Are You Mad at Ubisoft or Yourself?

Contributed by DJMMT

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of anger thrown at Ubisoft over a quote from Philippe Tremblay, Ubisoft’s Director of Subscriptions. I will admit that when I first saw the quote, I had an angry knee-jerk reaction. Then, because it’s 2024 and I saw this quote on Twitter, I looked up the full quote and the context in which it was said in and immediately stopped feeling angry. Or rather, I stopped feeling angry at Philippe Tremblay and Ubisoft. So, before you continue reading this post, I’m going to give you the opportunity to do your due diligence as well. This short IGN article about the quote succinctly summarizes what was actually said. As opposed to what a bunch of neck beards and illiterates on social media are claiming it said. You know who you are.

Essentially, Tremblay, and by extension Ubisoft, was misquoted to make it seem like he was arguing that the future of gaming is not owning the games you pay for, and that gamers need to accept that, because it’s inevitable. THAT IS NOT WHAT HE SAID. What he said was subscription services for gaming, which are already a thing and continue to permeate through the industry (looking at you XBOX Game Pass fans), won’t truly be successful until gamers accept the idea of not actually owning the games they play. He went on to reference Netflix and other streaming services and how most people no longer own the TV and movies they consume as a relevant, contemporary example. And he’s right. Everything he said is absolutely true. Subscription services, regardless of what type of media is being offered in the subscription, don’t work if people feel the need to own the media being consumed via the service. This isn’t news. We all know this already; or at least we should by now anyway.

People aren’t angry at Ubisoft for saying something controversial. They’re angry at Ubisoft for stating facts that people already know but don’t like hearing said out loud. I see people constantly complaining about the death of physical media. Ubisoft is one of the major publishers still providing physical copies for most of the games they release. Are you buying them? Are you supporting your local brick and mortar stores? I do. I buy a lot of games digitally, but I also buy a lot of physical games; and I often have to spend extra time and money to import them from the United States to Taiwan, because SONY still hasn’t fixed the region free DLC problem, US stores often get much better discounts on games, and, for some ridiculous reason I can’t even begin to fathom, PlayStation games are still language specific by disc. Buying digital is way more convenient, affordable, and realistic for me; but I still take the time to purchase a large number of physical games.

The reality is that people do want to pay very little for access to a ridiculous number of games while still having those games be produced both quickly and at AAA quality. People don’t want to get off their asses and go to the store and purchase a physical copy of a game. They just like to complain when companies verbalize the reality of what an industry turns into because of their [consumers] lazy, greedy behaviors and unrealistic expectations. Ubisoft didn’t say subscription services and not owning your media are inevitable. They said they’re only viable if they’re successful; and they’re only successful if people are comfortable with how they work. But the way they work is the way they work. You can’t change that. The model is established, and has been since the founding of Netflix, if not before. What you can do is decide that you are not going to use subscription services and continue to go to the store and purchase new games for $70+. And if everyone does that, subscription services will disappear. Companies don’t do anything that they don’t think is profitable. If you don’t want all gaming to exist exclusively via subscription services, which I absolutely don’t, then don’t use subscription services. Especially not to play new games. Go out and buy the game. But let’s be honest. You’re not going to do that are you?

I watched Bethesda over hype Starfield for years. I watched XBOX fanboys gloat about how it was going to be an XBOX exclusive and revolutionize gaming and win GOTY. But you know what I didn’t see? XBOX users all run to the store on release day and pay $70 to play Starfield. While Microsoft has not publicly released the sales figures, they have stated that more than 12 million people “played” Starfield. What would be the reason for a company as large as Microsoft to use such vague language instead of just straight up declaring that it’s a record selling game? Probably the fact that it’s not a record selling game. A large number of people, myself included, tried Starfield on launch day. However, a majority of us, myself included, tried it via Game Pass. Full disclosure, I do not personally have a Game Pass subscription. I got to try the game for free via my job’s Game Pass subscription for the purposes of hardware testing. I only played it for an hour. But I enjoyed it enough to say that eventually I would purchase the game, for PC, as I do not own an XBOX console and have no plans to change that. But I’m in the minority of people who wanted to continue playing Starfield after trying it on Game Pass. Most people who wanted to keep playing after that first hour kept playing it on Game Pass. They did not and will not purchase it for $70, $60, or even $20. They will never own Starfield. They will just play it until they’re done with it.

