One of the major problems in my mind with the gaming industry’s current condition has everything to do with how effective one strategy in particular is. Every day a new set of issues pop up that leave a bad effect on the gaming landscape. You have reports like the working conditions of Konami, where valued employees and gaming icons are being reduced to lower status jobs for no good reason, despite their history and contributions. You see situations where scams hit the Steam marketplace, attempting to take full advantage of the gaming community’s want for difficult games only in an attempt to bait and switch. And then there’s things like the controversy regarding Anno 2205 … which is somewhat what I’m going to focus on.
Because Ubisoft is pulling the exact tactic regarding Anno 2205 that has worked countless of times for years past for Games Publishers: playing the waiting game. To not address the issue in question, to avoid giving any information regarding the situation that the consumer could use to gauge the quality and the likelihood of the game being good or polished, and hope that the media and bad PR blow over like a summer breeze. And it infuriates me to no end. Let me provide a back story here for those uninformed with a link over to the initial article regarding the Anno 2205 saga. And a trailer that I decided to update with the true information regarding what’s going on with the game.
Basically, Ubisoft has cancelled a pre-order bonus with a playable beta that was offered and replaced it with a skin ship and a Corporation Emblem. Yep, these two things are apparently equivalent to a playable form of the game before anyone else and possible interaction with the developers and gaming community. While I didn’t do the original story, I’m very sensitive to stories like this, in particular with the consumer. I’ve been screwed myself before on this, but now I’m in a place where I can at least focus efforts to try to help the consumer. It seemingly helped with the Dark Void situation with Capcom. Actually, for all the shit I usually throw at Capcom for some of their release practices and poor PC port quality, I will give them credit that their PR department is one of the nicest and most responsive that I’ve run across. To those I’ve worked with at Capcom, I thank you for that, because even if I didn’t get the answers I was looking for, at least it seems like you actually care about your customer base.
But I digress; let’s get back to the fact that there’s seemingly a lack of information regarding the case of Anno 2205. What’s been particularly bothersome about the situation is the lack of reasoning behind the cancellation of the beta. This could be telling to the consumer; if the Beta was cancelled for a perceived lack of quality for example, that gives information about the development cycle and how far the development team is behind on the game. Considering that Ubisoft has had a bad recent history of poor game launches, that would be majorly problematic for someone who’d want to play the game without issue on day one.
This also comes with the fact that the game had a playable demo at Gamescom. Was the Demo just a vertical slice of gameplay, not really within the Beta mold, or did Ubisoft just want to drive up its presentation at Gamescom by making it exclusive there? That’s the thing, there’s absolutely no information about why the beta was cancelled, so technically, it could be anything.
And hence why I went to try to get answers. And why it’s so frustrating on how I don’t have any of them. I asked a specific set of questions in the Ubisoft forums and to PR representives over at Ubisoft. Now note, I did not ask these questions to “shame” Ubisoft in anyway, but more to get answers. Granted, the shame that may come from the lack of answers to these questions is something that I will lay as evidence for the Internet to see. The questions were as follows:
1. Considering that contact information would be needed regarding purchases regarding pre-orders online, why was there no formal communication made via email or other means besides this thread indicating to users that this was going to happen? Anyone who doesn’t normally see this thread may not have gotten the indication, and considering the product has changed at this point, that’s a huge reason for them to change their thoughts on the game. This will get you in trouble with European law regarding one sided changes to a contract, for example, and this being a contract of form with a delivery of the promised pre-order bonus, as shown here: http://europa.eu/youreurope/
2. Why has the http://anno-game.ubi.com/anno-
3. This question has already been asked, but for the sake of an official answer, why is the game playable at Gamescom and not accessible for Pre-Orders?
Now I admit, the first one, I don’t have enough of an understanding of European law and was attempting to piece things together, but I thought it was a reasonable question. In particular, at the time of the writing, the 2nd question was strongly relevant, as the game was still being sold with the bonus of the Beta, which had been cancelled. The third question I ended up rewording due to some confusing language I used. But the idea was asking why the game was playable at Gamescom but not for the people who ordered it. Now I would have taken any information to help the consumer. Any information to help bring light to the situation. And here’s the response I got:
We’ve already issued a statement which is all we have to share at this time, but as mentioned in that statement, we will have more later.
