Coming to Terms With UbiSoft

I have an insane theory about the airline industry — I think they genuinely want me to stop flying on their airplanes.

I think that when major air-carriers tuck into their silk sheets at night, they dream of a hyper-efficient fleet filled with steely-eyed business class flyers with practiced methods of travel and corporate expense accounts. Never again would they be burdened with a bunch of pesky amateur flyers with screaming kids and an over-inflated sense of entitlement just because the family managed to scrounge up a few hundred dollars to fly to Omaha.

Were I to write to Delta airlines and tell them of how I chose to spend three days driving across the country with my two boys rather than endure ten hours under their thumb, would the response be a curt but genuine, “Thank you?”

Sometimes it very much seems like certain companies are entirely comfortable with the idea of just annoying a certain segment of consumers away. You know, companies like Ubisoft.

Is it insanity to imagine that a game company would seed the foundation for catastrophic PC numbers so they can justify ending support for a customer base they neither like nor trust? Is that nutjob conspiracy theory territory, because every time I look at the evidence the slippery slope gets greased just a little more.

I had been looking forward to buying Assassin’s Creed 2 for the PC. As friends raved about the experience on the consoles, I decided to hold off for a release on my platform of choice: the trusty Personal Computer. But as Ubisoft slowly revealed worse terms than Lando Calrissian got from Vader in Empire, I realized that for me, a line had been crossed.

Historically my reaction would have been histrionics, but for a lot of reasons that I don’t want to explore right now, I have been thinking hard about learning to accept the things I can not change. It is a distressingly voluminous list, to which I must now grudgingly add the schemes and machinations of multi-national game publishing companies. Unless I’m willing to become a mid-80’s Sally Field movie, the only question left is how mad I am willing to let the whole thing get me.

Rather than take this to the next level of a broad and meaningless call to social action — Boycott Ubi, yo! — I have chosen instead to realize this is a very personal choice where no available option seems particularly desirable. Do I reward Ubi with my money in the hope that they might be grudgingly forced to create more PC games with even tighter restrictions? Do I deny myself the experience of playing a game I had been looking forward to? Do I build flimsy self-justifications for piracy, choosing to contribute to the problem out of an overwhelming sense of self-entitlement and convenient moral flexibility?

Ok, obviously not that last one. Whatever moral subjectivity it is that endows people with the latitude to pretend like rules don’t apply if they are sufficiently mad at the victim just doesn’t work for me. So, for me, the choice is only one of buy or sit out.

Why is this such an emotionally charged dichotomy for me and for that matter so many other people? Ubi and its ilk have presented a product and presented their terms. I can either take part, or I can abstain. That I am disgusted by the terms offered should be the point where I get the luxury of keeping my $50. I mean, it’s not like when some guy comes to the door asking if I’d like to let him fertilize my lawn for a hundred bucks, I suddenly have the urge to punch him in the face.

I recognize in a very rational way that the internet’s response to Ubisoft’s decision to make all PC gamers maintain constant internet connectivity to play their games is one of breathless hysterics. Three Stooges movies show more moderated self-control than message board discussions in response to this issue, and yet I am drawn to the furious debate like a moth drawn to a flame if that flame were the burning singularity of a super-massive black hole.

I hate the corporate policy of Ubisoft for this. I hate the precedent it entrenches for PC games, and I hate that I have no recourse to protest save a few hundred futile words and a well practiced glower. Therein lies my real problem, and the point this all draws back to.

I don’t get a vote, not even with my dollar. Choose to buy and I am supporting something I believe undermines the rights that should be afforded to PC gamers. Choose not to buy and Ubisoft is free to interpret diminished sales as evidence of the impact of piracy and the antipathy of the consumer base. Check and mate.

I must learn to accept that which can not be changed. It is a bitter lesson.

I choose not to buy, and I choose not to pirate if for no other reason than it would provide publishers with one drop of additional proof that PC games aren’t worth the trouble.

Now I must choose to accept my own decision, and that, so far, has been the hardest choice of all.

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I applaud the article, I see myself facing the same question when the next chapter of Splinter Cell arrives. I have no intention of buying an XBox and I don't know how reliable my online connection would be.

That player needs have been knocked down to the bottom of Ubi's priority list is confusing as it is disappointing.

There is a halfway choice though, playing the game on a console platform. It might not be your ideal choice, but at least --IMHO-- this game can be thoroughly enjoyed with a console controller, unlike FPS, where I consider M+K a must.

While the Console idea might feel like derailing from your main topic; coming to terms with things you cannot change, it's important to know that while obtuse as Ubi is behaving, they're still presenting an option that meets your expectations half-way (no online requirement and still legally acquirable).

How does buying AC2 on sale figure into your new found attitude? That seems to be a good solution to get everyone what they want.

