Here’s Why Ubisoft Are Dummies And Hypocrites For Revoking uPlay Keys Bought From Unauthorised Distributors

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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.

36 Comments Leave yours

  1. Optimaximal #

    This all rolls around to the simple question that keeps getting asked, answered and then forgotten…

    “Why do people keep giving Ubisoft money?”

    • Peter #

      Because despite the parent company being a massive turd, the studios under Ubisoft genuinely make brilliant games that people want to play. Pan Ubi all you want, Rainbow Six, AC and Far Cry are amazing, and that’s not all that comes out of the ubi studios so sadly we have to keep giving them money because their games rule. Just like every MMO fan eventually returns to the clutches of WoW and Blizzard, even just for a month. They’re money grubbing scumbags and we know it, but we just can’t resist.

  2. joobleblob #

    Looks like the only way to play ubisoft games with any confidence that you’ll be allowed to continue is to buy it on uplay or to pirate it.

  3. Thomas #

    Excuse me if this question is stupid, but I don’t get this whole “unathorized reseller” thing.
    Those Keys they’re selling are legit keys the surely must have obtained legally from the publisher, no? If so, why doesn’t the Publisher stop selling those Keys?

    • Thomas #

      Oh nevermind. I just read your previous article about resellers, the topic isn’t as simpüle as I thought it to be

    • Lewie Procter #

      In this context, unauthorised simply means that they do not have permission directly from the publisher to sell these games. I am not a legal expert, but it is my understanding that retailers do not require permission from a publisher in order to sell their games. I discuss this topic more broadly in this article http://savygamer.co.uk/2014/03/29/on-serial-resellers-and-savygamers-role-in-their-use/

      With no explanation from Ubisoft as to why they are revoking these keys, any reasoning behind the decision would be purely speculation.

  4. Daz #

    I would say that this is another example of Ubisoft cutting there nose off to spite their face. There is already quite a bit of negativity surrounding U-play and news like this only makes matters worse. I for one didn’t buy any of Ubisoft Q4 releases and would now think twice about buying any future releases, knowing that the rights could be revoked without notification or reason.

    Unfortunately the ONLY way the consumer has any power is with their wallet and a quick glance at Decembers chart track shows Far Cry in the high top 10 for most of the month, with Assassin’s Creed just behind it . Obviously the greater gaming public don’t care or aren’t aware of these issues. Which means it won’t change.

    On the other side I stumbled across the issue between G2A and Devolver Digital from last year. As of writing BOTH Devolver and Ubisoft titles are still freely available and in fact Ubi titles are being promoted on the homepage. I have worked in both traditional retail and digital distribution in past lives. Rule number 1 is whenever there is a problem the first thing you would do is pull the title from sale. That to me suggsts they aren’t the most ethical of companies so buyer beware!

  5. Paul #

    It’s not just theory; I bought my key from cjs-cdkeys.com and it was banned at some point on Friday. Knowing CJS are unlikely to action anything without some proof I contacted Ubisoft support. This is the response I received:

    Subject:
    [Activation] Revoked / G2A [Ubisoft Support Ticket: xxxxxxxx]

    Body:
    Stewart @Ubisoft Support 25/01/2015 @ xx:xx
    I’m sorry but unfortunately the retailer you bought the key from is not on our list of approved retailers, we do not either sell or promote retailers to sell games and keys separately. I recommend you return to the point of purchase to address this issue with them.

    Please either use a printout or the reference number: “xxxxxxxx” in your communication with the retailer.

    Apologies for the inconvenience caused

    Notice their reference to G2A in the subject, this is despite my informing them that the key was purchased from CJS. I have asked them to provide a list of “authorised retailers” as searching with Google and on Ubishaft (sic) site returns zero results for such a list.

    • Lewie Procter #

      Ha! So they do have a list of authorised retailers, they are just choosing not to share it with customers.

    • holdez #

      Same thing happened to me mate took me over a week for them to even reply back to me i ended up getting my money back because thankfully i used paypal

  6. Matt #

    To be on the safe side, maybe you should slightly change your words – currently you are actively encouraging piracy, at least to me it reads this way.

    No matter if you (and we) like Ubi’s actions, I’d say this is not the way to go.
    Possibly even Ubi might be able to sue you for this – this site has quite a few visitors, and telling them to pirate the game if it’s too expensive sounds like incitement.

