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.

Comments

TheCounselor wrote:
Just a question for you guys that aren't buying the game because of the DRM:

Ubisoft released Prince of Persia in 2008 without any DRM. Did any of you buy that game?

Yes, yes I did. I was interested in Prince of Persia and was happy to support a DRM-free game as a potential model going forward.

As far as I can tell, the cracked versions of AC2 are not working - while they've managed to bypass the "you need to be online to play" requirement very quickly (as I suspected), there is another component to the whole mess - you actually apparently download need to download level data from their servers as you proceed through the game - as in, the game is incomplete as it stands on the disc. This was not mentioned by Ubisoft before (as far as I can tell), but seems to be a very effective way of combatting "Day Zero" and even "Week One" piracy - as it would seem that would-be hackers need to complete the game and assemble all the level data before releasing an effective cracked ISO.

What's interesting about this to me is that the effectiveness of this scheme isn't the "you always need to be online" requirement, but rather, the fact that you need to download data at specific points. Which begs the question - why have a permanent online connection requirement at all? If you had a requirement that said, for example, "At four points throughout the game, you will need to be online in order to contact Ubisoft's servers to download key files for the next quarter of the game - but you can be offline for the next quarter, until the next checkpoint", that's a concept that could be equally effective yet far less intrusive.

I think at this point, Ubisoft has shown that some part of their concept actually works to prevent piracy. Whether it will continue to prevent piracy (both for this game and, more importantly, for future titles) remains to be seen, but I think at the very least Ubisoft could be smarter in determining the least possibly intrusive way to create an effective scheme. Their measures, as they stand, appear to be unnecessarily over-the-top.

As for buying the game then pirating it, I also don't see it as an option, but for the opposite reason as Elysium - supporting Ubisoft is not an option for me. (Just to be clear, don't condone pirating games you haven't paid for, but have no moral objection to it if you have.) I will ultimately probably buy a used copy of the PS3 version, still letting me play the game legally but not giving Ubisoft a dime.

Scratched wrote:
The comparison with early steam keeps coming up, but I don't think it's a true comparison. Steam is DRM, plus a store, digital downloading (as many times as you want for most games), auto patcher, and a reliable friends/community system came later. This ubisoft DRM only brings DRM to the table (when it can contact their servers), without any other benefits. It reminds me of the phrase "locks are only good for keeping honest people honest".

Agreed, and similar to what I was going to say. Steam is a service. It may have copy protection and all that in there. But it provides me with friends, community (GWJ groups), access to games on my home PC, laptop, or even visiting my parents or in-laws on their PC. I can play everything I've bought wherever I want, with whoever I want. The benefits far outweigh whatever security features are in there. And the vast amount of half-price (or less) sales they have encourage the CAG in me to buy from Steam whenever possible.

I get the games I want for a discounted price, with added portability and social networking.

Honestly I just wish everyone would just release on Steam. Let me enter my retail key in there and play off Steam for those few times I buy something cheaper off Amazon or Newegg and I'd be a happy gamer.

Scratched wrote:
The comparison with early steam keeps coming up, but I don't think it's a true comparison. Steam is DRM, plus a store, digital downloading (as many times as you want for most games), auto patcher, and a reliable friends/community system came later. This ubisoft DRM only brings DRM to the table (when it can contact their servers), without any other benefits. It reminds me of the phrase "locks are only good for keeping honest people honest".
While this argument makes sense for Ubisoft, I've seen similar complaints about C&C4's online requirements. In C&C 4 though, they give you extra content and a level-up RPG-like system, along with matchmaking and many other goodies.

While I agree that generally DRM systems work best when they're actually trying to provide the consumer with some value to offset the annoyance, I think sometimes people set the bar arbitrarily high hoping to get free stuff. Then there's also the argument that "getting the game released on PC" is an extra feature only made possible by the DRM.

Elysium wrote:
Supporting piracy is not an answer for me.

And it would also send Ubisoft the wrong message; "I'm giving you my hard-earned money, I agree with your DRM policy."

That's sending two incorrect messages.

