Monday, 9 April 2012

Ubisoft - "how do we create enough value that that need for DRM goes away?"

Yes, you read that right. No, Hell isn't freezing over. (As far as I know at least)

At least the first couple of postings this week are going to be somewhat themed around the companies that make the games, rather than the games themselves. There are going to be some ups and downs (mostly downs because let's face facts people), but I'm choosing to start this week with something I believe is at the very least a step in the right direction by Ubisoft.

Although Ubisoft has made its fair share of fans with franchises like Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, Driver, and Far Cry, it has earned almost as much if not more ire from some of its mindbogglingly draconian DRM practices. Many Ubisoft games for the PC, including Assassin's Creed -- which is arguably becoming the flagship franchise for the company -- required the player to always be online in order to play; any sudden loss of Internet connection would mean an end to being able to access the game as well. Of course this didn't affect pirated copies of the games, but in some instances did prevent people who legitimately owned the titles from playing them.

So, colour me as surprised as a lot of people were when one of the higher ups at the company, Chris Early, told Eurogamer in an interview that Ubisoft is hoping to ultimately cut back on the DRM and make players want to pay for their games because the experiences delivered are just that good.

Some notable citations from the article:

"Is it fair for someone to enjoy our content without us receiving some value for that? I think at the core of that is, no," he said. "Otherwise, other than works of charity, there would be few games made. The balance, however, is, how do we do anything about that and not harm the person who is giving us value for that?

"That's been the delicate balance that the industry has walked over time. It continues to be one that we grapple with as an industry. How do we create content and receive good value for that, and at the same time, not inconvenience the player who has given us value there?

"I don't know that there is a perfect answer today. There are some technological answers. There are some design answers. There have been different approaches from different publishers at times, some doing no DRM and just assuming it's the cost of doing business. Some are doing a very strict DRM. Some doing an on-going content revision. I don't think we have a single, good answer yet. The interesting thing will be, how do we create enough value that that need for DRM goes away?"

Now, those statements aren't all sunshine and roses, at least to some. Jim Sterling has taken a particularly dim view of what he believes to be some of the underpinnings of what's being said. It's a view that I do not agree with, but at the same time with the track record that Ubisoft has it's not really surprising to see where one could get the notions from.

Still, perhaps I am more of an optimist than I myself even believed I could be, because god damn it I want to give Ubisoft some benefit of the doubt here. I see those statements as being grounded in realism, but with recognition that the company has done wrong in the past and hopes to do better in the future. Of course right now these are just statements; words that give a glimmer of hope. There needs to be action taking place to either support or decry these statements, and that is when I, like many others I should think, will be paying the most attention.

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