By Nathan Grayson on August 17th, 2012 at 10:00 am.
The digital distribution plot thickens. In the beginning, there was Steam, and it was… not great. But it slowly trended upward in its tiny virtual vacuum until it expanded into the empire we all know and mostly love today. And people noticed. So along came Origin, with its EA stamp of approval and not much else – though slow progress has seen it take a few steps in the right direction. And now, surprisingly but also not surprisingly at all, Ubisoft’s clambering into the ring alongside those two heavyweights with an extensive relaunch/rebrand of its Ubistore as Uplay PC. Though the Assassin’s Creed publisher probably should’ve picked a different name while they were at it, given the negative assocations UPlay could be said to have for some folk.
As for the actual purpose of the relaunched service, the idea is to tie all of Ubisoft’s PC games together via social features, achievements, a storefront, avatars, and other typical distribution platform fare. It’ll also apparently bridge platforms, so PC, mobile, Facebook, and console will be connected in some capacity. Here’s the gist, straight from Ubisoft:
“Uplay, Ubisoft’s online services and distribution platform, now has more than 35 million members and is available across Ubisoft games and across platforms. Uplay PC replaces individual game launchers and lets gamers access all their Uplay-enabled PC games and Uplay services in the same place. Uplay PC also includes new features, including an integrated shop, the direct purchase and download of games, a friends list and chat system that add value to PC players’ experience.”
So, right then. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the fact that Uplay is also a rather miserable DRM system that recently opened its doors to all sorts of malicious hacker types (a problem which has since been remedied, thankfully) and discuss what this new Uplay PC actually entails. Disappointingly, it’s made roughly the same opening gambit as Origin – that is to say, it’s basically empty, bereft of standout features, and not particularly well organized. For now, only Ubisoft games are available, and even then, only more recent ones (F2P, thankfully, included). Ubisoft mentions, however, that it’s hoping to expose players to “classics,” so here’s hoping that changes with time.
Organization, meanwhile, is kind of a mess. For one, the store hardly provides any information – only offering a handful of genres and three brand umbrellas to search under, and not even bothering to display prices on the frontpage. Also, some of those genre searches don’t even work properly. For instance, I looked under “Strategy/RTS” and found one game: Settlers 7. However, the frontpage also displayed ads for From Dust and Heroes of Might and Magic VI – the former of which was designated “Action/Adventure” for some reason while the latter was tagged correctly but simply didn’t show up in the search. Everything else seems functional, but only just.
If nothing else, a decently organized link between in-game Uplay points and corresponding rewards could be kind of neat. There are listings for each game’s respective challenges and what you can unlock by completing them – though new outfits and minor upgrades seem to be about the full extent of it. Meanwhile, Ubisoft’s taking gigantic scissors to its store’s “under construction” tape with a series of very enticing $1 sales. Driver: San Francisco on Sunday looks especially nice – with HAWX 2, From Dust, and Silent Hunter 5 registering as slightly quieter blips on the radar.
All told, though, there doesn’t seem to be much here yet. And honestly – given Ubisoft’s spat of recent gaffes, arbitrary delays, amazing inability to communicate frankly and directly with its consumers even in times of potential hacking, and dogged love of closed, obnoxious proprietary systems – I’d probably be hesitant to commit to this service even if it had a bit more going for it. There is, however, plenty of room to grow, and who really knows what the future holds? If nothing else, Ubisoft’s paying attention to PC gamers. Maybe in time, it’ll learn what actually makes us tick.