How's this for a terrifying thought: would any of you pay *more* for a special-edition style DRM-free edition of a game?

Switchbreak wrote:
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.

Your buying it is a vote. It's a vote that you accept or do not care about their new DRM scheme.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, if that happens to be your position.

buffcorephil wrote:
How's this for a terrifying thought: would any of you pay *more* for a special-edition style DRM-free edition of a game?
Oh hell yeah, I would buy alot of those. Unfortunately publisher logic does not work that way.

"If it's available anywhere DRM free, the dam will have sprung a leak and we'll all drown!"

Too bad it's not a dam, it's a fishing net. You're already drowing.

PyromanFO wrote:
buffcorephil wrote:
How's this for a terrifying thought: would any of you pay *more* for a special-edition style DRM-free edition of a game?
Oh hell yeah, I would buy alot of those. Unfortunately publisher logic does not work that way.

"If it's available anywhere DRM free, the dam will have sprung a leak and we'll all drown!"

Too bad it's not a dam, it's a fishing net. You're already drowing.


That's the thought right now, but in the music industry — traditionally several years ahead of the game industry in both piracy and combating it — EMI simultaneously dropped DRM from it's tracks on iTunes while releasing them at a higher quality, and raised the price from $.99 to $1.29. It's done really well for them over the past couple of years. I don't know if it can directly translate to games, but I'm not sure I'd dismiss it from the publishers' playbooks out of hand. It only takes one company to be successful with it and they'll all follow.

I wouldnt. Folks are used to DRM seeing patched out or softened as a product gets closer to the end of its lifecycle. I don't think I could justify paying an up front surcharge.

In the case of AC2, its 59.99 MSRP for this version. Isnt that a bit on the expensive side already for a pc title, even during its launch window?

Really you'd go to 69.99 or 75.00 for a retail title just to get rid of the DRM? I don't think so.

Irongut wrote:
I wouldnt. Folks are used to DRM seeing patched out or softened as a product gets closer to the end of its lifecycle. I don't think I could justify paying an up front surcharge.

In the case of AC2, its 59.99 MSRP for this version. Isnt that a bit on the expensive side already for a pc title, even during its launch window?

Really you'd go to 69.99 or 75.00 for a retail title just to get rid of the DRM? I don't think so.

Especially since with PC titles there's no Microsoft/Sony $10 console charge, digital distribution is much cheaper than brick and mortar, and Steam sales have infected the psyche of internet lovers everywhere, such that we think $30 for a AAA game an inevitable buying point.

I thought we gamers were supposed to have that counter example already, that you don't need to ratchet up price to have DRM free successful products.

Isnt that what Stardock offers with it's in-house developed titles. Modern, solid quality titles without DRM at normal price points? I only have their Galciv1,2 and Sins, and I havent played them in quite a while, but I thought the DRM-free portion of their go-to-market approach proved successful in earning consumer confidence and generating additional sales. There was a point where it got a lot of publicity.

It's not DRM, but they do require you register your copy to receive support. I've always thought that seemed an extremely reasonable requirement to filter their real customers from potential tech support leaches.

Elysium wrote:
Ubisoft released Prince of Persia in 2008 without any DRM. Did any of you buy that game?

That is only relevant if someone chose to pirate it instead of buy it -- and I'd prefer not to get this thread completely derailed by going full-bore into the piracy angle.

But, it's not like I'm going to go around randomly buying up games that don't have restrictive DRM.

But, if you're Ubisoft, aren't you going to take the position that since releasing a game without DRM didn't seem to increase sales, then you might as well put DRM on the game. They might get a few extra sales from people who otherwise would have pirated it.

In other words, they tried it your way, and it didn't matter.

I know the games are different, but you can't exactly have a controlled experiment in this context.

As I said in the piece, how they interpret flawed data to support their own assumptions is beyond my control.

AC2 for the PC costs 10$ more because it comes along with the two DLCs whether you want them or not.

Count Elmdor wrote:
Switchbreak wrote:
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.

