Five improvements that would actually give Uplay a chance against Steam


By on December 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Ubisoft desperately want their Uplay platform to take off, and it makes sense; why advertise another company’s store-front when you could have one all your own? Why merely share in your profits when you could reap the entire amount for yourself? In theory this sounds like a reasonable justification, but in practice it seems that companies have yet to learn that competing with Steam is a tough row to hoe, and that their legitimate customers are the ones yoked to the plough.

1. Uplay or Steam. Not both.

Uplay’s first and most egregious misstep is that it is a secondary and inferior DRM hurdle for customers purchasing Ubisoft titles via Steam. If you wish to have your copy of Assassin’s Creed III or Far Cry 3 listed alongside the rest of your Steam game collection, you’ll have to put up with jumping through both Steam and Uplay’s hoops to get to the content that you have rightly paid for.

Not only do you have to be signed into Steam, but you also need to have Uplay running to be able to play. It would be fairly safe to assume from comments made by Ubisoft leading up to the release of these titles that this situation was the compromise reached jointly with Valve to get ACIII and FC3 listed on Steam.

2. Implement a Redeem Code feature.

Steam’s snappy, intuitive, and almost utilitarian user interface plays a major part in users’ support of the platform. Uplay, on the other hand, makes a number of mistakes when it comes to ensuring that users feel comfortable and confident as they navigate through their catalogue of Ubisoft purchases. For one, there is no obvious Redeem Code feature listed in the application. This means that users need to either install their disk-based games, or wait for the painfully slow and completely separate from Uplay retail downloader to put their files in place before Uplay will acknowledge their purchases. The Redeem Code feature is designed to eliminate the gap between sale payment and fulfilment, a fretful and confidence-fraying period for customers trying a service for the first time. The fact that the service does not make it clear how to associate your purchases with your account is not a great first impression.

3. Make updates secondary to gameplay.

Steam has made many advances in getting out of the user’s way, and one of the most notable examples is its ability to apply updates in the background. This means that it is far more likely that your games will be updated and ready to go when you’re ready to play.

Uplay has no such feature. It checks for updates when you attempt to run a game. This means that if an update exists, you must waste precious gaming time waiting for it to be downloaded and applied. Implementing a background update process is more complex than it sounds, but a quick stop-gap measure would be for the check to apply on exit, so that the update can be applied between gaming sessions rather than delaying your current one.

4. Gracefully handle the movement of game files.

At the time of writing, it isn’t possible to move your installed games from one location to another without reinstalling them completely. If Uplay loses access to a documented installation location, it will not associate itself with those files again unless you reinstall the game from scratch. Thankfully if you bought your games on disk, this process doesn’t take long, but if you bought the game from their download service, look forward to another game-sized hole in your monthly data cap.

5. Back Uplay points with quality content.

The one truly good idea buried amongst all of this Uplay cruft is the Uplay Points system. Associating some actual value to achievement points is genuinely exciting — finally, something you can do with those achievements! Unfortunately, the content on offer for users to spend their Uplay points on has been almost uniformly sub-par. If Ubisoft instead made some high-quality content available for purchase with Uplay points, perhaps some of their paid DLC or even physical items, statues, tchotchkes and the like, they would have one major selling point over Steam.

Admittedly, it has taken a number of years for Steam to reach its current dominant position on PC. There have been dark times, many of us are still trying to forget the horrors of the Half-Life 2 launch, and so it may be unfair to compare the two. That said, Ubisoft are clearly attempting to position Uplay as a competitor to Steam, and thus will naturally invite such comparisons. Sadly, they still have a long way to go to match the disappointing EA Origin service on a platform level.

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35 comments (Leave your own)

Quite Frankly, its a little alarming that all these publishers are beginning to use their own digital distribution platforms, from the companies perspective it makes sense, with uplay in place for purchases, they can obviously cut out the middle man, but when will all of this stop?

What if more and more companies start using their own digital distribution platforms for all their games and making them mandatory? I don’t want to have to run several DD clients to access my game collection, if I want to play most of my EA titles now, I have to open Origin, if I want to play most of my other various games, I have to open steam, then alongside that, if I want to play any of my ubisoft games, I now need uplay.

I’m sure there are other consumers who feel the same way and its possible in the future, these publishers pushing DD on the PC will find their sales dropping, due to the big mess digital distribution is slowly becoming.

