One of the biggest video game developers has been building an increasingly negative reputation in the past several years. Despite hit franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and the latest Watch_Dogs, Ubisoft is quickly building a history of controversies. From implied sexism and racism to difficulties in playing the purchased games, it seems like almost every of their recent titles is marred by some negative issue.
Back in May, Ubisoft unveiled a teaser poster for its upcoming Far Cry 4 game. The poster depicted a white man in a pink suit sitting on a throne. His hand rested on the head of a person of color, who was holding a grenade. Ubisoft offered no context for the poster, and it did not take long before Twitter accounts exploded with accusations of racism, GameFront reported. Far Cry 3, the prequel to the game, also received a lot of negative criticism for relying on the “noble savage” trope. Some disagreed, pointing out the difference between encouraging racism and merely depicting it as a theme or form of commentary. However, by that point the damage had already been done.
Around the same time Ubisoft also announced the different collector editions to their next highly anticipated title Watch_Dogs. Jim Sterling, a game journalist known for his boldness and biting sarcasm, mocked the title for coming out with 5 distinct versions. Displaying the complicated features spreadsheet comparing the different releases Sterling argued how none of them were really a complete game. Furthermore, he pointed out that the very need to have such a complicated spreadsheet in order to make an educated choice about buying a simple video game was beyond ridiculous. It is not the first time a game publisher has offered different editions based on how the game is acquired, and the issue of proverbially “nickel-and-diming” the customer has often been criticized in the past.
Even after release the launch of Watch_Dogs did not go smoothly. As Polygon and IGN reported, many of the gamers were experiencing problems signing into UPlay, a proprietary digital rights management service required in order to play the game. In effect, many of those who bought the game were not actually able to play it until the issue was resolved. The lure of chatting with friends during the game or collecting achievements does little to incentivize players who are forced to stare at the authentication screen in hopes it will finally let them play. Sadly, it is far from the first time UPlay has been a problem. Issues with connection and authentication marred many of Ubisoft’s previous releases as well. History really does repeat itself.
The latest point in Ubisoft’s history of controversies deals with their upcoming title Assassin’s Creed Unity. The developers have explained that due to limited resources and time the game would not feature playable female protagonists. Ubisoft director James Therien explained that incorporating the female models would effectively require them to “redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes.” The Independent, among others, heavily criticized the developers for prioritizing male protagonists over the female ones. The issue of adequate female representation in video games has been a growing concern in the community for several years now, and Assasin’s Creed Unity is inadvertently adding more flame to the debate.
Ubisoft is building a history of controversies. Issues with playing the games, contentious marketing campaigns, and questionable design choices seem to be a normality in the gaming industry these days. The examples mentioned here, Nintendo’s removal of same-sex marriages in Tamagotchi Life or EA’s heavily criticized microtransactions model in latest Dungeon Keeper are just the tip of the iceberg of gaming faux-pas. Many feel this is a sad thing, as underneath the crushing ice of controversy many of these titles are genuinely good games.
By Jakub Kasztalski