UbiTours: A Look at Ubisoft’s Uplay PC

Welcome, digital patrons, to UbiTours. Today we’ll be taking a comprehensive look at Ubisoft’s newfangled Uplay PC service with an eye to determine whether a year after its bumbling launch, EA’s Origin is in danger of losing its spot on the sparkling throne of comical ineptitude. For your own comfort and safety, please remain connected to the internet throughout the tour.

It was without an inkling of irony that Ubisoft announced the launch of its Uplay PC service last week, making it the latest publisher to step plucky into the digital distribution arena. Having dedicated years to the tireless art of blowing raspberries at the PC community with punitive DRM measures, needlessly delayed game launches and liberal use of made-up-on-the-spot stats (’95% of PC gamers are swashbuckling bastards’), one might view Ubi’s keenness to do battle with the likes of Steam, GamersGate and *wince* Origin with bewilderment. This is, after all, the company that best provides gamers with a reason not to pay for its games. But lo and behold, here we bloody well are. Bohemian or lemming? We’re about to find out.

To determine whether Uplay has the gumption to vie with the heavyweights, we’re going to grade it on four criteria using a five point scale. The criteria are the things I believe all digital distribution platforms need to be worthy of space on my desktop. As for the grading, five Origin logos represents catastrophe on a honking great scale. Think EA selling the original Crysis on Origin for £14.99 at the same time it’s available on Steam for £9.99. One Origin Logo represents solace and savvy; Good Old Games’ penchant for yesteryear and making sure my computer can run Rollercoaster Tycoon or Steam’s indomitable annual Summer Sale soiree – the kind of stuff that makes using these services a splendiferous delight, not just some eye-gougingly frustrating attempt to fragment communities and monopolise certain corners of the market. 

Of course, we’ll take into account that Uplay PC launched just last week. We’re all about fairness here and we’re not expecting some miracle alternative to Steam or even anything more than a new portal to reach Ubi’s games. Merely a decent reason – or the kernels of a decent reason – to install yet another digital distribution platform. In this most crowded of arenas, Uplay PC needs to serve its customers something they can’t get elsewhere else it’s just another awkward hurdle splintering the PC community. And nobody appreciates that.

So now let us buckle up and trudge out into the fledgling wheat fields of Ubisoft’s Uplay PC.

***

Name

It might not seem terribly important in lieu of other factors – price, USP, community and games, to name but a handful, – but I’d argue a name is the cornerstone of any company and if you’re looking to make a dent in a bloated market you need a handle capable of delivering a thundering punch on the nose for those all-important first impressions.

Think of the image Steam conveys. Or even Origin. They’re both abstract, neither so much as hinting at another boring old portal for entering credit card details and downloading games. Steam isn’t playful. It’s not immediately indicative of the service Valve provides. Instead it screams dependability, strength, ruggedness and a bit of cool. 

At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got the substantially more literal Good Old Games, which rolls nicely off the tongue and sums up with surgical precision what Good Old Games is about. Games. What are good. And old.

They’re both future proof, I’d argue. 

Uplay, however, sounds like a genitalia rub. Enhances sensitivity and helps heighten orgasm. AVOID CONTACT WITH NOSE, EARS AND EYES.

The capital U and lack of space between ‘U’ and ‘Play’ might have been a snug fit back in 1997, when fuchsia hair and the Spice Girls were still acceptable, but today it’s kitsch bordering on offensive. Phonetically it’s tolerable, but when it comes to spelling is it You Play PC or U Play PC or YouPlay PC or youplaypc or UPlayPC or any other ghastly mutation? When you consider the ubiquity of YouTube it seems even sillier. There’s only one way to spell Origin, after all. S. H. I. T.

Uplay PC has none of the sangfroid of Steam and all the fumbling ungainliness its tin-pot logo so capably conveys.

 

USP/Ease of Use 

Green Man Gaming lets you trade in old games, Good Old Games busies itself with all things yesteryear and Desura has a pretty good grasp on the mod scene. There’s no reason to swallow the swill of a bad digital distribution platform in the year 2012, but it’s a funny old world in which Origin is allowed to persist.

“Designed to enhance your gaming experience.” boasts Uplay PC’s marinated-in-PR-mumbo-jumbo launch trailer. By the time the overly affable voiceover arrives at “You can buy a game at work, you can easily enjoy it at home, on your holidays whenever and wherever you want” you can smell the desperation.

Still, unless Ubi are primed and ready to haul its catalogue of games away from Steam and engender the indignation of PC gamers a little more, Uplay needs something to separate it from the throng of digital distribution portals. So let’s take a closer inspection.

Upon launch you’re welcomed by the home page; a series of design faux pas and insults to Web 2.0. Look at the haggard grey buttons, the awkwardness as the gigantic advert plows drunkenly into the background, there’s an actual Twitter feed as well as a scroll bar etched into the thing as wellNothing to drum up any excitement for future releases, no search bar. 

There’s not enough here to risk becoming unwieldy or cluttered. But it’s reptilian, too, frozen and besieged by useless features. Who really cares about Ubi’s Twitter ramblings? It’s almost as if Ubi has nothing much to show.

