How Ubisoft Connect Builds on a Decade of Online Evolution
Ubisoft Connect debuted in late 2020, opening the door for cross-platform progression and saving and uniting Uplay’s digital storefront with the Ubisoft Club rewards program. It’s a unique service in the game industry, and it represents the culmination of 10 years of work on Ubisoft’s Online Services Platform, built and maintained by the internal Harbour team. The backbone of Ubisoft’s online strategy, Harbour works with teams throughout Ubisoft, providing them with everything from production and website tools to online multiplayer functionality.
To find out more, we spoke with Online Technology Director Martin Lavoie about how Harbour built Ubisoft Connect, how it works, and what it means for players and developers going forward.
What role does Ubisoft Connect play in Ubisoft’s ecosystem? What services does it encompass?
Martin Lavoie: Ubisoft Connect is unique in the industry, as it is the only cross-game, cross-platform destination for players to access everything about their games, and to socialize, share, and contribute. We see it as a next-generation gaming and community ecosystem that removes barriers between devices to let you play your Ubisoft games, whether on PC, console, mobile, or a streaming service.
How did Ubisoft Connect evolve into what it is now?
ML: First off, Ubisoft Connect is an evolution born from the merge between Uplay and Ubisoft Club. It was designed to bring many new benefits to players, including an improved loyalty program, and a new in-game overlay that gives easy and direct access to game content and services for all players on all platforms, as well as a truly cross-platform experience. It is now the entry point for players to the whole Ubisoft ecosystem.
“For enabling cross-title experiences, and to better enable our production teams to focus on content, we needed a global and centralized set of standard tools, services, and data.”
But Ubisoft Connect is really just the tip of the iceberg. It sits on the Ubisoft Online Services Platform, which was created 10 years ago, and has been improving and evolving continuously since then. The Ubisoft Online Services Platform is a global, managed set of central services that are integrated into all Ubisoft games. Those services range from PC digital distribution to game challenges and battle passes. The integration of those services in our games provides a rich set of player progression data, which Ubisoft Connect can surface back to our player community in a more social way. Ubisoft Connect can also rely on those services to interact with our games, which allows for creating events and challenges, and rewarding our players with in-game content.
What are some examples of ways that Ubisoft Connect’s various services mesh together?
ML: All the platform’s services are connected to each other using APIs [intermediary software that allows different apps to communicate] and a real-time notification system that carries all the player progression state changes that we call service notifications. Using those mechanisms, the platform can then be used and extended by anyone within Ubisoft who wishes to create value on top of the existing platform services.
For example, our challenge service listens for player stat changes and waits for the configured challenge conditions to trigger challenge completion. Once a challenge is completed, the player gets rewarded with an item dropped into their inventory. Another example is the Ubisoft Connect “Smart Intel” feature, which listens for players connecting to their game, and provides them hints on how to improve their game based on stat values or their latest match results. Being able to listen to game events, react, and improve the player experience is pretty powerful, and it fuels Ubisoft Connect features.
How do you build those services? What’s the process like of working with development teams to create them and implement them in games?
ML: We are a transversal team within Ubisoft whose mandate is to provide the online services platform used by all of Ubisoft. We really consider the platform as an internal product, and we are organized like any third-party vendor. Our internal “clients” obviously include our game-production teams, but also anyone within Ubisoft interested in leveraging our services, such as business, marketing, or customer-relations teams. We have a group in our team responsible for working closely with our internal clients to identify the need for new services, features, or tools, and to help them get the best out of our offering.
Our clients use the platform as a self-service product. We provide them with documentation, a portal, and a suite of tools to give them complete autonomy to configure the services they are using – e.g. stats, leaderboards, and storefront offers – as well as performing live operation of their games. Production teams can technically develop and ship a game, using our platform, without our teams being directly involved.
What can you tell us about the underlying tech, infrastructure, or teams that make it possible?
ML: The platform is built as a micro-service architecture, with each of our 100 or so services using the programming language or database engine that makes the most sense for a given service. Those services are independently, continuously developed and deployed by their respective teams, geographically spread across Ubisoft studios located in 12 countries, speaking eight languages. The platform is currently used by more than 1,000 client applications, ranging from Ubisoft Connect and our games on various platforms, to game websites and production tools.
“Being able to listen to game events, react, and improve the player experience is pretty powerful.”
What motivated Ubisoft to build a platform like Ubisoft Connect?
ML: We used to provide technology to our production teams to help them create and operate their online services. Each game would start with a boilerplate implementation of an application server with common services that would be branched and modified to meet their needs. The problem with this approach is that we ended up with as many instances and flavors of services as games we were shipping. This would lead to having different APIs and data formats evolving on different lifecycles, which made it impossible to build a coherent cross-title experience such as Ubisoft Connect. We also needed people on our production teams who have a wide knowledge of how to write and operate online services.
We quickly realized that for enabling cross-title experiences, and to better enable our production teams to focus on the content, we needed a global and centralized set of standard tools, services, and data. This led to the creation of our online platform, and we were proven right with the release of Ubisoft Connect last year, enabling cross-play and cross-progression as standard features in our games moving forward.
To find out more about Ubisoft studios and creators, visit our Inside Ubisoft news hub.
Source: Mikel Reparaz/UBsoft
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