REDUX: Playerbase Desynchronized

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The big April update for The Division has added a lot of content to the game, but has caused just as many problems. People are reporting that the Dark Zone is an absolute nightmare for the average player, the high end gear most players thought would be dropping regularly is scarcer than a dodo riding a unicorn, and some players on XBox One (the flagship console for the game) have had their characters wiped entirely. People have been understandably upset with Ubisoft and Massive in the wake of this and both are working damage control heavily. All this brings to mind the hype and release of Assassin's Creed Unity. Wiped that one from your memory? Don't worry, we'll help you remember.

I'd like to take some time to talk about Ubisoft. Specifically, I'd like to address some of the numerous issues the developer/publisher has had in recent years. Most of us remember the nightmare of Assassin's Creed Unity and their string of PR nightmare scenarios following its release, or their terrible excuses for not including female characters. These issues have become so synonymous with Ubisoft that their latest announcement was preceded by a three minute video featuring members of the AC dev team talking about Unity and what they've learned from it. That's well and good, but it doesn't begin to address the real issues at Ubisoft. Follow me.

I'm a long time fan of Ubisoft's games. I'm no late comer either, I've been playing their games sine Rayman in '95. I've been routinely impressed by the Far Cry series, notably Far Cry 2. I really like the Assassin's Creed series and the stories they tell within them. The games released using the UbiArt framework like Child of LightValiant Hearts and Rayman Legends are nothing short of spectacular. That said, I can't pretend that everything within their walls is fine and dandy.

This should serve as a reminder of the quality of game Ubisoft is capable of.

Recently, while playing Far Cry 4 with a good friend of mine, we encountered a peculiar issue. My friend had purchased the game digitally while I had the disc. I loaded everything without issue, but when he tried to start his game, he was greeted with an error saying that he didn't own the title. We looked through the XBox Live store only to find Far Cry 4 completely absent. The game had disappeared from the Xbox Live store entirely.

In our troubleshooting we found that we weren't the only ones subject to the oddity. In fact, the same thing had happened in January. The only response given by Ubisoft in January was this:
"On Monday, some users were unable to access their digitally purchased base edition of ‘Far Cry 4.’ Our team has resolved the issue and all access to the title has been restored. If customers own the rights to a game, they can visit their download history and initiate a re-download whenever they please – even if the game has been delisted from Xbox Store and is no longer available for purchase." 
No explanation of how the issue occurred or how it was fixed; just a half-hearted comment about probably fixing an issue and a suggested workaround with no indication of its effectiveness. The recurrence last week was not reported on nor addressed by Ubisoft. It was fixed, presumably in the same ambiguous manner as the first instance.

 Now look again at that video linked before the break. There is a lot of talk about Unity, but very little of it seriously addresses the game breaking problems it still struggles with. The first half is a heavily edited series of excuses and passive-aggressive, non-committal lines meant to deflect and diminish the problems with their last major release in the AC series. I think my favorite quote is "I do feel for the fans that somehow felt like this didn't meet their expectations." Did you catch that "somehow," in there?

Yes, somehow, players felt that falling into the sky and through the ground, getting stuck in objects and scenery, and disembodied chattering teeth and eyes didn't quite reach their level of expectation. Through the whole of that video, it is hard not to see how uncomfortable the featured devs are. There's an obvious elephant in the room. Any sensible person can tell you where Unity went wrong, there is no "post-mortem" required. It was yet another game pushed out the door to meet a sales-driven release date.

Unless we see some serious reorganization at Ubisoft, I fear we are all in for more of this.

Some people seem to believe that Ubisoft had some serious breakdown in their QA department and just didn't catch the issues at all. Having played the buggy game at length, I can confidently say that there is no way that these things were not seen or reported. I'm sure that the team was well aware of them and was actively working to fix them. However, as the holiday season approached, the QA was stopped, and the game was sent out into the world before it was ready. Not by the team that worked on it for four years, not the people you see in that video but, I suspect, by the marketing and executive teams who feared another delay would cost them precious holiday sales.

I want to be excited for Ubisoft games in the future. I know the company is capable of releasing quality material. I'm hopeful that things will get better, but I'm under no delusions about the source of Ubisoft's woes. As long as people continue to focus their anger and chagrin at the faceless entity of Ubisoft or at the developers, the real culprits will go unnoticed and unscathed. Be angry, demand better by all means but make sure you're talking to the right people.