Your buying it is a vote. It's a vote that you accept or do not care about their new DRM scheme.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, if that happens to be your position.

No it's not, it's a purchase. Ubisoft isn't a democracy. They don't put business policies up for referendum to the public to be voted up or down. They may interpret their sales numbers, but I have absolutely no control over whatever conclusions they draw from those and since I don't own stock in the company I don't really care - if they come to the conclusion that every sale is a customer who supports DRM, then they're incorrect, but I suspect that they know that as well as you do.

I bought it because I want to play it. I bought it for PC because I want to play it on PC. That's all. I would rather not take part in some sort of wearying and futile attempt to control the behavior of a multinational corporation through uncoordinated large-scale Pavlovian conditioning.

edit:

Elysium wrote:
As I said in the piece, how they interpret flawed data to support their own assumptions is beyond my control.

Pretty much exactly what I was trying to say.

Fredrik_S wrote:
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.

+1

Don't pirate, don't purchase crap, support the players that are doing it right. Not so hard, is it? Means you miss out on some games? Life.

Elysium wrote:

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

Well, maybe I'm retarded - I see a lot of folks upset, but I don't really get the why of it all. I don't see how having to be online affects me in any way if I choose to play their games, because I have an always-on broadband connection, like I would assume most gamers would have.

Maybe someone would explain why they feel this is such a "line in the sand" issue, because most discussion about it, like this article and the comments, seems to take the outrage as a given.

Great article

MoonDragon wrote:
Elysium, you captured my essence of my resignation with this issue to the tee. Except perhaps the pirating part, where you're prevented by your goodness, and I'm prevented by my laziness. But the outcome is the same.

The only part I disagree with, in principle is:

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.

The way you phrased this, implies that Ubisoft, EA and Activision is an all encompassing category of publishers. They are not. And when they stop messing with the PC market, less egocentric money grabbing machines will get a chance to invest into PC gaming and all will be well again. For a while at least.

I dream of the day when PC game business plans will be made for niche markets. Not mass markets. Currently, the only way that future will come true is if Ubisoft PC market dies a horrible, horrible death. Which I truly hope for. And if the price for that is that I do not play Assassin's Creed 2, Silent Hunter 5, R.U.S.E., or a few other games that may look interesting and come out in the near future, then so be it. It's a small price to pay. Especially in today's saturated market.

That's an interesting point. Let it die and then hope smaller overhead companies with more passion come in and fill the void. But I can't help feeling that then I'll be looking over at Dragon Age 2 and wishing my poor RPG could come close to it some day if only it had a big studio behind it.

On the topic of voting with your wallet. I can't help believe that that vote is more harmful or ineffectual without a letter behind it. Otherwise it gets interpreted as pirating and the end result is even more "innovative" copy protection.

You summed it up for me as well, Elysium. Great article.

I have found a solution. I'm buying it used on a console.

I get it cheaper, I forgo the DRM, Ubisoft doesn't get any of my money, and it's legal. I figure if there's one thing that Ubi hates nearly as much as piracy, it's the secondary sales market.

I posted this in a different thread, but I think it's more appropriate in this one:

I wrote:
...What I will do is buy it used for the PS3 on Amazon. Why? Because of your DRM. I buy new on PC, and I'm happy to do so. I buy used on console because I can, and it's convenient. Your DRM, that is supposed to protect your sales, actually lost you a sale. Crazy, right? I would have willingly bought it for $60, new, on PC, but instead I'm buying it for $30, used, on PS3. Does that make any sense? Nope, but it's your loss.

But, it's not like I'm going to go around randomly buying up games that don't have restrictive DRM.

Oddly, I did exactly that for World of Goo. Never played it before, but wanted to show concrete support for their anti-DRM stance.

Bullion Cube wrote:
How the heck did you get the 15% figure? And is that dollars or games sold? I've never heard of accurate electronic distribution figures.

