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.