We call it how we see it here on Dealspwn. We've frequently castigated EA for anti-consumer practices; we berated Microsoft for their failures in communication and advocacy of DRM back in the days of Don Mattrick, who sort of sounds a little bit like the worst Mafioso ever; we lamented Nintendo's lunacy, waged war on WB snipping bits off of Shadow of Mordor, slammed industry cancers like on-disc DLC, ludicrous season passes, and the heady age of multiplayer serial codes.
Now it's Ubisoft's turn.
The French publisher has had a number of major screw-ups in the last twelve months, from trying to argue that one of the biggest studios in the world didn't have the resources to develop female characters, to charging £50 for standard PC games, to forcing Uplay into everything, to writing off 60 FPS as an industry standard. That last one is bitterly ironic considering that the jewel in their winter release slate -- Assassin's Creed: Unity -- appears to be laughably unable to hit 30 FPS on a consistent basis, let alone 60.
It's a far cry (sorry) from the company we all saw swoop into E3 last year and save everybody's bacon. This is the company that stuck by Rayman despite dismal sales, the company that (along with Obsidian, of course) finally brought us a South Park game that did the IP justice, these folks gave us Sid Meier's Assassin's Creed Pirates! Now, however, their biggest game of the year has been found out to be a buggy mess, their stringent, launch-day embargo lies in ridiculed ruins, and one wonders whether or not this will have a knock-on effect for Far Cry 4 and The Crew.
Where did it all go wrong?
Ubisoft has found itself breathing the same rarefied air as EA and Activision over the past few years, with an enormously strong portfolio of critically-acclaimed and bestselling IPs. Yves Guillemot has looked about himself to find only Peter Moore and Andrew Wilson grinning and waving at him from golden thrones atop the mountain of success. The more one thinks about it, the more the parallels between EA and this year's Ubisoft begin to fall into place: the ruthless exploitation of IPs for annual releases that decline in quality? Hello yearly Ass Creed! Attempting to steer crowds away from popular platforms to use proprietary service? Screw you, Uplay! Making an utter shambles of your flagship title due to bugs and crashes? Hi Unity, meet Battlefield.
Talking absolute rubbish and making contentious statements has been de rigeur at EA for many years, and now Ubisoft are starting to garner headlines for the same wrong reasons. The pupil, it would seem, has become the master.
That's not a good thing. It's also not really true, either. In a manner typical of 2014 Ubisoft, they've managed to screw that up too.
There's no space any more for a heavy-handed publisher attempting to run roughshod over the gaming press and consumers alike. We've been banging on about this ever since Mattrick's reptilian grin unleashed the ill-fated original concept for the Xbox One -- transparency and communication are utterly crucial. That means being upfront and honest about your game's shortcomings, that means actually doing some sodding QA before you charge £50 for the privilege of your latest annualised knock off and not putting a ridiculous, time-gated, launch-day embargo in place. Our new rule going forwards, following in the steps of Kotaku's move yesterday, and our own actions, will be to refuse time-gated, launch-day embargoes. That is to say, if members of the public can buy and talk about a game, so will we. And as Jon tweeted earlier this morning, frankly that's a worst-case scenario.
EA have generally been horrible at communication too and, worse still, incredibly slow to action. It took them a year to "listen to their fans" and bring an offline mode to SimCity despite saying that it was impossible at launch. It took DICE the best part of a year to apologise for the state of Battlefield 4 and finally admit that they'd screwed up. But I like the fact that EA postponed Hardline's release because it wasn't ready. It was a rare example of the company saying something honest and acting appropriately, something that I wish I could have said about Unity.
There's a really good game buried underneath Unity's litany of sins, and this whole furore could have been avoided, which makes it all the more galling.
As for Uplay, well, Ubisoft need to learn how to make a service that works before shoving it down people's throats. I have no problem with publishers taking their products off of Steam, but they need to make it worthwhile. Origin's digital prices are still ridiculously high (but easy to get around thanks to the grey market of key sellers), but EA have tidied up that service, dished out freebies, and given people reasons to use it. Better yet, once I sync my console profiles with Origin, it all loads up without me having to do a thing. Uplay, by comparison, is a clunky bundle of awfulness when it works, which is relatively rare. This is why Ubisoft resorted to the stick rather than the carrot to drive users towards Uplay. They simply don't have any carrots when it comes to Uplay.
The sad fact, of course, is that actually Ubisoft have always been like this. Remember the bare-faced lies consumers were given about From Dust only needing one-time activation, and then requiring an always-on connection? Remember when Ubisoft followed in EA's footsteps back in 2012 to bring in the Uplay Passport? Remember when, in the same year, one of Google's Information Security Engineers called Uplay "a rootkit" and demonstrated how the service posed a serious security threat to its users?
These things have since been fixed and addressed, but really they never should have happened in the first place, and wouldn't have happened had Ubisoft not been actively engaging in anti-consumer practices.
How Ubisoft acts going forwards will be crucial. They must fix the issues being seen with Unity, they must improve the stability of Uplay and their netcode (or The Crew is DOA), and they must not insult the intelligence of their fanbase. Otherwise they might just find themselves in line for a Golden Poo next year if the award goes international.