    • Sparky #

      While I wish not to speak on Lewie’s behalf and I don’t doubt his capability for standing by his own statement (assuming that it is in fact unedited)…… this clearly reads to me that one would support piracy solely in these extreme and mostly unheard of circumstances, even if it’s just a simple “good for you, mate”.

      The choice of his wording suggest a hypothetical situation whereby one feels Ubisoft would probably be getting what they deserve for their actions, even if the people affected by Ubisoft’s actions were not by a technicality Ubisoft’s customers, afterall they may never have even realised until now. If someone wanted to actively support and promote piracy they could easily broadcast URL’s where free keys were available – as is certainly not the case here.

      Also, it’s his business to garner interest in the selling of games. So there’s that.

      Personally I think it wrong to advocate piracy, but this pales in comparison to my opinion on Ubisoft as a company. As someone who buys video games I am happy to carry on using Savygamer, as well as G2A, yet I completely refuse to use Uplay for any reason whatsoever.

    • CraigLR #

      Indeed. This site does generate revenue and It could be construed as a professional rather than personal statement. I totally agree with this article. However, a better suggestion would be to not suggest “pirating”. Rather people should take steps to acquire the games by other means. :)

  7. Kearneybobs #

    Lewie, would you consider refraining from posting any more deals concerning Ubisoft? Whether it be one of their games or a game on their Uplay platform? Not a fan of the boycott mentality but it could go a ways to doing right by your userbase?

    Completely understandable if you feel you wouldn’t/couldn’t do that since you’re just one of the middlemen. The onus isn’t on you to ensure the deals you link to are from ‘authorised sellers’, unless you want it to be.

    • Lewie Procter #

      I wouldn’t stop posting deals from any given publisher for these kind of actions.

      If people are going to continue to buy Ubisoft games (or indeed games from any publisher who’s actions I disapprove of) I want them to do so at the lowest price possible.

  8. Flynnious #

    This is amazing!

    “We really dropped the ball with AC: Unity. How can we get our customers back on side?”
    “Let’s remove games from their libraries that they didn’t buy from our secret list of approved suppliers, even though they didn’t know that what they were buying wasn’t legitimate in our eyes.”
    “Great plan! Shall we tell them why we’re removing those games?”
    “Nah!”

  9. Really good article!

    I am a lawyer working I’m IP & Tech and I’m equally troubled by this approach. In the EU Ubisoft have to comply with the applicable consumer regulations as well as the wider EU competition rules.

    Selective (or exclusive) distribution agreements are fairly common. These arrangements allow a manufacturer to set up a network of businesses who will be supplied with the products to the exclusion of other companies. It’s slightly more nuanced than this but generally speaking this is how they work.

    The terms of these agreements usually prohibit authorised retailers selling goods to unauthorised retailers. However, essentially terminating a consumer’s licence to play a game on the basis that they unwittingly purchased it from an unauthorised retailer is fairly questionable practice.

  10. Ron #

    Hear hear. ,,,,,,,,,,spread the word. Ubisoft wants to play dangerous games with their paying customers.

  11. its a me #

    Im glad the quality of their games is so poor that i dont want to play any of them, let alone buy any.

  12. Thus ends UBISOFT as a competitor in the PC market.

  13. Scott #

    Ubisoft are utterly dreadful, easily the worse company around at present. No respect for their paying customers and they treat people like utter imbeciles.

    I regret buying _Watchdogs and I sure as hell won’t be buying The Division or any other future product from Ubisoft unless they drastically change their attitude towards people.

    p.s uPlay is trash, nothing but a terrible Steam/Origin impersonation with old fashioned DRM (that doesn’t even work)

  14. foo #

    Not the first time keys from key stores get banned. If you’re desperate for cheapest possible, you can’t be surprised when shit happens.

    • RiptoR #

      Yes, but normally when this happens, the affected customers are notified as to why the key was revoked. For example, the Sniper Elite 3 keys that got revoked were apparently stolen, and the publisher issued a statement about it.

      But here, Ubi isn’t even saying anything about why the keys are being banned.

