Ubisoft have got a big winter release slate lined up, featuring three key titles in The Crew, Far Cry 4, and Assassin's Creed: Unity.
And it seems that none of them will be on Steam here in the UK this Christmas.
“We’ve been in discussions with Valve about ACU, Far Cry 4 and The Crew, but for the time being the games are not available via Steam in the UK. In the meantime, UK customers wishing to purchase either of these games digitally can do so by visiting the Uplay store, our retail partners or other digital distributors," Ubisoft told us in a statement this morning.
"ACU, Far Cry 4 and The Crew are available on Steam in other regions outside the UK."
A glance at the Uplay store reveals that Ubisoft have set their big hitters at a premium price on PC, with all three listed at £49.99, just a fiver short of their new-gen console equivalents, and thus it's easy to turn to pricing concerns as a reason for Ubisoft skipping out on Steam this season. Steam games rarely go above the £39.99 mark for regular versions, with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare currently set at that price point, as the most expensive game on the service. Ubisoft's own South Park: The Stick of Truth can also be seen on Steam for the same top price point of £39.99, despite having released over six months ago.
Ubisoft are not the first publisher to go this route. Since EA set up Origin, the likes of Battlefield, SimCity, and FIFA have all fetched elevated premium prices on the service, with the publisher clearly seeking to close the pricing gap between PC and console and maintain full control over pricing.
It seems as though that's exactly what's happening here.
It should be noted that boxed copies of the games in question are retailing for £10 cheaper on PC, with the likes of Amazon and GAME stocking them for around £39.99. from this angle, it looks as though Ubisoft are trying to force the bizarre inversion of physical-vs-digital pricing that we see on consoles, where physical media (despite the extra expenditure that must come with materials and packaging and actual shipping) often proves cheaper than its digital equivalent. Bizarre is perhaps the wrong word -- these deals are done to protect corporate interests in terms of the retail partners involved in physical media -- but it's certainly anti-consumer.
Ubisoft refused to comment further when pressed on why this is only affecting Steam here in the UK -- the games will be released on Steam outside of this country. In the states, you can pre-order a copy of AC: Unity for $59.99, which is around £37.56 at the time of writing. Even taking the games industry's propensity for screwed-up conversion rates into account, one would expect a £39.99 premium price tag for these games on PC to be acceptable.
Ubisoft have not announced retail partnerships or any backroom deals in place to shut Steam out here in the UK, but GAME's resurgence could certainly be a part of the reasoning behind this move. We're entering the realms of speculation here, but if I were a gambling man, I might wager that it seems likely that third-party partnerships would be the most likely reason for these three big hitters skipping out on Steam this winter. To be fair, the games could hit the service by Christmas, we just don't know at this point. But it's yet another baffling, ill-communicated move from a company that's had some utter stinkers when it comes to communication over the last few months.
Additionally, unfortunately for Ubisoft, the market has already found a way around these deals on PC.
The grey market of key vendors is big business now. Consumers won't turn to Uplay, which is still a hideously clunky service that makes Origin look heavenly, they'll turn to places like SimplyGamesKeys, CDkeys, CJS, G2A, and other sites like them. Just today, we ran a deal for pre-ordering Far Cry 4 for under £25 on PC. Anti-consumer practices may work on consoles where marketplaces are subject to rigorous moderating under the watchful eye of the platform holder, but that doesn't happen on PC, and if it does, loopholes are quickly found, many of them legal.
It's possible that Ubisoft see the UK as more receptive to Uplay, which is worrying. It's probable that they'd like to exert as much control over their properties as EA does. But are Ubisoft ready to be hated like EA are? Of course, the PC numbers for Ubisoft are likely far less significant for them than their console counterparts. With the possible exception of Far Cry 4, these are console-oriented properties we're talking about. But gamers tend not to react well to large companies attempting to take away consumer choice, particularly on PC.
Regardless, we'll be hunting down the cheapest versions of these games, so be sure to keep an eye on the site over the coming weeks, through Black Friday, and into the holiday season.