Of all the millions of issues the Digital Age™ has introduced to our lives in the last couple of decades, Digital Rights Management (DRM) would have to be near the top of the list of ‘topics most likely to ignite into a white-hot debate’.
Copyright holders continue to pour billions of dollars into new ways to restrict the distribution of digital content such as music, movies, tv shows and games. In a world where all of these things are increasingly being purchased in digital form only, the issue becomes more and more of a concern for the publishers as the uptake of digital distribution channels increases.
The latest episode in the War on Game Piracy stars Ubisoft – publishers of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the second installment of which releases on the PC next month. Ubisoft have previously spoken about their new DRM system that requires users to be constantly connected to the internet to play, but now that reviewers are getting their hands on review copies, the finer points of the system are becoming known.
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.
PC Gamer magazine found, when playing an advance review copy, that if they interrupted their internet connection in any way, the game uncermoniously booted them back to the main menu and all progress since the last checkpoint was lost.
Even if everyone in the world had perfect internet connections that never dropped out, this would still mean that any time Ubisoft’s ‘Master servers’ are down for any reason, everyone playing a current Ubisoft game is kicked out of it and loses their progress. Even massively multiplayer games aren’t so draconian about the internet: you can’t play when the server’s down, but at least you don’t lose anything for getting disconnected.
Predictably, the backlash from the gaming community is fierce. Spending a few minutes on the Steam game forums turned up these comments from gamers:
I can’t support DRM this invasive, Ubisoft just lost my sale on this and any other game in the future that comes with this.
Piracy is theft of the product from the Publisher.
This is theft of the product from the consumer.
This is not the answer to piracy, this is the cause.
This is a major invite to pirates, because they wont need an internet connection to play it after they cracked it.
Well Ubisoft, say goodbye to the pc platform already, get lost in your console world, if you are going to blame the suffering on sales to piracy, its your own damn fault.
Now for what I think:
If Ubisoft go ahead with this new system, I think we can expect Assassin’s Creed 2 to be one of the most pirated PC games this year. Warez groups will have the copy protection cracked in a week at the most, and when they do, the cracked version will be far less inconvenient to run than the legitimate retail version.
Once again, DRM is going to punish the legitimate users and not the pirates.
As more and more publishers go down the route of draconian copy-protection systems and PC game piracy levels increase, we’ll see less and less publishers that consider the PC platform worth spending development money on – all because of the way they treated their customers.