Ideally, PC publishers that insist on having DRM would agree that the real reason for that DRM is to prevent piracy before, and just after release. Is anyone really going to pirate a game that's six or eight months old? If they did, what's the chance that they'd buy a copy if they couldn't get it for free? Thus, after a time, publishers could drop the DRM, and make everyone happy. The guy that has a spotty connection is satisfied. The guy that's worried he won't be able to play the game in ten years is satisfied. The price would probably be cheaper, as well.

I choose not to buy, and I choose not to pirate if for no other reason than it would provide publishers with one drop of additional proof that PC games aren’t worth the trouble.

Kudos. Way to go.

You have the luxury of keeping your $60 in this case. Boo to you Ubi.

It really does feel that way that Ubi and others would simply like us PC gamers to go away. Or more precisley just purchase the game on the console.

At the end of the day I cant stop folks from pirating, and I cant change the face of PC gaming even though its my favorite hobby and has been so for 20 years or more.

Bottom line they arent getting my cash either.

There's always the third option: Use the money you just saved and purchase a product from a company that supports PC gaming such as Steam, Eidos, 2K. My policy has always been to do my small part to make any good PC port a success and show companies like Ubisoft that good ports without draconian DRM schemes is a good business practice.

So what ever happened to a good old fashioned letter? Couldn't you write the company and just simply state that you are among the people that wanted to get the game, but have decided against if based soley on their DRM. There's your vote. They now know they in fact lost a sale for no other reason but their corporate policy. Of course, the bean counters probably never see the letters so the chain breaks down, but at least you did what you could in directly sending you voice to the source. Sending copies to the developer and publisher might be a good idea, too. So now the developer can balk about lost sales due to corporate imposed policy.

Is there something wrong with writing a letter, or are we just lazy?

There's always the third option: Use the money you just saved and purchase a product from a company that supports PC gaming such as Steam, Eidos, 2K.

I think that's ultimately a by-product of this approach. It just means my gaming dollars will go to support companies that operate differently.

TheCounselor wrote:
How does buying AC2 on sale figure into your new found attitude? That seems to be a good solution to get everyone what they want.
Simply, if the game is worth less to me, then I want to pay them less for it. Strangely ubisoft have got on the activision bandwagon that they want to charge more for their games, so I doubt that AC2 or other ubisoft games I might find tempting will match the value I'm willing to pay for them. This DRM does not increase what I'm willing to spend, especially when there's other games and publishers that provide something I want to pay for.

I haven't been paying as much attention to this as perhaps I should...will this be an additional layer of DRM even if the game is purchased through a rights-management service like Steam?

Is there something wrong with writing a letter, or are we just lazy?

Well ... I think I kinda just did that, at least in part. I assure you, from personal experience, companies aggressively search the web for what is being said explicitly about their company.

Elysium wrote:
Is there something wrong with writing a letter, or are we just lazy?

Well ... I think I kinda just did that, at least in part. I assure you, from personal experience, companies aggressively search the web for what is being said explicitly about their company.

Yeah, I heard that before, but I guess I just thought of it as just some developers that care and not the publisher. But I wonder how seriously they take responses to outrage topics on the internet, even though this well written "letter" comes across as calm and collected.

Minarchist wrote:
I haven't been paying as much attention to this as perhaps I should...will this be an additional layer of DRM even if the game is purchased through a rights-management service like Steam?

Yes.

mrtomaytohead wrote:
Is there something wrong with writing a letter, or are we just lazy?

I thought that's what Twitter was for: "OMG Ubi DRM is teh sux", and so forth.

And then some social media expert shows up and placates you with free games and heroin.

Spoiler:
...I don't use Twitter.

I just noticed someone stating letter above. But comments are rapidly increasing here, so before reading the newest posts I'll agree on that.

Personally, the loss of PC games is more important to me than the addition of copy protection. So I support it no matter what. But if I was passionate about copy protection and decided to abstain, I feel backing it up with a hand written letter to the principal of the company is important. Just not purchasing hurts you, hurts pc games in general and hurt the rest of us who are still funding it through purchases.

Writing the letter is the least to do. Handwritten mail stands out these days. Companies may scour the web for info, but that doesn't mean the info gets to the correct person in a form beneficial to what you are trying to say.

-Professionally type the address and name of the company head on the envelope.
-Stamp it confidential if you can. This will prevent it getting opened by the secretary and filtered.

And to add some weight to it, get some hand written signatures on it like a petition. Online petitions aren't really as powerful as pages and pages of handwritten signatures. And you know what, don't even worry if they are gamers. At the most, explain the issue to the person and ask for a signature. At the least, have them sign it after a quick read whether they care or not.

But I wonder how seriously they take responses to outrage topics on the internet, even though this well written "letter" comes across as calm and collected.

