Over 10 years ago, Ubisoft had a dream to bring its players together and allow their saves, progress, rewards, and more to seamlessly travel with them no matter where they chose to play. While the journey to get there had its ups and down, Ubisoft Connect is now paving the way for how cross-save and cross-progression should be handled in this new generation of gaming. Even amid haptic feedback, SSDs and other console innovations, overcoming console barriers almost entirely (and quietly) feels like a true next-gen feature and a vision of more to come.
Ubisoft Connect launched alongside Watch Dogs: Legion in October and, in addition to allowing players to keep their progression with them on all their supported devices, it also tracks player’s stats, offers a new loyalty program with a ton of free rewards, and includes a Smart Intel feature that has similarities to the new game help functionality in the PS5 UI. However, the “magic” of Ubisoft Connect is perhaps best explained by an experience had by IGN’s Editor-In-Chief Tina Amini when she began her Viking journey in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Tina began playing Valhalla on PS4 and was planning on restarting when she received her Xbox Series X – after all, that was not only a cross-platform move, but a cross-generational one. While she did of course have to obtain the game itself a second time, her save was simply waiting for her when she started the latest Assassin’s Creed on her brand new console. She hadn’t had to do anything to make that transition happen, besides already having her platform accounts linked to her Ubisoft account at some point in the past.
While the big-ticket items dominating conversation and marketing around this PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S era have been the teraflops of power, games with support of up to 4K/120FPS, and minimal load times, quality-of-life improvements provided by services like Ubisoft Connect – and the barriers they are knocking down – are worthy of just as much praise. Just like those next-gen consoles, however, this cross-generation, cross-save, cross-play world we are living in did not come about overnight.
The Road to Cross-Everything Began With Microsoft and Sony
Ubisoft Connect may be the poster child for cross-platform progression in this new generation, but the service would not even have been a possibility had both Microsoft and Sony not worked on perfecting their own versions of cross-progression and backward compatibility for many years before.
While the story is a bit different today, Sony was leading the charge into the next generation – as far as backward compatibility was concerned – with the PlayStation 2. Before its launch in 2000, previous consoles required adapters or peripherals to play older games, but the PS2 simply let you play every original PlayStation game out of the box.
The Xbox 360, on the other hand, was a bit more complicated. While it did support backward compatibility, those wishing to play games like Halo: Combat Evolved or NFL Fever 2004 would need an official Microsoft HDD, as it would be needed to store an emulator that was required to run these Xbox games, albeit without the ability to transfer saves or DLC.
As the generations came and went, backward compatibility was moved out of focus, so much so that the Xbox One and PS4 both launched without any native support for older titles. However, Xbox head Phil Spencer and Microsoft VP Kareem Choudhry had been devising a plan behind-the-scenes that would bring it back to the forefront, all culminating with the exciting reveal at E3 2015 that over 100 select Xbox 360 games would be playable on Xbox One by that year’s holiday season.
In addition to all of this, Microsoft built its own version of a Netflix-style subscription service called Xbox Game Pass and began offering not only a great selection of third-party titles, but its own first-party exclusives on the day they are released. This, alongside its Xbox Play Anywhere initiative that lets you purchase a game once and have access to it and your saves seamlessly on Xbox consoles and PC, allowed Microsoft to have every Xbox One, Xbox 360, and original Xbox game playable on Xbox One – except for a handful that require Kinect – available at the launch of the Xbox Series X/S, saves and all.
Sony’s story was a bit different. While it was able to ensure that 99% of all PS4 games would be playable on PS5, saves are not automatically transferred and it currently does not offer a native solution to play PS1, PS2, and PS3 games. Some PS2 and PS3 games are available on PS Now – PlayStation’s streaming service – but it is not as simple of a solution as the one provided by Xbox.
