Experienced Points

Experienced Points
DRM Systems and the Publishers Who Love Them

Shamus Young | 19 Feb 2010 21:00
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When it comes to idiotic, pointless, and unwelcome DRM schemes, Ubisoft has recently rocketed to the front of the pack. The system they're using for Assassin's Creed is so aggressive that even people who shrug at SecuROM are doing a double take.

Basically, the single-player game acts like an MMOG. If you lose connection, you get booted out of the game. Except unlike an MMOG, you'll lose all of your progress since your last save. Even a network hiccup can yank you out of the game. They're selling this thing as a friendly, helpful system that lets you share save file between computers, but gamers aren't falling for it. Their salesmanship is so disingenuous that it's difficult not to simply call it a an outright lie. If they really were simply employing cloud saves, then there would be no reason in the world to make it mandatory. And it should only need to connect to the server when you launch the game and again when you exit. And no matter what reason they give, there is no sense in insisting on an uninterrupted connection under pain of exit-game-without-saving. Do they think you will suddenly become a pirate? While playing?

(I'm leaving out most of the issues that have been brought up a thousand times already: People with capricious mobile connections, people behind university firewalls, people on metered connections, people without access to always-on broadband, people on the road, and everyone else who plays single-player games because playing online isn't a viable option for them. This system excludes a lot of people. It's worth noting that these are the people who would have the hardest time pirating the game.)

This system can't possibly survive the level of rage that gamers are hurling at it. I imagine at some point they'll steal from the 2K Games playbook and ratchet the system back to something still annoying and offensive, but less outrageous than what they're offering now. Many gamers, having memories no longer than a year or so, will mistake this move for "progress". Given the fury gamers have expressed, leaving this system in place is basically the same thing as not putting out a PC version at all. The only people who will buy the game will be the ones who don't know what they're getting into because the fine print on the box can't possibly paint them a full picture.

Some people suggest that the systems based around online activation aren't really there to fight piracy, but are instead intended to kill the second-hand PC game market. That sounds plausible enough, except the used PC market is pretty much dead already. Retailers no longer deal with them. So why do the systems continue to become more obtrusive, restrictive, and and complicated? Last year Ubisoft released Far Cry 2 with standard online activation. (It sickens me that we can now refer to this dreadful business as "standard".) Surely that killed any resale or rental potential of the title. So why this difficult new system? The only conclusion I can draw is that the people helming Ubisoft really are ignorant enough to think that ramping up the DRM will diminish the number of pirates. That's a pretty horrifying thought. It would mean that there are people running an entertainment software company that understand nothing about piracy, DRM, or computer software in general.

For years I've been looking at DRM and thinking we've finally hit rock bottom. And then the publishers invent new ways to drag things down even further. But I really am at a loss this time. What could possibly be next? How much worse can they make things and still claim to be offering a product? We're pretty close to them just charging the user $60 for a blank disk and a rude note calling them a pirate.

Where will they go from here?

Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings and Stolen Pixels.

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