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Ubisoft's DRM Servers Attacked, Crashed
Ubisoft's DRM Servers Attacked, Crashed
March 8, 2010 | By Eric Caoili

March 8, 2010 | By Eric Caoili

Ubisoft's controversial DRM servers were attacked and brought down over the weekend, preventing some Assassinís Creed II and Silent Hunter 5 owners in Europe from playing their PC games.

The publisher's new online authentication policy seeks to prevent pirates from playing its PC releases by requiring users to stay connected to its DRM servers while playing its games. Assassinís Creed II, Silent Hunter 5 and The Settlers 7 are the first titles from the company to implement this technology.

Many critics of the policy worried they would be unable to play their legally owned copies of Ubisoft's titles should its DRM servers go down, which was the case for some European gamers over the weekend when the DRM servers were inaccessible to a portion of players who wanted to run Assassinís Creed II and Silent Hunter 5.

An online community manager for the company explained, "Due to exceptional demand, we are currently experiencing difficulties with the Online Service Platform. This does not affect customers who are currently playing, but customers attempting to start a game may experience difficulty in accessing our servers. We are currently working to resolve this issue and apologize for any inconvenience."

Ubisoft then clarified this morning that its limited service was due to its servers coming under attack. "95 percent of players were not affected, but a small group of players attempting to open a game session did receive denial of service errors," said the publisher in its official Twitter account.

The server attack and crash follows several days after reports circulated that hackers circumvented the newly introduced DRM technology. The company later issued a statement denying that its games using the online authentication platform had been cracked and claiming that hacked versions of Assassinís Creed II and Silent Hunter 5 are incomplete.

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Michiel Hendriks
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It's quite easy to blame others (i.e. server was attacked) instead of admitting it was your fault (i.e. buggy code, or unstable services). Nobody can confirm or deny that it.

But it doesn't matter who's fault it is. This incident showed how fragile this single point of failure is. There are so many places where your connection to the authentication servers can be disrupted.

E Zachary Knight
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I agree completely. It does not matter if this was a malicious attack on the servers or not. This is just further proof that Ubisoft's DRM is horrible and unfair to the paying consumers.

I am glad that my recent decision to boycott all Ubisoft games is being solidified. There is no way I would want to support any company that treats their paying customers this way.

Lee Fogel
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After following the uproarious response to Ubisoft's DRM maneuvers, all I can say in reaction to this news is LOL.

Chris Remo
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This obviously demonstrates what a poor idea Ubisoft's current DRM solution is, and I don't for a second mean to imply otherwise, but I do find it unfortunate that nobody EVER seems to take any moral opposition to the actual pirates and hackers who are the people who effectively demand the creation of DRM. If somebody snuck in at night and blew up a storefront (let's say with no human harm, for the purpose of this argument), would everyone simply say, "Well, this company got what's coming to them, they sure shouldn't have let that happen, now all their PAYING customers are inconvenienced."

Yes, obviously, it's not an ironclad analogy by any means. And, again, I don't support Ubisoft's decision at all and it's true they are MORE culpable than the owners of such a store because they went out of their way to create this system. Nevertheless, if this downtime was actually caused by a malicious DOS attack (and I highly suspect it was, as Ubisoft would not want to admit anything was attack-related unless it genuinely actually was, because it points out the flaws in their system), it was still actual people making the concerted choice to inconvenience a bunch of paying customers, the people they always CLAIM to be sticking up for, or the people they claim to be themselves.

I don't know if the DRM cracks and attacks will cause Ubisoft to give up on this solution (maybe they will, and at least one good thing will come of it), but I guarantee this: they sure aren't helping ANY publisher in the industry think any better of the PC gaming community. As a lifelong PC gamer, it absolutely kills me to see this constant antagonism that ensures the platform will be treated worse and worse. It's certainly the fault of the publishers as well, but it's also not ONLY the publishers' fault, and if the community is going to react like children, then obviously the publishers are going to treat them that way.

EDIT: Even the typical response "Well, pirates are going to pirate games no matter what. It's what they do" makes the children analogy work better. "They're just kids, they're going to break stuff and make a mess, what can you do?"

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Ubisoft-- *COUGH* Sorry I'm allergic to bullsh*t. Fix the DRM and you wouldn't have as much of a problem. If you want pirates to stop pirating, then maybe you should start by convincing them why they should buy your game.

