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Ubisoft Responds To Online-Only PC DRM Outcry
Ubisoft Responds To Online-Only PC DRM Outcry
February 22, 2010 | By Chris Remo

February 22, 2010 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC

Ever since announcing its unusually stringent DRM solution for PC games, which requires players to maintain an internet connection throughout gameplay, Ubisoft has weathered widepspread complaints from gamers concerned about the restrictiveness of the system -- and now the company has responded, saying the plan is "what we think is the best way to deal with" rampant piracy in the PC market.

The system, which Ubisoft says will apply to all its upcoming PC games, pauses the game if the player's internet access is interrupted, continuing only when the connection is restored.

Speaking to the PC Gamer UK blog, an Ubisoft representative insisted the publisher is "not trying to kill the PC market," but that it is, like many other companies, "frustrated by the PC market" -- in particular, the "big, huge, hairy problem" of piracy that has significantly harmed the platform.

"It really is a very important issue that all serious companies need to address," the rep said.

"The real idea is that if you offer a game that is better when you buy it, then people will actually buy it," the spokesperson continued, referring to the system's consumer benefits like the lack of a disc check for retail games, online synchronization of save games, and no limit on installs.

Some common DRM solutions, such as SecuROM, include the option for publishers to limit the total number of times a given game can be installed; there are frequently ways for players to legally extend those limits.

Although the rep said Ubisoft "wouldn't have built it if we thought that it was really going to piss off our customers," the company still plans to go forward with it in "all announced Ubisoft PC games...whether sold online or from brick and mortar stores."

The authentication apparently has multiple levels tiers of severity, depending on the game. For example, Ubisoft Montreal's Assassin's Creed 2 will revert to the player's last check point if the connection is broken, while Blue Byte's The Settlers VII will keep a constant auto-save that returns the player to the exact point at which the connection was dropped.

Ubisoft admitted that if its own authentication servers go down, its PC games will effectively be unplayable, but the rep stopped short of conclusively pledging to patch out the system in such an eventuality.

Such a measure is "written into the goal of the overall plan of the thing" if the need arises, the rep said, "but we don't plan on shutting down the servers; we really don't."

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Peter Olsted
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Atleast, just use Steam. That way we all win (even though the game will still get cracked & copied to hell and back)

Liam Devine
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the plan is "what we think is the best way to deal with" rampant piracy in the PC market.

When will people with these opinions wake up and see that the only people who have to suffer from these stupid decisions is the paying customers. People who pirate software do not see the or have to deal with them, if lucky a pc game will be out a couple of weeks before a "fix" is released.

It seems like one hell of a "plan" to have a lot of people pirate a game they would not have ordinarily!

Stephen Pick
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Liam: agreed.

It seems impossible to tell what proportion of pirated copies are lost sales, and what impact draconian copy-protection has on sales performance. There's the old App Store analysis by 24/7 Wall Street that suggested piracy does equate to lost sales, but I'm not sure how well that translates to the gaming market, where I guess the majority of pirates are young with low disposable incomes - undergrads and teens.

I wonder if a totally unprotected game could sell more than a protected one. If we assume that the majority of pirates wouldn't have bought your game anyway, could the very fact that a lot of extra people are playing it illegally create buzz and benefit sales to legitimate customers? Perhaps unlikely, but it would be interesting to study.

Maybe Ubisoft are imposing this extreme DRM to measure the effect on sales. The performance of AC1 would be a good benchmark.

Chris Hennebery
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Why don't these companies try something different. Yummy's GameShield is very well received, does not cause the grief to the consumers and still provides a high level of protection. Its always some hairbrained mechanism to protect IP that creates more player angst and ultimately diminishes revenues. Its very simple: provide protection yes, but not by sacrificing consumer access. These are not mutually exclusive ideas and yet the same mistake is make over, and over again. Restricted or tethered access does not create security.

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I have to admit that DRM has swayed me away from more than one would be game sale and I expect that I'm not alone in that experience. I'm not a starving student anymore and while I rarely think twice about the cost of a game when making a purchase, I don't have near the amount of free time that I use to. My free time is more important than the money I spend and each inconvenience is a potential deal breaker. Why should I buy game X if I can't play it after I lose the disc under a pile of papers when game Y is roughly the same and doesn't require a disc check?