Functional but unsightly, then. Ho hum.

The games section takes after Origin with tiles as opposed to Steam’s tidy vertical list of games. Click on a game and you’re taken to a screen like this. The promise of exclusive wallpapers accompanying yet more Twitter, although I do like the big old picture of a car what is going fast behind it all.

Uplay points aren’t anything new; Ubi have been dishing them out since Assassin’s Creed 2 and here they’ve got their very own panel. Think of them as the rewards you’d otherwise earn while playing the game, except instead of receiving them easy-peasy in-game you have to leave and log in to Uplay to earn your sparkly wallpaper or new sword. I guess this is what they mean when they say: “Progress, level up and reward yourself while becoming a gaming champion.” This is the busiest page yet…

Not anymore! Ubi’s repertoire of free to play games are wheeled out with gusto. Perhaps Uplay PC was designed to consolidate Ubi’s rapidly expanding catalogue of F2P nasties and tempt those who would otherwise steer well clear of them? Surely not. It’s going to take more than CSI: Crime City to draw in a crowd.

Moving swiftly on to the store; a crummy version of the standard internet store that loads in a separate pop-up window. Oh deary.

Hold on a moment. I think we’re on to something… A click of the “edit avatar” button sends us back to the internet proper and right into the gaping maw of this exhaustive looking character creation tool. Could this be it?

Oh boy, 13 different hair styles! 5 different colours! 12 pairs of eyes! 5 shades of human!

SIXTEEN BEARD AND MOUSTACHE COMBOS. SIXTEEN. THAT’S A BEARD OR MOUSTACHE FOR EVERY GAME CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON UPLAY.

Ghost Recon fancy dress too!

I look just like Jade doing a poo! Maybe even a little sexier.

Ezio cosplay with a 21st century twist: 3D glasses, Khaki dad shorts and open toe sandals.

Just Dance flamboyance. Alternate poses, alternate get up. I’m going to tell all my friends about this.

After much deliberation and zero minutes spent playing videogames I settled on this chap. He looks like the kind of tosser that would dedicate 15 minutes to creating an avatar for a piece of software called Uplay PC.

Phwoar. I think we’ve exhumed Uplay PC’s dusty old USP then. Avatar creation, virtual cosplay and free wallpapers, in-game items and challenges otherwise known as ‘standard videogame content’. Elsewhere you can download games, you can install games, you can text-chat with friends and tinker with all the Uplay gubbins but there’s nothing much to help it stand out from the cavalcade of established digital distribution channels. Still, at least it has a USP, and maybe the games will save it…

Games and Pricing

Currently there are only Ubisoft games available to download from Uplay PC. That’s fine. It’s nascent. Give it time. And maybe it’ll stay that way, in which case it desperately needs a USP.

There are only 16 games though, with Ubi’s vast back catalogue of older titles pretty much AWOL. Basically, there’s a better selection of Ubisoft games on Steam than on Uplay PC. And they’re available for the same price on both platforms. EA’s predilection for charging more for their games on Origin than they do Steam baffles me to no end. Even if you jump feet first into the fields of speculation and assume conservatively that Valve take a 15% cut (likely only half the real figure), that’s £1.50 more EA would make on every copy of Crysis sold at £9.99 on Origin, because it’s their service. Knock £1 off and you’ve given gamers a reason to flock to pastures new and you’re still earning more on every copy sold. Hiking the price up by 150% is madness. Ubisoft haven’t tottered off the precipice and landed in the murky morass of veritable insanity but pricing games at the same price as Steam isn’t going to attract wandering eyes. 

Bizarrely, you can only buy the signature edition (£34.99) of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier on Ubi’s platform. The standard edition, priced at £29.99 on Steam (cheaper this weekend), is absent. Ubi could probably do with matching the versatility of its competitors, particularly when loyalty to that competitor is steadfast. 

 

There were some cracking deals during its launch period, mind, with the likes of From Dust and Driver: San Francisco ruthlessly reduced to just one dainty queen pound. Not a lot since, though.

Community Features

“Join your friends to play, share, chat and win together.” 

Verdict

And so it is that we arrive at the end of our tour. EA can let slip a deep sigh of relief for while Ubisoft offers the PC gamer precisely zero good reasons to download and use its budding digital distribution platform, neither has it created a piece of software that so impeccably parodies its creator. Uplay PC offers a space to keep all your Ubisoft games under one roof, but you already had a place like that with Steam. Community features are left wanting and the absence of games like Ghost Recon in non-premium form is baffling. If you can’t match the flexibility of your chief rival when it comes to your own games, there’s little hope.

Now that the £1 sales festivities have wound down, there’s no incentive to download Uplay PC in its current state unless the lure of a consolidated library of free-to-play games (which, for my money, is more or less the reasoning behind Uplay PC’s existence) coupled with an exhaustive avatar creation tool tickles your fancy. In which case, may I point you toward 1) the Xbox 360, and 2) Zynga.

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