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On Ubisoft's pandering to unreasonable players

Ubisoft's decision to reverse minor aesthetic changes in Rainbow Six Siege sets an unwanted - and unnecessary - new precedent

It feels like every week we're reading headlines along the lines of 'Players outraged over X', 'Game Y gets review-bombed' - most often over something utterly trivial. It's becoming tiresome how much upset can be caused by minutiae, but at least we could take solace that the 'backlash' was usually a vocal minority with demands that would ultimately never be met.

Or so we thought.

Today, Ubisoft announced it was reversing the aesthetic changes it had planned for Rainbow Six Siege after "our community and players raised concerns". Which, as you'll no doubt have guessed, is putting it mildly.

Within a couple of days of these changes originally being announced, the game's Steam page was besieged by negative reviews bemoaning the decision. Even this week, a smattering of harsh ratings continue to be posted, motivated purely by this alteration.

And what was Ubisoft's heinous crime? Adjusting some minor visual elements and art assets to prepare Rainbow Six for a Chinese release.

"For some, the bare wall where a slot machine once stood might be a reminder that they are not the center of Ubisoft's universe"

Slot machines on a counter in one map were removed. A sexually suggestive neon-lit sign for a strip club was replaced by a more moderate one. A blood splatter across a painting was removed. A few icons were replaced with inoffensive alternatives. O, the horror of it all.

Review-bombers complained that this affects their enjoyment of the game, that it taints their very memory of it. Now, granted, I have personally not played this particular iteration of Rainbow Six, but I fail to see how such minor aesthetic changes would have any impact whatsoever on the gameplay and therefore the actual experience of playing the game.

I understand that, for some, the bare wall where a slot machine once stood might be a permanent visual reminder that this game was not solely developed for them, that they are not the center of Ubisoft's universe, that this is a world with other people who would also appreciate things that cater to them - but these lessons are hard learned, and where better to learn them than from the comfort of your favourite video game?

If Ubisoft had changed the entire art style to resemble a My Little Pony episode and made players shoot bubbles instead of bullets, I could understand the outrage. But the only impact I can envisage is that Ubisoft's ongoing development for Siege will be streamlined - as they announced in the original post - by only having to attend to a single, global version.

Rainbow Six Siege could have had more bare walls but this would have, of course, irreparably ruined the game

Rainbow Six Siege could have had more bare walls but this would have, of course, irreparably ruined the game

This means growth for Ubisoft by getting the title into China, the world's biggest games market, and ensures a larger audience and therefore more players for these devastated defenders of non-interactive slot machines to compete with online.

It's not clear at this stage whether this means Ubisoft now has to make a China-only version, but a spokesperson told this morning: "China is a strategic market for Ubisoft and it is in our intent to bring the highest-quality Rainbow Six Siege experience to Chinese players, in terms of gameplay, community and esports, same as for any other country. More details about our future plans for China will be announced on due time."

Getting back to the original plan -- yes, such modifications capitulated to the censorship of the Chinese government, as so many players nobly observed in their reviews. But honestly, how harmful is the removal of any of these trivial visual elements in a title where you still run around shooting people in the face? Was a neon stripper central to the vital message the developers were trying to send through the medium of online deathmatches?

"This reversal has given those review-bombers a 'victory', and furthered an expectation the industry could certainly have done without"

Several users 'hilariously' posted "[This review has been censored by the People's Republic of China]" while others made reference to Ubisoft's newfound communist ethos - but I'm fairly sure that modifying a game purely to access the lucrative Chinese audience is pretty capitalist as a business practice.

The problem is this reversal has given those review-bombers a 'victory', as they'll no doubt see it, and furthered an expectation and a precedent the industry could certainly have done without. Because Ubisoft aren't the only ones facing such complaints.

Pokémon Let's Go is also receiving countless negative user reviews over how easy the game is and how much it veers away from the series' mechanics. In this instance, yes, the changes have been significant (far more so than Rainbow Six), but that is the very concept of the game. When Nintendo announced it earlier this year, it was clearly positioned as a title designed to onboard those drawn in by the Pokémon Go phenomenon to the main franchise, while simultaneously confirming a core RPG for 2019 to please Pikachu's most avid fans.

