Tobold's Blog
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Ubisoft DRM

Like pretty much everybody I am not a big fan of the various ways of "digital rights management" and copyright protection schemes that companies add to games and other media. Not that I think that pirates have the right to steal stuff as they want, but because in my experience any form of copyright protection has a higher chance of hindering legitimate buyers than it has to stop pirates.

Having said that, I find some of the foaming from the mouth comments about Ubisoft's latest DRM scheme a bit over the top. Most of the games I play are either MMORPGs, or bought via Steam, thus I already have the situation that I can't play when I'm not connected to the internet.

If somebody would write a long rant about how unfair it is that he or specific other people in special situations can't play World of Warcraft when they aren't connected to the internet, we would laugh and tell the guy to choose a different game. I think our response to Ubisoft DRM should be exactly the same: We put these games on the long list of games that require the internet, and play something else when we don't have an online connection. And then we point out to Ubisoft that they just lost a bunch of legit customers, while the pirates published a cracked version of those games on Bittorrent before us legit guys could even buy them in the stores.
In a MMO, you need an internet connection because there is no other way to play. I mean.. technically there isn't another method.

I won't rant because my Instant Messanger of my choice isn't working when there is no internet connection.

But for a single player game is way different. UBISoft just added a DRM scheme that require a costant internet connection. They say that is to let game saves in their cloud and that it need very low bandwidth.

But their low bandwidth is 50kbit and a analog modem won't do probably and anyway you'll need all it's capacity if you rely on a modem.

Also for gamesaves... I can cite an example of saving in the cloud and online DRM that does work.
Steam and Torchlight.
You have to be online to download (that is fine), you need to be online during first few moments of first play to activate the game (that is fine as is needed only once). You need to be online to sync you game saves. If you aren't online, your game saves are saved only locally and eventually transmitted when online.

But with UbiSoft...
They added stringent requirements that aren't needed. Just imposed requirements.

Well... I can live not being able to play WoW if my internet connection is down. But why my single player game have to pause and eventually exit?

If my connection is down, eventually I could switch from WoW to another game while waiting for connection to be up again...
But if even single player games can't be played...

just my 2 cents....
and as it seems UbiSoft is just starting with this method...
now it's Assassin's Creed (AC2) but as it seems, all following titles will be like that.

This is the break point where a pirated copy is really more desiderable than the original one even for someone that have the money to buy them and usually is willing to do so.
As I understand it there are a few reasons why folk get more hot and bothered about Ubisofts drm than they do about Steam.

First reason is the save games issue. Apparently all progress since the last checkpoint will be lost if you lose an internet connnection while playing Assassin's creed 2. This does not happen in Steam games which save progress locally. In fact the games I have tested allow you to keep playing even after a network connection is lost.

The second issue is the reluctance of Ubisoft to firmly commit to providing a mechanism for people to continue playing their games if ever the company goes out of business or the servers are shut down. Valve has always been very forthright on this issue and has promised to make the games playable if anything happens to them. The best we have gotten out of Ubisoft is an anonymous spokesperson saying "We don't plan on shutting down the servers, we really don't". It seems that Valves assurances are more convincing to a lot of people than Ubisofts.

By the way it is possible to run Steam games in offline mode (on a laptop without internet for example) after they have been activated once. Its just a bit awkward to set up because you need to be online in order to run steam in order to set it to offline mode but I tested it just now and it does work. Its in the files menu of Steam.
What Jack-o-Lantern said.

Also, if noone buys the game on PC, Ubisoft will just claim the low sales are due to piracy, (by extension) claim that it isn't worth developing on the PC anymore. no matter what we do, the PC consumers lose out.

Probably about the only thing you can do, is buy the game legit, then send ubisoft a picture of your legit key + a cracked version of the game. that's the only way you can look even remotely respectable.

in theory, any method to circumvent a DRM is punishable (DMCA law)

beside that I fear you right saying that PC gaming is in danger... no matter what consumers do.
Tobold, at least try to pay attention. This is massively different from Steam. Steam requires a connection to log into your account and start the game, and it has an offline mode that can be a bit dodgy but mostly works. This kicks you out of the game if your connection, or their server, blips for a second. It doesn't just pause the game, it drops you back to the last save point.