This only shows me why I shouldn't.

Chris Remo
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I'm not saying people should "waste time complaining about the pirates," and more than someone should "waste time complaining about" people who commit other types of crimes. It's true that simply complaining about it isn't doing anything. But by taking such a morally lax stance towards piracy, I don't think think the PC gamer community does itself any favors. Obviously piracy is not as serious a crime as some crimes are, but if the community is so tolerant of piracy as to basically be its cheerleader, even among people who are not themselves pirates, obviously the message that is sent is "Not only is pirating games totally fine, it's seen as effectively a Robin Hood act."

Regardless of which side is more at fault, this is just going to keep going on. One thing PC gamers should keep in mind is that publishers always have other platforms to go to--and most of them have already long since gone there. The self-righteous attitude of "Fine, we don't need your stupid console games on our platform anyway" that I see so frequently isn't going to last long when publishers are simply tired of dealing with it and do in fact leave entirely.

Either that, or the PC will simply become the hosting ground for social games and MMOs.

E Zachary Knight
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I understand your position and agree with it. Pirates and hackers should not receive any sympathy. If there was a way to completely remove them from the equation within the bounds of the law and ethics, I would be all for it. If such a way did not negatively effect any paying consumer, I would be even more for it.

But often I think the games industry gets too caught up in this battle that we lose site of the bigger picture. Rather than focusing on ways to prevent piracy, I think the games industry needs to first remove any justification for it. Once pirates can no longer justify their actions, then you know that all they want is free stuff and to get that they are willing to steal.

What justifications do pirates use?

Lack of Demos.



Abandoned Ware

Those are the big four. These can be remedied quite easily too.

Create a well designed demo for your game. This demo should be based on the Gold Beta version of your game and not an Alpha version. It should have the same system requirements of the full game.

Drop the cost a little (this one can be tricky as cost is relative to development, distribution and marketing), especially on digital distribution. The down-loadable version should cost less than the physical copy. If you look at an example such as Nine Inch Nails, they charge $5 for the digital version of the album. If you want a CD it is $10 plus you still get the digital copy. Stardock also does this.

DRM can be remedied by simply dropping it completely.

There are plenty of solutions for releasing older games now. Yes I understand that the legal hurdles for some games where the copyright owner is in question makes it difficult, but if you know you own the rights, there is no reason to let the game disappear., Virtual Console, etc are really good services for this and require almost no effort on the part of the copyright owner.

Personally, I would rather all PC gamers boycott any games with DRM like this. If all gamers boycotted rather than pirated, they would give the developers and publishers no justification for including DRM.

But someone has to make the first move. Considering that gamers are not some centrally controlled group, I think it would be far easier for the developers and publishers to make that move.

Nels Anderson
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Thanks for that, Chris. There is major stupidity from the camps on both sides and the folks that end up getting hurt are mostly just awesome normal people that want to support and play PC games.

The thing that absolutely kills me is how often people act like they're entitled to playing games. Some seem to think they're owed the right to play any game released and decision is just purchase or steal, based on DRM and whatever other constellation of factors is needed to justify that decision.

If you think this DRM system is awful (and I do), vote with your wallet. Don't buy the game, don't steal it and let Ubisoft know why. Saying, "I would have bought it but now I *have* to pirate it" just adds more fuel to the DRM idiocy blaze.

Nick Kinsman
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Oi ... I am glad someone else seems at least willing to try and view this from more than one angle. Much love, Chris.

The elitism is getting tiring, frankly. I have never thought this DRM was the best idea, but I was at least willing to see it out before judging it to be the first sign of the end times. :/ I don't think it's an action that deserves full-on boycott, but I know this is simply my opinion. After all, they will always have the ability to patch the DRM out of the game if it goes over that poorly, and hey, they even get 100% coverage since everyone who owned it needed a connection to begin with, right?

But that aside, to add my own thoughts onto what Chris said before ...

This DRM is not a personal attack on anyone. Whatever their ultimate reasoning, it likely boils down to an attempt to secure more legitimate product sales. I know and accept this means that the game is either entirely or essentially unplayable for some people (or more properly, some locations), so yes, we shall admit that their course of action winds up alienating or, taken further than I believe it should, 'harming' some customers.

