Ubisoft takes on Steam, EA Origin with Uplay PC

ubisoft gets into the digital distribution game with uplay pc

Uplay is more than Ubisoft’s digital rights management solution. It’s more than a fragile target for hacking exploitation. It’s also Ubisoft’s new digital distribution platform. The Frenchman’s EA Origin or Valve Steam, if you will!

Ubisoft opened Uplay PC for business on Thursday, an application that let’s people buy Ubisoft games like Assassin’s Creed III direct from the company. It also gives players more direct access to the other perks of Uplay like extra content and community features, but that’s a tertiary purpose for the new client. The secondary purpose is to cut out the digital distribution middlemen like GameStop, Steam, and Amazon.com to reach customers directly. It won’t get all 35 million of Ubisoft’s registered Uplay members—many are console players, many will use competing clients—but it will get them some.

The primary purpose though, as always, is to strengthen Ubisoft’s anti-piracy measures. Uplay was conceived as a DRM solution and Uplay PC is just the latest realization of that effort.

Uplay PC could potentially have a grand effect on Ubisoft’s business on PC though. Despite grumbling in the press and in the PC gamer community, Electronic Arts’ digital distribution service Origin has done quite well for itself. In May, claimed that it was now the “number 2 direct to consumer game service” with 11 million registered users. That’s only people who have installed the Origin client. It’s a far cry from Steam’s 35 million registered users, but a hearty population of potential paying customers nonetheless. EA did say at the time that the majority of revenue generated by Origin is from its own games, but it didn’t specify exact sales data.

Digital sales are already growing for Ubisoft. Its online sales grew 110 percent between March 2012 and the previous year, totaling more than $102 million. Those sales only represent a small portion of the overall $1.36 billion in revenue Ubisoft pulled in over the last fiscal year, but with digital sales expected to continue growing throughout this year, expect that number to grow significantly before fiscal 2013 is out.

Steam is growing too though, and consumers like Valve. EA’s proven that big publishers can make money with their own digital distribution clients, but it isn’t clear how many publishers can replicate that success. Ubisoft’s got the intellectual properties and frequency of releases to make it happen, but there aren’t many other companies in the business who can open a similar service and expect to succeed. Uplay PC can be successful but it isn’t part of a trend.