Ubisoft are making a big push into free-to-play browser based games, and they're using some classic franchises to do it. They're publishing THREE new games, and we've taken a look at all of them. Check out our previews of Silent Hunter Online, Anno Online and Heroes of Might and Magic Online for the first details.
We sent Dan out to have a chat with Benedikt Grindel, director of live operations at the developer behind all three games, Blue Byte. Grindel suggests that the move is about using the power of a familiar brand to find fresh fans, and argues that the move online doesn't necessarily spell the end for these series' much loved offline iterations.
"We're really targeting new audiences," he says. "I happen to know that, in Germany, the Settlers has 80% brand recognition – but, another browser game may have none and still do well. A brand brings us an audience and the history – but you need a good game. If you deliver the quality that the gamer expects, they'll like it. That's our strategy."
Grindel singles out South America, and Brazil in particular as untapped regions with great potential. "We have a business model that works in those markets. Russia; you can go there, but we have a huge piracy rate. Now, with this business model, we're talking a new market. Then think about Asia. There's lots of room to explore – we just have to be better."
The success of Settlers Online has had a clear influence on Ubi's current thinking, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be seeing browser based versions of all their major series, though Grindel reckons that's down to the business model rather than the limitations of browser browser technology.
"There have to be some changes when we adapt games to the business model – but the browser itself is just a platform," he explains. "Soon there will be no boundaries on the platform – but there may be some boundaries on the business model. I'm sure that people in the future will still go to a virtual store and play €50 for Assassins Creed V because 'Wow, I just want to have it'. Maybe we'll see microtransactions in every game."
The big question is whether these much loved series will find a new home online, and migrate permanently away from the big, expensive single releases we've been used to until now. Ubisoft's experimentation with always-online DRM has stung Anno and Settlers fans over the past year or so and a move to browsers seems like a natural migration. Grindel doesn't think that's the case, as long as those offline titles stay successful.
"Settlers 7 and Settlers Online don't have a big crossover – people play both at the same time and pay money for them. Settlers 7 had a good retention – a low piracy rate – and people play it intensely for one, two hours."
"And Anno 2070 was immensely successful," he says. "As long as that's the case, we'll keep doing them."
What do you think of Ubisoft's move towards free to play, browser based games?
Ubisoft are having a sale on Steam this weekend, with 33% off the vast majority of games in their catalogue. There are also daily deals - until 6pm GMT tonight you can get the Ghost Recon Complete Pack, including every game up to GRAW 2, for £6.24/$7.49.
See below for other highlights and links to our reviews. Excellent platformer Rayman Origins for £13.39/$20.09. Futuristic city-building sim Anno 2070 for £23.44/$33.49 Driver: San Francisco for £13.39/$20.09. Assassin's Creed: Revelations for £20.09/$26.79 Might & Magic Heroes VI for £23.44/$33.49
Check out the Ubisoft publisher page for the full list. Anything catch your eye?
You know what's way too easy? Building a city and managing resources when there are absolutely no tornadoes happening. Perhaps realising this, the Anno 2070 devs have updated the game with a patch that increases the "probability of a tornado disaster" and "the interval at which they can occur." Regular, predictable tornadoes. That is the key to exciting city building.
The latest patch also adds new "ornamental buildings" and makes loads of fixes and balance tweaks. If you wondering whether Anno 2070 is worth a punt, check out our Anno 2070 review. Meanwhile, here's the full patch list from Steam.