I recall reading that last year sometime. But now I'm not so sure. After doing some research, I'm seeing numbers all over the place. Brad Wardell of Stardock estimates 25 percent of PC platform sales will come from digital distribution channels during 2009's calendar year. The PC Gaming Alliance reports that only 20% of total PC revenue came from retail sales last year, but revenue includes a lot more than just game sales: ad revenue, sale of digital items, subscription fees (think WoW), etc. It's all a bit murky. But one thing is for sure: in the PC arena, retail box sales are going the way of the dodo, and I guess a lot faster than my initial impression.

TheCounselor wrote:
I know the games are different, but you can't exactly have a controlled experiment in this context.

Which makes the comparison pointless. All numbers are guesses and estimates, no matter where they come from because none of us have a time machine.

I commend you for taking this personal stance, Elysium.

But...

HedgeWizard wrote:
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.

This.

I can sort of imagine tolerating this kind of DRM for games with a strong multiplayer aspect, but for singleplayer-only games, I agree that it's insulting to the honest PC consumers.

Whenever I hear about this fiasco, all I can do is look slightly to my left at my copy of Lost: Via Domus, which doesn't need a serial number and doesn't need the disc after installation. Funnily enough, it's by Ubisoft.

And despite all the rage, PC sales were up 3% in 2009, growth largely attributed to Steam.

DRM is an irrelevant issue in the long run. If digital distribution is driving sales, Ubisoft and other dinosaurs will be forced to evolve/mutate into humans or go extinct. There will always be games for the PC, and DRM systems that prevent gamers from attaining a certain level of satisfaction will die off. Ubisoft is trying something, and it will fail if its DRM servers have too much downtime, or if people's Internet connections are too unstable. It's a risk they took. I don't think they will be too sad if it fails, but I don't think failure will will stop them from making PC games either.

Oh and forgive me if this is inappropriate but since people mentioned following the online conversations about Ubisoft, I thought I might link to this if people are interested at all in tracking tweets. Disclaimer: this twitter tracking site is developed and operated by the company my alter ego works for. (because Mao works for no one)

Elysium wrote:
Ubisoft released Prince of Persia in 2008 without any DRM. Did any of you buy that game?

That is only relevant if someone chose to pirate it instead of buy it -- and I'd prefer not to get this thread completely derailed by going full-bore into the piracy angle.

But, it's not like I'm going to go around randomly buying up games that don't have restrictive DRM.

This whole post was kind of dancing around that zombie-like DRM thread, though, wasn't it? I mean, as soon as I read this article I was going to make a smart-a** comment about how we don't have to worry about this in console-land, but then I realized that would start up the other debate that won't die.

Just realized an earlier post may have come off wrong seeing it now as a quote, so...

HedgeWizard wrote:
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.

This.

I don't mean to suggest Elysium is whining. And certainly he isn't calling for b0yc0ttz or some of the other inane things I've seen called for across the 'net (misspellings and all). But I can appreciate his stance; it's one I am taking too, but I feel like it is a futile one.

I really don't get it to be honest. I had one instance where the NWN2 DRM would slow down my DVD drive write speeds, and I wasn't too happy about DRM altering programs or hardware exterior to the software it was protecting, but other than that, these other schemes seem harmless. Especially recently companies seem to have been working hard to move away from schemes that alter the way the computer operates as a whole and rely on more passive protection. And compared to the 80s and 90s where I had to keep pulling out my manual, find word 15 in paragraph 8 on page 22 and type it in, constant internet checks that ticks away without me noticing a thing is a walk in the park.

AcidCat wrote:
Elysium wrote:

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

Well, maybe I'm retarded - I see a lot of folks upset, but I don't really get the why of it all. I don't see how having to be online affects me in any way if I choose to play their games, because I have an always-on broadband connection, like I would assume most gamers would have.

Maybe someone would explain why they feel this is such a "line in the sand" issue, because most discussion about it, like this article and the comments, seems to take the outrage as a given.

Because when I'm paying $60 for a game, I want to be the one in control of when and how I play it, not a greedy publisher who's interest is in getting me to buy more games, not continuing to enjoy old ones possibly years down the road. I don't like the idea of Ubisoft being able to one day pull the plug on their server (which they will) and turning my $60 investment into a coaster.