Ubisoft and Über-DRM

It’s almost gotten drowned out by the whole AllodsGate thing in the MMO world, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t fix a stinky eye at Ubisoft and their incredibly controversial decision to combat piracy by requiring your computer to be connected to their server at all times.  The game on your computer — mind you, single-player games like Assassin’s Creed and Settlers — simply will not work without an internet connection and the whims of their server access.

To say the least, this decision hasn’t been popular:

“We barely need to say anything here (but we will), as where we’re going we don’t need words. We only need righteous fury. PC Gamer have experienced the controversial new Ubisoft DRM first-hand, in the PC build of Assassin’s Creed 2. We already thought the paranoid new copy protection was pretty bad, requiring as it did an online check everytime you played and giving you a hard time if you tried to launch it offline.

What we didn’t think – what we didn’t believe they’d be mad enough to do – was that it’d kick you out of the game if your net connection dropped for any reason… While we’ve not always gone full-pelt protest against excessive DRM, this is open contempt for paying customers, and, quite frankly, it’s the most valid reason yet for PC gamers to call a massed boycott. We’ll certainly be ignoring it with all the passion we can muster.”

~ Rock Paper Shotgun

“I will not be buying another Ubisoft game, including Silent Hunter 5, until they find some other solution. What they’ve done in this interview is admit that this will be hacked eventually…but hey, they ‘believe in it’. Seems like they need to just accept the reality of piracy instead of believing in short term solutions that just piss off customers.”

~ Common Sense Gamer

“What Ubisoft is doing here is Draconian – I don’t mean those lizard dudes, I’m talking about laws which are characterized by their severity. Before they eventually dismantle it, and it will be dismantled, it will have achieved exactly the opposite of their intention.”

~ Penny Arcade

“Ubisoft apparently believes that its customer base is located entirely within The Butterfly and Bunny Kingdom where Internet connections are impervious, woven as they are from pure sunshine, cuddles, and cloud fluff. In the real world, on the other hand, Internet connections temporarily fail for a dizzying number of reasons. Routers crash, power cords get unplugged, and cables fall (or are yanked) out. Every so often, for no apparent reason, your connection will drop or slow to a crawl and refuse to function properly until you reboot. If you’re using wireless, you dodge some of the potential cord issues, but are subsequently subject to the whims of your wireless router, which might decide at any point that it hates you. God help you if there’s a microwave between you and the base unit and someone wants popcorn.

Ubisoft’s executives haven’t just forgotten anything they ever knew about gaming, they’ve violated one of the primary rules of customer service: Do not treat your legitimate customer base like the enemy.”

~ Hot Hardware

“According to Ubisoft, everything is alright because the game only boots you if the Internet connection is down for a prolonged period of time and it won’t kick you if the connection slows. Of course, this still means that you can’t play Ubisoft games on a laptop outside of the house and that if your network is down for any reason, you’re not allowed to use the software you paid upwards of $40.

In short: F*ck you, Ubisoft. This DRM is pathetic.”

~ Destructoid

PC Gamer, God bless ’em, took Ubisoft to task in a phone interview, during which Ubisoft’s representative hilariously tries — and fails — to justify this move.  Read the last question and answer, and see how comfortable you are with this whole thing.

Now as MMORPG players, our games pretty much have built-in DRM, so it’s not like we’re not used to this sort of thing.  But this move on Ubisoft’s part is just scary as all get out.  I’m not against companies protecting their goods and services, but if I as a customer have to suffer because of what someone else might do, then something’s just askew in the land of Oz.

I wasn’t going to be purchasing Ubisoft games anyway, but now I’m doubly resolved to stay as far away from them as possible.  If their DRM tactic offends you, then spread the word and let people know what they’re getting into before they get the game.  I don’t see this ending well for them, at all.

24 thoughts on “Ubisoft and Über-DRM

  1. I don’t understand why everybody is furiously annoyed at UbiSoft for this move, but nobody is saying anything at all about Blizzard requiring exactly the same thing for Starcraft II.

  2. As usual, I give it a week until it’s cracked.

    Management out of touch with issues on the ground, pirates having a better experience than legitimate customers, company loses customers but doesn’t mind much because it couldn’t possibly be their fault.

    Business as usual.

  3. Glad your shining the light on this topic even though it isn’t an MMOG topic.

    Pex: You don’t need a constant connection for SC2. People are up in arms over the lack of LAN support, not the need to connect to the internet to use Battle.net.

