Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A new decade, new DRM

Activation limits for games caused a lot of negative feedback from the gamer community. People felt that their games went from an ownership model to a more limited, renting model. The obvious thing to do for a publisher after all this backlash  would be to ease their DRM measures. So what does Ubisoft decide to do? Introduce a new, draconian DRM scheme of course!

So, what does their new baby do? Each Ubisoft game will regularly connect to one of their back-end servers. In other words, you have to be on-line all the time, even when playing a single player game. They're trying to put it in a nice spotlight: you don't need your CD in the drive any more! And your game saves are stored on their servers! A very useful feature promised by Valve years ago but it doesn't change the fact that you have to be on-line all the time. At least with Valves Steam I still have the option to use my off-line mode

This does mean that you won't be able to play on your laptop. Want to play half an hour on the train or on the plane? Bad luck. What if you have a shabby wifi connection that sometimes fails like I have? Well, your game will pause. If I would be in the middle of an exciting game and suddenly I'd get the "please wait while we try to connect to the internet" message I'd  get seriously pissed.

But above all, what’s the use? The first game with this protection scheme will be protected for a few days or weeks. Then a handful of determined hackers will crack it. Your games will be saved to your local disc and you’ll never have to use the Internet. From one point of view the hacker gets a better version then the customer (idem dito with the x activation limits, a pirated version doesn’t have those and thus is better). All this does is forcing people to download the crack if they want to play on the train. Do you really want customers to go look for cracks and hacks? Maybe next time they’ll just download the full game instead of just the crack.

So I'm sure that it will fail as an anti-piracy measure just like all previous attempts (minus subscription based games like mmorpgs) did. What is it good for? It's another way to reduce the second hand market which the publishers hate so much. There are very few second hand PC sellers here in Europe but the market is bigger in the USA. It's another step away from the ownership model:

Can I resell my game?
Not at this time.

Can I resell my game along with my Ubisoft account?
Your Ubisoft account features your personal data and cannot be given or sold to anyone.

Another measure that will punish those players who are still willing to pay for a game while it won't affect a single pirates copy. It's about time that publishers understand that they should convince people to buy their games by offering better content then the pirate versions. Not like it is now: the pirated copy plus a disk full of DRM. For on-line games you can offer big and fast servers. For single player gamers there are also options. Online achievements, online save games or profiles are great to prevent loosing all your data in a PC crash and sure provide a bonus compared to pirated versions. You can also add some free DLC to your game. It's a lot easier to get the DLC when it asks you at start up then having to search for torrents every time a small DLC package is available. But make sure that all these extras are optional. At least that way your bought version will offer something more than a pirated copy. Forcing people to pay for something that they can get better for free makes no sense at all.

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