21 February 2010

If You're Not Part of the Solution



For those who don't know, Ubisoft has implemented a new DRM scheme that requires a continuous Internet connection in order to play their games. If you lose connection for whatever reason, the game stops working and any progress since your last save point is lost.

Yeah, you heard right. Single-player games running on your PC with no otherwise valid requirement for online features will shut down if you lose your connection to Ubisoft's servers via the Internet.

Does anyone at Ubisoft understand the word Internet is ancient Atlantean for "Thousands of Laggy Routers"? The ability to use software you've paid for honestly will be subject to loss of use because a key router gets overloaded with Torrent downloads, or any one of the myriad ways to lose connection.

And not because the connection is required for gameplay reasons. No. It's because Ubisoft is concerned with piracy.

OK yeah, I get that piracy is a problem, but this is absolutely not the way to solve it. All this does is increase the effective cost of Ubisoft games, not by monetary measure, but by Pain-in-the-Ass factor. By increasing the cost of their games, without doing anything to increase demand, the quantity demanded by the market will necessarily decrease.

Yes, I've heard Ubisoft's arguments that the online features provided will benefit players. I call Bull. These are very small bonuses, like not requiring discs to install, or the ability to install to multiple PCs, or to save progress on the Internet to resume play on a different PC. These features were already available in the marketplace for little to no cost.

The best part? I predict that this won't reduce the number of pirated copies of the game played by even one. Hacked versions of their games without the DRM code will appear shortly. In fact, this will likely drive up instances of piracy of their games.

Let me be perfectly clear here. I absolutely do not condone software piracy. Being mad at Ubisoft does not justify theft.

That said, people who would not ordinarily have stolen this game will end up stealing it just to play a hacked version that doesn't stop working for stupid reasons. They'll be wrong for doing it, but that doesn't make Ubisoft right. Neither party is being part of the solution.

One of Murphy's Laws of Combat applies here. Make it too tough for the enemy to get in, and you won't be able to get out. You cannot possibly close every avenue of exploit utilized by software pirates without overburdening legitimate users of your product. This is simply fact, and no amount of overreaction by a clueless studio will change it.

I'm not angry at Ubisoft. There's plenty of impotent rage being directed at Ubisoft right now, so even if I were so inclined, my efforts are unnecessary. No, my feelings regarding Ubisoft are arguably worse from their point of view.

I pity them. They're being stupid and hurting themselves. That's worth my pity. But I don't pity them enough to buy their games with their ill-conceived DRM scheme. I'm not going to steal their games, but I'll do something worse.

I'm not going to play them.

It's a simple economic decision. The cost is too high. So many games get released every year that I don't have time to play them all. If one of them has an inordinately high cost to me, there's always the next by a studio that's not doing something dumb to arbitrarily drive up the cost of their games.

Each person who makes a similar decision is one more voice that won't be talking about Ubisoft's games, won't be telling friends, won't be making recommendations to random strangers in GameStop. That silence is a deathknell to a game studio.

Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2010/02/if-youre-not-part-of-solution.html.

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