For the games that make the top 10, I can see how they would be able to get away with the DRM hassle. For the rest of the games, that extra hassle is usually the deciding factor when picking which of the several 8/10 rated FPS games I'll end up buying this month. As hard as it may be for game developers to hear, most of the games out there aren't the only one of their kind and it only takes a nudge for me to pick one impulse purchase over another.

Of course, all of that is from the perspective of a frequent game buyer. As soon as I think about what I'd do if I were releasing years of my hard work out into the world (knowing full well the stories like "World of Goo" and the 90% piracy rate), I would be very hard pressed to do what I consider to be right from the perspective of a consumer.

David Brady
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I won't be buying any Ubisoft PC games in the near future. Which is a pity, since I really love the Silent Hunter franchise. And I know that I'm not alone in this. Fact of the matter is that when you put these sorts of restrictions in your game, the only people who have to deal with it are the people who paid money for it.

It's much like the ridiculous ads in theaters a few years back that advised consumers not to download any movies. I had a friend who would download a random movie when he got home just to offset the bad taste in his mouth about having PAID to watch that. I can't see this move doing anything besides annoying customers, and driving away potential sales.

Spore was insanely bad. This is even worse.

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E Zachary Knight
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Sure I like free stuff, when it is supposed to be free. I also like to pay for the entertainment that I consume.

What I don't like is to have the company I buy that entertainment from looking over my shoulder the whole time I am using their product to make sure that I don't steal the product that I have paid for. In what world does that make sense to anyone? What is next? Will they start sending a couple of thugs home with you after you buy the games to make sure that you don't even think of pirating their game?

I have chosen not to buy any more Ubisoft games until they make the decision that their paying customers are more important than any pirates out there. It is a shame too as I was planning on buying Red Steel 2 for the Wii but not any longer. I hope they are content in the knowledge that their actions on the PC are having a direct impact on the success of a 3rd party title's success on the Wii.

Christopher Wragg
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" "The real idea is that if you offer a game that is better when you buy it, then people will actually buy it," the spokesperson continued"

That's just the point....with the DRM in there, the pirated copy without it is an infinitely better experience. How is it they miss these things.

Carl Chavez
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I'm not exactly condoning piracy, but as a thought experiment, it seems to me that if certain parties heavily attacked Ubisoft's authentication servers day after day, they would be forced to either abandon their DRM system due to the cost of maintenance in keeping the servers up, or they would have to drop the DRM system and provide patches to the consumers, or they would have to abandon the PC market.

I wonder... if online-only authentication systems provided a highly negative experience for millions of users worldwide, would Ubisoft end up facing the same scrutiny that say, Toyota, is facing? (Of course, I am making no direct comparison between a safety issue and a DRM issue; I'm just pointing out that Ubisoft could potentially face a consumer issue of a similar magnitude.)

Adam Bishop
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Christopher is right, of course, but I feel like the people who come up with that kind of reasoning know exactly how dumb it is. I get the impression that those remarks are made not to inform consumers, but to make shareholders - who probably have no idea how DRM works or what it even is - feel like their investments are being guarded. Are these remarks really made for investors? I've never been in any meeting where that kind of thing is decided, but I have a hunch that that's what's going on here.

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Pardon my sarcastic sense of humor. I just can't help myself :)

Dear Ubisoft:

I'm someone who is dearly looking forward to playing Splinter Cell Conviction. I have waited a long time to play this game. So let me be as polite and short as I can:

I swear to insert deity/game character here that if you **** up my game when I'm finding Sarah's killer because my router hicups, or that matter do any of this BS on the 360, I'm not buying your game. Sure I'm one person, but along with Ephriam that's $120 your not getting.

Ryan Lewis
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"Although the rep said Ubisoft 'wouldn't have built it if we thought that it was really going to piss off our customers,'"

This rep should be slapped in the face, or whoever else might have come up with that ridiculous statement. At the very least made fun of a complete lack of common sense.

steve roger
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So, when I put Assassin's Creed 2 on my PC and I am at the airport and get on my flight I can't fire up my laptop and play MY game?

