Ubisoft wants you to play its games. It wouldn’t make them if it didn’t. The French publishing giant does, however, want you to pay for the games you play. It doesn’t really care if you download them from the Internet, buy them from a store, or rent them from someone. As long as that copy of Assassin’s Creed III your playing saw some cash involved, Ubiosoft’s happy. (Unless you bought it used from GameStop, in which case it would prefer you buy a Uplay Passport.)
It’s getting a little pushy about how you buy its PC games at least. Uplay PC, a Steam and EA Origin competitor, opened for business last week. Ubisoft has every right to sell its downloadable PC games directly to people but seeing as how the Uplay network is really an elaborate form of digital rights management—one that’s left users’ privacy exposed in the past—it’s tough not to wonder if the pub’s being a little overzealous.
Maybe it’s not being zealous enough. Ubisoft president Yves Guillemot told GamesIndustry International in a Wednesday interview that on PCs, the number of people who pay for retail games and free-to-play games is identical. Just 5 to 7 percent of players spend money on PC games. That means that 93 to 95 percent of people playing multi-million dollar releases like Assassin’s Creed 3, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist are playing pirate versions of the games. That’s a tough statistic to swallow for any business, even one as big and profitable as Ubisoft. That’s why, like its chief competitor Electronic Arts, Ubisoft is reimagining its PC business as free-to-play first and foremost.
“We want to develop the PC market quite a lot and F2P is really the way to do it,” said Guillemot, “The advantage of F2P is that we can get revenue from countries where we couldn’t previously—places where out products were played but not bought. It’s a way to get close to your customers, to make sure you get revenue.”
He goes on to quote those troubling statistics about which of those customers pay and which don’t. From the perspective that Ubisoft has found a way to continue making money so it can fund creative projects, the free-to-play revolution is great. Free-to-play won’t replace Ubisoft’s biggest moneymaker anytime soon though. Retail console games are still king. “We must be careful because the consoles are coming. People are saying that the traditional market is declining and that F2P is everything—I’m not saying that. We’re waiting for the new consoles—I think that the new consoles will give a huge boost to the industry, just like they do every time that they come. This time they took so long so the market is waiting.”