Ubisoft drops Uplay Passport from Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag & future games

Black Flag modified as company changes online DRM policies.

Assassin’s Creed publisher Ubisoft is to drop the Uplay Passport from all future game titles.

The Uplay Passport was designed to lock away online and multiplayer features behind a single-use code, and offered points to users as a reward system for completing in-game challenges. Codes came included with a new copy of a game, but second hand players would be required to buy a Uplay Passport code for an additional fee.

“Uplay Passport will not be a part of any future Ubisoft games,” said the company on its blog.

“The Uplay Passport program was initiated as a means of giving customers full access and support for online multiplayer and features, along with exclusive content, bonuses and rewards.

“However, games today are blurring the line between offline and online, between what is single player and what is multiplayer. Based on that and on the feedback we received from you, we recognized that Passport is no longer the best approach for ensuring that all our customers have the best possible experience with all facets of our games.”

The Uplay Passport has also been dropped from Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, due for release today, which controversially locked some single player content behind the code.

Opinion: I’m quite sure they did not like the backlash from the community and realized a reversal was needed. As gamers and consumers, more and more we are seeing the power we have to stand up and let our voices be known through social media etc…when it comes to publishers “pushing” their way into our pockets and telling us how we should play. Sounds alot like politics. All in all, at least it looks like we won this battle…for now.


Assassin’s Creed 4 single-player content locked behind Uplay Passport

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag players are required to own a Uplay passport for the game if they want to manage ships in their fleet and send them out on missions.

They may not like it, but gamers are at least familiar with the idea of an online pass gating off multiplayer content. However, in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, a noteworthy element of the single-player campaign is unavailable without the Ubisoft’s Uplay Passport.

When protagonist Edward Kenway boards a ship, he has the option to add the ship to his fleet. This fleet functions similarly to your assassin recruits in previous titles; you can send them on missions, and after a varying number of real-time minutes, the ships return with money and spoils. However, we’ve confirmed that your access to this whole loop is gated by the Uplay Passport. In other words, if you borrow the game from a friend who has already redeemed the code (or buy the game used), you don’t get the fleet and the benefits that come with it in your single-player game.

Note that the Uplay Passport is different from simply being a registered Uplay user. Being a part of Uplay is free, but the Passport is a game-specific code included with new copies. According to Ubisoft’s site, the Uplay Passport “will come with a unique code that, when redeemed, grants you access to online multiplayer play, bonus content, and more. In instances where your game’s Uplay Passport has already been redeemed (such as if you’ve bought a used copy of a game) you will be able to purchase a new Uplay Passport code online.”

On one hand, the fleet does include online elements. You are able to have your friends assist you to make missions go faster, for instance. On the other hand, there’s nothing about it that demands this assistance; once you can use your fleet, you can do the missions solo. Previous installments in the series, like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, included similar offline versions of this mechanic.

GameInformer Reaction: We’ve seen online passes for multiplayer modes, but seeing them invade a single-player experience is infuriating. Adding a ship to your fleet is one of only three things you can do after conquering an enemy vessel, so your options are cut down considerably without access to the fleet. After all, as soon as you walk into the captain’s cabin on your ship, the first thing you see is your fleet map on a table directly in front of you. If Ubisoft wants to add a bunch of connected social elements to the single-player, that’s great – but walling off this system because of these minor additions seems unnecessary and underhanded. This also means that your access to your fleet is cut off if you aren’t connected to the Internet while playing Assassin’s Creed IV.You can play through the whole game and enjoy it without the fleet, but the experience will definitely seem incomplete.



Assassin’s Creed takes to the sea and comes adrift

Black Flag’s seafaring impresses the critics, but the series is in danger of losing its identity.

Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise is no stranger to critical praise, though it has a tendency to deceive. Of the five console games released in the series so to date, three have undergone a degree of post-launch revisionism: the first game was bold but ultimately disjointed, Revelations asked the player to revisit settings and characters one too many times, and Assassin’s Creed 3 was a jumble of ideas that lacked the charm to compensate for the flaws in its execution. That’s the tone of the general discussion today, but it was far rosier in the past.

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is the sixth game in the main series – the fifth in little more than four years – and has once again been greeted by the sort of critical reception that makes one forget that digits below 7 even exist. Much has changed since Altair first stalked Jerusalem’s narrow streets, and Black Flag pushes even further into uncharted territory, swapping out the density and detail of the city to pursue Assassin’s Creed 3’s fondness for the great outdoors – specifically, the open sea.