    Oddly enough, I almost used the exact same picture in my post – http://www.itzkoopa.com/?p=436 – on the topic.

  4. @Julian when this backfires and the out of touch management is forced to find employment elsewhere, I’m sure he’ll be able to spin it in such a way as to get hired by Cryptic.

  5. Any company that still uses DRM in any of their media products is just stupid. It doesn’t work, has never worked, and only pisses off paying customers and keeps them from buying your products.

    As far as StarCraft II, at no time has Blizzard said it will require a connection for single player and force you to save your game on their server. Single player is suppose to remain single player. It’s the multiplayer that they are cracking down on with servers only, no LAN. Not even close to the same.

  6. AFAIK Starcraft II won’t require a net connection to play single-player story or skirmish, but it will to play a local LAN game (that is what I’m annoyed at, LAN parties still exist, and internet is not always guaranteed :P)

    I may be wrong, but I hope I’m not. Some of my favourite games of classic Star Craft have been on my laptop on a bus.

  7. I won’t even buy a game that requires online activation (outside of the occasional Steam super sale). When I buy a game, I don’t want to check in with Big Brother before I get to play it.

  8. That PC Gamer post was interesting, especially the non-answer at the end. It seems like they want everyone to believe that they’ll eventually patch out the DRM in the future, although they’re just as likely to quietly drop support for any affected games. The only tangible benefit to their DRM scheme is the ability to save games on Ubisoft’s servers, which plenty of gamers won’t care about. It looks like the pirated version will be superior to the legitimate version (cheaper, no internet restriction).

    I was looking forward to Assassin’s Creed 2, however, the DRM has turned me off purchasing the game. Instead of pirating the game, I’m going to wait a few months and purchase a used copy and apply whatever patches are available to strip the DRM. This way I get a legal copy of the game and Ubisoft doesn’t get an additional sale that they frankly don’t deserve.

  9. I’m a huge fan of the Settlers series and the new game looks like a return to form for them. So this heavy-handed DRM nonsense has been a big letdown for me. There’s no way I’d touch any game with what Ubisoft is currently pushing into its PC games.

    Ubisoft has lost at least two game sales on this for me.

    This is such an old topic, even back in the floppy days the paranoia against piracy was causing grief to the legit purchasers of games.

    It should have never happened. The product should never be compromised for the legit buyers. Saddest part of all this is, if you yank that crap out, you have a more stable game to play.

    This is a formula that lets the pirates win. Pure idiocy.

  10. @PexCorrh: Starcraft II without straightforward LAN is something I’ll never purchase, but AFAIK games won’t be disrupted from hiccups on your connection either.

    It is a noteworthy point here that this is also about appearances. Blizzard gets away with a lot of draconian measures too, by disguising it all as “value added services”.

    I can handle a reasonable amount of DRM, just so long as it’s really about letting people who purchased play. When it becomes control beyond that (forced upgrades, shutting off servers, etc.) I’m just going to let my dollars speak louder than my words.

  11. Simple solution: don’t make non-MMO PC games. People will bitch over any form of DRM, and when you take it out, they pirate it. Let them buy an Xbox360 if they want to play Ubisoft games.

  12. Blizzard has stated that playing Starcraft II at all will require you to log into Battle.net first. The single player button is visible after that, even though it is disabled.

    I’ll try disabling my router while running a single player skirmish game and see what happens.

  13. I’ve been burned by not being able to play a single-player game, that I paid good money for, because my internet connection was down.

    (Half-Life 2, fyi.. couldn’t play an MMO due to net problems so I thought I’d have some single-player fun: sorry, Steam says no)

    No company will ever see another penny of my money for a single-player game that can’t be played, single-player, without connecting to their servers for license checking.

  14. I just tested it by resetting my network adapter during a single player game. The game pauses while it tries to reconnect to battle.net, and then ends the game.

  15. What is the beef here? People are getting all excited–furious?!– and swearing off Ubi-soft just because they want some protection and because they’re willing to give up the market share of people without a network connection? Granted, I like to play games offline, but let’s face it, almost everyone I know has their computers connected to the Internet most of the time. An occasional dropped signal just isn’t that important. How will this really affect your gameplay?

    And why are people so gung-ho on protecting pirates, anyway? If you were a developer and saw your work walking out the door because of some idiots with no sense of right and wrong, you might take a different point of view. Not enough profit means layoffs. Game developers aren’t charities.

