Even the tech savviest among us occasionally have to rely on systems that are either unfamiliar or out of our control. It is at these times when we reluctantly and begrudgingly reach out to support teams at the companies holding our entertainment or productivity hostage. When these experiences go well, we learn something new and get on with our business. On the other hand, when they stick solely to the canned responses — which in some cases only apply to a more general problem and don't approach or address our specific issues — and are unwilling to investigate further, we end up in situations like the two I've had with Ubisoft's support group. Even when confronted with evidence that the problems I was facing were widespread, I was given a classic "It's just you" brush off.
What Happens In Vegas…
In the first situation, myself and a couple friends were trying to play Rainbow Six Vegas on PCs over the Internet. About seven out of ten tries, we'd get an error reading "Unable to connect to game." Sometimes it would work flawlessly for an hour or so, then boot us all off in the middle of a match, refusing to reconnect for an hour or more. If it never worked at all, I might think it was a network or system security issue interrupting an otherwise stable connection. However, each of the three of us took turns trying to host, each facing the same outcome — more downtime than up.
The game forces you to connect to Ubi.com's servers to play. I yearned for the days of yore when we could just directly connect to a host's IP and cut out the middleman. We tried some of these older titles to test connectivity and they worked fine. Ergo, the problem had to lie with this third party hosting system forced upon us by Ubisoft.
At wit's end, I contacted Ubi support about the problem. Having seen dozens and dozens of posts on their very own forums from other users having the same troubles, I figured they'd have dealt with it plenty of times before and would know the solution immediately. The support agent (Jason, the only name I've ever seen respond from Ubi support) replied that it was probably my firewall. I explained that this system didn't even have a firewall, not to mention that two others I know were having the same issue, also without firewalls. Next he told me to forward specific ports on my router. I did it, though I explained that about 30% of the time it worked without forwarding anything, so this seemed futile. As expected, the port forwarding affected nothing.
"Jason" insisted these were the only causes of this sort of problem. I cited the countless other users on their forums having the same problems, despite various system and network configurations. He ignored this information and referred me yet again to the same solutions as before that had yielded no new results. Eventually we learned of a virtual private network (VPN) program called Hamachi, which allowed us to play the game beautifully on a virtual LAN (yet still over the Internet), bypassing Ubisoft's incredibly unreliable servers. Me 1, Ubisoft support 0.
Advanced Warfighting, Stone Age Buddy List
The second problem came in the form of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2's (henceforth, GRAW 2) friends list system on the PlayStation 3. PlayStation Network maintains a friends list of its own that can be used in most games to send and manage invites and keep in touch with your buddies. Whenever we opened the in-game "friends list," it was always blank. Other games that display an in-game list auto-populate with the names of your friends that are online, or sometimes just those online playing the same game as you at that time. This at the very least had become expected behavior, and no matter what we tried, our lists remained blank, though we had no trouble finding and joining public servers with strangers. There was no way to invite your friends to play with you, and the game's manual was no help at all.
Having been burned by Ubi support once already, I had no desire to contact them again, but found no answers anywhere else. And so a support request was submitted. Again I got the classic brush-off, with "Jason" again, this time directing me to contact Sony regarding all issues with "their online service." Only this wasn't a Sony problem; it was exclusively found within the game itself, so I asked him a number of game specific questions — do friends have to be playing GRAW 2 specifically to show up in my list, whether Ubi servers were still supporting the game, and so on. All I got was a curt "Yes." When asked how to add friends, he closed my ticket and ignored me. Wow.
As it turns out, the only way we found to add friends to the in-game list was to have them on the phone or Teamspeak or something that allowed real-time voice communication, host a public game with specific settings (map, number of players, time limit, game type, etc. — make them a little odd, like three players with a specific time limit and uncommon game type), tell your friend(s) to mirror these settings and to search for your game and try to join it. If successful, exit out and look for each other on the "Recently Played With" list in the game. If it works, your friend(s) will be listed and can be sent friend invites from there. Tedious, convoluted, and completely unintuitive, but at least we figured it out. Me 2, Ubisoft support 0.
If your company doesn't want to help its end users or offer any genuine support for their products, it would be better to have no support team at all than to be insultingly useless. As someone who personally provided support for an independent game company for several years, this sort of non-help would not have been tolerated. Why the support team of one of the biggest software publishers out there is allowed to suck this badly and be rude to its customers is beyond me. And it's not like we were trying to play these games brand new from launch without any patches, when bugs are to be expected. It was at least a year after release, and they'd both seen plenty of updates, but nothing to remedy these horrid issues.
Thanks for nothing, Ubisoft.