That's utterly ridiculous, and not remotely analogous to Steam. It also has nothing to do with multi-player games or MMOs, which have an actual reason for requiring an internet connection - although this scheme would still be terrible for multi-player games. Now the game isn't just messed up if you disconnect from the server for a second - anyone could drop out for no particular reason, even if you're playing an RTS or something on a LAN. It might not matter in FPS deathmatch games, but something a little slower and longer would have serious trouble with this DRM.
Also, isn't this the company who shut down the servers required to play one of their games online something like 17 months after launch?

I'm sure I can trust that they won't do anything stupid!
Maybe I'm a bit paranoid. I use about 5 different identities when posting online. I trust my real name only to about 2-3 trusted online shops and the publisher of the one MMO I play. I won't use those nice little cards they hand out at every second shop which give you some minor discount and allows them to track your buying habits. I customary use false names on the internet. I don't use twitter. I don't post too personal things anywhere. I only pay in cash, no credit cards. And you want to tell me I need a constant internet connection to play some game while we both know quite well that it is totally not necessary because pirated versions won't need that anyways? There is no way in hell I'll buy a game like that. Right now I'm in the process of deciding if I should buy Warhammer40k: Dawn of War because that seems to be free of oppressive DRM instead of Dawn of War 2 which can only be bought via Steam (which I won't let taint my PC).

For you it may be a small step. For me its a way bigger step and one I'm not willing to do.
I agree with what otghers said about this being in no way like Steam and far worse. What I really don't get is what they hope to achieve with it. Cracking a game like WoW is nigh-on impossible because the game actually requires an internet connection, but a fake connection requirement like the one proposed by Ubisoft is surely just as crackable as a cd key check or similar methods.

For your garden variety pirate nothing will change. The legitimate customers on the other hand get shafted once more.
More power in the hands of the publisher is rarely a good thing. This is simply part of a broader agenda where publishers (in all mediums) are trying to redefine what ownership means. As long as you need to connect with a service in order to play your game, you will never truly own that game even if you bought a legitimate copy of it.

The comparison to an MMO doesn't add up because an MMO needs that online connection in order for every feature to work as intended, where as traditional multi player games (such as shooters) have a long history of private servers.

These DRM schemes are taking away almost 20 years of established gaming culture and replacing it with something far more restrictive and far less flexible, without really doing that much to slow down piracy. In fact, pirates will have more options and more choices than those people who purchase a legal copy of the same game.

The suck in all this seems pretty obvious to me.

Nor did I even touch upon the fact that trading games and reselling games (which the industry hates) is now more difficult that ever.
While I can understand Ubisoft wants to protect their games, which they absoulutely should, this type of DRM is just a sloppy way to handle it. It will just create more problems for them down the line, because servers do and will crash, and customers will be pissed off when they lose saved games and/or can't play their game at all whent hat happens.

The problem with DRM that involves online activation every time you play or a constant connection is that in 5 years when the publisher shuts down those servers, we can't play the game.

"Don't worry Bigeyes, Publisher X cares about us and will put out a patch to get rid of the activation request if they know the servers are coming down." Really? So far that hasn't happened. And even if the company truly did care about us (which many do) it's infeasible to think that they should and would drop man hours and resources into a patch for a 5 year old+ game, that they most likely don't support with any type of DLC or downloads. They are a company after all, no matter how much they care about their fans.

"But Bigeyes, if the company doesn't patch it then some group of code writers will develope a work around and post it up on torrents" Maybe. But that'll only work for very popular games, if at all. Ignoring the obvious problems of finding a trustworthy work around hack, what about finding a hack for little game you played 7 years ago that wasn't a "Halo-big AAA title" but you remember with fond memories. Are you sure you'll find torrents for current games 5-10 years from now? You can't count on that.
Whats really sad about all this, is that gamers have really brought all this DRM nonsense down on ourselves, and it's a case of where the few ruin it for the many.

Now I won't doomsay the PC market, because no matter what certain companies and games will still support the PC market, (even if it is increasingly becoming smaller compared to consoles) BUT I definitely see less and less support in the future for the platform.

