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Ubisoft's Tactics Are Making uPlay Less Attractive Than Ever

If you wanna open this gold chest, connect uPlay! If you wanna open this blue chest, download the companion app! How about...no?

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The best way to enjoy an Assassin's Creed game is by running around, and letting one's whims be your guide. Suddenly feel like chasing after a collectible hidden near a ledge? Want to indulge in solving a murder mystery? It's a series whose world benefits from taking a little from column a, a little from column b. But Assassin's Creed Unity, in the interest of selfish corporate interests, quickly grinds this approach to a halt.

There are chests everywhere in Unity. While I haven't done a proper count, it wouldn't surprise me if the game sports several hundreds chests throughout the expansive world of revolutionary France. Chests provide players with money to buy supplies in the early hours of Unity, as you learn how the game's larger economy functions. When I stumbled upon gold and blue chests, however, I made a curious discovery.

See, gold chests are uPlay-specific chests, and it means you can't open them unless you've connected Unity to a uPlay account. Blue chests require connecting Unity's companion app on iOS and Android. Not so smooth, Unity. This isn't clear until interacting with either. If you decline the option, they don't vanish. They're always there--taunting. You can collect every other chest in the game, but unless you decide to link up with these chests, they remain out of reach. It's terribly obnoxious, and hard to imagine the development team was excited about creating additional hurdles for players to engage with the game.

Every time I run across a gold or blue chest, I'm annoyed all over again. And like every other collectible in Unity (or any Assassin's Creed game these days, really), there's a lot of them.

I don't want to use uPlay, and it's nothing against Ubisoft specifically. I'm simply tired of juggling a million different accounts, and uPlay is yet another one to add to the pile, one that currently exists without any particularly amazing benefits to offer me. I signed up for uPlay because I had to sign up for uPlay. There hasn't been a moment where I've sat around wondering "gee, I wonder what's happening on uPlay today." uPlay isn't offensively bad most of the time (so long as it's up), and if you're on a console, it might as well not exist. It doesn't make a great case for itself. On Steam, games separately launches uPlay before you jump in. It's mostly inconvenient (and I have no interest in maintaining yet another friend list), but hey, we have Steam to thank for companies becoming obsessed with individual storefronts.

Granted, when Steam launched with Half-Life 2 in 2004, it was a dumpster fire. Steam has come a long way, but it took years of iteration. It's possible uPlay could undergo a similar overhaul, but there was nothing like Steam in 2004. Steam and others have matured into useful storefronts and community hubs. uPlay exists in that world, so it's held to a higher standard in its early days. Ubisoft doesn't get 10 years.

What you see when loading up uPlay these days.
What you see when loading up uPlay these days.

The reason Steam is popular is due to trust. It's fast, easy, reliable, and does what I want, when I want. When Wadjet Eye Games tried to give away a DRM-free version of Blackwell Deception, players complained because it wasn't a free version for Steam. That's what Valve has been able to build over a decade, and it didn't come fast or easy.

Why do I need to use uPlay? Because Ubisoft would prefer to keep the slice of profits going to Steam and other places, and hopes players will eventually buy games exclusively through uPlay? That might sound compelling to Ubisoft, but it's not compelling to me, the player.

It's not like I'm excited to open more chests in Unity, a game I'm happy to have finished simply so I don't have to play more of it. The Assassin's Creed games have too many aimless collectibles as it stands, so in some sense, removing a few might be a form of sweet relief. (Discovering how to filter the map's icons might have saved my life.) But it's how the chests were integrated into the game, representing little more than an ugly strong-arm tactic to encourage uPlay adoption and the downloading of an app. Ubisoft isn't offering an interesting piece of DLC or story elements, it's keeping a series of chests slightly out of reach.

Or maybe that says it all? Even Ubisoft doesn't think uPlay is worth more than a few pieces of coin? I'm not sure what's is sadder, but I do know the net result of running into a blue or gold chest meant I wouldn't connect to uPlay out of principle. Ubisoft probably won't blink an eye, since they already have my money, but it's the least I can do. This is why I'll be clicking past any uPlay prompts in the future.

While I've basically railed on uPlay for the last couple hundred words, the same argument applies to locking chests behind a companion app. If you want players to "engage" with your brand, find something that's not so blatantly corporate. Put in some effort, at least, if you want some of that sweet synergy.

Side note: on Twitter last night, Giant Bomb user Fobwashed made this amazing image:

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UPDATE: orusaka in the comments explored what happens when you link up, and it sounds horrible:

"Just to clear up some inaccuracies in the post, the gold and blue chests require more than just for you to sync up to Uplay or the companion app. The gold chests are actually tied the Initiates web-page where you achieve levels from, among other things, having played previous AC games. Simply linking will not unlock the chests. The Blue chests similarly will not simply unlock by linking with the companion app. You have to solve the glyph puzzles and do the missions on the companion app to unlock those chests."

Patrick Klepek on Google+