Ubisoft's Mallat says audience is ready for always-online

Head of Montreal studio says services need to provide clear benefits, but people already embrace other always-online devices

Regardless of the outcry over SimCity's troubled launch and controversy surrounding the idea of an always-online Xbox 360 successor, the gaming audience could accept an always-online generation of consoles. That's the assessment of Ubisoft Montreal head Yannis Mallat, as he told The Guardian in a new interview.

When asked if gamers are ready for consoles with constant connections, Mallat said, "Well, that's a question you should put to Microsoft and Sony! I would say that a lot of people are already always online through other devices. I would suspect that the audience is ready."

Of course, part of that readiness involves publishers and hardware makers providing appropriate support and making sure such processes work as intended.

"As soon as players don't have to worry, then they will only take into account the benefits that those services bring," Mallat said. "And I agree, these services need to provide clear benefits. It's important to be able to provide direct connections between us and our consumers, whether that's extra content or online services, a lot of successful games have that."

Ubisoft is no stranger to the always-online debate. The company used always-on DRM for a number of PC games several years ago, including The Settlers 7 and Assassin's Creed II. Both of those titles, as well as others released with the same DRM, ran into issues at launch that left owners of legitimate copies of the games temporarily unable to play them. Citing user feedback, Ubisoft abandoned always-on DRM last year, instead requiring a one-time online activation.

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Latest comments (20)

Sam Brown Lead Audio Programmer, TT Games8 years ago
Sure I'm ready. Sadly, the cable connecting me to the outside world isn't.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 15th April 2013 10:32pm

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
Some people are ready. But as mentioned above the internet infrastructure isn't neccesarily ready.
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Pier Castonguay Programmer 8 years ago
I'm the audience, I'm not ready. Case closed.
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Show all comments (20)
Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
I'm technically ready. However, I'm not sold on customer benefits for imposed online until a real case can be put forward...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 16th April 2013 5:25pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
As there are less to no options for offline/downtime play (it seems) there are NO customer "benefits", period. No privacy, no freedom, more money spent, more downtime, less customer service (I bet once someone voids the warranty on that Next Xbox or PS4, they're SOL in a few areas more than in this generation) and pretty much you're trapped with whatever you buy until you throw it out a window because it's either not working or working too well at taking away any remaining privacy you thought you had...

And hell... this "other devices" nonsense needs to stop. A games console isn't a damn phone or tablet, period. Well, it SHOULDN'T be.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
My phone, tablet, laptop and computer are always-online and would have massively reduced functionality if they weren't.
Facebook has over a billion members of its service which requires users to be online.
Real world gaming behaviour has shifted massively away from single player to online social and multiplayer.

Console gaming can sit in 1983 if it wants, but don't expect many customers.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
They're not always online though are they, Bruce. If you get no sginal on a plane you can still play a game on your phone. Given that a console exists only to play games, that point is all the starker.

In fact, even me saying that is bogus. I've rarely got no signal on my phone but my landline internet is shite. When 4G hits, that will probably be my main home connection if I can afford it!

As someone that can't get beyond 2Mb and nothing at all once a month, I find this whole thing a bit ludicrous. Are there really masses of people who have fast and reliable internet that companies the size of MS only care about that slice? I'm truly surprised, but will be passing this time around. Maybe the Nextnextbox for me.
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Craig Burkey Software Engineer 8 years ago
My phone works offline to play Candy Crush Saga, listen to FM radio, watch saved videos, take photos etc. Even facebook allows you to read cached status and messages

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Craig Burkey on 16th April 2013 9:08am

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When asked if gamers are ready for consoles with constant connections, Mallat said, "Well, that's a question you should put to Microsoft and Sony!"
Shouldn't we be asking the gamers if they're ready? I feel like everyone's assuming gamers don't know what they want or what is best for themselves.

I agree in general though -if there IS a genuine benefit to requiring a permanent connection, fine. But the risks outweigh the benefits for now and I think maybe we need to ask - why do any of the big companies want always online anyway? Why the big push if games aren't ready for it (by that I mean, design trends are the same as they have been for a while - nothing massively different requiring internet connections etc), gamers arent and neither is the technology?
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Samuel Verner Game Designer 8 years ago
i am ready for cracked scene releases with removed drm now.
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A poor solution to address a miss-understood situation.

Building console hardware that needs "always on" connectivity in-order to address perceived piracy issues, and to monetizes the business model with a new payment option, is a very poor approach to a declining sector.