“From a graphical standpoint, Black Flag’s world is built to amaze regardless of which console generation you’re playing it on”


And Edge can barely contain its enthusiasm for that change, proclaiming Black Flag as a new benchmark, “not only for Ubisoft’s series but for open-world gaming.” Partly, this is down to the novelty of being allowed to play at being a pirate in the first place – a rare setting for a game, if not entirely unheard of – but the sheer breadth and beauty of the world that Ubisoft Montreal calls to mind the huge landscapes associated with games like Oblivion and Skyrim. Black Flag is a visual feast, whatever your console.

“From a graphical standpoint, Black Flag’s world is built to amaze regardless of which console generation you’re playing it on,” Edge’s 9 out of 10 review states. “The tropical foliage in jungle environs has a more dynamic lilt and sway. Watching a cutscene of Edward [Kenway, the protagonist[ speaking to his quartermaster Adéwalé at the stern, the current-gen version assumes your eyes are focused on the conversing men and soft-focuses the background details such as water and passing land, while the PS4 version maintains distinct water surface detail and crisper wood textures on the boat. It’s noticeable, but feels more like the step up we’ve become accustomed to between existing console and PC games.”

And Black Flag’s world provides more than enough excuses to explore its extremities. Assassin’s Creed games are famed/reviled for the surfeit of activities/busywork they contain, but Edge notes a greater effort to make that content fit the lovingly rendered context. The series retains its sense of history and place, fully embracing the pirates life – with its attendant grizzled captains and salty seadogs – and allowing that to inform the gameplay systems and the ways they link together.

“There are echoes of Bethesda’s open-world RPGs, gradually taking you from straw-chewing peasant to legendary badass, so much is there to upgrade. Use your plunder to expand Kenway’s arsenal. Outfit your ship, the Jackdaw, with stronger cannons, or a fetching red-striped sail. Build taverns, brothels and beach-party bonfires in your very own hideout on the Inagua islands. Craft inventory and health upgrades out of animal pelts.

“We never felt like we had enough gold to buy everything we wanted, which seems engineered to push you out to sea to do what pirates do best: raid other ships.”

“Where Edward can feel slow on land, the Jackdaw is lithe and responsive, from the simplest act of sailing to the most pitched of sea battles”


One thing is certain, a point of praise in just about every review out there: Black Flag does ships very, very well. What many saw as the single greatest feature of Assassin’s Creed 3 is now the core of the entire game, allowing Ubisoft to base its world around a sprawling Caribbean archipelago and add depth to mechanics that did not even exist in the series until a year ago. For Eurogamer, this is most welcome, as it allows Black Flag to transcend those systems that have began to degrade due to age and overuse.

“If successive Assassin’s Creed games have worn you down with the same ageing systems…you should know that these things are still prominent components of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag,” Eurogamer’s 9 out of 10 review states. “You should also know, however, that while they may bog you down occasionally, they are pushed comprehensively into the background by the many other things that you spend your time doing in this open-world sequel.”

And the most successful of these “many other things” are the naval combat and navigation. Indeed, the focus on seafaring completely alters the nature of the experience: the cities are no show-stopping, living museums, as Rome and Constantinople were; Black Flag’s Kingston and Havana are admirable destinations in their own right, but they really exist as venues for moving the story along and earning gold. For Ubisoft Montreal, this time the destination is actually the journey.

“The real game is out at sea,” Eurogamer notes. “Standing at the helm of the Jackdaw, the whole map is open from the start – although the southern seas are more treacherous than the north – and almost every island, peninsula and slip of land has its own combination of viewpoints to scale, treasure to dig up and secrets to reveal. What’s more, the transition from ship to shore is non-existent – you just pull up wherever you like, dive overboard and walk up the nearest beach.

“There’s a great balance and zip to the way you pinwheel around the game’s vast oceans, stripping treasure maps from corpses and sailing to their coordinates, eyeing up schooners and frigates through your spyglass and weighing the value of their cargo against the difficulty of the fight they’ll put up, diving to shipwrecks and underwater cave networks, harpooning sharks and whales to fashion new pouches and armour, and just ramming and broadsiding anyone who gets in your way. Where Edward can feel slow on land, the Jackdaw is lithe and responsive, from the simplest act of sailing to the most pitched of sea battles.”

However, while Black Flag is often very entertaining, some critics have pointed out that it doesn’t feel very much like Assassin’s Creed. Of course, that could be argued as a good thing – originality and innovation are two of the most prized qualities in any game – but there is a growing sense that the series has strayed too far from its core ideas, and the whole construction is starting to look unstable. For Polygon, which awards Black Flag a measured 7.5, the, “the narrative and character strength that held previous Assassin’s Creed titles together…are weaker than they’ve ever been.”

