One of the most anticipated computer games of the year, Assassins Creed: Unity, releases today in Europe, with most of its digital copies likely being sold through Steam. The exception for this is the United Kingdom, where Ubisoft and Valve stopped working together.
This means that some of the most highly anticipated games of 2014’s holiday season will not be available on the people’s choice of Best Platform, the platform they want to buy their games on. PC gamers will have to go through uPlay, Ubisoft’s own software client, to get access to Assassins Creed Unity, Far Cry 4, and The Crew. But why is there this falling out between two of the biggest players in the video game industry, and why is this such an issue?
Well, the latter half of the question is easily answered. Gamers don’t like uPlay, and for good reason. It doesn’t work properly. It is extremely prone to crashing and is essentially a Digital Right Management system. Steam is by no means perfect, but is the most widely adopted platform for digital sales.
To uncover the reasons behind this falling out one has to go further than a dislike for uPlay. Valve has had problems before with other large game developers and publishers. Prime amongst them is an issue that Valve and Electronic Arts had back in 2011 when EA tried selling Downloadable Content (DLC) for its games through Steam. Steam’s terms of service is very particular in what it allows, with EA stating that “Steam’s terms of service limit how developers interact with customers and deliver patches and other downloadable content.”
For a while after this Steam and EA have continued their partnership, but recently EA has put their focus on their own client Origin, with one of their biggest games, The Sims 4, being unavailable on Steam.
One might assume that Ubisoft would follow in EA’s footsteps and start focusing on uPlay. Despite Steam being almost unchallenged in its power position, big producers and publishers like EA and Ubisoft hold enough clout to sell their digital copies without Steam. People want to play Sims and Assassins Creed and will play it with or without going through Steam.
This however does not account for something integral to the issue. It is only the UK that will not receive Ubisoft’s 2014 triple A-titles, the top-tier games, on Steam. This seems to mean that it has to do something specifically with the UK. It was rumored to have to do with legal issues, such as Steam’s notorious (read: non-existent) return-policy. As the European Union has far stricter consumer protection than the U.S Valve will have to apply equal refund standards across the EU, including the UK.
Logically speaking, it has to be related to the UK and the UK alone. The main relevant difference to be found is currency. Despite being in the EU, the UK uses the pound rather than the euro for currency. In this hides an important difference regarding Ubisoft’s upcoming titles, a very UK specific difference.
Let’s take the price off a very recent triple A-title, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. It’s prices: €59.99, $59.99, or £39.99. Disregarding that these prices aren’t equal when converted, they have been the regular prices for new top titles for years, as is evident by CoD’s, Watch_Dogs’, and The Evil Within’s release prices. With Assassins Creed Unity something went a little different. In both euros and dollars AC:U costs the same as other releases, but in pounds it costs 49,99.
This 10 pound increase might not be surprising, with products going up in price constantly. What is surprising, and a problem for some, is when the price increase is specific to one nation and one currency. At this time neither Valve nor Ubisoft have released a statement on the issue, leaving everyone in the dark on this occurrence, with only their best guesses to go on.
It would not be surprising if Ubisoft and Valve did fall out over this price increase. Ubisoft has shown a history of being out of touch with its consumers. It called a lot of hate over itself because of its statements over female characters in its games, and just recently confirmed its failure to connect with its audience by releasing DLC that can only be acquired by buying a male shaving gel.
A word of comfort, and something to take strength from for the UK-gamers: Assassins Creed released in the U.S. two days ago, and proved to be problematic, to put it mildly. It struggles to play decently across all devices, XBox One, Playstation 4, and PC alike: it drops frames, and fails to properly load parts of the game.
In the words of TotalBiscuit, one of the industry’s most popular game critics, a patch (extra data that fixes problems) “is SORELY needed.” In fact, the buy button for AC:U had been removed from the Dutch Steam store as well for a night, only to come back the next day as available together with the other upcoming Ubisoft games such as Far Cry 4. This might have beeen to fix the persistent issues before making it available. At any rate, maybe not having Assassins Creed easily available yet is a blessing in disguise and 50 pounds saved.
By Jeroen de Vries
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