Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

Ubisoft’s DRM… Bad Idea or Worst Idea?

Posted by Ben Zeigler on March 5, 2010

It’s been more than a year since the last time I bitched about DRM, but things sure haven’t gotten better. The latest, and worst to date, offender is now Ubisoft. For the forseeable future, all Ubisoft PC games will come complete with the most restrictive DRM to date: internet connectivity is required 100% of the time for a strictly single player game with no multiplayer, or even stat tracking, abilities. Personally, this means there is 0 chance of me buying Assassin’s Creed 2 PC, Settlers 7 (last 2 sucked anyway) or other PC Ubisoft games. My internet just went down for about an hour tonight (thanks Comcast), and during that time period I played several single player PC games, because that’s EXACTLY what I want to do when my internet is down. When it’s up I tend to play games with online features.

Ubisoft lost the war on piracy at the exact point they called this an anti-piracy measure. Compare Ubisoft’s approach to what EA is trying with Command and Conquer 4. EA has gone on the record as saying that C&C 4 requires a constant internet connection, but they’ve been very consistent in stating that this is explicitly to add extensive player progression and stat tracking abilities. It also “so happens” to have the exact same anti-piracy effect as Ubisoft’s system, but in a much less insulting package. Players pick up on the increased respect shown by this attitude, and as a consequence I haven’t seen any press or fan uproar over C&C 4. We’ll see if that changes when it launches in a few days.

Oh, and how successful has Ubisoft been at stopping piracy? Early indications are pretty poorly. I haven’t confirmed the crack personally (I refuse to buy them, and I haven’t pirated anything since being a poor college student), but I’ve heard multiple personal reports of Silent Hunter 5 being cracked within a day of release. Apparently they didn’t even need to use a server emulator, which will almost certainly be required to crack C&C 4. My guess is that the online activation stuff was tacked on to Silent Hunter at a late stage of production and against the wishes of the developers. No developer wants to deal with an external system that is only designed to make their lives harder, so there is almost certainly some code hanging around in the Silent Hunter binary to do local disk saves. The pirates probably just found it and hooked it up.

Ubisoft’s anti-piracy scheme is explicitly an add on, and is also said to use “extremely limited bandwidth”. Together that means that the server can’t really be doing anything interesting. It’s going to be hackable. Guaranteed. Much like the last 8 times companies tried, Ubisoft has irritated casual users, enflamed the hardcore who spread word of mouth, and taunted the pirates. That tends to not end well.

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3 Responses to “Ubisoft’s DRM… Bad Idea or Worst Idea?”

  1. My promise to Ubisoft was to buy Assassin’s Creed 2 as soon as the internet connection requirement was removed, by them or by a third party. I didn’t think I’d get to buy it on release day!

  2. Loredena said

    I’m rapidly approaching my 45th birthday, and I’ve been playing PC games since Adventure on the IBM PC in 82. I’ve not outright pirated a game since I was about 22. I have however used cracks, and more than once, to enable me to play games I purchased and then found had crippling DRM (and I’ll be honest — I’ll use a No-CD crack right out the gate if I can’t make it work on something like Game Drive, as I can’t be bothered to keep track of the CDs for my weekly games). If I know a game has obtrusive DRM I just won’t buy it and I’m someone who spends a good chunk of her entertainment budget on gaming. I really wish publishers would get a clue — DRM does not stop the pirates, nor the teens and college students who don’t think they can afford to buy a game — it only hurts the honest casual gamers who are inconvenienced by their DRM (I had at least one game that wouldn’t even run on my laptop due to DRM checks).

  3. […] by Ben Zeigler on August 4, 2010 I’ve been pretty critical of game companies using DRM before, but today’s article from Gamasutra points out another reason to stop trying. Uniloc, who is […]

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