Ubisoft is readying its annual Assassin's Creed sequel, Assassin's Creed Unity, for release later this year. As part of the preorder campaign, the publisher is handing out free downloadable content to those who reserve a copy of the game. There's the single-player Chemical Revolution mission pack as well as retailer-specific weapons. What makes this campaign notable is that it includes access to a weekly slot machine contest. Each week players can spin the online slot machine for a chance to win a variety of prizes ranging from more DLC all the way up to a trip to Paris, France. To entice those on the fence, Ubisoft will even give you the first spin of the machine for free. I like free stuff and I was curious about the slot machine game, so I used my free spin and to my delight I won a DLC code for the Hooked Impaler weapon. All I had to do to actually get the code was to log in to my Uplay account. That's reasonable; I have a Uplay account and I've linked DLC to it before for other Ubisoft titles. That's when things took a turn for the slimy.
Once logged into Uplay, I had to fill out he usual screen of checkboxes agreeing to terms and conditions and choose which platform I intended to use for playing Unity. I was also required to enter a valid preorder code (obtained when preordering the game) in order to continue. In order to keep my DLC prize, I had to commit to preordering Assassin's Creed Unity right then and there. This is genius on Ubisoft's marketing department. It's all a psychological trick; I won a prize, but to actually keep it I have to make a snap judgment to buy the game or else I'll lose my winnings. What if I don't want to preorder, but want to hang on to the DLC prize just in case I do? What if I don't want the code for myself, but want to give it to a friend or just offer it up on Twitter? No, clearly I'd better commit right now lest I lose this valuable, hard to find weapon.
I like to think I'm pretty good about seeing through these kinds of sales tactics. Something about this whole Hooked Impaler prize seemed suspect. What are the odds that my free spin would win a prize? Wouldn't it be in Ubisoft's best interest for all free spins to award a little something to encourage players to preorder the game? It's the same kind of trap that catches so many people when gambling in casinos. The house gives you a free spin, you win a small amount of money, and then you put your winnings back plus your own money trying to win big. I asked my Twitter audience to help me with a little experiment. I asked everyone to go to the slot machine game, use the free spin, and let me know if they won anything and, if they did, to tell me about the prize. I had a feeling that everyone would win the Hooked Impaler on the first try.
Let's do an experiment. Go to http://t.co/y4C8v0Xnka and use your free spin. Tell me if/what you win. I bet all free spins win to hook you.— Matthew Green (@PressTheButtons) June 24, 2014
@PressTheButtons CONGRATULATIONS! YOU'VE WON THE HOOKED IMPALER IN-GAME WEAPON!— Erik Olson (@assend_dot_net) June 24, 2014
@PressTheButtons yup— Zack Hiwiller (@zhiwiller) June 24, 2014
First one's free, kid! Sure enough, everyone who took part in this test won the Hooked Impaler provided they preordered the game right then and there. Now, granted this experiment was conducted with a small sample size, but what is more likely: that the game is rigged to award a small prize with each free spin in order to draw in more preorders or that the everyone who tried this morning had unbelievable luck and won the same prize without behind the scenes intervention? Ubisoft has taken a lot of heat from the community lately regarding their design and technical choices in games like Assassin's Creed Unity and Watch Dogs, and rather or not this preorder contest is another scandal is up to you, but the whole endeavour feels, to me, like another questionable offering from a company that needs a major public relations win these days.