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Ubisoft now selling competitors' games through Uplay expansion
Ubisoft now selling competitors' games through Uplay expansion
February 19, 2013 | By Chris Morris

Ubisoft is opening up its closed gate community to other publishers. Effective immediately, Uplay, the company's digital distribution service, will begin selling games from competing publishers including Electronic Arts and Warner Bros.

The cooperative deal, which will also see Ubisoft games appear on EA's Origin distribution service, is meant to broaden the avenues for players to find games and expand points of sale for game makers.

"There's a set of folks who like the Uplay service - and by adding third party titles, we're giving them the choice to vet their content through Uplay," says Chris Early, vice president of digital publishing at Ubisoft. "By continuing to improve the Uplay service, we're able to offer a more robust service. It only make sense that we let [customers] do as much as possible. Adding 'third party' games really helps our players."

Roughly 25 titles are going live with the announcement, a number Ubisoft plans to expand rapidly. Beyond EA and Warner, Uplay will distribute titles from Telltale Games, Paradox Interactive, 1C bitComposer Games, Bohemia Interactive, Encore Software, Focus Home Interactive, Freebird Games, Iceberg Interactive, Nordic Games, Recoil Games, Robot Entertainment, Torn Banner Studios and others.

In addition to buying existing games, Uplay users will also be able to pre-order titles like Crysis 3 and SimCity.

While Valve's Steam remains the leading digital distribution retail channel on the PC, competing services like Origin and Uplay are establishing footholds and allow publishers to add their own layer of social media onto their games. (Uplay, for instance, offers accomplishments and sharing features to customers of Ubisoft's games which operate independently of how the game was sold.)

Hard numbers remain a slippery thing in the world of digital distribution. Like Steam, most publishers speak only in percentages rather than dollars. But the percentages are impressive. Ubisoft in its most recent quarter say a 153 percent jump in year over year digital growth, says Early. And the current member base tops 40 million people (though Ubisoft declined to say how many of those are active users).

By opening the Uplay service to other publishers, and by offering its games (and pre-orders) on other services, there's a deliberate movement in the online space to become more platform agnostic.

"If you like buying [a game] on Steam, by all means, buy it on Steam," says Early. "There are reasons people like these different services. The important thing we look at is we have two hats on we have our Ubisoft corporate hat on, which is 'how do we get our content in front of our customer wherever they happen to be?,' and we have our service hat on, which is 'How do we provide the most robust service for our customers?'

"Consumers have favorite places. I have a favorite grocery store. It's a question of why do you like that grocery store? We find people like the Uplay service and the advantages you get from being a member and by adding content, you're able to give them their choice. We see the same thing on Origin and Steam. EA [and Valve are] looking to increase the distribution network for their content just like we are."

Part of the hook here is players still must log in to the publisher's player service, regardless of whether they bought the game on Steam, Origin, Uplay or at brick and mortar retail. So even if a customer buys the new Assassin's Creed via Origin, they'll still have to log in through Uplay's social layer before they play.

One fear some might have is that buying an EA game on Uplay could result in a higher price than Origin players are paying or vice versa. Early dismisses those, noting that Ubisoft, as well as most publishers, typically have a straightforward pricing strategy meant to encourage adoption regardless of platform.

"We, like most publishers, maintain a pretty consistent pricing policy across the entire digital distribution channel," he says. "Just as with retail (say, with Toys R Us), there will be weekend sales where you might be able to save money somewhere else, but generally it's about the same."

Similarly, there will be no delay in the availability of games from other publishers. When it goes live on one platform, it goes live on all of them.

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Jordan Carroll
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My experience with uPlay is when it prevents me from immediately playing certain games after launching them from Steam. If I wanted to use uPlay I would have installed uPlay. If you want to force me to use uPlay, make your games exclusive to uPlay.

Best of luck to Ubisoft, although I don't see this being successful in the long run unless the consistently offer their wares at lower costs than Origin, Steam, or other online retail.

