[Note: I've only seen 3 sites report this in spite of it being quite serious on the gaming news-o-meter, so I'm posting it here in the hopes that Destructoid covers it. And if they don't, I will *ominous facial expression*]
Never. Pre. Order.
For those of you out of the loop, Ubisoft unveiled Anno 2205, the latest in the Anno city building series, at E3. It promised to take players and their cities to the Moon, all to much fanfare. They also promised those faithful/naïve enough to pre-order the closed beta, in which those faithful few could enjoy an early version of the game before release, and promised that on the website page too. For an Anno fan, that’s a dream come true and I’m sure that thousands of people couldn’t wait to try out their favorite city builder a little bit ahead of everyone else. Not a bad loyalty reward, all things considered.
Except they can’t, because Ubisoft have canned the Beta without any justification. Just a crass, condescending forum post that does not apologize, but instead tells fans that Ubisoft ‘can’t wait to take you to the moon on November 3rd ‘. I think I can safely say that the sentiment of the replies so far is one of ‘fuck off and give me back my money’. Ubisoft promised an explanation down the line when the announcement was made, but 5 days later nothing has emerged.
But it's not all terrible - just very bad. The pre-order bonuses have gone from closed beta access to ‘two special items’. Instead of the closed beta, players will get a free, special boat as a pre-order bonus as well as a shiny emblem. So people were sold access to a beta but in reality they will get a little boat and a title that might as well have the word ‘schmuck’ scrawled across it in Comic Sans . Though I will say, it’s a nice boat.
This was probably a case of poorly managed resources, of Ubisoft not actually possessing the means to carry out the closed beta but thinking it could drum them up in time. Though if there were concerns at Ubisoft as to whether this could actually be done, it begs the question of why they stood up at E3 and went ‘yo – check out this pre-order beta access!’ or words to that effect if they thought they may not be able to actually do it. It looks like a bait and switch, and there are laws against those. If you seriously trusted Ubisoft to deliver on their pre-order spiel for Anno 2205, I cannot actually blame you. After guaranteeing access to a closed beta before launch at E3 and on its website they are, by advertising laws in the EU, UK and Australia (for reference here are summaries for the UK and EU), obligated to deliver.
For customers, that sucks. It’s also a little bit illegal. In the US it slots into a bit of a grey area (either that or I am unable to decipher your labrynthian advertising laws), but for folks on my side of the pond the law is clear: thou shalt not bait and switch. Those aforementioned advertising laws are strictly enforced, and in my native UK it is not uncommon for ads to be pulled and companies fined if their promises are even slightly off. So for Ubisoft, this may turn out to be a very bad decision.
But this isn’t your regular AAA cockup. Most of the time the promises are broken on launch and after a little complaining, compensation is offered – usually free DLC or in the case of the greatest cockups, entire $60 games are given, for free. A boat and a dunce label aren’t great, and to not even issue an apology is being taken badly, to say the least.
For those of you who did pre-order Anno 2205, firstly, why? And then, get a refund, because if you pre-ordered for that closed beta you’ve been cheated. And of course it goes without saying: Never. Pre. Order.