Dear (oh dear) Ubisoft

By: Phil Savage

Published: August 19, 2011 Posted in: PC Gaming Nonsense

Dear Ubisoft,

Let me congratulate you on the release of From Dust. It’s always nice to see a return to the genres that major publishers such as yourself have tended to shy away from, especially if that release can add in some new ideas to keep things fresh. The reviews have been largely positive and it is a game I would love to play.

Unfortunately I won’t be buying it.

Ubisoft - Amanda SeyfriedHere the role of Ubisoft will be played by Amanda Seyfried

Wait! Don’t skulk off in a huff, at least not just yet. I understand you may be tired of the Internet echo-chamber of negativity whenever you decide to do anything these days. Of course a sensible person might suggest that the sheer weight of criticism is a sign that you might not be engaging in the best customer relations but I understand people sometimes have trouble using their inside-voices when complaining. I’m going to try to be nice and calm. I’ve even checked through this letter twice to remove all the unpleasant words.

To begin with I was disappointed to hear that the game’s PC conversion hasn’t seen the care and attention that it – and more importantly your customers – deserve. While taking the time to really consider the differences of the PC as a gaming platform might seem like an unnecessary luxury, it’s actually the bare minimum that’s expected. I’m not saying you need to go crazy. Given the choice between 8x MSAA and 16x CSAA I’ll just sit staring at my monitor making soundless confused O’s with my mouth as my brain hides in the corner of my head to cry. Just give me a basic anti-aliasing choice and I’ll set it to max happy that I made the moving pictures look pretty. The same goes for capping the frame rate at 30fps; more troubling than the technical limitation is the psychological damage of assuming you simply flipped a switch marked “Crap Out PC Port.” (You do have those switches right? That is how game development works?)

Ubisoft - From DustSee how good it looks? *sigh*

Although launching the game with shoddy mouse controls? Now you’re starting to be a little ridiculous, Ubisoft. Have a look at any computer in your various offices. What do you see attached to it? A mouse and keyboard. Having the option to use a gamepad is great, but that really shouldn’t come at the expense of workable controls for the one set-up every PC is guaranteed to have. Especially when the game is of a genre so suited to the native control scheme.

As I say, disappointing. Not necessarily a dealbreaker for me though because as I’m sure you’ve worked out by now I’m a bit of a retard technologically speaking. No, what keeps me from purchasing your game – and you can probably guess before I even type it – is the DRM you have included. Now I’m not going make up some dramatic story about how my Internet is delivered by a traveling merchant who arrives on a donkey drawn cart frequently delayed by storms and bandits. The fact is I am always online. While BT’s rural Internet service does have enough wobbles that I’d never buy any singleplayer game that requires your always-on connection, activating the game at the start of each session wouldn’t be a problem. After all, if my connection drops I’m going to be spending my time fixing it rather than attempting to play a game. Neither am I inconvenienced by not being able to launch it while traveling. I don’t own a laptop, much less one suited for gaming. Basically the only way this requirement would ever inconvenience me is if your activation servers went down – although let’s be honest, that has happened.

But what if constant on-launch activations became the industry’s standard DRM model? Have you ever moved house Ubisoft? I’m guessing not, because you’re a company that I’ve anthropomorphised for the purposes of this rant. I, however, seem to do it every couple of years. Getting an ISP to actually give your house the Internet can be quite the battle. For whatever reason it can take them weeks to turn the valve that allows the Internet to flood into your computer pipes. What games could I play in the meantime?

Ubisoft - DriverOf course this also applies to the upcoming Driver: San Francisco. Although that’s probably not a great tragedy.

That would be a fine and principled reason not to buy From Dust. It’s just not the actual reason why I won’t. The simple fact is that after a while you reach an understanding of what compromises you’ll accept in pursuit of your hobby. That pull between your level of interest in each individual game and the amount of hassle you’re prepared to put up with to play it starts to solidify into some vague guidelines to keep you from feeling like a meaty wallet on legs. I’ll happily put up with all manner of ridiculous shenanigans on installation but if there’s any interference after that point I’m no longer interested.

You’re not the sole company to fall on the wrong side of this policy by any means. I won’t buy any game with activation limits unless there’s a clear method for deactivating that install. Otherwise there’s a chance that at some point in the future I’ll have to phone some customer service helpline, which is easily the lowest item on my list of things I want to do in my leisure time. Similarly your online check is a constant reminder that something could go wrong; that, however unlikely, I could be prevented from enjoying something I’ve paid for. Yes Ubisoft, I said I’d be nice not that I’d be rational. Welcome to people.

I understand you’re worried about piracy, and I’m not about to tell you you’re wrong to be. After all I’m sure you have access to far more figures and statistics than me. What I do know is the relationship between piracy figures and actual lost sales is inaccurate at best. What I also know is that mine is a definite lost sale. And, while I shouldn’t have to point this out, I’m not planning on pirating your game. There are enough other games out there to keep me busy. One of them is called Bastion and was released a day before From Dust at a similar price point. So I guess in the end I should thank you, because I bought that instead and it’s fantastic.

Yours Somethingly,

Phil Savage