What she’s referring to is the forum post that first announced the cancellation of the beta … the one not publicly televised, and had to spread through Internet links and Reddit. You notice how a majority of the questions were avoided? Yeah, that didn’t exactly make me happy, but I also was concerned that a forum post isn’t usually an official statement. I mean, it’s usually a press release, on an official blog, or through an email. But a forum post? So I asked a clarifying question to be sure that was the statement she was referring to. After posing the clarification question twice, I finally got an answer 5 days later. She indicated that yes, this was the post that she was referring to. So basically, no answers for the consumer, and me left holding nothing as a result of posing the questions.
And the sad thing is some people had to seemingly go to higher authorities to get a response. In one case, a German consumer who wanted to cancel his pre-order, which wasn’t done through Steam, noted that they were not returning his money after the cancellation in a timely manner. He ended up scheduling an appointment with the Verbraucherzentrale, which basically is a public consumer advocate. While it didn’t give all the results that one may want, it was made clear that something was going to be done. They also noted the complete lack of communication of Ubisoft’s part to the end users. Of course, the money showed up in his account the next day.
And that’s the most frustrating part. Because I know what they are doing: they are waiting for the issue to go away. For people to get lost in the trailers, to get lost in the gameplay to show, and for the storm to pass over so they don’t have to deal with it. You see, the gaming news cycle is a quick one. Stories that are headlines today are barely worth talking about tomorrow. The news cycle is so rapid that stories that continue on, stories that don’t have a strong resolution in a short amount of time, will get passed over very quickly.
Part of it is the current model of news as a whole—an update or a continuation of a story just doesn’t get the attention that other more hot news stories get. Part of it is the fact that those writers who spend a lot of time on those stories don’t necessarily get the return on investment that they’d maybe like to see. Most writers are paid per view, at least on the Internet side, and are not salaried, so lots of views do mean something in the end. That’s just a truth of the system and how the current financial models of the news reporting side of the Internet work, but even the television and newspaper side of things also have flaws regarding this.
And the tactic of waiting, the tactic of hunkering down and waiting for the chaos to dissolve into the atmosphere works. Remember Batman: Arkham Knight’s PC port? Remember how it was an abomination on how it launched? How much have you heard on it since the initial story? How much progress has been made on the port, and when PC users can expect to see the game? Unless you’ve been really looking … you haven’t, because the storm has come and past. How about the situation regarding the Street Fighter V Beta, and when do those that paid for access to the Beta, which failed on its first attempt, get a chance to play it? Again, no news. And that’s the point. It has left people’s minds. There’s a new controversy, a new issue that’s taking hold of the gaming industry right now.
It’s how Valve, which has constantly been taking huge criticism for some of the major problems regarding their customer support, hasn’t been forced to take critical action on it for so many years now. Don’t get me wrong, a story will fall to the front of Reddit of another user having to provide a 10 year old physical CD key that he probably doesn’t have anymore to prove that his account is his … and it’ll fade into the sunset. Because someone else has also screwed up, and the masses flock toward that drama. And sadly, I can’t hold it against those people. People like drama, people like knowing about the information that is “juicy” and holds weight in the gaming community. And meanwhile, those truly affected by those bad decisions, those who have been hit by the Steam support problem, those who pre-ordered Anno 2205 in a hope of playing the Beta, they are the ones who are truly screwed. Because their problems? They don’t get solved, unless someone really goes out of their way to deal with the situation.
The amount of resources to take care of simple elements that should be basic consumer rights is astounding, from repeatedly attempting to get answers via a PR representative, to having to go through document after document. It can take a toll, and while it’s worth it in the end, not everyone can sit there and be ready to fight the next fight regarding this. Some will roll over and move on to the next thing. It’s a sad state of affairs. It’s not that every fight isn’t worth fighting, it’s that some fights unfortunately don’t have an outcome worth noting.
I wish I had an answer for this problem, but honestly, how can I? It deals with millions of people, it deals with the trends of the Internet, gaming culture, and frankly a whole slew of issues that I can’t even begin to dig into. Something like Deepfreeze for the issues that are boiling in the gaming community, to keep track of these issues? Would love to do that, but that takes time, money, and resources I don’t have, and with starting up my own YouTube stuff and working for TechRaptor full time, I can only give what I can at this point. I’ll do my best to help bring these issues to life, but in the end, I’m only one voice in the void. And until there’s a chorus of voices singing these issues on a consistent basis … the problems will continue. And that’s … depressing.