If hardcore Bethesda and XBOX fanboys were not willing to purchase the game that was supposed to revolutionize gaming and make the XBOX great again, because they were happy to play it for cents on the dollar via Game Pass and never own it, then how can we get mad at Ubisoft for just stating what’s already happening? Again, Ubisoft didn’t say subscription services and not owning your games is inevitable. They said they only work if they’re profitable, and they’re only profitable if people become comfortable with how the model works. And if Starfield, among countless other examples between  Game Pass, Ubisoft+, PlayStation+, EA Play, and the list goes on, can’t get people to support physical media and actually paying to own their games, then nothing will. Certainly not at the volumes required for publishers to continue to support physical media.

The problem is that a lot of people don’t understand how things actually work. Manufacturing sucks. I’ve had to deal with corporate manufacturing for years, and everything about it sucks. But it works the way it works and companies can’t change that. Unless you want every single company to become a vertical monopoly, which you don’t, you’re stuck with the current manufacturing system. Basically, if you want to print a physical game you have to mass produce a minimum number of units. Unless you want the price of the game to skyrocket, outside of the already climbing development costs, you have to produce in large quantities. It’s referred to as an MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity). Now, as I don’t work in software, I can’t tell you what the MOQ is for producing a physical disc-based game. But what I can tell you is that the disc, the packaging, and the labeling all have their own MOQ, as they’re most likely produced by different vendors, and those MOQs very likely differ from vendor to vendor, unless they have now established some sort of aligned MOQ system, given how established physical game production is at this point.

The reason I’m explaining this is to help people understand that Ubisoft, or any publisher, can’t just print games one at a time. They probably have a minimum MOQ of at least 3,000 units per print. Which means that if they do a physical copy of a game, they have to sell all 3,000 units to justify doing a second print. And those sales are measured by print rather than units. Consider the fact that game cases and discs are often printed in multiple languages. There’s the Japanese version of Pokémon and the English version, as an easy example. But there’s also other prints of physical games. You can find prints of games in Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, and many other languages. And each of those prints has an MOQ. Even if a company sells 1 million units of the English print of the game, if they only sold 250/3000 Italian prints, then it no longer makes sense from a business standpoint to keep printing Italian versions of games. Now apply that to every game in every language print. That’s also the reason that a lot of games don’t get more than a handful of translations. All that has a cost that doesn’t necessarily get recouped, even if the game itself is successful overall. That’s why companies are pushing for all digital, such as Remedy Entertainment with the recently released Alan Wake 2.

It’s way more financially viable and practical for a business not to do physical prints. Especially if most players aren’t going to buy them anyway. But again, that’s the result of your behavior as a consumer. Not Remedy Entertainment’s behavior as a company. If they really believed they were going to sell 3,000 copies (or whatever the actual MOQ is) of a physical Italian print at the required cost to make that print profitable, you can bet they’d release it. But the data shows that such a print most likely wouldn’t be profitable. So, they didn’t release one.

The question people keep asking is “Why are companies trying to kill physical media and force us all into subscription services?” Whether or not it’s a valid question, and it is a question I have addressed offhandedly more than once on this blog over the years, it’s not actually the right question people should be asking. The question people should be asking is “Why does the data make companies believe that killing physical media and making subscription services the way a majority of people access and use games is the way to go to run a profitable business in games publishing?” Companies don’t do things because they want to. They do things because they think they’re profitable. They do things because they believe they can get away with it and continue to make money. And not just make money, but more money than they were already making. If they didn’t believe all digital and subscription service based gaming was more profitable than the traditional physical model, they wouldn’t be trying to move away from the traditional physical model. It’s not their fault the traditional physical model isn’t more profitable than digital and subscription models in 2024. It’s ours.

