Ubisoft’s DRM decison: ‘so bright, you gotta wear night vision goggles’

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Timbuk3 once released a hit called ‘The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades‘. Ubisoft’s business decision to require constant internet connection in order simply to play their games is so bright, you gotta wear night vision goggles to find the dim light of the single brain cell that was responsible for creating this moronic policy. Their latest digital rights management (DRM) scheme is nothing short of insane.

PC Gamer Blog had a story yesterday about Ubisoft’s plan to require constant internet connection in order to just play the game. This is not just ‘authenticate when you begin playing the game’ or ‘authenticate when you begin each play session’. It’s ‘authenticate constantly, and if you don’t have an internet connection, you can’t even load the game, and if you lose your net connection in the middle of a play session, you’re screwed, the game is shutting down, and all progress since your last save is lost’. Never mind the fact that there are a lot of us who game on laptops (something I do, say, on airplanes, where we don’t have net connection), or for whatever reason don’t have reliable net connections due to bad weather or such. In some places around the world, they don’t always have internet or even electricity 24/7. This doesn’t even begin to address what would happen WHEN, not IF, Ubisoft’s servers go down.

This server issue happened just 2 weeks ago to Electronic Arts and Bioware when Mass Effect 2 came out. Everyone who pre-purchased the game rushed to play it on release day. I can understand this, Mass Effect is a lot of fun, and people wanted to play ME2 as soon as it came out. Bioware had also released some new download content (DLC) a few days prior to that for their other recent major game release, Dragon Age: Origins. Bioware’s servers were overloaded with so many people trying to get online to play both ME2 and DA. I couldn’t log in that day, but I played offline anyway. What I didn’t know was that you lose access to all your DLC if you’re logged out, AND you don’t get it back when you log back in. I had the ‘joy’ of having to replay 6 hours’ worth of Dragon Age: Origins to get to an uncorrupted savegame. However, while annoyed at this issue, I was still able to PLAY the game, even while logged out. With the new DRM Ubisoft plans, I won’t even have that option.

Here was Ubisoft’s reasoning, as reported in another of PC Gamer’s posts:

“We are aware that there is a lively discussion with regards to our new online services platform that will be included in most of our upcoming PC games, and which gamers are currently discovering with the Settlers 7 beta.
As there are a lot of question out there, we thought you might appreciate some of the following clarification:
Ubisoft’s number one goal is to provide added value that will facilitate and enrich the gaming experience of our PC customers. The Settlers 7 beta version is enabling players to discover that this platform empowers them to install the game on as many PCs as they wish, to synchronize saved games online so that gameplay can be continued from where they left off (from any computer with an installed version of the game) and frees them from needing a CD/DVD in order to play.

The platform requires a permanent Internet connection. We know this choice is controversial but we feel is justified by the gameplay advantages offered by the system and because most PCs are already connected to the Internet. This platform also offers protection against piracy, an important business element for Ubisoft and for the PC market in general as piracy has an important impact on this market. Any initiative that allows us to lower the impact of piracy on our PC games will also allow us to concentrate further effort to the creation and expansion of IPs for the PC – our goal is to deliver the best gaming experience to our customers, anywhere, anytime.”

Ubisoft, be honest. Your goal is to make money for your owners and shareholders, and piracy means lost revenue. We gamers who actually buy your products aren’t idiots. We get that you need to make money to stay in business. That’s why I buy my games instead of stealing them from you and other developers by torrenting free copies from The Pirate Bay and other torrent sites. I’m willing to pay for my games, just like a lot of other people are, because, shockingly, we want you to stay in business and make more games for us. It’s rather hard for you to make more games if you’re bankrupt.

Telling me that you’re giving me the ‘best gaming experience anytime, anywhere’, though? That rings hollow with this new DRM you’re instituting. Please explain to me how losing access to the game I paid for when your servers or my computer is offline is going to give me the ‘best gaming experience’. It’s going to give me ‘no gaming experience’. Here’s a Clue for you: “no gaming” and “best gaming” are not the same. They are not even remotely related, just in case some smooth-talker in the PR department tries to convince you otherwise. Do I care that my in game achievements can be listed on your site? No. Do I care that I can upload my savegames online? No, I’d rather have them on my own hard drive where I can get to them offline, thank you. If I really want to have them online, I can do that with other free programs. Do I care that I can play the game on any computer anywhere? I can do that already with Steam and Direct2Drive, or with (gasp) my game disc.

So, here’s what’s going to happen. People will get the game on release day. They’ll try to authenticate. Your servers will crash at least once. People won’t be able to play, and they’ll howl at customer service. You think dealing with angry hormonal teens is bad, wait til you have to deal with their parents who had no idea what was going to happen with this DRM. Furthermore, we all know that pirates are just as smart, if not smarter, than your programmers, Ubisoft. They’ll have the game cracked and the DRM removed in short order–in fact, if there’s a pool on how long it’ll take, I might join and put in 4 days as my guess. It’ll get posted so fast on torrent sites we won’t know what hit us. People who can’t play the games through legitimate means will look for alternate ways to get the game. I know my proxy from a .png. It’s not going to be hard to get a bootlegged game up and running (N.B.: I do NOT advocate participating in illegal activities). On top of that you’ll have people who are just salivating at the chance to get back at you for doing something this crazy by cracking it as fast as they possibly can. Explain to me, please, what the advantage is to buying this game, besides my overdeveloped sense of morality, instead of visiting my Swedish buccaneer buddies?

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