Additional ornamental buildings added Implemented ‘Instant pickup’ feature Military balancing refined The feature that lets you choose environmental influences in the Continuous Game settings does now work properly The single mission ‘Return to C.O.R.E.’ does not support Coop play anymore, due to complications with the NPC slots Increased the probability of a tornado disaster and the interval at which they can occur
Refined license balancing Rebalanced diplomatic actions ‘Stock trading’, ‘Research money’, ‘Investment’ and ‘Shady deal’ Improved residence interface Improved rewards for Disaster Quests Explosions that are caused by disaster rather than player actions, do not destroy roads anymore Considerately increased the effect of the media channels ‘Check Up – The Consultation’, ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ and ‘Safety in Research' Increased building costs of the ‘River sewage treatment plant’ Rebalanced energy and building costs of the ‘Deep sea warehouse’ Fixed a graphical issue in 1600x900 resolution Fixed an issue where a Production Chain was still displayed in the Building Menu after the Ornament tab was opened Fixed an issue where Keto reappeared hours after she was defeated Fixed an issue with the display of the amount of inhabitants the Warehouse interface Fixed an issue with the build blocker of the Offshore wind park Fixed several minor text issues in tooltips, menus and achievements Fixed a minor graphical issue with the numbering of stacked items Fixed an issue where two items that affect all buildings of a certain faction had no effect on some buildings Fixed an issue where the ingame chat of a previous session was occasionally still displayed in a later session Fixed an issue where the camera would not change the zoom from under water to above water after clicking on a newsbar entry that related to an above water event Fixed a minor graphical issue with mobile buildings that occurred when the player did not have enough resources to build them Fixed a wrong mini map ping in one of Hiro Ebashis quests Pressing the ‘shift’ and ‘u’ while selecting another players residence buildings does not prompt the ‘Cheat discovered!’ message anymore Fixed an exploit that let you infinitely stack item effects on a single ship Fixed an exploit in the single mission ‚Free Market Economy’ Fixed an issue where the wrong portrait picture of another player was displayed in multiplayer Fixed several issues in the Mission Ranking screen Improved third party reactions to trading with foes and friends Fixed an exploit that allowed unlimited gain of Influence with Tori Bartok by building and demolishing the same Academy building Multiplayer stability further improved
Recently we mentioned that many Ubisoft games would be unplayable this week because some server shuffling at Ubi HQ. The downtime has started, locking players out of Might and Magic: Heroes VI, The Settlers 7 and Tom Clancy’s HAWX 2. Players who have just bought Assassin's Creed Revelations, Anno 2070 and Driver: San Francisco won't be able to activate their games while the servers are down.
According to Ubisoft's Uplay page, Anno 2070 was one of the few games that was supposed to remain unaffected during the switch-over, but many players can't launch the game. Our copy of Anno autopatched without a hitch, but when we tried to start it up, we got the error message above. "We apologize for the inconvenience, it seems some of you can't connect to games announced as playable during migration," said Ubisoft on Twitter, adding that they're currently working on a fix.
Players on the Ubisoft forums say that they can't log into Driver: San Francisco either.
They still haven't given an estimate as to how long the downtime will last. Players who can't get into the games they've paid for have been expressing their anger on Twitter.
"Dear @Ubisoft I am totally unimpressed with your server upgrade strategy. Offlining auth servers with no backup for DRM games is terrible" says CanuckStig. "When are your servers coming back online? asks HabbaDrums. "I just bought Revelations, and I have NO way of playing it." pkyle says "Bang up job, @Ubisoft. Doesn't save a local copy of my game so their DRM servers being down keeps me from playing my save at all." Those are a few of the more polite ones.
What a shambles. Have you been affected by the Ubisoft DRM server down-time?
Ubisoft's finally seen fit to pipe up about Anno 2070's extremely sensitive (read: prone to detecting minute graphics card changes - not penning tear-jerking poetry) DRM, and well, perhaps no news actually was good news. In short, Ubisoft told RPS that its DRM is functioning precisely as intended. Worse, the publisher really doesn't see why everyone's making such a big deal about this.
“While it’s correct that copies of Anno include three activations and that changing hardware may trigger the need for reactivation, the vast majority of Anno customers never encounter this scenario. On the rare occasion when a customer does need additional activations, Ubisoft customer service is available to quickly resolve the situation, and we encourage those customers to contact us directly so that we can ensure they are able to continue to enjoy their game,” said the publisher in a statement.
Moreover, the draconian-even-by-Ubisoft's-usual-standards DRM system doesn't allow de-activations, so when you hand over one of your three installation cards, it's out of your deck for good.
So then, stop me if you've heard this one before: Legitimate customers get treated like pirates, pirates get treated like kings, and sane human beings are left scratching their heads in confusion until they draw blood. Ubisoft, folks. Let's give 'em a hand.
Ubisoft's DRM isn't exactly known for its gentle, loving caress in matters near and dear to PC gamers' hearts, but the latest tightening of the cuffs seems a bit overkill-ish even by Ubi's standards. In attempting to review Anno 2070's performance on a range of hardware configurations, Guru3D made an extremely disappointing discovery: The second the site switched out a GTX 580 for a GTX 590, Anno demanded another, separate activation. On top of that, the game gives you a whopping three whole activations to work with, so think carefully before spelunking around in your machine's brittle innards.
I've fired off a mail to Ubisoft asking whether this is an intentional piece of extra armor plating for its DRM Voltron, or merely a glitch the publisher plans on patching out. Fingers crossed for the latter, though precedent's not exactly on our side.