Ubisoft ‘Live Services’ May Not Be So Bad

Ubisoft Vice President of Online Services, Stephanie Perotti recently discussed the company’s approach to ongoing live services in their games. According to her, the live services approach is absolutely responsible for the average player base of Ubisoft games doubling in the last two years. While the term "live services" tend to have negative connotations attached to them given the controversies of last year, Ubisoft promises to only make a large part of future decisions on their live services based on significant player feedback.

Ubisoft ‘Live Services’ May Not Be So Bad
You’re likely thinking at this point, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard that one before”. After all, EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson is famously caught spouting the same “the player comes first” line in interview after interview only for his “money comes first” approach with Battlefront II to blow up in his face. Although, in the case of Yves Guillemot and his gaming giant that is Ubisoft, Perotti gives us pause for optimism. After all, in theory, consulting with the player base of any given game, post-launch and before beginning work on an update / DLC can only lead to great things… In theory.

Where we’ve heard talk like this before from big gaming groups and not seen any past evidence to support their claim, the case of Ubisoft rings a little different. Their approach to DLC and microtransactions has been rather like tip toeing through a minefield of consumer expectation, carefully avoiding mass consumer backlash. So far, no mines have been stepped on by Ubisoft. Their microtransaction efforts in Assassin’s Creed: Unity quickly got talked down and removed from the game after a murmur of dissatisfaction. From then on, Ubisoft’s microstransactions in their latest titles Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Far Cry 5 have played a back seat role to gameplay and never shoved in consumer’s faces. Much unlike the Shadow of Wars or Battlefronts out there, where distinct parts of menu screens may as well state “Hey! Lootboxes over here! C’mon, you know you want to”. 

Ubisoft ‘Live Services’ May Not Be So Bad - Unity
Ubisoft is also taking care to pay attention to their titles long after release. Where other companies may have given in to apathy through sheer force of time passing, irrelevance or the calling of another title in the works, Ubisoft has succeeded in dispersing people and resources equally across its studios. Other companies would see falling player numbers and abandon ship. Whereas, Ubisoft sticks around and sees it as incentive to stay on the ship and ride out the storm until things are the way they want. A glaring example of this is the work Ubisoft Massive has done over the last two years to drag The Division out of the mud and back into player hands. Of course, Rainbow Six: Siege was a bit of a flop on arrival yet, after several updates it now stands tall as one of the most popular online shooters available today. As of March 1st, The Division reached 20 million players and Siege made it all the way to 176, 000 players after a humble 47,000 players this time last year. Ubisoft must be doing something right. Case in point – there is evidence here that backs up Perotti’s claims of consulting with players on what they want next.

Ubisoft ‘Live Services’ May Not Be So Bad - The Division
While The Division and Rainbow Six: Siege have enjoyed smartly implemented DLCs, the evidence of actually paying attention to fans goes yet deeper with Ubisoft’s Space Monkey Program. This website is all about keeping Beyond Good & Evil 2 fans updated on the development of the game. Often a blog will posted there, asking what we think of a concept art, what kind of mechanics we want or what kind of mixture of world design we expect. It’s a genuinely refreshing thing to see and hopefully, this open minded approach to community creativity will be reflected in the final game. 

Ubisoft ‘Live Services’ May Not Be So Bad - Space Monkey Program
In a news blog on the official Ubisoft website, Stephanie Perotti acknowledges the shifting videogames market and how to change with the times in a way that isn’t frustrating to consumers. "Launching a game is only the beginning," says Perotti. "It's been a very big shift from the way we used to ship and manage games to live services, and that also meant a big shift for our production teams. The way we used to ship games, the way we used to build games, was not necessarily adapted to… that kind of constant updates and constant content releases."

In other words, Ubisoft is acknowledging, as an entity, that it needs newer and faster tools to release code and updates on a daily basis for their games. In turn, this is Perotti basically acknowledging how crazy hungry the gamer consumer base is and stepping up to the plate to appease it. This is apparently the approach taken with Rainbow Six: Seige – a game now its third year with a continued growing community. Not many three year old games out there can claim that these days, in this fast paced market. The blog goes on to state "As for the future, Perotti sees Ubisoft opening more of its services to players, giving them the opportunity to modify and potentially create their own new services. "We want to put more services in the hands of players," she says. "At some point, we want to open services to the community, so we're working on that right now. That's one of the next key steps."

Ubisoft ‘Live Services’ May Not Be So Bad - Seige
Finally, here's why this is an opinion piece. The big takeaway from this development, which I'm sure many of you are already rolling your eyes about, is that this is Ubisoft being reactionary to stay alive. It has worked for them with The Division and Siege. Frankly other big name companies are not so reactionary (like Activision) and insist on pummelling the same tried and tested format in the name of profits. To them I say – something's got to give. No one idea is immortal. In the case of Ubisoft, we can see they are paying attention to the market as well as what consumers want and making respectful decisions that reflect in their games. To apply their staff and resources evenly in order to do that is a great thing, considering Yves Guillemot's long fought battle with Vivendi for continued ownership of Ubisoft has only just come to a close. Ubisoft could well be showing the AAA industry how to implement microtransactions in a way that doesn't come with negative connotations… Wouldn't that be something? 

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