The messy interplay between Steam and uPlay in Assassin’s Creed: Unity


Don’t feel like reading? Enjoy this analysis video of the AC: Unity checkout flow

In many ways we are in a golden age of PC gaming. Nowhere has this been clearer to me than the ease with which I turned down current gen Black Friday console deals. Most of the games I want to play are on PC. There are platform exclusives I am eager to play, but no one system has a critical mass of exclusive titles that demand a purchase. With my overflowing backlog of games purchased in endless sales and bundles and most multiplatform games being available day one on PC, there has never been a better time to be a PC gamer. However, with the dominance of digital distribution has also come a glut of digital platforms.

Steam, Origin, uPlay and Desura are all installed on my gaming rig. Soon GoG’s Galaxy will make my backlog of classics much less of a library and more of an active collection. Of these platforms, 3 have a clear place in the world. Steam is my primary gaming platform. GoG is a repository of classics. Desura is home to all the Humble Bundle games that have not made their way through Greenlight.

The two publisher mandated platforms are less desirable. Although Origin gets markedly better each time I log in, incentivized by a free game given through the On the House or the desire to purchase a latest release, is still an unfortunate side effect of wanting to play the games EA keeps exclusive to its service. uPlay even more so. Although I can thankfully purchase, manage and play my Ubisoft games through my preferred Steam client, many Ubisoft games require Steam to launch uPlay to play the game.

As part of my ongoing research into all things related to game monetization, I recently took a long look at the microtransactions inside of Assassin’s Creed Unity. You can read about my full experience over on Kotaku, but one element of the in-game purchase experience was so poor, I felt it was worth sharing with the game developer community.

Leading up to the launch of Unity when Ubisoft’s biggest holiday games were temporarily pulled from Steam, one can guess that there were negotiations going on behind the scenes related to the interplay between uPlay and Steam. This setup is less than optimal for customers of both platforms in more than one way. A simple unpleasantness is the way that after each Unity play session, the player is served an advertisement for upcoming Ubisoft titles via uPlay. More painful, however, is the in-game checkout flow for those players who wish to purchase microtransaction (MTX) currency inside of Unity.

01 - purchase screen

This purchase flow is a train wreck. On the player side, it removes all of the benefits of being on a secure digital platform like Steam that knows your identity and is able to store your payment preferences. On the developer side, there is so much friction in the checkout flow that one can assume that Ubisoft and Steam are losing revenue from those PC players who want to purchase MTX in Unity due to a poor user experience.

02 - unity purchase pop up

After selecting a currency package in game, the player is asked to select a payment method through a web browser in the uPlay interface. Bewilderingly, this browser window does not contain any scroll bars and the critical purchase button is below the fold. Only those players who figure out to press page down instead of quitting the flow are able to proceed with their purchase.

04 - sign into steam

Those diligent players who make it past this hurdle are faced with another annoyance. Despite playing the game on Steam (which is forced to launch uPlay to start the game) they must log into Steam via the uPlay web browser. Theoretically, the player is on Steam. But they need to log in, enter a Steam Guard key that is emailed to them and add funds to their Steam wallet before they can complete the purchase.

All told, it took me 14 discreet steps to purchase MTX inside of Steam inside of uPlay inside of Steam. Had I been purchasing as an organic player, and not as research for my monetization consulting practice, I would have abandoned my purchase early on in the funnel.

Based solely on the amount of hate that MTX receive in comment sections and social networks, one may assume that the lost revenue here is minimal. However, in a recent survey I ran taken by over 2,700 gamers, over 13% admitted to purchasing MTX inside of a AAA PC or console game in the last 3 months (full article on that data is forthcoming). Despite the public outcry, a significant portion of gamers are buying MTX inside of AAA games. That means that by implementing a poor consumer experience between their two digital platforms, both Valve and Ubisoft are likely losing revenue thanks to a poor user experience.

Developers big and small are reliant on platforms like Valve, Humble, GoG and more for significant portions of their revenue. In this relationship, the platform owners holds all the power and the developer can only control what they can control. In the case of in-game purchases that I anticipate more developers will turn to over time, it is in the developer’s best interest to do what they can to ensure as smooth of a purchase process as possible to make sure you are not losing a player after they have already agreed to open up their wallet.