Versus a letter sent to their corporate offices? It's a valid question. I'll try it and let you know if anything comes of it.

For the record, we are talking about a letter sent through the post office, here. I assume we both know that an e-mail would be pointless.

And to add some weight to it, get some hand written signatures on it like a petition. Online petitions aren't really as powerful as pages and pages of handwritten signatures. And you know what, don't even worry if they are gamers. At the most, explain the issue to the person and ask for a signature.

See, I told you guys it was a few short steps to becoming a Sally Field movie. Next thing you know I'll be standing on some developer's desk somewhere in a sweaty tank top screaming for unions.

That's part of the thing, here. I have a lot going on, and I can't go around fighting every perceived consumer slight. Part of the point, is that it is more valuable to me to become comfortable with the idea of localizing my moral compass and simply avoid the rocky shoals rather than erecting a lighthouse at every one I see.

This sums up my feelings on the matter pretty darn well. Thanks Elysium

Agreed wholeheartedly.

I'll be giving AC2 a pass, despite having been looking forward to it for a long time, and I'll be doing the same with Splinter Cell and every forthcoming Ubisoft game until they've come to their senses (should that day ever come). Despite what they assume, I do not pirate games though like most others I have every opportunity to do so, my Steam account can certainly attest to this. More, perhaps, as my office has a ridiculously fast internet connection and nobody above me to tell me that I can't torrent. And even though I more or less see purchasing the game (despite the ludicrous $10 extra) and then cracking the legit copy as a quasi-reasonable solution, I still wouldn't want to give them my money. Purchasing it on a console, even if I had one, is also out for that reason. It is definitely a shame, and one without basis. I can honestly say that of the people I know with consoles, about half of them are chipped.

Meh, I bought it and then cracked it. I can't bring myself to be bothered with voting with my dollar, I'm just a consumer who wants some damn video games.

The environment that PC gamers are in is changing. Hi-speed internet is commonplace. Storage is cheap. I understand the principle of standing against the always online DRM policies showing up all over, but you bet your ass if my internet is down I’m on the phone with Comcast and not gaming. I have to imagine that the vast majority of PC gamers have an “always on” internet connection. Hell, every computer illiterate person in my family has DSL or better. I’d much prefer needing an internet connection to play a game in lieu of having a 3-5 machine activation limit. I call it a step in the right direction personally. I hope this DRM is successful. F*** pirates, they have been a pain in the ass of legit gamers for too long. Do what you gotta do Ubisoft, just be there when I call/email because of a problem with my legitimate copy of a game.

Without starting a riot, what [beyond principle alone] is the big deal? The argument of mobility will fall on deaf ears.

Without starting a riot, what [beyond principle alone] is the big deal? The argument of mobility will fall on deaf ears.

Like I said, it's a personal choice for me.

I don't think the "what is the big deal" angle is anything but noise, at this point.

Great piece, Elysium.

Hypothetically, if AC2 sells poorly on PC (I have no idea whether previous invasive anti-piracy measures like StarForce have hurt their games' sales), can Ubisoft really tell the difference between "PC is dead" and "The wanky DRM scheme caused bad sales"? They can presumably compare AC2 sales with sales of comparable games without this kind of DRM. They can possibly observe a mini-hump in AC2 sales after the PC version's release.

I just get the feeling that all possible outcomes will reinforce their current policy. Good sales vindicate the DRM; bad sales show that either piracy is still a problem and they need even more draconian DRM schemes, or that the platform is waning.

Splinter Cell and RUSE both are teasing me with their delectable treats, but ultimately, I am not comfortable with the idea that my dollars will bolster their decision to implement this bizarre DRM scheme.

I am thankful for the RUSE beta because it allows me to check out the game a little and see what I am missing without throwing the dollars their way.

Still, I have to admit - will it make a difference? I doubt it. I think the vast majority of people who intend to buy splinter cell will buy it knowing nothing about the DRM in place. Until they can't play their game because the servers are down due to bot net attacks. I feel that the ensuing outrage may do more to change Ubi's stance than people whining about it via blog/forum/twitter/facebook/whatever.

Elysium wrote:
And to add some weight to it, get some hand written signatures on it like a petition. Online petitions aren't really as powerful as pages and pages of handwritten signatures. And you know what, don't even worry if they are gamers. At the most, explain the issue to the person and ask for a signature.

See, I told you guys it was a few short steps to becoming a Sally Field movie. Next thing you know I'll be standing on some developer's desk somewhere in a sweaty tank top screaming for unions.

That's part of the thing, here. I have a lot going on, and I can't go around fighting every perceived consumer slight. Part of the point, is that it is more valuable to me to become comfortable with the idea of localizing my moral compass and simply avoid the rocky shoals rather than erecting a lighthouse at every one I see.