In contrast, some other group of people decide to fight this by virtually attacking 'the system' as it were. Supposedly this is some kind of revolt against the idea, or show of the system's failure as a whole, but in going through with such actions they have caused some group of people an inability to access a service that they have paid for ... in some way, essentially turning paying customers into examples or martyrs. Except that if they hadn't taken such actions those customers may never have experienced any issue with the system. We can't be sure, no, but we can be sure that they have suffered difficulties they didn't have to.

I guess what has really ground me down at this point is how both sides wind up taking, what are to me, nearly identical actions and watching either side call the other one out on how much more terrible their means and motivations are. I don't think either side is right, and it very much seems a religious debate almost analogous to 'the war on terror'. Some power is standing against some force it sees as harmful, and in the end while the battle 'rages on' the people most likely to get hurt are those who just want to go on with their lives. =_=

I don't believe any one particular side is responsible for the outcome ...

erzehehr erhehrehr
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95 percent of players ARE affected (may be only in germany)!

They can't login or they can play some minutes before the conection failed and lost here savegames/current game experiences!

Robert Schmidt
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I appreciate the need for companies to protect their investment. But certainly locking down the system so tightly that legitimate customers can't use it is ridiculous. Personally, I see that as an unfulfilled contract. The solution is to provide options. I have been unable to get steam to run on my system. That wouldn't be a problem if steam had useful diagnostic tools and other options to validate their software, even if it is a phone based registration system. I tried to use their online forum but only got abuse from the cult of steam faithful. The tech support group wanted me to change my system so I could have the privilege of playing their games. Are the game companies rolling in so much money that they can afford to piss off their customers? I guess the solution is to vote with your dollars.

Joshua McDonald
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"nobody EVER seems to take any moral opposition to the actual pirates and hackers"

Actually, I've seen quite a few comments on gamasutra (though rarely elsewhere) that show pretty clear moral opposition to pirates (especially when people admit to piracy).

The most difficult thing about the lost sales due to DRM vs. lost sales due to piracy is that it's all theory. It's impossible to get better than a vague estimate of number of pirated copies, and you can't even get that vague estimate on how many of those pirated copies equal a lost sale.

Likewise, if people "vote with their wallet", the publisher doesn't know how many lost sales are due to egregious DRM and how many are because people just don't want their game (and how many are from pirates who still broke through). I don't claim to know exactly where the right balance is, but my philosophy is that if you can't be certain, err on the side of making people happy. Unfortunately, that idea isn't catching on as much as I'd like to see.

Ian Livingston
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Plainly put DRM should do two things:

1. Prevent piracy.

2. Offer additional value to, or at the very least don't negatively impact, paying customers.

Unfortunately, there are no examples that succeed at 1, and there are painfully few examples that succeed at 2.

Zach Grant
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"Regardless of which side is more at fault, this is just going to keep going on. One thing PC gamers should keep in mind is that publishers always have other platforms to go to--and most of them have already long since gone there. The self-righteous attitude of "Fine, we don't need your stupid console games on our platform anyway" that I see so frequently isn't going to last long when publishers are simply tired of dealing with it and do in fact leave entirely."

The PC market is enormous. If the AAA publishers are to stupid to realize how to capitalize on the market and leave, it is absolutely certain that other companies will come in to fill the void. I'll take Torchlight over DRM'ed Assassins Creed 2 any day.

Adam Moore
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To summarize:

Players with legitimate copies have difficulty playing the game.

Pirates with a cracked version can avoid said difficulties.

Ed Macauley
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Nonsense like this is what drives people to pirate games. At first they're just going to look for a crack or something that will let them play the game they've bought. (I'm sure a crack for the Ubisoft DRM from hell is already available) Then they realize, "Hey, that was easy! I should just download the game." It's like a gateway drug.

Silly example? Sure, but it does get the point across. I won't be purchasing any Ubisoft games for my preferred gaming platform (PC) until they change their DRM.

Joe Elliott
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The correlation between popularity and sales is a lot stronger than the correlation between difficulty-to-hack and sales. Giving difficulties to both the paying customers and the almost-paying-customers is not a smart move.

Carson Lee
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"95 percent of players were not affected"

By arguing that 95% of the players are not trying to play the game?