  15. fish998 #

    How many keys are we talking about here? If its just a handful, and they were from G2A (which is basically the ebay of cd-keys, i.e the keys could be from anywhere) then it could just be where Ubisoft has found the keys were bought with stolen credit cards, in which case fair enough. If it’s thousand though across a range of resellers, that’s a different issue.

    Personally I don’t use sites like those, or anything needing a VPN. The most ‘dodgy’ place I use is simply-cdkeys.

  16. RiptoR #

    Had the same thing happen to my Far Cry 4 key (purchased from Kinguin). I had just finished the campaign last week, and saturday I decided to boot the game to try coop/multiplayer portion of the game.

    I start the game, and I’m greeted with a window asking to enter my key. Nowhere did it say my key had been revoked, just a window asking for a key. So I dig up my key, enter it, and only then did it show that the key had been banned. But as stated in the article, no reason whatsoever as to why it was banned.

    I was able to get a full refund within 2 hours of contacting Kinguin support (in store credits, but still better than nothing). So seeing as I finished the game and was about to uninstall it anyway, I’m not too mad about the whole fiasco. I got to finish the game without paying a cent for it AND without pirating.

    I do know however that I will stay away from anything related to UbiSoft in the future. While there are some Ubi games that I’m interested in coming out this year, I simply don’t want to bother with all the crap surrounding them.

    A while back I had problems with my Deluxe key for Trials Fusion not unlocking the promised content, and I bought the game from authorised retailer Amazon (took over a month to sort out, with Ubi blaming Amazon, and vice versa). Combined with this fiasco, I’m done with UbiSoft.

    PS: Fun note: If Ubi revokes your game key, you cannot uninstall the game the normal way (with the bundled uninstall tool). If you click on uninstall, it opens Uplay and asks to enter a key first. So they want you to pay again just for the privilege of uninstalling a game…

  17. I don’t like this stance from SavyGamer.

    Ubisoft is clearly aware these keys are from resellers. The customer service messages from them state as much. For them to know this means that it’s one massive batch of keys that were resold – they couldn’t possibly track individual people buying an individual key and reselling it there.

    The keys may have come from credit card fraud, promotional scams, a diverted shipment of Russian game boxes, money laundering, or one guy buying up thousands of keys in one place and reselling them. In my opinion there’s nothing savy about supporting any of those practices, regardless of your thoughts about regional pricing.

    Ubi has to revoke keys to make you claim your money back from the seller, because otherwise why would you stop buying from them? The seller has your money, you have a cd key, and Ubi is out of pocket for both the game itself, and the original purchase amount. Even if you hate Ubi, this is clearly not sustainable.

    It’s true that Ubi hasn’t specifically said the keys were purchased with stolen cards. But they have said the keys were fraudulently obtained, and the kneejerk “Ubi just wants more profit” reactions are appalling. In four of the five example situations I listed, Ubi isn’t cheating their customers because you are not their customer. They haven’t ended up with any of your money at any point in the transaction, therefore they don’t owe you anything. Suggesting pirating the game out of anger, after getting your money back… man, that’s not taking the consumer’s side, it’s just spiteful.

    Even if the issue is literally just that they don’t want unofficial resellers selling their products, it’s clear that what’s been resold is a batch of keys that wasn’t intended for G2A. Perhaps a better question would be “what is G2A doing that means they can’t become an official reseller?”

    Also, I’d bet that the moment a company tried to add a clause saying a YouTuber couldn’t associate with one of his biggest sponsors, people would be outraged. How can you even suggest something like that at the same time as demanding more transparency from Ubi?

    I know – SavyG is affiliated with G2A and it’s in your interests to ignore all that stuff since they’re paying you for sales. But I don’t want to support a site where the goal is to promote sales to the point of complete blindness to anything other than the price to the end user. Yes, Ubi should notify users if a game is revoked, but let’s face it, the SavyG article isn’t really about that, and if it is, it’s a huge overreaction.

    • Lewie Procter #

      What customer service message? Ubisoft have not alerted people before or after revoking these games.

      If Ubisoft are to claim that these keys were fraudulently acquired, perhaps they should also present some evidence to back up these claims.

      My point regarding youtubers is not to say that they should deny monetization permission to people promoting unauthorised retailers, simply that if they do grant this permission, they should accept the reality that people will then use these unauthorised retailers, and so Ubisoft should take the hit. Currently, they are trying to have it both ways.

