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.