View From the Road

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

John Funk | 17 May 2010 17:00
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Is your DRM based around install limits? The pirated copy doesn't have any, ergo the pirated version is better. You fail. Is your DRM based around an always-on internet connection? Pirated version doesn't need to bother with that - double fail. Does your DRM make it so that pirates have to put up with a hamstrung hero, at least until the inevitable secondary crack? There we go! Now we're on the right track here.

Some companies are already taking strides to this effect. Once you've tied your CD key to your account, Blizzard lets you download any of its classic titles like Diablo II and Warcraft III as many times as you want. Even EA is rewarding people who buy the game legitimately (or in the case of consoles, who buy the game new) with bonus content via its Project Ten-Dollar plan.

But for every step forward, we seem to be taking a step backward: StarCraft II does thankfully have an offline single-player mode, but infamously lacks LAN. To be fair, though, anyone who pirates it for LAN is missing out on the huge community, so the legit copy does end up better than the cracked one. Meanwhile, EA still loves to use standard DRM like install limits - or in the case of Command & Conquer 4, an always-connected stipulation just like Ubisoft's scheme.

I think we can all agree that piracy is a problem, and that game-makers and publishers are entitled to try and protect their product - at the end of the day, they need to take home a paycheck and feed their families too. But we also need to confront one sad truth: As much as pirates are (for the most part) self-entitled assholes, they're not going away. Even the most draconian of DRM (that is, Ubisoft's) will eventually be cracked, and casting a heavy net only gets innocent users caught up in the mix.

You will never stamp out piracy by brute force. Hell, you will never stamp out piracy period. Rather, the model should be about giving them incentives to buy the game legally. These incentives could be convenience: Play your saved game anywhere in the world thanks to our cloud! The incentives could be bonus content - even if it will eventually be pirated too, the legit customers get it more easily. The incentives could be things that we haven't even thought of yet.

That way, you might get one of the pirates to look up from their self-absorbed world and think, "Hey, I'd actually be better off if I just put down money for this." You've turned an illegal download into a sale - just what you always wanted to accomplish.

Because, right now, you're doing just the opposite.

John Funk thinks Assassin's Creed II was better on the consoles anyway.

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