Now it is entirely possible that these negative reviews stem from people who don't follow the games media too closely, who were unaware of the differences between Let's Go and the core series. But even so, if Nintendo and The Pokémon Company capitulated to their cries, would they eventually stop trying to reach out for this new audience for fear of upsetting the established one? These are companies trying to build a cross-generation franchise - developing games solely for people that calculate each critter's IV (that's Individual Value, as the corest of core Pokéfans know) does not serve this strategy.

The sheer audacity of Nintendo trying to get more people into Pokémon via Let's Go, while still catering for fans with next year's core RPG, eh?

The sheer audacity of Nintendo trying to get more people into Pokémon via Let's Go, while still catering for fans with next year's core RPG, eh?

To an extent, you can understand why Ubisoft has opted to pander to demands for an unchanged international version of Rainbow Six Siege. After all, we saw the hit Activision's shares took after it dared to announce a mobile version of Diablo at the recent Blizzcon. The publisher has since taken steps to appease its fans by confirming other Diablo projects are, indeed, in development -- as we have previously discussed, there are ways to handle gamer entitlement -- but will it be scrapping the mobile version and stop chasing that Chinese pot of gold? Not a chance.

In fact, these examples are likely only the beginning of Western publishers taking their established franchises and tuning them to the tastes of those eager Asian audiences. Because if you're in charge of a major games company, why would you ignore the opportunities afforded by half of the planet?

"Activision has taken steps to appease Diablo fans but will it be scrapping the mobile version and stop chasing that Chinese pot of gold? Not a chance"

And herein lies the crux of it, publishers. By all means, do your utmost to keep your fans happy and deliver the experiences they expect and want - they are, after all, the ones who 'put you where you are today' as so many an irksome internet post has claimed (right, alongside 'Company X doesn't care about the community' and other such nonsense). But it should never be at the expense of your business strategy.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting Ubisoft has altered its course on engaging with Chinese audiences. But if it does indeed have to create a China-only version that meets the government's censorship requirements, that's an additional workload that could have been avoided if a few people accepted that a digital mural looks a little bit different. Or if Ubisoft has built the game with Chinese censors in mind from the beginning - something publishers will no doubt be doing in future. In fact, making games as inoffensive as possible -- thus making it acceptable to all markets -- avoids this issue because, as we have seen, 'fans' will rebel over the most insignificant tweaks.

In such cases, however, the bemoaners are a vocal minority fighting against change, against anything that doesn't fit with their view of what they already have or have had in the past. Holding on to the past or present is not the way to move a business or an industry forward -- especially in a games-as-a-service world where titles are built to develop over time and cater to different markets. And the more publishers are afraid of upsetting their fans, the fewer risks they'll take, the faster our industry will stagnate.

It is impossible to please these people without holding back your business and video games as a medium. What if Disney had succumbed to call for The Last Jedi to be struck from the canon and replaced with a film that was more in line with what fans expected? The latter is equally impossible, as no two fans can comprehensively agree on the future of a franchise they enjoy. Disney is not only pressing on with Episode IX in a way that builds on The Last Jedi, but has a further trilogy planned as well, because the alternative would just lead the company in circles.

The true precedent for video games was, of course, set by EA and BioWare modifying the ending to Mass Effect 3 after widespread cries of disappointment. But Ubisoft's more recent decision is just as concerning - it might just be some trivial art changes in this case, but it sets an expectation and fuels the entitlement that leads to even more baseless backlashes.

Correction: This article erroneously referred to an in-game painting as Chinese. This reference has been removed.

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Latest comments (8)

Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia2 years ago
While some fan reactions are clearly unreasonable, and considering the realities of different cultures, I still don't agree with the notion of denaturing a piece of work for acceptance in another market. By this, I mean censorship in any form, whether that's just an innocuous visual detail here and there (as is the case in R6), or some culturally more meaningful change such as removing nazi flags from WWII games sold in Germany.

It is true that giving in to fan pressure is one issue, but pressing hard in the other direction of altering works to accommodate other sensibilities can also lead to some pretty devastating results. What else will be removed from games or other media? Will certain themes, periods or actions be forbidden? What about games that make political statements?

I don't believe our cultures will evolve simultaneously if we continuously shield ourselves from what is deemed offensive on one side or another. To be clear I'm not talking about being disrespectful or insulting on purpose, but being exposed to different realities is not something we should abandon for the sake of a few dollars.
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Whilst there indeed a segment of player bases that tend to make unreasonable demands, there is a valid argument to be made, that pandering to ones customers is hardly a bad thing.

