Friday, November 14, 2014

Attempting to Dethrone EA as Worst Gaming Company - Is Ubisoft Next in Line?

This was shared among Facebook on Wednesday and I wanted to take a few days to process it before responding. It's a lot to digest. Forbes proclaiming that Ubisoft has overtaken Electronic Arts in customer dissatisfaction is a big step.

Even if you are brand new to this blog, I'm sure you have seen my rants about EA. I'm infamous for them

But to be as bad or worse then EA seems like a stretch. Given the company's history of homogenized games, micropayments and withholding content for DLC, and double win's on Worst Company in America by The Consumerist, that's a tall order to fill if you want to beat them. 

Contributor Paul Tassi seems pretty convinced that Ubisoft has dethroned EA.

"Yesterday, the dam broke for Ubisoft, and the gaming press and gaming public stopped fighting each other after two months of GamerGate warfare to turn toward a new common enemy. In fact, Ubisoft seems to have crossed so many lines with their recent Assassin's Creed dual release, that critical disdain and public outrage over their policies has reached EA levels of fervor."

With the release of the latest Assassin's Creed, titled Unity, there has been a mixed reaction to the game. A number of critics and gamers are not satisfied with the product, essentially calling it unfinished and just a pretty demo for the next generation consoles. Before release, there was an all silence from game reviewers. Speculation was, at least through social media, that this was a way for blogs and magazines to protest Ubisoft's handling of press, fan concerns, and backwards notions on the integration of female characters.      

Now the controversy has sparked a new debate. Did Ubisoft intentionally ask for a review embargo until the game's release because they knew there were issues on the final product?

This was the last straw for Tassi.

His list of Ubisoft's faults over the past year are similar to complaints against EA:

- Watch Dogs accused of being glamorized to look more cinematic then what the game's final product let on. It was less stellar then what was promised for graphics with a next-gen game.

- Let is also be known that Watch Dogs received mixed reviews giving it lower scores then what a number of news outlets suggested. Much of the content and visuals promised ended up not coming to fruition. Ubisoft did some great marketing to get a lot of copies sold, but gamers were not happy with it.   

- At E3, Ubisoft kept stumbling over themselves regarding the next Assassin's Creed and the lack of playable female leads, arguing that it would be "too difficult" to animate them late in the development, even for multi-player. 

(Here it comes...Metal Gear Solid V gives us real-time horse poop. What do you say to that Ubisoft? )

- Before launch, Ubisoft announced that Unity would be locked at 30 frames per second, versus the now standard 50-60 for video games. Many fans and reviewers claimed that it was just a way for Ubisoft to dumb down the fact that they couldn't overcome a technical hurdle in time for the release.

- I've touched on this already, but Ubisoft had an embargo on reviews of Unity and Rogue that neither game could be posted in gaming magazines and blogs until 12 hours after release, which worried a lot of people and made them wonder if the game wasn't as good as boasted by Ubisoft. In fact of the two games, only Unity was sent out to reviewers ahead of time. Rogue was not. 

- Unity features elements that are similar to what we see in EA games. Aspects such as microtransactions (though one is for $99 worth of in-game coins, there is nothing small about that), and actions that can only be done after you download and install the AssCreed app and/or UPlay.

- Far Cry 4, yet to be released, is becoming the next franchise to have yearly releases, and given the reception of Ubi's games this year, fans have a right to be worried. Many are wondering if there is anything new with the 4th title, but videos and screenshots look like an extended DLC of Far Cry 3 rather then a new game. 

- And then there is the general comment that Ubi's games are all just too similar to one another. While stories and characters vary, the tasks and game play are not so different - capture points on an open world as well as repetitive side quests and collectibles that remain the same in multiple titles. Which Tassi says has reached a comedic level with Unity. Take a look at the game map and you'll understand.

To Tassi's credit, he does mention that the issues with Ubisoft are not Ubisoft specific. While they fumbled the female character question, they are not the only developers who are lacking or completely absent in any form of diversity beyond the straight, white, male lead character. Nor are they the first for microtransactions in major video games. *coughsEAcoughs* And review embargoes, Polygon that's a brilliant term - copyright it, are fairly common. Publishers and developers work with the press and give them access to games early to review and release to readers at a designated time. Some may be 1-2 weeks in advance of the game's sales date. Sometimes a month. When it's the day of, or after the game's release, that's when you have to start worrying. Typically reviews drum up extra pre-sales by the boost in appearances the game is making online and in magazines. When a developer requests that reviewers hold back the date of when they can talk about the game, it's a bad sign. Typically it means there is little confidence that the game will do well once reviews are out, and they want to sell what they can. But a game like AssCreed you can't make people wait a full 24 hours after release for a review. It's too big of a title. Even more worrisome is that some magazines are saying Ubisoft had a pretty extreme response regarding Unity reviews- either agree to our demands on no posts until 12 hours after release, or no more Ubisoft games for you. Harsh.

And like some EA games with technical issues (mostly server related), Unity falls into that same boat. Some arguing that the game really hasn't improved on what Ubisoft has promised fans of the franchise and controls being clunky, almost unplayable in some aspects. When your assassin can't properly jump through a window you've got problems. 

What's happening with Ubisoft is commercialization to compete with the likes of EA and Activision, companies that have franchises that produce titles yearly and look for ways to expand revenue. They are no longer like BioWare or SquareEnix who put out a title once every few years. Ubi's consumer base wants more AssCreed and they want it now. They are happy to oblige by cutting down the content and the frame rate if it will help them get it to customer's faster.

That's really what it boils down to: money. Is it ethical to include microtransactions and require downloading and paying for apps just to proceed in a game? I would say no, but if people are willing to do it, Ubisoft will keep obliging.

While the company's negative points are vast for 2014, I still think EA is the bigger villain overall in the scene.

What makes EA stand out as a crappy company is their lack of care for their consumers. See Point 3 in The Consumerist response on why EA won Worst Company for a second year. Ubisoft may be doing what they please, they haven't had the number of customer complaints as EA. I have years of issues with EA, the most recent one being their Origin system having the worse time ever remembering my password if I haven't logged in for a week. And it's damn near impossible to get it reset within a reasonable time. A month ago, it took nearly 2 hours to get a password form e-mailed to me. I made a complaint with their virtual customer service. Their response was apathetic and did nothing to assure me that they would catalog the issue. Truthfully, I wouldn't be on Origin if EA didn't buy up BioWare.

There are 64 million hits on Google for "why people hate EA." There are only 1.2 million for Ubisoft, and a majority of that is the customer experience. Ubisoft may not be everyone's friend right now, they at least listen to their customers and provide them some service, even if it doesn't line up with the consumer's expectations. EA stopped caring and really hasn't picked up on it, no matter how much they have said that they'll try. Service levels are about the same as they always were.

That's the big difference I see between the two companies. Ubisoft is stepping more into EA's territory, it is not on the same level of dislike as the big dog on campus. Not by a long shot.


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