Being in customer support, I know the digital distro platforms can already being confusing for an uninformed customer, not only do they not know who runs which platform (ie. a customer buying a sega title, does not realise that sega cannot help them with any steam related issues), they have to start jumping through more and more hoops to get the correct support, simply because they can’t identify between the game that they have purchased and the digital distribution system the game is installed through.

If it gets any worse, it will just push more people away from PC gaming and back into the console crowd, considering we’ve seen the PC trend coming back, this is not good news.


I thought the 10 Uplay points for a Far Cry 3 wallpaper was pretty hilarious.


TBH i find Uplay to be the most annoying of all the managers, steam and origin are happy to just let me play my games but Uplay seems to exist only to spam me with flashing advertisements for their games.


Wouldn’t it be nice if all the DRM options would just get along and play nice.

Couldn’t EA develop a way to incorporate Origin into Steam…and have Uplay do its verification without needing to launch it..


The love for Steam is really too much.

Didn’t anyone click disagree to the new ToS (even just for a laugh) a couple of months back?
Feel that chill when they locked you out of all your purchased games? Nice, right.


Steam: All your sales are belong to us!
Origin: Sales cheapen I.P.
Uplay: What games?

Valve being a private company, they aren’t driven to price gauge absolutely every single cent they possible can out of a consumer and price is going to be my biggest factor on where I purchase games plain and simple. – Not to mention they have a bigger game library than Origin and Uplay combined.

Mind you, I do have to thank Ubisoft for giving me every single one of their games a year back for absolutely nothing thanks to a stuff up on their website.

With that said, I refuse to run multiple game clients/levels of DRM in tandem for a game, Instead I buy it, then get a pirated copy and not have to deal with that drama.


I don’t care about ‘DRM’, doesn’t bother me that I need to login to Steam and Uplay, it takes seconds.

Having recently bought a raft of titles for Uplay, I completely agree with 2, really annoying that I have to use a dodgy downloader.

Lastly, Uplay points haven’t been sub-par, it’s new territory, it’s par. Some of them unlock in-game content which is just mind-blowingly awesome while others just unlock images to use on desktops. Either way, really impressed with their approach to achievements. You have to consider the cost-scenario as well… it’s not effective to give away free stuff that is, as you suggest, high-quality, in return for in-game achievements.



Steam isn’t perfect but it is the most used DD system.
They do have faults but Valve seem to have a good vision of where they want to take the system.
Incorporate more features into it, plus it looks sexy.


The only way these other ‘services’ are going to steal a large amount of steam loyalists is to offer them all the games they already own on steam and add them to their uplay/whatever account.

It’ll never happen.


Nah doesn’t matter if they can become good enough. I’ve got so much in my Steam library, and I find so much satisfaction in a full library that I’m pretty unwilling to move across ever unless Steam goes downhill which seems to be an impossible scenario as long as the Archangel Gaben rules the throne.


yeapal: The only way these other ‘services’ are going to steal a large amount of steam loyalists is to offer them all the games they already own on steam and add them to their uplay/whatever account.It’ll never happen.

Origin already do that with some of their titles, I agree with you that it’s a nice touch.

Was quite surprised when I logged in for FarCry3 to see Ghost Recon Future Soldier sitting their, had entirely forgotten about it (and at the time didn’t have to login to Uplay to play it, just had to enter username and password).


The love for Steam is really too much.

Didn’t anyone click disagree to the new ToS (even just for a laugh) a couple of months back?
Feel that chill when they locked you out of all your purchased games? Nice, right.

I do have major concerns about DRM. However, it’s a compromise. You either use Steam or you forgo the extreme vast majority of PC games out there. It’s a compromise, and since I’m not going to be able to change how the world is shifting, the best I can do is find a balance between Steam and other non-DRM vendors like GOG.

As for those who are aware of DRM and aren’t bothered by it, if your games are ever denied because your account is locked out or Steam is down/disappears (purely hypotheticals), you’ll probably change your opinion. But by then it’ll be too late, hence the anti-DRM movement.


I had the wonderful experience a few nights ago of uPlay telling me that I no longer owned Far Cry 3 and that my CD Key, when I attempted to re-enter it was invalid as it belonged to another account.

Thankfully just putting uPlay into offline mode kicked some sense back into it, but that kind of thing annoys me greatly. I have no trouble with DRM when it works. But when it doesn’t? I hate it. With a fiery passion. There are pages of me railing about Steam on the day of the Half Life 2 launch. I’ve hated Steam at other times when it decides that “nope, offline mode isn’t working for you” when I have been travelling or otherwise without net. Or when it just decides that a game is unavailable for whatever reason.

