By Alec Meer on January 24th, 2014 at 2:00 pm.
Update: this was resolved a day later, after four days of the block. Ubisoft told me Monday that ““We looked into this with BT Infinity and were able to solve the problem. BT Infinity customers should now be able to connect to Ubisoft’s games and services as usual.”
If you were wondering why there’s been no Wot I Thinkery of the recently-released Might & Magic X: Legacy on this here website, it’s because Games For Windows Live’s heir apparent Uplay, Ubisoft’s proprietary download store, DRM and online infrastructure, has been preventing me from logging in and playing the game. I am not alone in this – it appears anyone using major UK ISP BT Infinity to provide their broadband is blocked from accessing Uplay, and even many Ubisoft websites. This means any game which requires Uplay (including a raft of recent Assassin’s Creeds, Far Cries, Tom Clancies and more) can’t be played. Some of those affected have enjoyed the makeshift mercy of Uplay’s offline mode; I and many others have not.
Trawling through grumble-filled support forums reveals that Ubisoft have blamed BT (though subsequently deleted the tweet in which they did so), BT have blamed Ubisoft, no-one really knows what’s going on and a fix could be any amount of time in arriving.
This may be something amiss/paranoid in Uplay, it may be a wider routing issue, or it may be BT’s notorious and over-reaching porn filter turning up yet another false positive. A definitive answer will arrive at some point, but it’s hard to believe it’ll be a strong enough reason for a problem first reported on Wednesday to still be continuing now – especially as it’s been an issue in the past too. It’s stopping people from playing the games they’ve paid for, and resolving it should be an utmost priority with the relevant people at both firms. It also highlights how unnecessary and disruptive Uplay as a whole is in its present form.
While the worst of Ubisoft’s horror-DRM is thankfully in the past, the vast majority of their PC games – even if bought and installed from a third-party service such as Steam – require the subsequent installation and initial online registration via their Uplay service. To play Might & Magic X, or another recent Ubi game such as Assassin’s Creed IV, I have to login to Steam, then into Uplay, which invariably needs to very… slowly… update itself first. This is presuming my ISP isn’t blocking it, or vice-versa. There’s also the issue of Uplay’s oft-unreliable savegame management. I’ve lost hours of progress in AC4 and M&MX thanks to its wobbly cloud saving.
This isn’t an angry post, though it might have some of the hallmarks. It’s more sad resignation about how often the mainstream videogames’ industry shoots itself in the foot from fear or greed. There’s too much of this sort of thing, and there doesn’t need to be. Uplay exists because its owner wants to control information and maximise revenues from DLC, as well as seeking to challenge Steam’s download monopoly. It doesn’t exist to improve the lives of any of its users, at least not yet.
Like GFWL before it, this is a utility that, in my extensive experience of it, in its current form provides precisely zero concrete benefit to game-players and seems to exist only for the financial and data-harvesting benefit of the publisher. It is simply a hoop to jump through in order play a videogame that one has purchased. For the last three days, it’s been a complete impasse to doing that. Even when it works as intended, it’s a pointless piece of time-wasting for consumers, which should be retired and excised from all games that require it, though clearly that isn’t going to happen any time soon. I can only hope that its owners eventually take something from the fact that it has only ever generated negative headlines, not positive ones.
I’ve now been able to use a VPN service to trick Uplay into thinking I’m on a different ISP and finally have access to Might & Magic X, but this is not something everyone with BT Infinity, the UK’s most pervasive fibreoptic broadband, and who buys a Ubisoft game should have to do – especially as it also risks violating T&Cs. If you feel comfortable taking that risk, I can recommend the free version of Hotspot Shield VPN as a relatively simple way of getting past the BT/Uplay impasse. Without using that, this is what I experience – notice that the message simply blames my web connection rather than telling me anything about what’s actually going on. Also, please excuse the giant image of the lower half of my daughter’s face in the background.
(Please note also that offline mode wouldn’t work either, claiming I needed to have logged in at least once previously. I had logged in at least two dozen times previously).
I have requested a statement from Ubisoft on this matter and will update this post if and when it arrives. In the meantime, the major comments on the matter from Uplay support are this, in response to users questioning why the tweet blaming BT was deleted:
“Finger pointing was never our intention. We’re working to resolve this issue for all our customers who are affected, and the person or people who caused the issue is less important than identifying the root cause and getting everyone back playing the games they want to. If we receive more information that is relevant to helping you all gain access to your games, we will let you know.”
And this, in response to why there’d still been no fix some three days on (and counting):
“Identifying the root cause of the issue and resolving it is the key short term goal. Once that is done, the cause of the issue (be it something on BT Infinity’s side or Ubisoft’s side) can be addressed and hopefully safeguards can be put in place to stop it happening again in the future. If the issue is on Ubisoft’s side, then we will of course do all we can to stop it from happening again in the future. If the root of the issue lies with BT Infinity, then there are limits on what we can do to stop future occurrences of the issue, but we will work to identify the options available to us.
We fully understand that losing access to your games, especially through no fault of your own, is no fun, and our support team is working to get you access to your games again.”
Work faster? Yeah, I know it’s never that simple, especially with BT in the picture – I’ve had some hellish experiences with them in the past, to the point that I can’t receive incoming calls on my landline even after three three-hour support calls, having lost the will to attempt a fourth. But even so, this sort of thing (together with my recent experiences of it randomly rolling back or deleting cloud saves in Assassin’s Creed IV, together with assorted server fails for other games, together with security breaches) is exactly why Uplay needs to be rethought from the ground up, or better yet killed off entirely, if it is to escape being thought of as another Games For Windows Live.
I take no issue with Ubisoft or anyone else having their own download store – a free market might be confusing and not much fun for our PC’s overloaded taskbars, but it’s certainly preferable to an unchallenged monopoly. The problem arises when it demands to be unsympathetic gatekeeper of existing purchases in addition to the checks of Steam et al. Doubly so when it’s as unreliable a gatekeeper as it long has been. Triply so when it undermines the experience of playing some really great Ubisoft games.
As for Might & Magic X – well, I’ll try to find the time, but the days I’d put aside to play it were lost to what was then an undiagnosed problem, and other things are now knocking at my door. Additionally, when I was finally able to get back into the game, I discovered that my savegames had been characteristically eradicated by Uplay.