All these steps – both good and bad – show the differing approaches that Sony and Microsoft have taken in regards to backward compatibility. But it doesn’t end there, as cross-play was another big piece of the puzzle that was missing in this quest for cross-everything. Those moves have further exemplified the divide between these two companies.
Breaking Down the Console Barriers with Cross-Play
For the longest time, if you wanted to play a game online with your friends, you would all have to be on the same system. However, games like Rocket League, Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Minecraft took some of the first and most important leaps into a world where you could play with your friends, no matter what platform you were playing on.
The road to cross-play wasn’t an easy one, however, and Sony was perhaps most hesitant on the way to a more shared gaming world. In 2016, Rocket League developer Psyonix revealed that PS4 and Xbox One cross-play was ready, could be turned on in “less than a business day,” and that it just needed Sony’s approval. Unfortunately, it took more than just that business day, as full cross-platform play in Rocket League did not become available until early 2019.
Sony’s decision to allow cross-play in Rocket League was in part a result of a controversy that occurred during E3 2018 when Fortnite was made available for Nintendo Switch. Players quickly found out that if they played even one game of Fortnite on PS4, they could not carry over their existing Epic Games account to the Switch, let alone play with others on opposing consoles.
After months of backlash, which also included a Minecraft trailer that highlighted Nintendo and Xbox cross-play, further showing how PlayStation was the odd one out, Sony announced that it had “identified a path toward supporting cross-platform features for select third party content,” and revealed Fortnite would be the first game that would allow for cross-platform gameplay, progression, and commerce across PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac operating systems.
This helped show that, even though PlayStation 4 was outselling Xbox One by a wide margin and was by all accounts the market leader, it wasn’t above criticism. As they say, competition breeds excellence, and Microsoft’s decisions made while behind helped push us to a more inclusive video game world that Sony could no longer ignore.
These moves and the ever-impressive popularity of Fortnite helping influence the change in PlayStation’s stance on cross-play and cross-progression are only a few instances of the battles won and lost by both Microsoft and Sony that are paving the way for others. Ubisoft is the prime example of that – it wouldn’t have been able to complete its 10-plus-year journey to Ubisoft Connect had events transpired differently.
The 10-Year Journey From Uplay to Ubisoft Connect
Speaking to IGN, Ubisoft Creative Director Charles Huteau explains how the idea of Ubisoft Connect was percolating long before it had a name, and that the successes of this new service are thanks to the work that began with Uplay back at the launch of Assassin’s Creed 2 in 2009.
“We’ve always had this transverse idea in our DNA – no matter which platform you play on, no matter which Ubisoft game you play, everything is linked to your account on Ubisoft.com, so Ubisoft Connect is really a completion of this vision and a new standard for the next-gen systems,” Huteau says.
When Uplay launched, it was more of a reward system that aimed to bring players together and celebrate their accomplishments in Ubisoft’s games. While these services continued to evolve and were useful for many, Ubisoft itself was split between PC and console, with separate teams dedicated to these different platforms, each of which had different variations of Uplay. With the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S on the horizon, Ubisoft knew it was time to consolidate and bring its teams together, as it wished to do with its players.
This was one of the biggest challenges in creating Ubisoft Connect, according to Huteau, but it proved to be one of the most important decisions. Whereas Ubisoft previously had experts in the PC world and console world working on separate projects and initiatives, this shift would bring the best of both worlds under one roof and allow them to work together towards a shared goal. That goal, while a major step closer now, is not yet complete.
All of this and more bring us to where we are today with Ubisoft Connect, but it doesn’t come without its limitations. For example, some paid content will not travel with you if you wish to make the jump to one platform outside your “console family.,” i.e. PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. So, if you purchase Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s Season Pass on PlayStation 4 and wish to continue on PlayStation 5, it will travel with you. However, if you jump from PS4 to Xbox Series X, you would need to purchase the Season Pass again.
PlayStation Trophies were also a point of contention, as player’s progress or earned Trophies in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla didn’t transfer when moving from PS4 to PS5. Luckily, a recent patch solved that issue, and will hopefully be a sign that many of these frustrations can and will be fixed in future updates.