      As I disclosed in the article, I do have an affiliate arrangement with G2A, as I do with any retailer who offers me affiliate arrangements. I have no incentive to promote G2A over any other retailer, I make a percentage whether I direct customers to buy from G2A or another retailer. I always link to the cheapest retailer, and I have never given any retailer preferential treatment just because I get a cut from sales. It is worth far more to me for people to implicitly trust me to direct them to the best price that it would be for me to give any retailer preferential treatment, and thus (rightly) lose the trust of my users.

      • Wes #

        Here you go.

        http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2015/01/27/ubisoft-says-deactivated-far-cry-keys-purchased-with-stolen-credit-card.aspx

        Will you really continue to recommend people buy from these shady sellers?

        • Lewie Procter #

          Strange that neither Ubisoft nor EA have presented any evidence whatsoever to back up their claims, nor made any mention of involving law enforcement, or indeed taking legal action against the alleged perpetrators.

        • Loop a hole... #

          My future predicting sphere says that this probably has to do with the Origin India store loophole that allowed users to purchase Uplay keys ridicusly cheap of Far Cry 4 / AC Unity Full of Bugs Edition. If this is the case then they have no right to revoke the keys. There is no fraud there just something that the big publishers don’t like.

          If they don’t like it then they just need to close those holes. It’s their job to do so. We are not talking about stealing here, we are talking about bending the system to your will and taking advantage of lower prices but through an official channel. These people may bought the games cheaper than Europe but they still payed for it and have a receipt saying so. I agree it’s grey area and the law needs to catch up but the end user shouldn’t be punished like this and as of now consumer rights in EU are above EULAs. There are ways to block an (out of region) purchase with the best of it being requiring a credit card issued by a local bank or a verified local address by Paypal.

          Now if we are talking about actual thievery, meaning stolen cards and all, both Ubisoft and EA should give the offending customers proof of why their keys were revoked, who is the original buyer and how he did it.

  18. Peter #

    Might I just say in light of Ubi’s recent decision to once again be massive A-holes and punish paying customers for paying for their games AGAIN , might I just say – “Yeargh!”? Ubi are promoting piracy by doing things like this. I buy my games, but I can’t rightly dispute peoples’ decision to pirate the single player in a game if they’ve no interest in the multiplayer and paying for it results in this. This is utterly disgusting on the part of Ubisoft, not even a notification to the customer before revoking their game? Companies like this don’t DESERVE the money, not that Ubisoft doesn’t have the pennies in their coffers to withstand a bit of piracy.

  19. jonno #

    G2A have got an amazing sale on now, Shadows of Mordor for 9.76 (how has SG missed this?) but I’m reluctant to purchase from there now that publishers have revoked keys.

  20. bertieb #

    Hey Lewie, I know I’m coming to the conversation late, but I appreciate your hard work in posting deals and value your integrity so thought I’d leave my thoughts.

    I’m on board with most of your article, but I’m not sure about the last bit:

    >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 can see the logic – I assume – in that these people have paid for a game which they have lost access to without reason, and should have access to it. If no reason is ever given, losing access like that may well be tantamount to theft- just as much as Oobi themselves would claim piracy is theft. So it’s less ‘piracy’ than it is ‘restoring access to something they already made a bona fide payment for’.

    However, it doesn’t really seem to be the best recourse in my opinion. If no explanation from Oobi is forthcoming, those affected should where possible claim money back from credit card companies, Paypal, or what have you; as well as forwarding info to applicable local consumer rights organisations. I’m not well-versed on the applicable rights myself – if access to a game is through a publisher, should a retailer be responsible for that? – but I would hope that Oobi wouldn’t be completely off the hook for seemingly arbitrarily revoking it, but they may be.

    Piracy doesn’t really punish Ubisoft here for misbehaving as they have your money either way; but if they have to deal with complaints; requests from consumer rights organisations etc, that sends them a signal that what they are doing isn’t acceptable.

    Reconsidering future purchases is spot on though!

    • Lewie Procter #

      I absolutely agree that seeking to get a refund is a good course of action, and probably should have mentioned this too.

      My suggestion to pirate the game was, as you say, simply intended as advice for how to restore access to what you had paid for.

    • Lewie Procter #

      Oh, and thank you for your kind words.

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