Here’s Why Ubisoft Are Dummies And Hypocrites For Revoking uPlay Keys Bought From Unauthorised Distributors
Update: Ubisoft have subsequently restored access to these games. So they got a PR black eye, and not much else out of this. In more positive news, they have published a fairly comprehensive list of authorised retailers.
It would appear that users of the Ubisoft official forums have found certain games revoked from their uPlay accounts, without warning or explanation, resulting in them no longer being able to play them. The best theory suggests that these keys were purchased from unauthorised retailers, since this is something all users claim to have in common, but without any statement from Ubisoft to confirm or deny this, this is only speculation. I’ve ascended the control tower to try to get some perspective on what’s going on, and see if I can get a reading of the lay of the land.
I’ve covered the subject of serial key resellers on SavyGamer previously, and you can read my thoughts on the broader implications of retailers selling on serial keys without permission from the publisher here. In short, I am of the opinion that attaching unenforceable terms and conditions preventing resale of a serial keys does not trump an individual’s or an organisation’s right to do as they please with their property.
Specifically with regards to Ubisoft and these recent instances of games being revoked without any communication, I find it somewhat troublesome.
I highly doubt any of the people on the receiving end of Ubisoft’s ban hammer of justice actively sought out keys involved in fraudulent activity. Far more likely to me is that these people were opting to buy Ubisoft games in good faith, and simply sought out the retailer offering the best price at the time.
Nowhere do Ubisoft have a comprehensive list of authorised retailers. How exactly are customers supposed to know which retailers are authorised by Ubisoft when they have chosen not to display this information anywhere? I’ve spent 8 years of my life scouring the internet for deals on games, pitting different retailers against each other, and I am intimately familiar with the majority of websites that you can buy games from. I could not off the top of my head reel out a comprehensive list of retailers that I think are authorised, and it takes some time and effort to discern whether a retailer is authorised or not, if indeed I can tell. The rule of “If something looks to good to be true, it probably is” is a good rule of thumb, but aggressive discounts are in no way exclusive to unauthorised retailers, there are plenty of authorised retailers who engage in promotional pricing.
Beyond failing to inform customers of which retailers they do authorise, Ubisoft contribute to muddying the water in other manners.
Many unauthorised retailers engage with youtubers and streamers in order to drum up business, typically with affiliate arrangements (Disclosure: much like the affiliate arrangements which fund SavyGamer). Ubisoft also grant these same youtubers and streamers permission to monetize their videos (aka surround them with paid advertising). There are terms and conditions attached to the permission to monetize, which can be viewed here. There is no rule forbidding affiliation with unauthorised distributors. Surely if Ubisoft want to avoid customers being directed towards unauthorised distributors en masse, they should make monetization permission contingent on agreeing to only direct customers towards authorised retailers. From a reasonable consumer’s perspective, you might look up a video for a Ubisoft game you are interested in, see that they have been granted permission from Ubisoft to make these videos, and then simply click on the link provided to purchase the game.
Ubisoft have also repeatedly engaged with everyone’s favourite screeching youtube personality, PewDiePie. Here is a Ubisoft community manager sharing a video of his in order to help promote their game. Here is the official Ubisoft twitter account telling pewdiepie that he is awesome. Here is Ubisoft congratulating him and sending him some swag for having reached 30 million youtube subscribers.
PewDiePie is also the face of G2A.com, one of the bigger unauthorised retailers, and indeed one of the retailers that people experiencing games being revoked are stating they bought their key from. Here is an image taken from a promotion campaign he did for them. Here is a recent post he put out on his facebook page promoting them. On the page here, he is front and centre in their lineup advertising their affiliate scheme.
What’s it to be Ubisoft? Are we expected to trust PewDiePie when he is showing off your games, but not to trust him when he tells us where to buy them? If these retailers are conducting fraudulent activity, why on earth are you engaging with someone who promotes them to a massive audience? Why are you granting him monetization permission? It’s entirely feasible that someone could discover PewDiePie via official Ubisoft marketing channels, and then discover G2A.com via PewDiePie. It seems to me that there is an element of hypocrisy in Ubisoft’s actions. They want coverage from PewDiePie and other youtubers and streamers, but aren’t bothering to check whether they are directing customers to unauthorised retailers, nor to deny monetization permission if they are.
The timing of these keys being revoked is somewhat suspicious to me. Since their big Q3 2014 releases dropped, Ubisoft have increased the prices of their PC releases, up to an eye watering £50 at release in the UK. They continue to engage in regional pricing discrimination, that is charging different prices for the same product in different regions, seeking to maximise revenue. Of course customers are going to look elsewhere for better deals when you decide to start charging £50 for PC games. Unauthorised retailers have been around for a very long time, but this is the first time I am aware of Ubisoft taking any action against customers who have used them. Revoking these keys doesn’t get Ubisoft any extra revenue directly, but it does send a message discouraging customers from shopping around for the best deal.
It would seem to me that Ubisoft have chosen to take the extreme measure of revoking keys from customers bought in good faith, before having taken even rudimentary measures to allow customers to inform themselves about which retailers are authorised and which are not. If Ubisoft’s reasoning for revoking these keys is that they were somehow fraudulently acquired by the retailers in question, I am of the opinion that best practice would be to communicate this with customers, and to indeed present some evidence of this. There is currently no discernible difference between Ubisoft revoking these keys in relation to fraudulent activity, and Ubisoft simply deciding on a whim to fuck with their customers.
My perspective on linking to unauthorised retailers on SavyGamer is unchanged. I can provide no guarantee that access to a game bought from a given retailer won’t be revoked, but this is true whether the retailer has Ubisoft’s authorisation or not. Whilst all the keys that have been revoked were bought from unauthorised retailers, it is not the case that all keys bought from unauthorised retailers have been revoked. To my great disappointment, my copy of Watch Dogs bought from an unauthorised retailer has not been removed from my account. Regardless of the motives, or the eventual outcome, this is a stark reminder that due to many games increased reliance on online components, the concept of “ownership” of a game you have paid money for has been gradually eroded.
No doubt Ubisoft are within their rights to revoke these keys. Presumably the terms and conditions uPlay users agree to upon creating an account entitle Ubisoft to revoke keys as and when they please. I would, however, suggest that to an extent this is a problem of their own creation, and their handling of this situation reflects on them poorly.
I would advocate that any customers who have had their key(s) revoked respond by pirating the game, and then reconsider whether you want to buy Ubisoft games again in the future. I would also suggest that anyone who doesn’t like the idea of a digital distribution service where games can be revoked with no notice, no explanation, and no scope for recourse, avoid uPlay.