View From the Road

View From the Road
View From The Road: Ubisoft Needs To Use a Carrot

John Funk | 17 May 2010 21:00
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Apologies to Shamus Young for taking a page out of his book this week, but this has been bugging me for a while. By this point, we all know what a massive failure the Ubisoft DRM has been for the PC version of Assassin's Creed II - doesn't work for gamers, eventually cracked by pirates after quite a bit of trying. Essentially, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.

But the worst part is just how close it came to being a good idea.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the part where you need to be connected to the internet at all times to play a single-player game is good - far from it. That's the bad part. But everything else, you know, everything Ubisoft threw in to try to soften the "always connected" blow? That was actually pretty decent.

Imagine if, back when this whole thing first came to light, Ubisoft had simply announced that it had a new service wherein all of their customers who registered their game - and connected to the optional Ubi.net while playing - would get some extra goodies. They would get the option of saving their game in a cloud, and the option to download and install the game on whatever computer they wanted (just need to log in!). They would get their game automatically updated with the latest DLC, and some extra cosmetic goodies as a way to reward them for buying the game legitimately.

That sounds pretty good, right? It's not necessary by any means, but it's a nice set of extras that you only get while logged in . Naturally, you can still traipse around Venice and stab people in the throats while offline, but you get more for being an actual customer instead of a pirate.

Many of these features are actually included in the Ubisoft DRM. You get to save your game in a cloud, and you get to download and install the game on any machine you want without bothering with DVDs (in case you're craving some Florentine action on your lunch break). And yet, that always-on connection overshadows the whole thing. It's very hard to enjoy a token bone when you have the sword of Damocles hanging by a thread over your neck as you eat.

What Ubisoft - and other publishers - need to learn is that they should be rewarding people for going straight, rather than punishing them for thinking about piracy. Use a carrot, not a stick.

There is one metric that any developer or publisher should be paying attention to: Is a paying customer getting the best version of the game? As long as a pirate is putting up with an inferior product instead of what he'd get if he bought the game normally, then you're doing a good job. Otherwise, it's time to head back to the drawing board.

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