Until DRM is transparent and unobtrusive I’ll always have issues with it. But the benefits that Steam provide as a platform and a service (never having to track down patches and version numbers again!) far outweigh it’s current issues. uPlay is not there yet, not by a long shot.


If Steam went down that would be awful, but I’m not going to live my life now as though that’s a possible outcome. Right now, it’s easy to use and a great way to buy and play games.

You make a good argument for using more online platforms… I’ve already lived through the change from Stardock Impulse into Gamestop, and UPlay and Origin are both back by large and healthy publishers.

At the end of the day, what is the anti-DRM movement suggesting? That I have a separate log-in for each game? Even a separate exe is a PITA, I’d much rather a single launching platform… and how do you suggest I buy digital content? Straight from the developer? I have no desire to add more complexity to my numerous logins.

And at the end of the day, DRM does provide some measure of protection for content, primarily because it’s disincentive enough for some people to not use it (what with concerns about being ‘discovered’ and locked out of, say, Steam, or just that digital content is now cheap enough to be a real alternative to piracy). There will always be the hardcore that will torrent/usenet/whatever and the current standard answer of “make good games and people won’t pirate” is completely bullsh** (just in-case you wanted to trot that out).


Whilst I like Steam I used to have weird issues with the client where it would uninstall my Steam games (and thus removing save games etc) or when I have to restart Steam resets all my client settings (a real pain). I also have long learnt the hard way to turn Steam Cloud off entirely. Steam is a good download/install service following a reinstall of Windows. Run Steam game from a list and it adds what the game needs to your PC to play the game. This first time install process saves so much time its one of my favorite features.


Murray Hibble,

I understand your first point, which is why I’ve started using Steam again after a long hiatus. I just comfort myself in the knowledge that if Steam dies/account buggers up, I’ll just crack everything I’ve got. Morally I’d feel vindicated since I paid for it all.

You’re also making the mistake that not having DRM = not being able to centrally manage your games. There is no technical reason why Steam can’t do everything it does (launching, updates, cloud saving, community, etc), but with no DRM whatsoever. The DRM exists solely to keep developers/publishers happy such that they’ll invest in using Steam. It does nothing on its own to help the end-user.

As for your final point, you’ve got it wrong. I’m not going to say “make good games and people won’t pirate” – I’ll say “make good games and people will BUY THEM”. Steam DRM has been cracked for ages, it doesn’t protect against anything.


I agree, if Steam went down I wouldn’t hesitate to crack all 422 games.

And yes, it is easy to centrally manage games, but it’s the idea of buying digital content that makes Steam work. And yeah, a quick look at torrent sites shows how many steam-only games are on there and cracked. But for someone like me (who’d like to think he wouldn’t pirate anyway) there’s no way I’d use a game like that for fear of losing my entire steam account. Hell, I got nervous enough buying a key for Syndicate on Origin seeing as it was banned in Australia and it was the first time I’d ever bought a key!


Totally agree with nukejockey, It’s really annoying to have to run several clients just to get the games I want, now it’s EA, Ubisoft and steam, more to come most likely.

I’d prefer to just use steam personally, they got their foot in the door first and I have used them for many years now. I don’t understand how these other companies think they can compete at this late date – I guess they have the long view of it.


I bet that if I made a program similar to steam, however some how offered all games for $20-30.

It would be able to compete with origin and steam.

The reason steam is so vastly used, is the sales & the amount of titles available.


I agree with points 2 and 4.
Redeemable codes: having recently acquired about 5 free ubi games from some lynx – facebook promo; I found myself sitting on the Uplay interface for a good 5-10 minutes poking into this window and that – opening different tabs and looking around with confusion on my face as I struggled to find the “redeem code” feature that is pretty mainstream on Steam/Origin/Desura. A google search later and I find out I need to download some random exe installer then run that, and at some point after installation I enter the key – quite unintuitive.

And the movement of game files… yeah this is why I will have no problem running 2 layers of DRM (steam+Uplay) when I finally decide the price of Farcry 3 and ACIII are low enough for a steam purchase. (hopefully steam redeemable keys on an amazon sale :D)

I disagree with point 5 and actually see this as something unique that Uplay does right over everyone else. What use do my Steam achievements have? Can I cash in my microsoft points and/or PS3 Trophies? No? Saying that they’re “trivial” or that they lack quality is still a quantitive value greater then zero – which is what my “pat on the back” rewards are worth to me on every other client/platform. I had fun in my various AC unlockable missions/outfits that didn’t cost me a single extra real life cent ;)

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