Hey, if your that passionate about it, go for it. But like I said, if not, just send the letter sans signatures. Honestly I do neither. I take the road of least resistance and purchase the game. But really, in the time it takes to write the number of words above, you could have signed, sealed and stamped a letter to the head of Ubisoft. I just really don't see the point in not supporting PC gaming if you're as worried about it as you write. The game may not be accessible to you all the time if your connection is iffy, but you will get some AC2 goodness most of the time I assume. There's more to supporting copy protection or no copy protection. There's also supporting the type of games you would like to see produced. And Ubisoft makes some pretty good games.

"Whatever moral subjectivity it is that endows people with the latitude to pretend like rules don’t apply if they are sufficiently mad at the victim just doesn’t work for me. "

I wouldn't call that moral subjectivity: moral subjectivity would be if you could ignore the rules if mad, but other people couldn't (without an objective reason for the difference, like you're the king or something). It's a morality you disagree with, it's a loony sort of morality, but it's not subjective.

I'd also say it's not about being sufficiently mad at the victim, it's about considering the victim to be an outlaw in the old sense of the word: someone who has committed an act that places them beyond the protection of the rules.

"Why is this such an emotionally charged dichotomy for me and for that matter so many other people? "

I think because this is not just a consumer decision to buy a bottle of sugar water: Games are Culture. It makes sense to become emotionally charged over having to make a choice where it seems there's no way to participate in the culture without incurring equally bad--and culture-related--consequences.

Also, I'd say there's one other possible option: buy the game, and if you experience an issue with the DRM, sue Ubisoft for selling a product with a defective DRM scheme.

First of all, I applaud your decision not to support this crap, Sean. Secondly, let me offer a few words that might help you to live with your decision more easily: I don't think you're missing that much, really.

Let me explain a bit. I say this as someone who really loved the first Assassin's Creed, despite it's few bad game design decisions. The free running system was really innovative, really fun, and it worked very well. The combat sucked when you actually tried to hit people, but they had that really cool counter system with a bunch of different animations for different weapons. Once you got that ability back, it was fun again (for me, anyway). It was something I hadn't seen in a game before, and it seemed like a really cool idea for melee combat. In addition, the setting was really unique and very different from the traditional fantasy or futuristic settings in most games. Of course, then they went and made up all that future crap about Desmond "Nobody Gives A sh*t About Me" Miles, but I just pretended that part didn't exist.

Now, Assassin's Creed 2 is technically superior to the first game in almost every way. The free running is pretty much the same, but hey, why fix what isn't broken? The setting is just as cool, I think. The assassinations missions are better structured, getting away from the guards works better because you can just run far enough away without having to hide in a bail of hay all the time, and there's more weapons to add variety to the combat. However, it wasn't as much fun for me, because it's basically the same game when you get right down to it. The free running still has some appeal, but the Italian cities have more vertical space to them, so you actually spend more time climbing and less time running than the first game, which isn't as fun IMO. The combat is better, however the main appeal of it to me (the countering attacks) was done way better more recently in Batman: Arkham Asylum. That game probably has the best melee combat system I've ever played, and it makes Assassin's Creed look plodding and slow by comparison. All in all, it just didn't feel as fresh as the first AC, even though it was technically superior.

Elysium wrote:
Next thing you know I'll be standing on some developer's desk somewhere in a sweaty tank top screaming for unions.

I read "onions" and was confused for awhile. Then laughed. Then confused again. Then I re-read it and still read "onions". Scrolled up to see if I missed something. Scrolled back down. Re-read it and realized what you said.

Spoiler:
I still think it should have said "onions". Makes it a much better mental picture.

Hobbes2099 wrote:
There is a halfway choice though, playing the game on a console platform. It might not be your ideal choice, but at least --IMHO-- this game can be thoroughly enjoyed with a console controller, unlike FPS, where I consider M+K a must.

While the Console idea might feel like derailing from your main topic; coming to terms with things you cannot change, it's important to know that while obtuse as Ubi is behaving, they're still presenting an option that meets your expectations half-way (no online requirement and still legally acquirable).

I feel like this ends up working against you in a different way, though, in that by purchasing on that platform when you would prefer another, you may actually end up damaging the PC's stance even further.

I chose the same way. I will not pirate their games and I will certainly not buy them to support their insulting attitude toward their customers.
A few years ago I may have pirated it out of spite and lack of willpower but now I am more in control, a but more mature if you wish, so I have no trouble passing on on titles I've been expecting. I did the same with Modern Warfare 2 and if I can resist buying or pirating that then I can do anything I didn't even get MW2 when it was offered to me as a gift, I chose Mass Effect 2 and I have no regrets. The same will happen with every Ubisoft game that makes use of this ridiculous, insulting DRM scheme.

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