If these latest games are any indication PC gamers are going to lose out on some of the perks they have been used to for decades. More DRM, loss of dedicated servers, etc are things which I think will become more and more common in the PC market. While the common reaction is to just turn around and bash these companies, I'd rather have Awesome Game 3 have a PC version with DRM then not have one at all, because the company decides the tiny PC market is not worth the trouble, because A) piracy, and B)Fans who hate DRM and attempts to fight against piracy.
I don't pirate games. I bought spore, and mass effect. Both of these games had the silly "install on no more then 5 times" DRM. I highly considered not buying these games due to the DRM but I really wanted to play them. UBI has crossed the line of what I'd be willing to take as a consumer.

Assassin's creed DRM is too much. I'd be okay with a one time internet activiation. I'm not okay with a DRM disguised as a "Save cloud". There is really no reason to have a save cloud, but at the very least the game needs to save files locally as well. I won't be buying this game. I won't be pirating it either. If this was a game that I felt I really needed to play, then I would pirate it. This is the line in the sand.

Also Tobold's gearscore sucks.
The constant DRM war makes me believe that there is only one possible end-game. The developer will have full control of the product by only making it available with specialized hardware and have it be played under their supervision. You can never take it home, and it will be locked down.

Actually, we already have it. PC Arcades. There will have to be Ubisoft, EA, and Activision branded Arcades where you can play their games. DRM is going in that direction, and I don't believe it to be far off.
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I got this link from one of the well known german blogs (spreeblick) and it shows the real problem with piracy - based on films here thought:

And it gets even worse for games now. I can't find the article I've read some days ago about Mass Effect 2 and the extra dlc you got by preordering from amazon etc. (I got it via direct2drive) - each shop offered different preorder bonus items, while pirated versions of course included all bonus items and the bonus dlc content at once.

I don't mind buying games and I don't even mind steam - but I do care about the easiest way for me to enjoy a game, a movie or some music.
Ok, now repeat this blog post and replace "PC" with "your console" . Yes, imagine having to be on Xbox Live or PSN while playing Guitar Hero ALL THE TIME!

Sure consoles have improved copy protection, but i can tell you now, the day PC games dies, those consoles will be cracked left right and center.
The problem with piracy is the media and game companies keep convincing themselves that every pirate in , India, China, Africa and every other poor country is lost sales. Those people wouldn't buy the game if there was no other option.

I'd love to see the piracy statistics for just EU,Australia and North America by percentage of games not dollars.
Steam does have an online mode although I didn't test it a lot.

And I agree that DRM doesn't solve anything. It makes things worse. The customer who buys it gets an inferior product to the one who downloads it which is just insane. He who cracks the game can play it on his laptop on the train. He who buys it can't...

Why don't publishers try to give extras to people who do buy their games? Give them online achievement tracking and free DLC.
Quoted from IceWolf

"And it gets even worse for games now. I can't find the article I've read some days ago about Mass Effect 2 and the extra dlc you got by preordering from amazon etc. (I got it via direct2drive) - each shop offered different preorder bonus items, while pirated versions of course included all bonus items and the bonus dlc content at once."

The pre-order DLC and free DLC for new copies isn't actually meant to combat piracy. It's meant to stop used game sales, which send no profit to EA or Bioware. The incentive for the customer to buy a new copy of Mass Effect 2 is that they'll get free DLC they would have to pay for if they buy the game used.
The main weirdness involved here pretty much stems from the fact I can buy Ass2 for my PS3 or 360, get all the same DLC content etc., and play it offline, while I cannot do the same for the PC. That's rather annoying.

can't play World of Warcraft when they aren't connected to the internet, we would laugh and tell the guy to choose a different game. I think our response to Ubisoft DRM should be exactly the same:

What happens when every producer makes their single-player games internet only?
I believe this is what they are complaining about...
I'm not sure why you compared it to playing an MMO like WoW. In WoW, if I get disconnected while mid-raid, I get to keep everything I collected up to that point and when I log back in I merely pick up where I left off. In AC2, if you get disconnected you get punted back to your last save point. It would be the WoW equivalent of having your character rolled back to the state it was in when you first logged in for the day each time you get disconnected. How big of a fan would you be of that?
The issue is three-fold:

1) The requirement to be online is too strict, losing connection loses you progress in the game.