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. You suck UBI-crap. I am not buying your games. Nope. And I buy A LOT of games.

Dave Endresak
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I am doing a term paper (hoping to be published, too) for my Ph.D law class this semester on exactly this topic (well, the general topic of copyright law and IP, and alternate business methods for entertainment software). Yes, it is counterproductive and silly because it will only hurt legitimate customers. It's also pointless because other companies have found alternatives that have been proven to work as far as profitable business models. Bethesda with modding plus DLC, free to play with microtransactions (pretty much the standard for East Asian markets), and download services such as Valve's Steam or Stardock's Impulse (although see the qualifications below regarding the need to provide physical media when consumers wish to have it).

For the record, EA is planning the same thing with Command & Conquer 4... unless they change at the last minute, I guess.

People should recall that when Valve first released Half-Life 2 and Steam, the majority of consumers screamed foul about privacy invasion and other silly ideas (while running the same type of software for anitvirus and other apps, of course). Steam isn't a catch-all answer, either. Like the majority of people who answered a Gamasutra poll awhile back, I happen to prefer having my physical media that I paid for, thanks anyway. There's no guarantee that Valve (or just Steam) will always be around, after all.

Christopher Myburgh
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Buy the X360/PS3 version of [insert Ubi title here]. DRM problem solved.

Michael Kolb
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Yeah Dave, I'm not buying C&C4 either, really a shame since I grew up with that franchise. Why do companies do this? C&C4 will not have lan either, wow why? Ubisoft's DRM always needs a connection unless your a pirate. You know I bet pirates can also hack or modify C&C4 to play locally. This is the worst business model.

Max Kuebler
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the real problem in my opinion is that i do not see any advantage of the system. if it would give the always connected players some kind of advanage for beeing a legal owner of the game this would not be tared and feathered, but could be a "new innovative online feature" like for example demon's souls has. ok there is uplay, but of course everything you earn towards ubipoints etc. would not require a permanent connection.

Starcraft 2 is going to require a permanent internet connection to play local multiplayer matches so we can already prepare for this discussion once again.

Robert Watson
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As per usually these kind of measures have no impact on piracy and only manage to infringe on the play experience of legitimate users. Epic fail Ubisoft.

Andrew Swain
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What about a of system of game registration for points in a store?

Nintendo does this, but does not seem to advertise it too much(besides a small insert in their game cases.)

Why doesn't anyone else seem to?

It could work like this:

-Games are worth certain amounts of points, dynamic and recorded server side

-Newer games = more points(bonuses for pre order)

-Money cannot be used to get these points, you must register games. (or possibly even link a gamertag/steam account and get points based on high end achievements. PSN may not work as you can just create a new profile, get the trophy again. With steam/gamertag people would have to rebuy gold/game)

-Online store containing game/developer related merchandise(cheap stuff like hats, shirts, plushies but cool stuff, not just a black shirt with EA on the pocket)

-Online store has a VARIETY of items in different colours

-Online store contains DLC for multiple different games(IE someone buys mass effect 3, thinks the exclusive mission looks uninteresting, gets new costumes for Resident Evil 6 instead)

-EXCLUSIVE DLC(buying the game when it is new should bring in enough points to get this right away, kind of like the Cerberus Network on Mass Effect 2 or the Retro Pack for Gears of War 2)

-Some people (including myself) LOVE steel cases. I myself, along with a few other people I know, would be ecstatic to be able to get steel cases for many of their games. I have bought the special editions of Force Unleashed and Resident Evil 5 just for the steel cases. This would be a great item to put into the store.

-Polls could also be introduced to see what kinds of rewards the PLAYERS want. After all as the interviewee here said, "The real idea is that if you offer a game that is better when you buy it, then people will actually buy it,"

Overall though this has to be a good deal to be effective though. Having to buy $600 worth of games to get a sticker would not exactly encourage people to buy the games, or even take the time to register.

