usually tell myself I’m not interested at this time. Not that I won’t play it, just that I don’t need it right now. Then I end up seeing some footage and I think it looks really good and I actually might enjoy it. Then Ubisoft announces that it will have a gold edition and lots of paid DLC. This of course disgusts me and causes me to lose almost all interest in the title. About a month or two after release, usually during a flash sale, I see the gold edition of said game at a discount, but only about 10 to 20%. I don’t even consider buying it. About four months after that I see the gold edition at a discount again but now it’s at about 50% of the release price. I’m still not sold. Then almost a year after release Black Friday rolls around and I have mostly forgotten or moved past the idea of playing the game but it comes up on Amazon (as an example site) for $20 or less. I end up telling myself it’s only $20 and buy it begrudgingly because I’m confident that I will ultimately be left unsatisfied with the game.

By the time the game arrives, they’ve usually announced or even released a sequel to that game which I’m not even considering at this point because I just got this installment, but I don’t play it right away. It goes on the shelf and I ignore it for quite a while. Sometimes I get to within a couple months of the next Black Friday before I actually put it in the console. Then I start playing it and something happens. I’m actually enjoying myself. I realize that I really missed this free-running system and the weapons antics. I missed the rich gameplay settings and colorful NPCs. I start to ask myself why I was mad at Ubisoft in the first place. Then I keep playing the game. About half to three quarters of the way to the end I am reminded why I get irritated by their games. By the end it’s gotten repetitive, poorly written with tons of plot holes, lots of collectibles are still on my map, and the flaws with the gameplay have become more pronounced as the harder and larger groups of enemies have now become a normal occurrence. Irritated and impatient, I finally make it to the end of the game and the cycle repeats itself. But no matter how unhappy I get with their games, the cycle always repeats itself. I’ll probably end up getting both Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Far Cry Primal this Black Friday.

ubisoft-club

I don’t really know why I keep falling into this Ubisoft trap. It must be really good marketing and some combination of nostalgia and consistency, but I know I’m not alone in this. I have no idea what the real reason is, but I’m curious to know how you all feel about Ubisoft and if you have similar experiences when buying their products. Is there another developer that you have similar feelings about? Let me know in the comments so we can discuss it more.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.
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