  16. I was going to buy AC2 – I have been waiting for it for a long time, and I loved AC1 – but when I saw the DRM… not buying. Even if I had a perfect internet connection (god knows I haven’t) I wouldn’t buy it.

  17. Just buy the game down the road and let those wonderful people on the internet figure a way around the copy protection, 70% of the time it works every time.

  18. I agree that everyone has the right to protect their IP from pirates but this isn’t about right or wrong, it’s just bad business practice.

    There are a lot of people who buy their games at launch to play it NOW!!! who also pirate older games because it’s free. What you’re going to have now is people wait a week and pirate everytime. All this does is cripple legit gamers – there will be no increase in sales…

    Publishers need to stop trying to prevent piracy outright. It will NEVER work. They need to incourage legit business with incentive – not barriers.

  19. Protlinkka – what’s the beef? It’s simple really: the legitimate customers (the ones who buy the games and don’t pirate them) are being punished here, while the people who pirate the games are unaffected. That’s plainly stupid.

    How are the legitimate customers punished? Well, contrary to your beliefs, not everyone has an internet connection all the time. I personally travel a great deal for work and often don’t have an internet connection in my hotel room, but I like to be able to play games on a laptop.

    Nobody is trying to protect pirates; that’s a strawman argument. We’re trying to protect the rights of the paying customers. I don’t pirate programs – I buy them new in stores. I won’t however buy a single-player game that requires me to check in with remote servers every time I play. That is completely unreasonable and even if and when I DO have a full time dedicated connection (as I do at home) I won’t support such practices.

  20. There is too many “I wont support” people for PC games. I’m sorry you wont support it, but with no drm, people will pirate the games and make them unprofitable. World of Goo, for example.

    PC gaming is dead because of this, apart from the games that require sub fees or are free to play. Things like this are publishers trying to find some way to manage to get a decent return on investment to continue developing for the PC.

    I’m seriously thinking that the problem is unsolvable, and like I said, the answer is to stop making pc games. Even on consoles it happens. One of the reasons you see so few new PSP games is the high rate of piracy.

  21. I’ve noticed trends toward requiring internet connections for ages. This isn’t actually something new, it’s just something more transparent. In the past, companies would ship out games with LOTS of bugs, requiring huge patches, during which time your version could easily be scanned and basically disabled. I’ve always liked Epic’s approach: Ship the game with the need to have the disc in to play then patch that requirement out with the first patch. UT3 had a legitimate No-CD patch almost immediately.
    I’ve been saying for a while now that offering a robust multiplayer with server-only content is a far superior DRM than any of this. This gives the benefit of both allowing the company more control over its game and giving the customer a reason to WANT to always have the internet connected to play. Sure, some types of games are inherently difficult to turn into multiplayer ones but the majority of them aren’t. AC2 would be incredibly fun multiplayer, I’d think. Hell, even a simple 2-player co-op would bring smiles to the customers’ faces. There are much better ways of doing this.
    I respect that the company wants to preserve its intellectual property, I really do. If I’d spent hundreds of thousands to develop something, I’d want to protect it too. I wouldn’t, however, do something that would automatically make a pirated version of my game more desirable than a legally-purchased version. Right now, I’d say that the vaunted micro-transactions would be the best way to assure your game is secure. Add in new content every month or two, require a validation to download it and you’ve got a legal copy of your game that will always be superior to pirated versions. Using updates to add value to your game over time is a great way to protect against the typically static pirate copies. If nothing about your game changes, $60 feels a bit pricey anyway. Especially when AC2 averages 30 hours of play time. Compare that to your average porn site which tends to charge around $25 for a month of content or to WoW which, admittedly, charges up front and monthly, but offers about bi-monthly updates with new content and many hours of playtime. Sure, it’s a business model I don’t expect Ubisoft to copy exactly, but there’s some ideas there.

  22. @Dblade: We’ve all been hearing that argument since the first few games on computers. What you’ve been saying is decades old and it’s still just flat out wrong.

    Some games do amazingly well on PCs. What are those, magical exceptions?

    I’m not saying that piracy isn’t an issue, just that throwing out the baby with the bathwater is 110% stupidity.

    Piracy on consoles is also very high, but the stigma is not the same at all. Anytime there’s any drop in the PC games market, it’s the piracy FUD nonsense all over again to try justifying some draconian control measures.

    After a few decades, the justifications are sounding a bit tired.

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