Watch Dogs’ PC launch travesty

Angry Man

So far my experience of Watch Dogs on PC has consisted of failed Uplay login attempts and show-stopping errors that have kept me from even cursing the Uplay startup logo video, let alone experiencing the plethora of bugs, glitches, and crashes being reported once you get into the game.

Note that I paid for the game myself – this is not a free review copy. I have the advantage of a platform to voice my grievances, so let me try and do justice to the disgusting situation.

Instead of enjoying the product that I paid for, nearly 48 hours after it launched, I’ve spent my time reading message boards, comment sections, and Facebook walls across the web. I started out seeking solutions to my particular problems, but only found angry gamers with their own list of Watch Dogs issues.

To summarise the state of the Watch Dogs PC release:

  • Many users are not happy with the performance of the game, claiming erratic framerates on hardware configurations that would otherwise be more than adequate for many other similarly visually demanding games currently available. Sloppy console version porting and poor PC optimisation – a Ubisoft hallmark – is likely the culprit.
  • AMD users have been shafted because Nvidia was the preferred development partner on the game. Nvidia has released a set of new drivers that include Watch Dogs optimisations, while AMD currently has their next driver package in beta. The latest drivers from either GPU company will be necessary to have any hope of decent performance.
  • Ubisoft support has largely gone to ground regarding the plethora of technical problems, many of which are rendering the game entirely unplayable. The various show-stopping problems seem to effect PC gamers at random, with some able to play and others crashing out or unable to load it at all (this is happening with MyGaming forumites as well). The best we’ve had from Ubisoft so far are a few tweets and support forum posts acknowledging Uplay server issues, which are supposedly being resolved.
  • Once again, the irony of the situation isn’t lost on us, but it doesn’t seem to sink in over at Ubisoft HQ; pirates have somehow been playing the game a week before its official launch, while the chumps who paid good money are locked out by a shoddy DRM system.

The E3 2012 reveal promised much…

Unethical, inexcusable

My take on this situation: Ubisoft has rushed an inferior product to market in the case of Watch Dogs on PC. This is unethical and insulting – a real slap in the face of PC gamers who supported the company with their purchase. It’s inexcusable.

This isn’t a small game publisher – Ubisoft are one of the biggest in the world with a sales turnover in the last financial year of over 1-billion euro (over R14-billion).

The worn-out marketing prattle boasts about their ‘high quality AAA entertainment products’, and yet Ubisoft apparently can’t adequately test their games prior to launch (or perhaps they were aware of the problems and pushed it out the door regardless).

It does not take a room full of geniuses to predict that one of the most anticipated game launches of the year would put strain on the Uplay servers and therefore it would be necessary to scale them up accordingly. But perhaps a room full of bean-counters fretting over their recent R937 million loss would be willing to save some money and ride out a storm of unhappy gamers until demand normalised again.

Considering the history of Ubisoft in this regard, we probably shouldn’t be surprised, but we sure as hell should be angry.

Since the introduction of Uplay in 2009 with the Assassin’s Creed II DRM debacle, there has rarely been an Ubisoft PC release that was not beset with problems, but Watch Dogs has taken the crown as the shoddiest example thanks to all of the technical problems that render it unplayable aside from the Uplay issues.

Watch Dogs screenshot

A Watch Dogs screenshot, or a metaphor for the modern publisher-gamer relationship?

Battered gamer syndrome

Let’s not forget that Watch Dogs was delayed from its original November 2013 launch date in order to apparently polish it up to the best quality levels possible (a move which probably contributed to their aforementioned financial loss and resulted in Ubisoft’s share price taking a knock). A few select quotes from their statement regarding the delay:

Our ambition from the start with Watch Dogs has been to deliver something that embodies what we wanted to see in the next-generation of gaming…

[F]rom the beginning, we have adopted the attitude that we will not compromise on quality. As we got closer to release, as all the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place in our last push before completion, it became clear to us that we needed to take the extra time to polish and fine tune each detail so we can deliver a truly memorable and exceptional experience.

So then, the embodiment of next-generation gaming is starting to smack of the previous: one in which DRM plagues paying customers while pirates laugh; games are pushed to market before being ready and patched up retrospectively; and PC gamers are treated as second-class revenue streams worthy only of sloppy console ports.

Add to this that there were seven different pre-order editions for Watch Dogs on PC. If you include editions exclusive to consoles and various regions, that number goes to 11. That’s not a Spinal Tap reference. There were literally 11 different versions of the game you could have pre-ordered.

And let’s not forget the launch-day “DLC” and season pass that Ubisoft asked gamers to pay for with the promise of content yet to be delivered on an unreleased game based on a new IP.

This pre-order-patch-later culture from game publishers has to die and the only way that’s going to happen is if we stop standing for it. That means, among other things, not buying games from serial launch-failures like Ubisoft until after they’re released and proven to be working.

It feels like I have battered gamer syndrome. Ubisoft abuses my trust and my wallet, but they keep promising to change and deliver an amazing experience as they did once in the past, so I give them one more chance.

This Watch Dogs PC travesty has really left me bitter, however, and I’ll probably be skipping Ubisoft games until I see a significant change in their approach. If this is the treatment PC gamers can expect, then maybe they should stop making PC games altogether.

If it was at all possible to get a refund I’d be doing so. Sadly, all I can do is wait and hope that eventually they patch the game up to a playable standard on PC, because it’s been getting generally favourable reviews.

What is your take on this issue? Let us know in the comments and on the forum.

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Watch Dogs’ PC launch travesty

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