As far as the registration itself, many people now a days already have accounts linked to their email/name etc. Why not put an option right in the game itself to register just by logging into your PSN/gamertag/steamid and typing in the code on the back of the manual?

I'm sure large publishers like Ubisoft, EA and Activision could handle it easily and it would be a great incentive to actually buy games. Games will always be cracked. I can not think of a single game that hasn't been. But you can't build a crack to a murloc plush doll.

Besides that, if there is enough cool stuff in the store I bet you that some people would go out and buy extra copies of games just to get more points.

For steel cases alone I know I would register every game I could get my hands on.

*edited to remove wall of text syndrome

Nathan Hill
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I'm kind of curious how much money is actually sunk into anti piracy measures? 10% of the games budget?

If you just went with a basic disc check/serial job, slap in some extra content when you verify your key or a hefty mp component - is that cheaper in the long run than spending all the money on drm, lawyers, task forces etc.? You may sell less copies but you'd make a larger profit per copy and if your game is actually good it would retain its value and continue to sell more units over time like NWN, CS etc. Or how about bundles like the Orange Box? Create something that offers the consumer good value for money at a lower price point with casual inexpensive copy protection to stump the computer illiterate and you're golden. You can pirate steam stuff, it's just cheaper to buy it at discount then try to keep up with the onslaught of content updates :D.

Publishers love to scream about piracy on the PC - how about the used game trade on consoles? That's just as bad if not worse - it's sanctioned and the foundation of places like Gamestop/EB, forming more than half their profit base, reselling the same thing three ways without kicking anything back to the creators.

Mark Raymond
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All I know is that I did not buy Bioshock 2 on the PC, when I could have, and instead bought it on the 360. Why? The DRM, of course. For me, it's going to be the same thing with Assassin's Creed 2. So, in a sense, Ubisoft will lose a sale from this kind of thinking. Also:

"'The real idea is that if you offer a game that is better when you buy it, then people will actually buy it,'"

Oh, you mean the benefits we used to have years ago but which you're now repackaging as new?

"Ubisoft admitted that if its own authentication servers go down, its PC games will effectively be unplayable... 'but we don't plan on shutting down the servers; we really don't.'"

Oh, really? You don't? Now I just feel all warm and cosy inside. I guess, it's not like other companies have been shutting down their... oh, wait.

Look, companies have a right to protect what they make, and I'm not against DRM, but this is not the way to go about solving the problem. All it's going to do is push legitimate consumers away from PC gaming or, worse still, into piracy.

Tom Beckmann
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I was about to pre-order assassins creed 2 on steam... and then saw this nonsense, and put my credit card back into my wallet.

If UBISoft authentication servers go down, they would be denying owners the right to use their software: that sounds like real software theft to me.

Nuno Silva
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Ok, let's assume I continue to buy Ubisoft games.

What happens if this company closes and disappears from the map?

How will I be able to play my games?

Is it LEGAL to "promise" they will be on business for the next 5... 10... 30 years?

Frank Smith
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I've got no sympathy for Ubi when their titles get pirated now and in the future under this system, which they will. They won't convince a single pirate to buy their games but have just lost my money. Some other company will move in to fill their role as a PC dev and publisher, and PC games will be better for it.

Bart Stewart
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Tom and Nuno, IANAL, but my understanding is that what you get for your money is not "ownership" of a game -- all you're doing is paying for a license to access the game code in order to play it. You don't own the game in any sense. The creator owns it. They then sell to a publisher the rights to distribute that software. The publisher then provides access to the game as physical or electronic media, promotes the game with marketing, and so on, for which they receive most of the profit from sales of licenses to use that software. Literary publishing works the same way. Publishers buy the right to publish a work; the author retains the ownership of that work (unless they choose to sell the work outright, which is rare).

So all you're really getting for your money when you "buy a game" (or other software program) is the opportunity -- under numerous restrictions -- to install and run a local copy of the software. That's why the legal form that asks you to click "I agree" before installing some piece of software is called an "End User *License* Agreement," rather than a purchase agreement.

It's because what they're actually selling you is a usage license, and not ownership, that I assume the legalese in Ubisoft's EULA will say something like "we retain the right to terminate access to our authentication service at any time for any reason, and you agree that there's nothing you can do about it, so there."