2) There is no tangible benefit from the requirement to be online.

3) It does not work against piracy, and illegal games are better off due to this "piracy protection".

The first means that even if it's Ubisoft's fault, or your provider's, or your router's, you are screwed for very artificial reasons. It is also different from Steam (and its offline mode).

The second is what makes Steam even more different. I get tons of added benefit from being online. Community features, chat, friends lists, gazillions of neat features.

These two, by the way, are the reason why I am no longer up in arms against Steam, as I was back when it first came out. It's not so much that I got used to it, but that it improved and became a lot more than the DRM it started out as.

The third, finally, is the deathblow. This DRM, just like all the others, will be cracked within a week after release tops. Software pirates will not suffer from these restrictions, even though the "feature" is directed at them.

So it's both restrictive and useless. A very unfortunate combination.

I wrote a post about this on my blog as well by the way.
Thank you for posting about something related to games and not about a dude with a name-fake.

@Topic - You are right about many methods hindering legit players. IMO they should use a very similar method that iTunes uses to verify software validity. Saving a single player game via internet? It's either revolutionary or downright dumb, one of the two and I don't think it's revolutionary.
Better to sell 100,000 pc games than none at all. The assumption that pc gamers will simply buy the 360 version is a false assumption, because if I ever buy a console, it will be a ps3. Is that what ms wants pc gamers to do?
Am I the only one here who thinks Tobold has an awful gearscore? I'd boot him from my pug along with the other m&s.
I actually prefer to pay extra to not buy games from Steam if I can, for the same reason I'll pay extra to buy my MP3s from somewhere other than the iTunes store. I don't like the idea of my purchases being limited to here and now.

If I feel a bout of nostalgia about vanilla WoW, I know I can't go back and play that version of the game again, because it's an MMO. But if I feel like playing some single-player game again 3 years down the line, I want to feel like I can dust off my copy of it and play it again, without worrying that their servers aren't online any more.
Tobold fag
I really don't understand DRM at this point. I mean, I understand and agree with it's sentiment: We need to protect our game from pirates. The problem is of course, it doesn't protect their game from pirates in the least. As far as I am aware, and I accept that I may be wrong here, but games that have these very heavy, restrictive DRMs are pirated just as much as games where the developers say "I have made my peace with pirates. I hope people buy my game but realize DRM hurts actual buyers more than pirates and so won't use it". It's the same ends except the game with the DRM gets lots of rabble roused on the internet by legit consumers and 14 year old pirates.
>>I think our response to Ubisoft DRM should be exactly the same: We put these games on the long list of games that require the internet, and play something else when we don't have an online connection.

Agreed entirely.
There is a confusion as to what DRM is.

DRM is not an anti-piracy measure. That's the task of copy protection software such as starforce.

DRM is used to sell 'services' that were available to the consumer for free up to now. Such as installation of the purchased software to different machines, unlimited number of installations, installation of 'legacy' software.

DRM is also useful in preventing consumers from reselling the products they buy. The software industry has sought for a number of years to exclude its products from the second hand market.

For instance consumers nowdays haggle about the number of activations they get for their newly purchased game, instead of wondering why on earth they should be restricted on how many times they can re-install their game.

I still play Deus Ex, Thief and a few other game. That would be impossible, or available only on a premium, if they were released with built in DRM as current titles.

DRM is used to manage the software once you bought it from a retailer, it is not an anti-piracy measure.
Requiring an internet connection so a software company can big brother your computer is ridiculous.

the first thing that needs to change is the myth that pirated copies of the game are all "lost" sales. Probably over 90% would pirate the game anyway. The trick for the company is how to persuade those 10% consumers to give them some money (cheaper price? better update services? etc).

They probably end up losing sales to people uncomfortable with the DRM too.

People accept Steam because it's a brilliant delivery service, there's nothing to suggest DRM-based delivery services are close to as useful.
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