Funny how we never talk about physical games on PC.

Larian Studios is currently being praised for comments from Swen Vincke, director of Baldur’s Gate III and founder of Larian Studios, for saying that he does not agree that subscription services are the best way for players to play and went as far as saying “You won’t find our [Larian Studios] games on a subscription service.” He also said/tweeted a number of other things in a thread with that quote; and you should take the time to read all of it. Now, personally I agree with most of the things he said in that thread, but we, as in consumers, seem to be ignoring a major elephant in the room. Baldur’s Gate III didn’t launch with physical copies either. It’s only now, because of how successful the game was/is that you can preorder deluxe edition physical copies in waves with very limited stock. And the language options are extremely limited.

I actually did try to research this but couldn’t find as much information as I’d hoped, so correct me in the comments if this is inaccurate, but apparently the Asia region Deluxe Edition for Baldur’s Gate III has a Japanese cover but all the content in box is in English. Now personally, I read and write in English and not Japanese, so I’m fine with that. But what about gamers in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, and so on that can’t read English? Notice how we’re not up in arms about Larian Studios discriminating against non-English speaking gamers. Is this decision really for the players? Is the fact that it took the game being wildly successful and winning GOTY before they even released a physical edition, with no vanilla edition even available mind you, for the players? Let me be clear, I have Baldur’s Gate III. I bought it digital for PS5, because that’s what was available when I bought it. And I love the game. And I respect what Larian Studios has done in their management of the game and business around it. I’ll also say that the Baldur’s Gate III Deluxe Edition is extremely fair in its pricing. One of the best value deluxe editions I’ve seen in years. But none of these decisions are being made at the expense of profit. These are choices reacting to their perception of market conditions and potential for sales BASED ON THE DATA. Larian Studios is a business; and like any other business, they have to maximize profits in any way they can. The good faith they’re building now is to help motivate people to buy the next game they make; and that fine. It’s good business. But it’s still business. None of these decisions are altruistic.

To clarify one last time, I don’t like subscription services. I don’t like that I have to pay to use online multiplayer on both my PS5 and my Nintendo Switch. I have played a large number of games on PlayStation+ over the years. A very small number of games on Nintendo Switch Online. But I am one of the few, according to the data, that still buys the majority of my games. And many, but no longer most, I buy physical. I am not the problem. But as the market shifts, because of the large number of players that are the problem, it gets harder and harder not to join in the problematic behavior. When digital games first became a thing, I ignored them for 100% of AAA titles. I would not purchase a digital AAA game. Then AAA titles started becoming cheaper to get digital in sales. Then certain versions of games started to become hard to find. Then region locked DLC became an issue, which I have written about a lot as an American living in Asia. Over time, the things that supposedly everyone is against become the best option. And that happens because companies tend to improve the things that make the most money, while degrading the experience of the things that make the least money, so they can phase them out and maximize profits. Meaning that the things everyone claims to be against keep making the most money. Coincidence? I think not!

So, are you really mad at Ubisoft, or are you actually mad at yourself? And by yourself, I of course mean your fellow gamers (wink wink). There are plenty of legitimate reasons to complain about Ubisoft. I have done so on this blog more than once. But this recent interview quote is not one of them. Not if you actually read the quote, and have basic reading comprehension skills, anyway. If you don’t want to see gaming destroyed by subscription services and an end to physical editions of games, stop playing games via subscription services and go actually buy them. And convince your friends to do the same. It’s really that easy. By which I mean it’s damn near impossible, because too many gamers are lazy hypocrites.

XPG Terrence

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