“The moments that best defined the game for me existed separately from the series that came to define Ubisoft this console generation”


“Previous Assassin’s Creed games – particularly the main, numbered games – have revolved around the war between Assassin and Templar, the turning points, the meaningful moments. Assassin’s Creed 4 is content to sit on the edges of that greater conflict. Edward isn’t the series’ traditional lead, and his absence of allegiance hangs throughout the game. The inclusion of Assassin’s Creed’s fiction feels haphazard and often cursory; even assassination feels perfunctory. Assassin’s Creed 4 is more comfortable wandering the ocean in search of one big score.”

For clarity’s sake, it’s worth pointing out that Polygon had just as much fun on the high seas as those that scored the game a point or two higher, but the main focus of its criticism is more esoteric than the sort in which the games press generally trafficks. Indeed, the source of fun and satisfaction in Black Flag feels so distinct from previous games in the series, it is only in its niggles and blemishes that the Assassin’s Creed DNA really shows,

“Aside from the brief moments outside the Animus VR construct in which Assassin’s Creed 4 takes place, the moments that best defined the game for me existed separately from the series that came to define Ubisoft this console generation.

“This was my biggest problem with Assassin’s Creed 4. For all of its mechanical improvements, for the wonder I felt as I sailed the ocean, orca, dolphins, even great whites breaking the surface to my port side as I outran a royal trade armada, for the excellent performances and character moments throughout … it felt disjointed. Directionless.”

And Polygon isn’t alone on its introspective island. This curious sense of dislocation surfaces in a number of Black Flag’s reviews, regardless of the score at the end, but none explore it in quite the same detail as Kotaku. Despite giving the game a “Yes” rating, and declaring it, “the most mechanically assured, sturdily designed game in the series,” the bulk of its verbose review is dedicated to where Black Flag fits into the complicated web of mythos and mechanics Ubisoft Montreal has created – and, more pointedly, the ways in which it fails.

“Where lies the heart of this series? After six years and seven games, are we any closer to something resembling a destination? And is that destination-and the volumes of ongoing lore and backstory supporting it-even necessary, or could this game have simply been about pirates?”

Certainly, Black Flag’s many distractions have a greater sense of purpose than, say, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Ubisoft has used some of the knowledge accrued from Far Cry 3 to build them into a framework of mutual dependence, but the sheer volume of content remains overwhelming, and ultimately feels like a distraction. The screen is awash with information: ratings, scores, percentage tallies, information on the next meta-challenge, all in ignorance of the events in the narrative and the inner lives of its characters.

“Where lies the heart of this series? After six years and seven games, are we any closer to something resembling a destination?”


“Here I sit, playing a game until three in the morning, all because I need to get enough money to purchase a stronger rowboat. I need the stronger rowboat so that I can harpoon enough great white sharks to upgrade my armor, and I need to upgrade my armor so that I can take more damage when I try to board that Man of War. I need to board the Man of War so that I can get more metal, which I can use to reinforce my ship’s hull, so I can take on a fort…

“Every time I untangle myself from Black Flag’s disconcertingly absorbing scaffold of rewards and challenges, I can’t help but question my motivations. Why on earth have I been doing this stuff? Was it intrinsically enjoyable, or was I simply hooked on the small rush of regularly accomplishing small goals? Why does the armor upgrade require shark bones? Didn’t I just make something similar with deer hide?

“Black Flag often feels like two games: One, a pirate game in which you can ram your ship into an enemy brig before leaping onto their decks. The other, a bog-standard Assassin’s Creed game, in which you follow guys on the street, decipher a novel’s worth of lore and backstory, and leap off of buildings into piles of hay.

“The first game feels exciting, fresh and at times sensationally fun. The second game feels increasingly tired.”



PS4, Xbox One take “painful body blow” from Watch Dogs delay

Chris Morris from GamesInternational looks at the ramifications of Ubisoft’s last-minute delay of one of the hottest new IPs in the industry.

Nintendo will be the first company to tell you about the importance of must-have titles at a console launch. The more you have, the better – as it not only increases the initial frenzy (attracting the wandering eye of the mass media), but keeps demand alive long after Christmas has come and gone.

With Ubisoft’s announcement on Tuesday that it would be delaying Watch Dogs until Spring 2014, both Microsoft and Sony saw their new systems take a painful body blow.

The game has been high on the radar of gamers since June 2012 – and the buzz has never faded, a remarkable feat for any title. Sony was so high on the game, it announced a SKU that bundled the game with the PS4 – and GameStop put together a similar (though unofficial) pairing with the Xbox One.

