With the pre-release of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown started, Ubisoft has chosen this week to rebrand its Ubisoft+ subscription services, and introduce a PC version of the “Classics” tier at a lower price. And a big part of this, says the publisher’s director of subscriptions, Philippe Tremblay, is getting players “comfortable” with not owning their games.
It’s hard to keep up with how often Ubisoft has rebranded its online portals for its games, with Uplay, Ubisoft Game Launcher, Ubisoft Connect, Uplay+, Uplay Passport, Ubisoft Club, and now Ubisoft+ Premium and Ubisoft+ Classics, all names used over the last decade or so. It’s also seemed faintly bewildering why there’s a demand for any of them, given Ubisoft released only five non-mobile games last year.
However, a demand there apparently is, says Tremblay in an interview with GI.biz. He claims the company’s subscription service had its biggest ever month October 2023, and that the service has had “millions” of subscribers, and “over half a billion hours” played. Of course, a lot of this could be a result of Ubisoft’s various moments of refusing to release games to Steam, forcing PC players to use its services, and likely opting for a month’s subscription rather than the full price of the game they were looking to buy. But still, clearly people are opting to use it.
But it remains strange why enough people would want to subscribe—and at $17.99 a month it’s not cheap—to a single publisher’s output. That’s not a diss of Ubisoft’s games—although you might want to apply your own—but something that would be as true were it Activision Blizzard or EA.
You can subscribe to Game Pass, or PlayStation Plus, and get a broad range of hundreds of games from dozens of publishers, or you can pay significantly more to only get the games made by one single publisher, and indeed a publisher with a very distinct style of game. TV networks and movie companies tried this, and those numbers are thinning out fast, with many already compromising by returning their shows to the larger streamers.
What’s more chilling about all this, however, is when Tremblay moves on to how Ubisoft wishes to see a “consumer shift,” similar to that of the market for CDs and DVDs, where people have moved over to Spotify and Netflix, instead of buying physical media to keep on their own shelves. Given that most people, while being a part of the problem (hello), also think of this as a problem, it’s so weird to see it phrased as if some faulty thinking in the company’s audience.
One of the things we saw is that gamers are used to, a little bit like DVD, having and owning their games. That’s the consumer shift that needs to happen. They got comfortable not owning their CD collection or DVD collection. That’s a transformation that’s been a bit slower to happen [in games]. As gamers grow comfortable in that aspect… you don’t lose your progress. If you resume your game at another time, your progress file is still there. That’s not been deleted. You don’t lose what you’ve built in the game or your engagement with the game. So it’s about feeling comfortable with not owning your game.
Tremblay goes on to say to GI.biz, “But as people embrace that model, they will see that these games will exist, the service will continue, and you’ll be able to access them when you feel like.” But…we know that isn’t true! We know how often services don’t continue, how many games are no longer available.
One of my all-time favorite games was published by Ubisoft in 2003, called In Memorium (Missing: Since January in the U.S.), and that’s certainly not on its Classics range, I’m sure because the company long ago lost any rights to it. Luckily for me, I own a physical copy of it. But any number of other Ubisoft games from the early ‘00s I stick in its Classics site have no results. There’s no reason on Earth to think the same won’t be true of Ubisoft’s current games in 20 years.
There are still plans for Ubisoft to add streaming access to Activision Blizzard’s games to Ubisoft+, as bizarre as that may seem given the publisher’s recent acquisition by Microsoft. It’ll also seem fairly redundant, given all the games will come to the far more ubiquitous Game Pass, where they won’t be behind the technical hurdle of streaming. And indeed Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is already available to play via the Epic Games Store if you pre-ordered it there.
If, for whatever reason, you just adore Ubisoft’s output, then yes—for $17.99 a month you can play Skull & Bones, Avatar, Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Anno 1800, and The Crew: Motorfest right now, which is a lot cheaper than buying them all individually. But you won’t own any of them, and you’ll need to keep paying that 18 bucks a month in perpetuity if you want to keep them, right up until you can’t any more.