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I take it this will not be available on closed consoles Like Wii U, Xbox and PS although they do offer a U Play app for those consoles.

Alex Covic
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Speaking of UPlay. Look at your \AppData\Local folder and open settings.yml file with your notepad. It has user name & (weakly scrambled) password in clear text?! Is this safe? Is this best practice? A fake cookie storing user data?

Michael Thornberg
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+1. But who is surprised? It's been like that for quite some time. I know plenty more pieces of software (and hardware) that are also behaving like that.

Craig Timpany
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The more alarming thing is that it installs a browser extension so URLs can launch UPlay. A while back they inadvertently shipped a debug version with a backdoor that allowed trivial remote execution.

You really, really don't want that team writing something that's part of your browser's attack surface. Luckily disabling it doesn't break anything anyone would care about.

Michael Thornberg
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I also want a choice of not having to be blasted with Yet-Another-Interface on the way to the game, when I want to play.

Eric Geer
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How many times must we log-in in order to play games now?

I wonder if it would be possible to buy a Ubisoft game on Origin and launch through Steam--therfore ensuring you would have to launch on all 3 online services? a trifecta of pain in the ass.

Why can't I just buy a game and play, and not be attached to any of these social "services?

Zirani Jean-Sylvestre
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Well, I bought GTA4 on steam

When I want to play it, it asks me to connect to: 1) Steam 2) Rockstat network 3) Windows Game Live

Note, Rockstar network connection is optional, but the two other are mandatory...

Eric Geer
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" And the current member base tops 40 million people (though Ubisoft declined to say how many of those are active users). "

The only reason there are even that many members is because you are REQUIRED to sign into the godforsaken service in order to play any of their games. They shouldn't be able to report these numbers...

Simon Ludgate
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"There's a set of folks who like the Uplay service."

This reminds me of that Saturday Night Live skit, where they announce improbable headlines and then ask "REALLY?!"

Humour aside though, it does make sense to open up the storefronts. Once you get a customer into your platform (eg: a video card bundled with a free copy of Assassin's Creed III through UPlay) then that customer may be more likely to continue buying games in a platform they already have rather than adding a new platform. In theory then, if your platform can offer every game, customers you already have will stay primarily with you rather than going to a competitor.

I suppose though that there would be problems if games cross-linked back to prior services. As Ubisoft, I wouldn't want to sell a game through Uplay that then required a user to install and play through both Origin and Uplay, as that customer would now be tied to Origin instead of just Uplay. I wonder how Ubisoft and EA negotiated that issue... are Uplay versions of EA games Uplay-only, and Origin versions of Ubisoft Origin-only?

Though even then, cross-selling the game that requires the other platform means taking a cut of the sale that loses you the exclusive customer; not cross-selling simply means losing the customer and taking no cut at all.

John Flush
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I think I'll stick with Ubisofts other service of 'yPlay?' and keep skipping everything they publish.

Maria Jayne
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The primary problem with Uplay and Origin is that they force you to need to use it rather then make you want to. To the eyes of business, they're doing exactly what Steam is doing, to the eyes of the Consumer, they aren't.

They aren't earning their userbase, so their userbase sees no value in having them, it's just a barrier to be passed.

Nobody respects what didn't take effort to earn.

Eric Geer
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Perfectly stated. Thanks.

Christiaan Moleman
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If Ubisoft wants to win over players they could start by unlocking (for download) ALL games which you've been forced to register on Uplay, including those bought on Steam or other services. If I want to play From Dust or AC3 on Steam I am forced to go through several steps of Uplay, but if I check the Games tab on the Uplay client I can only see some retail games I registered previously. I am reminded less of the early days of Steam and more of the atrocious Games for Windows Live. In its current form Uplay is not a service, it's an inconvenience.

Also: Stop installing browser plugins full of security holes without asking.