Sony is officially declining comment on the issue, but pointed GamesIndustry International to statements from Amazon, which said people who ordered the bundles will still receive their consoles on time. (GameStop is making similar assurances to people who ordered the Xbox One package.)

“Knack might be an amazing game, but it isn’t being positioned as a system seller. Ryse, similarly, simply doesn’t have the crucial upswell of support needed to lead the Xbox One”

Bundles aside, it’s not unreasonable to assume that many buyers of both systems had Watch Dogs on their “must purchase” list. While next generation versions of established franchises (like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed) will certainly be big sellers, gamers have been hungry for a new IP for a while now. And while plenty are coming to the next-gen systems, Watch Dogs was set to lead the pack.

Knack, for example, might be an amazing game, but it isn’t being positioned as a system seller. Ryse, similarly, simply doesn’t have the crucial upswell of support needed to lead the Xbox One (especially after its boneheaded Tweets Tuesday bragging about crunch time).

Ubisoft, as might have been expected, is being punished for the announcement. Fans who were looking forward to Watch Dogs can appreciate the declaration that a title simply wasn’t coming together as planned – and needed extra time for polish. But that excuse comes across a bit thin when the publisher has been touting the game as heavily as it has for the past 16 months.

Investors, meanwhile, aren’t happy about the financial ramifications. Ubisoft, in revealing the delay, slashed its sales expectations from between €1.42 billion and €1.45 billion this fiscal year to between €995 million and €1.05 billion.

“Our long term goal is to win the next generation,” explained CEO Yves Guillemot wrote in a press release announcing the games’ delays. “The tough decisions we are taking today to fully realize the major potential of our new creations have an impact on our short-term performance. We are convinced that, longer term, they will prove to be the right decisions both in terms of satisfaction for our fans and in terms of value creation for our shareholders.”

While the delay of Watch Dogs is frustrating for gamers and painful for console makers, it may actually have been the smartest move Ubisoft could have made.

Everyone knew Grand Theft Auto V was going to be huge, but even the most optimistic observers underestimated its impact. Analyst retail checks show the game has legs – and the online component of the game is just starting to run as planned. That creates an enormous blast zone – one that could impact Watch Dogs (which shares the GTA open world design) if it were to come out this fall.

By waiting a few months, Ubisoft can distance itself from GTA – and wait open world player anticipation to build up once again.

At the same time, the installed base of next generation consoles will, naturally, be bigger next year than it will in the waning parts of 2013. A bigger base means potentially bigger sales, which should quiet down those investors who are wringing their hands over the reduced sales expectations.

Finally, pushing Watch Dogs into the spring (or early summer) of 2014 protects Ubisoft’s most important existing franchise. Players won’t have to decide between a new IP and Assassin’s Creed IV now. While the delay of Watch Dogs may not steer people over to Assassin’s Creed if they weren’t fans, it could nudge people who were thinking of bypassing it “for now” in favor of the new franchise back into picking up a copy.

Of course, the delay isn’t without risks. While fans are unlikely to lose interest in Watch Dogs, Ubisoft won’t be the only new IP hitting the streets next spring. In deciding to skip the launch of the new consoles, Ubisoft has set the stage for a battle with Respawn’s Titanfall.

Different games, certainly. And both new IPs. But instead of being the presumed king of the hill, Watch Dogs may have to fight harder for people’s attentions in 2014.



How to build a AAA studio

Jade Raymond on taking Ubisoft Toronto’s headcount from 0 to 300 while making Splinter Cell: Blacklist in three years

Jade Raymond

Since Ubisoft Toronto’s official launch in September of 2010, managing director Jade Raymond has built the operation up to a team of more than 300 developers, a selection process that would have involved combing through roughly 30,000 CVs and 1,800 interviews. At the same time as it was being built, Ubisoft Toronto was in turn building its debut project, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, on which Raymond served as executive producer. The game launched last month, and while Raymond told GamesIndustry International that the idea of a new studio tackling a AAA title for its first project in such a short time frame was “kind of unique” in the gaming industry, she still wishes she’d set her ambitions a little bit higher.

“You could think it’s kind of crazy to decide you’re going to set up a new studio and ship a AAA within three years, and I’m definitely really proud of that,” Raymond said. “Ultimately though, from a gamer’s perspective, no one cares if you’re a new studio or not. When you’re a gamer buying Blacklist, you don’t care. And in terms of long-term tech investment for the studio, I guess I wish we’d bitten the bullet and also were going to ship this on next-gen, that we’d bitten the bullet and done a bigger tech investment.”

A portion of the Ubisoft Toronto team.