After all what a era of Publisher design on high game design actually lead to... loot-box levelling, ie gambling for all ages, and whilst a high profile issue its hardly the only bad mechanic, system or so on to make it into far to wide circulation, in all truth as a general rule the games industry has no leg to stand on declaring itself an artform delivering the vision of the creator and so not subject to change.

Consistant bad decisions and abject greed, gamers are customers and within reason should have some influence on what content is put out there, as clearly publishers cannot be trusted to operate on their behalf.

As for cross-cultural issues, censorship is obviously not a desired practice, but if you choose to do business in countries where it is the norm, a game developer and/or publisher does not get a free pass from local law because of their own moral compass, that is not as a general rule how law works, either you choose to develop in said countries and adhere to the law in those countries or you choose not to and preserve the integrity (if there is any) of your work, there is no middle ground, any desire otherwise is merely wishful thinking.

You cant change the general attitude and law of a given country by high-handly dismissing the behaviour by publishing an article few from said country will ever access, changing and/or softening attitudes is a process that can take hundreds of years, and I personally believe engaging with a different culture is the only way for it to one day change, sure you have to adhere to local laws and not step on to many toes, but by keeping the door open, the concept of a different way to go about things will be kept alive on both sides, and only by such an extended process could any such law's ever be peacefully reversed.

Removing yourself from it may preserve your "artistic integrity" of "insert game name here", but if such behaviour truly bothers you, removing a line of communication is not the right way of going about changing it, you will merely be reinforcing the very position you oppose, by ensuring the only content they are ever exposed to is straight of the local propaganda office, foreign content even if "filtered" or watered down is still a good thing to advocates of cross-culturalism.

Simply refusing to engage is less a position but an affirmation of intention to bury ones head in the sand, it aid's no one, and is in this case simply is not going to happen, the market is to big and money talks loudest of all.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
Does anybody want to live in a world where you can only do things that are not impacting corporate revenue?

China has a social scoring system, maybe the video games industry wants to adapt that. Score each player and if they are not happy with the patch on social media, or downvote the game on Steam, they will not get their free weekly lootcrate and their drop rate is reduced. That will teach them not to cheer their beloved PR leaders.

Meanwhile Ubisoft games get banned in China, because this Rainbow6 ordeal clearly shows that Ubisoft is indirectly supporting grassroots quasi-political movements and by bending to their will incentivizes the formation of more quasi-political interest groups. #TomClancy'sRaymanNow!
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Show all comments (8)
Another example of toxic internet culture. What makes someone feel so entitled that he throws a fit on something as trivial as minor visual change? Especially as the game play changes Ubisoft has made to RB6 Siege have changed the game from realistic contemporary military game into soft-scifi Frankenstein :-)
Changing a neon sign or removing slot machines are nothing compared to the silly operators they keep churning out, yet there has not been an outrage over that. Wonder why...
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Fan Zhang Ex-game journalist 2 years ago
I'm really shocked by how ignorant a western game journalist can be, yet you still can write something about a topic you clearly know nothing about.
Please allow me, a humble Chinese reader and former game journalist, tell you something you should know before you started thinking about writing and posting this article:

1. Chinese players have full access to this game (Rainbow Six Siege) since release, UBI provided Chinese language support, and the digital market was never blocked.
Thus, the game is already "access the lucrative Chinese audience" without any modification, and it has been almost 3 years.

2. The "Chinese release" was nothing but a smoke screen for their shareholders who probably share the same narrow-minded worldview with you - who thought entire Chinese market is totally untapped by this game, and millions of players can only touch it from a local publisher.
Please, open your eyes, for once. I know it's hard to accept the fact, but just try to read some Steam reviews in Chinese, posted by Chinese players, from links like this:

Now, do you think Chinese players, those who have bought and already spent hundreds of hours in this game, are okay with those "minor aesthetic changes"?
Can you say we are being unreasonable and entitled for demanding a game not censored by "our" government when we already purchased it, downloaded it, and played it, on global server?
Is this how your game journalism works? Do you think Chinese players have to stay in motherland even on internet, and waiting for every game to be release by random local publishers, delayed by years and with triple censorship after release, and probably become an abomination because of "localized" business model?
We just demand to be treated EQUALLY, how difficult for you to understand this?