Additionally, it’s important to note that while cross-save is a wonderful thing, it does require you to purchase and own multiple copies of the same game to fully take advantage of it, as Tina had to. With Xbox Play Anywhere already offering multiple platforms for the price of a single game, it feels a little out-of-step.
However, as with many things technological, any online service is ever-evolving and many issues we face today could be but a distant memory in the future. For Ubisoft, some of these solutions may lie with Ubisoft+ and streaming platforms.
Ubisoft+, Amazon Luna, Google Stadia, and a Connected World
A big milestone on the path to Ubisoft Connect was the 2019 launch of Uplay+ (now known as Ubisoft+), a subscription service for PC, Amazon Luna, and Google Stadia that gives subscribers access to all of Ubisoft’s games for a monthly fee. With the expansion of 5G and improvements of streaming technology, Ubisoft+ gives a glimpse of a future where you don’t have to solely play games like Far Cry 6 on your Xbox Series X, but can effortlessly switch and play it on your phone, iPad, PC, and, who knows, maybe one day on an Amazon Alexa like Skyrim. (Never say never!)
While she would not confirm that Ubisoft+ would make its way to traditional consoles, Ubisoft’s Vice President of Online Services Stéphanie Perotti did talk to IGN about how Ubisoft wants you to seamlessly be able to “start your game on PC and continue on a streaming platform and vice-versa.”
Furthermore, she envisions a one-click future that will allow players to carry their progress over into games with their friends, or even Twitch streamers, as was shown off in Hyper Scape earlier this year. Ubisoft’s goal, according to Perotti, is to make sure players can “get into the game or activity, wherever they are coming from.”
While this all sounds great in theory, a big current limitation for Ubisoft is its track record with cross-play, because even though Brawlhalla supports it, games like Rainbow Six Siege and For Honor only support cross-play between console families (i.e. PS4-PS5). Ubisoft Connect is aiming to make cross-play a standard, however, and Ubisoft wants you to be able to “play with your friends regardless of which device they are playing on.”
As of this writing, Ubisoft has yet to announce any concrete plans for cross-platform cross-play for its current or upcoming games, but it promises that it has laid out the “foundation that will enable Ubisoft’s games and services to live across platforms and make cross-platform features a standard moving forward.”
A Hopeful Look Forward to a Cross-Everything Future
A future filled with cross-play, cross-save, and cross-progression is one that many wish to see. While that hopeful dream may still be years away, the steps being made toward that goal have been both substantial and promising. If you were to look at the games industry just a few years ago, you would have never believed that we are where we are today – living in a world where both Kratos and Master Chief are playable in Fortnite on Nintendo Switch, a platform that can cross-play with competing consoles, PC, and/or mobile devices.
This reality wasn’t made possible by the kindness of mega-corporations, but it was done in reaction to a changing landscape and tentpole moments that shook the very foundation of this industry. From Call of Duty, a franchise that has earned over $3 billion in the last 12 months alone, allowing cross-play for the first time to Microsoft’s shift from solely focusing on a traditional console to building an Xbox ecosystem that includes PC, mobile devices, and soon possibly even TVs, these forward-looking decisions are made, sometimes begrudgingly, in an attempt to adapt to a more promising, profitable future. And it’s a future that gamers will benefit from.
One day, it hopefully won’t matter if you start out playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 7564 Remastered on your PlayStation 9, or Assassin’s Creed Moonwalker on your Apple Watch. Your virtual world will travel with you, seamlessly, and you’ll be able to play with whoever you want, wherever you want.
We live in such a connected world, and it only makes sense to break down any barriers that prevent us all from playing our favorite games together. Sure, this next generation is about leaps and bounds in technology, but it is also just as much about leaps and bounds in accessibility and creating a better experience for all, no matter which platform you choose.
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