Of course, given the abundance of readily available next-gen tech and experience elsewhere in the Ubisoft studio system, Ubisoft Toronto isn’t exactly hamstrung heading into future projects. And it’s not as if building a studio from scratch to 300 employees while completing work as lead developer on a AAA game in the same three-year stretch is such a common thing that she had a template to follow. But Raymond said the decision to attempt that was a strategic one shaped by Ubisoft’s agreement with the government of Ontario, which gave the publisher tax breaks based on a commitment to build Ubisoft Toronto to an 800-job studio with 10 years.

“So when you look at that kind of agreement, when you know from the start that you’re building a skyscraper, the only way you can do that and sustain that kind of growth is to have a really sound foundation,” Raymond said. “So the people you get in the door in those first few years are really key, because you need to have really solid industry veterans so that you can recruit people at that pace, ramp them up, get them trained and working effectively.”

Raymond brought some of that foundation with her from Ubisoft Montreal, but she had to attract the rest. And to do that, Raymond figured the key would be having a great project for them to work on.

“Having a mandate to ship a AAA and the fact that we were leading it from the start was a key strategy to allow me to attract the right people…”

Jade Raymond

“A lot of the senior people we were able to attract because it’s interesting to them to come and be part of a founding team and build up a culture from scratch, but they wouldn’t have done it at the expense of doing a project they didn’t really care about,” Raymond said. “Having a mandate to ship a AAA and the fact that we were leading it from the start was a key strategy to allow me to attract the right people to build the foundation we needed to sustain the growth.”

As development ramped up, Raymond found that while the project and potential of the studio were important, they weren’t Ubisoft Toronto’s biggest asset when it came to enticing developers to sign up.

“This is one thing where my assumptions were not quite right,” Raymond said. “I thought when we were trying to attract talent, the number one thing would be the project we were able to offer them and the potential of the studio. Actually what we found was when we were able to attract the best talent, it was mostly about the team they were going to get to work with. A lot of those people who were on the fence and had multiple job offers ultimately made the choice to come here based on the face-to-face interviews with other members of the team and feeling like this was the right team they wanted to work with.”

Offering people a team they wanted to work with wasn’t just about personalities that got along well. It was about knowing they could get the job done.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist hit stores last month.

“I often say when you’re trying to make something new that’s fun, it’s like trying to tell a joke for the first time,” Raymond said. “You don’t know if it’s going to be funny, ultimately, so there are some things that don’t work out and you have to rework it. That whole process under tight timelines, new tech challenges, and new people, it means that development is tough. And that’s the real takeaway. Ultimately, when you are working on these games and it is a labor of passion for everyone. Yes, you care about the project, but what you care about even more after you’ve shipped a few games is the people you’re shipping it with. Can you count on them? How well is the project going to be run? Is there a level of professionalism? Will my contributions count? Will this project get out the door and not last 10 years?”

From the start, Raymond and the founding team wanted to shape a culture of transparency at Ubisoft Toronto. They wanted the studio to be completely open, not just in the floor plan or managers having open-door policies, but in how decisions–and the logic behind them–were disseminated to the entire team. They also stressed “collaborative growth,” learning from the experiences of people who came from other studios with their own best practices, taking the best aspects of their previous studios’ cultures and incorporating them at Ubisoft Toronto.

“Yes, you care about the project, but what you care about even more after you’ve shipped a few games is the people you’re shipping it with. Can you count on them? How well is the project going to be run?”

Jade Raymond

Of course, when you’re trying to build a studio of 800 people, not every new hire can be a 20-year veteran of the industry. But the value of a developer to the studio can’t be sufficiently measured by number of games shipped or years of experience.

“You see that they have that passion for games and they’re really excited and the potential is there,” Raymond said. “So even though they’re not bringing experience to the team, they bring extra excitement, new perspectives, maybe more insight into the gamer we’re trying to target because us old fogeys who’ve been making games for 20 years aren’t necessarily in line with the target market for our game.”

With the studio’s foundation laid and its first game out the door, one might think the hard part is over. But there are still about 500 more jobs to create, and possibly more. Outside of meeting Ubisoft’s obligations to Ontario, Raymond said there’s no target size for Ubisoft Toronto, and no cap in place. To give some idea of how big such an operation can get, Ubisoft Montreal currently employs about 2,000 people. Right now the studio is working on Blacklist post-launch content, has five new projects (including at least one new intellectual property) starting up, and the Splinter Cell brand stewardship is only going to get more complicated as work on the feature film adaptation starring Tom Hardy ramps up.

“It’s gotten crazier,” Raymond said. “I wouldn’t have thought it would, but I guess this is always the way it goes. You always think the stuff you’re in is The Big One and once you’re past it, it will be smoother sailing.”