I had an interesting conversation today about the recent implosion of Ubisoft's new "always on" DRM scheme. In case you missed it, Ubi's servers took a powder over the past weekend, leaving "owners" of Assassin's Creed 2 and Silent Hunter 5 unable to play their games for the better part of Sunday. Ubisoft initially said the problem was caused by overwhelming demand, but later changed its tune and claimed that an "attack" on its servers was to blame. A few hours after the all-clear sounded, the servers were apparently hit again and at last check were still under siege. Not that the specifics really mattered; regardless of the reason, thousands of people couldn't play their games and Ubisoft ended up looking like a bunch of chumps who staked the future of their PC business on a system that couldn't stand up to a few bored script kiddies with an afternoon to kill.
Rubbing salt in the wound was the fact that this sort of outcome was widely predicted. Servers go down for a multitude of reasons and when games are entirely dependent upon those servers for their functionality, it becomes almost certain that sooner or later - probably sooner - people are going to be left hanging. To paint with admittedly broad strokes: We knew this was going to happen.
But if that's the case, I suggested on Twitter, then who do these put-upon gamers really have to blame for their problems: Ubisoft or themselves? After all, if you know your tongue is going to stick to a frozen pole but you lick it anyway, it's hardly reasonable to get mad at the weather when the school nurse has to give your head a yank.
A friend of mine said I was unfairly blaming consumers, who were merely the victims of Ubisoft's ham-fisted stupidity. That's a valid point as far as it goes, but while I have no doubt that there are people who were innocently and honestly caught in the Ubi net, I'm also inclined to think that gamers savvy enough to go to the Ubisoft forums to wail about the injustices of the universe should also be savvy enough to consider DRM before buying games. If that's true, then those same people made a conscious decision to purchase it despite knowing that it could, and probably would, bite them in the ass at some point - and for that, I have no sympathy.
Ubisoft certainly isn't blameless in all this. It's responsible for implementing this ridiculous DRM scheme in the first place and then proved laughably unable to maintain it for a week uninterrupted. Its arrogance in the weeks and months leading up to this breakdown was stunning. But at the same time, Ubi didn't send an army of drones crawling across Europe, putting guns to the heads of gamers and forcing them to buy AC2. The gamers did that all on their own, either because they failed to do their homework or they just didn't care. And while missing out on a day or two of gaming is unfortunate, the sheer volume of anger, indignation and surprise that accompanied the response is, to be frank, shocking.