Thursday, 6 September 2012

Ubisoft Removes Always-On DRM from Games

Finally a step in the right direction!

It was only last week that I covered the somewhat ludicrous claim of Ubisoft's CEO Yves Guillemont that Ubisoft's PC titles suffered from an above 90% piracy rate, this despite the fact that Ubisoft itself had claimed that it's always-on, online connection always needed DRM had in fact been quite successful in presenting piracy. Well, now it seems that Ubisoft is changing its tune, at least a little, because according to reports today from Rock, Paper, Shotgun the company has already scraped this method of DRM, and have now fully announced their intention to also hopefully bring PC and console releases closer to parity with each other as well.

The most important bit of information is certainly as follows:

“Whenever you want to reach any online service, multiplayer, you will have to be connected, and obviously for online games you will also need to be online to play. But if you want to enjoy Assassin’s Creed III single player, you will be able to do that without being connected. And you will be able to activate the game on as many machines as you want.”

This is a huge change from the previous stance of Ubisoft, which demanded that the player always be online while playing a game even for single player games and game-modes, and that saw some games have a limited number of activations after which point they could no longer be installed and would have to be bought again. I'm glad to see this change in policy, but I still can't help but chuckle at how hard headed Ubisoft is being about this in some ways. If you want to know what I mean then take a look at this refreshingly frank interview that was also conducted by R,P,S. I can only imagine that it must have been somewhat uncomfortable, especially for the people actually talking on behalf of the company.

To cite some particulars, Stephanie Perotti, who is the worldwide director for online games, said that in regard to the 90% plus estimation of piracy, that:

"With regard to the numbers, the numbers are coming from both internal and external research. Research showed that it can reach that rate for some specific or popular PC games, and that number often varies depending on the territory. So we are not saying that it applies to all PC games for all territories, and we’re not saying that the same situation would apply for any game."

You have to keep in mind that when Guillemont made those original comments, the connotation seemed to be that this was a statement that could be applied to any given PC game, not just a particular subset of them and only in particular places. It was obviously a number meant to be shocking; perhaps Guillemont hoped that it would have provided some sort of catalyst for change, although all it really ended up doing was magnifying some of the scorn that was already present for the company, given the extremely dubious nature of the claim.

The interviewer then goes on to question the veracity of the numbers themselves, with this series of questions:

RPS: So you say you’re not talking about data. I find that quite interesting bearing in mind data is the one thing that’s lacking in this entire discussion, across all publishers, the whole spectrum. The one thing no one’s ever shown is any data whatsoever to show DRM’s efficacy. Why do you think that is?

Perotti: I think they are complex topics, and as a company we do not disclose this kind of data for confidentiality reasons. As I said earlier, the situation can be very different, from different games, from different territories.

RPS: Whose confidentiality is being broken by publishing piracy rates?

Burk: It’s internally confidential meaning competitive, not necessarily that we’re breaking anyone’s confidentiality. It’s competitive information and therefore confidential.

RPS: Do you think that’s why no publishers publish such data?

Burk: It’s hard to say. I think as Stephanie said it varies, from game to game, region to region, and so the example that you gave – like Stephanie said, we’ve seen internal and external data to show that it can reach that high. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is that high for all PC games, or that it is that high for all companies, or across all regions. I think that’s one reason why companies are not necessarily broadly publishing this, because we’re trying to get a handle on what it means for different games, different titles.

RPS: But do you understand how damaging it’s been to your argument to never actually say these numbers?

Perotti: Yes.

Again, the sheer amount of dodges that are happening, trying to sidestep the issue, make me laugh. It's quite pathetic when you look at the face of it. Ubisoft doesn't want to admit that they are wrong regarding the efficacy of their lauded DRM. However, I believe that their recent actions speak much louder than their words. The fact that they've retracted the DRM means that hopefully PC gamers will no longer be getting the short end of the stick.

I believe that it is about time that game companies start being held as more accountable when they pull crap like this. I'm not saying that any company is perfect, and I'll be honest: I've enjoyed plenty of Ubisoft games over the years. That being said though, I don't believe that the enjoyment that I or other people have derived is justification enough for some of the previous policies that they are now abolishing. This is why I'm happy that this has happened, because hopefully it will send a strong message to other companies that also believe that heavy handed DRM is really the key to getting and keeping customers while cutting piracy, rather than simply treating people well.

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