Ubisoft is beginning a major expansion of its digital distribution presence today: The company is now selling games from other studios and publishers through the Uplay Shop, its online store, and has also begun selling its own games through Electronic Arts' competing service, Origin.
Chris Early, Ubisoft's vice president of digital publishing, told Polygon in a recent phone interview that the simultaneous moves are being made with one principal goal: to give Uplay's 50 million users more options for buying and playing Ubisoft games.
Ubisoft launched Uplay in late 2009 alongside Assassin's Creed 2. The main part of the service, Uplay Win, gives players reward points called Uplay Units for completing in-game actions; those points are then used to purchase digital bonus content such as extra missions and weapons. Uplay also consists of Uplay Share, which lets players share user-generated content with others from within games, and Uplay Help, which offers game guides and tips. Ubisoft later added a Steam-like Uplay client for Windows PC.
The service's online storefront, the Uplay Shop, has only sold Ubisoft-published games to this point. According to Early, the Shop's opening slate of third-party titles consists of about 25 games from "maybe a dozen or so [publishers]" such as Electronic Arts (Dead Space 3), Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (the Game of the Year Edition of Batman: Arkham City) and Telltale Games (The Walking Dead).
Titles from smaller publishers and independent studios, such as Paradox Interactive (Crusader Kings 2) and Robot Entertainment (Orcs Must Die! 2), respectively, are also available in the Uplay Shop. According to a Ubisoft spokesperson, "Ubisoft is following the [industry-standard] revenue sharing with the publishers," which likely means the company will take a 30 percent cut of all Uplay Shop sales.
Uplay's 50 million users now have more options
Uplay customers can pre-order third-party games through the Shop, too, such as the Limited Edition of EA's upcoming SimCity. Going forward, said Early, third-party titles "will be releasing at the same time, day and date, as all the other digital channels." And from today through March 4, anybody who buys a digital PC game that's at least $19.90 will receive a free downloadable copy of Driver: San Francisco Deluxe Edition, From Dust, Might & Magic Heroes 6 Deluxe Edition, Rayman Origins, The Settlers 7 Gold Edition or World in Conflict: Complete Edition.
Early told us that Ubisoft had to do a lot of engineering work, outside of arranging the distribution agreements themselves, to make this happen.
"Over the last year, we've made a number of technological improvements in the Uplay client on the PC," he explained, saying that those changes paved the way for the sale of third-party games.
On the Origin side, Ubisoft has now made games like Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed 3 available through EA's online store, and according to Early, more of the publisher's back catalog will gradually make its way there. The same applies for third-party games on Uplay. Early explained that putting a game on Uplay takes some doing, but isn't a complex undertaking — "it's work, but it's not rocket science," he said.
When we asked why Ubisoft decided to put its games on Origin, Early reiterated his explanation of giving customers choice, then acknowledged that a service like Valve's Steam has a significant number of "consumers [who] are very loyal to it."
Early added, "If you prefer Steam, if you prefer Origin, that's fine — as long as you're buying Assassin's Creed somewhere, I'm happy." Selling other companies' games through the Uplay Shop also offers more options to consumers, and it allows Ubisoft to grow the service's user base while keeping people in the Uplay ecosystem.
"as long as you're buying Assassin's Creed somewhere, I'm happy"
Putting third-party games in the Uplay Shop, said Early, "lets [people] acquire the games they want to play and still be a part of Uplay when they do that."
Currently, Uplay clients are available on PC and Wii U. Early declined to provide specifics on next-generation consoles, but did say, "If [Uplay clients are] possible on next-generation consoles, you can bet we'll be there."
"Our primary motivation is to give our consumers choice," said Early.
Update: Ubisoft just sent over the full lists of third-party publishers, studios and games available in the Uplay Shop at launch, along with a few upcoming titles.
Third-party publishers/developers participating in launch
- 1C Company
- BitComposer Entertainment
- Bohemia Interactive
- Encore Software
- Focus Home Interactive
- Freebird Games
- Iceberg Interactive
- Nordic Games
- Paradox Interactive
- Recoil Games
- Robot Entertainment
- Telltale Games
- Torn Banner Studios
- Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Third-party games available at launch, Feb. 19
- Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers, BitComposer
- Galaxy on Fire 2 HD, BitComposer
- Crysis 2 Maximum Edition, Electronic Arts
- Crysis 3, Electronic Arts
- Dead Space 2, Electronic Arts
- Dead Space 3, Electronic Arts
- Mass Effect 3 Digital Deluxe Edition, Electronic Arts
- FIFA Soccer 13, Electronic Arts
- Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Electronic Arts
- Medal of Honor Warfighter, Electronic Arts
- Need for Speed Most Wanted, Electronic Arts
- The Sims 3 Deluxe Edition, Electronic Arts
- SimCity Limited Edition (pre-order), Electronic Arts
- Hoyle Cards 2012, Encore Software
- Hoyle Casino 2012, Encore Software
- Hoyle Puzzle and Board 2012, Encore Software
- Wargame: European Escalation, Focus Home Interactive
- To The Moon, Freebird Games
- Endless Space Emperor Edition, Iceberg Interactive
- Crusader Kings 2, Paradox Interactive
- War of the Roses, Paradox Interactive
- Magicka, Paradox Interactive
- Orcs Must Die! 2, Robot Entertainment
- The Walking Dead, Telltale Games
- Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, Torn Banner Studios
- Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Batman: Arkham City Game of the Year Edition, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Lego Batman 2, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Third-party games coming soon
- King's Bounty: Warriors of the North, 1C Company
- Men of War: Assault Squad, 1C Company
- Arma 2: Complete Collection, Bohemia Interactive
- The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, Focus Home Interactive
- The Book of Unwritten Tales, Nordic Games
- Painkiller Hell & Damnation, Nordic Games
- Alan Wake, Nordic Games
- Rochard, Recoil Games