In defense - linking this to how mobile phones or hovers works, shows a level of naivety and complacency with the complexity of the issue that just confirms why the churn rate in game executives is so high! Throw away phrases like "deal with it" seem to point to the Nero "fiddled while Rome burned" attitude, and that they are allowed to go unanswered shows a trade cow-towed to following the drummer boy.

People, just because MS and SONY paid for a very flash presentation event to show off a Constantly Connected gaming world, dose not mean you had to buy into the kool-aid! If you do not grow a pair and admit that you need a better approach to gaining player loyalty, you will sleep walk straight into another crash, and this time you will not be able to have a revisionist view of how you got into the mess... because you wont be part of the industry any more!
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Caleb Hale Journalist 8 years ago
"Always online" will come at the peril only of the major players in the gaming industry. If they are going to adopt this strategy against the wishes of a majority of their clientele and it doesn't work, the people will "deal with it" simply by walking away, never to return. For an industry that has come this far, it'd be foolish to risk blowing it up all for the purpose of making sure companies are squeezing every last dime possible.
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Rob Craig Instructor / Writer 8 years ago
Why do the giants insist that 'we' are ready? To what benefit would this ever be to the consumer? Further, do they live in a world with no infrastructure issues, no service provider downtime, and no remote (rural) connections? I suppose if I'm in the same suite of buildings where my software is developed and tested, the idea of always on makes sense. UNTIL you look around and see what the rest of the world looks like. But here is the problem. When people only see things from their own perspective, the suffer such a lack of perspective that it is entirely possible for that giant to make ego-centricly horrid decisions that result in financial loss to the company, pain for disrupted employees, and a crisis to the consumer. There are other ways to address piracy than full-on DRM! Think harder!!!
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Christopher Thigpen Lead Producer, Kiz Studios8 years ago
Much like Steam, a game and/or game console MUST have an option for when the Internet is down. Just having it always online is not worth it.

I don't understand why these studio heads are so hell-bent on ignoring the consumers. Have they learned nothing from the terrible experiences this brings to their player base?

Wake up and smell reality. Just because you want to push it, doesn't mean that all of your fan base or future fan base has the infrastructure to support an always online feature.

The ineptness is borderline ridiculous.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
Real world gaming behaviour has shifted massively away from single player to online social and multiplayer.
Problem is this isn't true for all games and there will still continue to be singleplayer experiences. If they incorporate multi-player and social features, these should always be optional. Facebook is an online, cloud based service. As it stands, God of War III (random game example) is not.

So long as it benefits me, I'll keep my devices always online by choice. However, if its an imposed feature, the case has to be a very good one for the customer to accept it.

The potential of being always online is great, but it needs to be matched up with justification especially if users will have to consider down time or online features they may not want. Like I said earlier, it works for me technically, but we need to know what we're getting if the console has to be permanently online to function.
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Ryan Leonski Indie Dev 8 years ago
If it's Always Online then for the next Xbox I'm Always Pirating.
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Christopher Thigpen Lead Producer, Kiz Studios8 years ago

That is a very slanted view and alienates hundreds of thousands of players and more.

As a gamer, I do not want to be handcuffed to my internet provider to be able to enjoy a game. It is obtuse to think that everyone, everywhere, shares the same kind of consistent access to stable technology.

Would you want to shave off 30% or more of your profits?

I would think not.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
Of course Ubisoft PC customers clearly told them they hated this approach enough to start boycotting their PC releases until they backed down. I guess they think that if the platform is always online, they can use it without taking the blame, and without any competitors on the same platform doing anything different.
But Ubisoft, your customers will still hate it, and I didn't hear anyone mention any benefits you brought to the table whilst using always online. I did hear a lot of pc gamers swearing about you though.
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Andrew Animator 8 years ago
"If it's Always Online then for the next Xbox I'm Always Pirating."

Or you could buy a PS3 or play on PC...................
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Ryan Leonski Indie Dev 8 years ago
I have both PC and PS3 along side Wii U but there are experiences that I do want on Xbox. The Halo series, Fez, Battle Block Theatre, and Xbox Live Indie Games among many other exclusives. I do want to support devs, shit I would be a hypocrite otherwise since I want to make money from making games, but I do not want to be always online. I'll just send the devs money in the mail so they could go to the pub or something.

I don't see a reason for there to be always online unless it's an MMO.
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