I agree with those who think that having to stay online to play a game with no online content unreasonably punishes the innocent. All I'm pointing out here is that the publisher does have the legal right to try to apply these usage restrictions -- and we as consumers have the right to avoid those restrictions by choosing not to play that game.

I'm not sure there can be any winners in this fight, but I guess the sales numbers will answer that question.

Jesus Rambal Llano
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Ubisoft and any company using this systems are hurting their loyal customers. As Frank said. No pirate will buy the game. But a lot of legal customers will stop buying it.

Why if I buy a game i get more problems?

What Nuno said is real, remember Hellgate:London.

Doug Poston
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Open letter to PC software publishers:

Look at Steam. Most people think its DRM is reasonable and it makes buying and installing your games enjoyable.

If your DRM doesn't work like Steam, please rethink it.


Tom Beckmann
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Bart, it may be that the legalese appears to allow them to take my paid for software away from me but:

1) there are consumer protection laws which might nullify their legalese.

2) whether it is legal or not, it undoubtedly is immoral.

I think that this is makes ubisoft look unpleasant and untrustworthy.

Sadly this will then reflect on the entire industry.

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Sean Francis-Lyon
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@Tom Beckmann: You missed the point.

They cannot take away from you a video game that you own. Heres the tricky part: In order to own a video game you must purchase it. If you think that means go down to game stop and pick up a copy then you are mistaken. Game stop does not sell video games, it sells licenses to play video games. There is nothing stopping you from buying a video game; You can go to a developer (or a publisher who has already purchased the game from the developer) and make an offer.

If you buy a license, you will have a license. If you buy a transferable license, you will have a transferable license. If you buy a temporary license you will have a temporary license.

I fail to see how it is immoral for me to own what I have purchased and not what I haven't.

P.S. Did you know that if you stop paying a subscription to WOW they will take that game away from you? A game that you have paid for! Boycott Blizzard! Not only do they steal your games like Ubisoft but they extort you in order to delay the theft!

Tom Beckmann
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@Sean Francis-Lyon

If you go to Amazon, they sell you assassin's creed. You go to the checkout with it.

Now if (in the manner of a good con man) they've got wording which turns the sale into something else... well that's a con trick. It *might* still be legal, but it's still a con trick.

A MMO, with a monthly subscription, is a different issue, you are clearly paying for the service. If Blizzard withdraw the service, they'd have to (by law) refund any unused subscription fees.

Calculated thus:

refund = subscriptionPrice* (subscriptionPeriod-timeUsed)/subscriptionPeriod;

But ubisoft is not offering me subscription service, or a time limited licence, they are selling me a time unlimited licence, but then in small print comes the con: they might withdraw it at any point without compensation.

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I just thought I'd take #35.

Sorry if you thought you were going to get an intelligent comment about how Ubi is really messing up in the long wrong here and about how they'll probably end up backtracking if enough people raise cane about it.

I apologize if you were looking for anything like that ;)

Sean Francis-Lyon
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@Tom Beckmann

If Amazon claims they are selling you an something different from what they actually deliver, that is fraud and you can get your money back. When someone tells you exactly what they are going to deliver and then delivers exactly that, that is called straight forward business.

Ubi is offering a service for a one time fee. You are angry because you want them to deliver a game that does not require a service to function. Ubi figured that they would make more money if they delivered a product that requires an authentication service to function. You seem to think that there is something wrong with selling a limited license for a one time fee, but you still haven't given an actual reason. Ubi can offer whatever deal they want and you can chose to accept or decline; So long as they honor there side of the bargain, which by all accounts Ubi is doing, there is nothing wrong with it. They chose to deliver an inferior product and yes it is annoying, but we are not entitled to the superior product they chose not to deliver.

What would you say if Ubi charged a monthly fee to play AC2? If they used the same business model as WOW did, put a $50 dollar box on store shelves that stops working after a month unless you pay a monthly fee? Would that be wrong? Would you think it simply isn't worth the money or would you scream bloody murder?

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