3. The "government's censorship requirements" is an endless loop requiring as much self-censorship as possible, the only way to play it safe is do not play at all, you should try to ask UBI why they gave up on the "official release" of Assassin's Creed 3 in China years ago, which could give you some insight about how this system works, and why you shouldn't engage it from the beginning. If more game publishers will "build the game with Chinese censors in mind", it only means thousands of projects should be killed immediately because none of them will have the chance to be "officially" released in China.
Another fact: Those censorship was never about "make games as inoffensive as possible"- video game in existence is already offensive enough for them. Those censorship is only about removing anything authorities don't like, and you know what they like least? Slot machines? Blood? Skulls? They don't like you not paying enough, and not paying enough reverence. They will demand you to censor everything when they don't like you.
You know what's offensive? Content creators succumb to local authorities, but provide censored content to global audience. Can you imagine news agencies in your country have their daily paper censored by Chinese government? Can you imagine the radios you listen to, the TV programs you watch, the concerts you go to, the books you read, are censored by "NOT" your government? Why do you set the bar so low for video games, while being a GAME JOURNALIST?
How difficult for you to understand this, without calling people unreasonable and entitled?

4. The "ensures a larger audience and therefore more players for these devastated defenders of non-interactive slot machines to compete with online" is showing nothing but your arrogant and ignorance: officially published online game in China can only stay in local server. like, Jesus, can you learn some common knowledge before talking? You can easily learn this from knowing games like EVE Online only have 2 servers: one for China and another for "the World". Again, you are a game journalist, please learn something about video games, it's your job.

5. I always feel offend when seeing someone implying an "official release" or "mobile version" or "free to play" or "pay to win" is the ONLY way to "chasing that Chinese pot of gold". Do you know how many people do we have? How could a market on such a scale can only be chased in such a simple way? And you guys would stick to the stereotype after knowing the so-called "gray market" is big enough to push anything, from PUBG to The Scroll Of Taiwu, to the top of Steam charts? Yeah those market research analysts always claiming this and that because they are incapable of researching this market which is bigger than their worldview, and you people choose to trust them more than your own eyes and brain.
China is a big market means everyone can find their audience here, in their own way. Official or not, free or not, mobile or not, censor or not, all roads lead to here because it's BIG enough. Have you noticed how many games were released with Chinese version but without "official release" or "local publisher"? Have you noticed how many Chinese players have been playing the same game, the same version with everyone else on Earth which is free from being censored locally? Probably not huh? Yeah, because why would a superior game journalist learn about video games or talk to "gamers" (what a filthy word isn't it?) at all.

And don't worry, fret not, your job is safe as usual, and you are still far more superior than anything else in game industry, because you see, gamers are unreasonable and entitled and they hate women and minorities, and you can call them out everyday.

It's just every time I read shit like this, it remind me why I hate this job so much.
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OK, reading latest Steam reviews the outrage about changed aesthetics was about Ubi seen as succumbing to Chinese state censorship. Those were in minority though, most negative reviews were about toxic community, profanity filter, constantly changing meta game, op operators etc. as usual.

I'm all for fighting oppressive governments. The list of things Ubi was removing is a bit strange though. I mean, "You cannot have skulls&skeletons in China" is well-known fact(?) in game dev circles. But the neon stripper sign for example? If anything, over-sexualisation seems to be a requirement more than cause for censorship in many games in China. Like for example Miniclip's 8 Ball Pool had its main image changed to have a scantily clad female to suit the tastes of Chinese audience. That was just for commercial purposes. So it is a bit confusing.
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Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, Ludia2 years ago
@Fan Zhang: Although I don't agree with the overall tone of your comment (I'd tone down the agressivity and "learn something" statements), I understand your indignation.

Now let me just ask you this: what would you do if you were responsible for Ubisoft's marketing decisions regarding the Chinese market? Would you risk having your company banned from the entire Chinese market for fighting the government rules, thus missing millions and millions of dollars in potential revenue?

Or would you try to adapt, trying to stay true to the game's core experience while still following the government rules?

Calm down, dude.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Daniel Trezub on 26th November 2018 2:44pm

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany2 years ago
@Douglas Carr: I was very happy when we got the news that the changes were being reverted, and I can't agree at all with what this journalist has said.
Still calling somebody a buffoon is not exactly an example of professionalism. This is not 4chan or youtube; when you talk like that, you are representing your company (if yours is even a real company and not just a Watch_Dogs reference).
There is other places for this kind of behavior, you are certainly out of place here.
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