Yeah, it’s horrible. DRM is rampant on the PC.

Most recent example: Ubisoft. There is a good article on Rock Paper Shotgun about this. What they have announced to do is the following: With every future Ubisoft game, whether it’s single player or multiplayer, online or offline, boxed with a CD or delivered via download, you will constantly need an online connection in order to keep playing the game.

Ubisoft DRM 150x94 PC: The Platform with Rampant DRM

Ubisoft's DRM in action

In other words: Even if it’s a pure single player offline experience, you will constantly need to be online. If for some reason (shaky WiFi, ISP hickups, flatmate downloads too much stuff, Ubisoft’s servers have problems) you lose your connection for a moment, you are also dropped out of your game and (at least in some games) lose all the unsaved data. (Image source)

Ubisoft also does talk around the issue that in five or ten years, their licensing servers for a game might be offline. As a sidenote, in the case of EA, servers shutdowns happen nearly every year. Ubisoft do not fully commit to promising a patch that will remove the online shackles (Source):

PCG: So you can commit to saying that those systems will be patched out?
Ubisoft: That’s the plan.
PCG: It’s the plan, or it’s definitely going to happen?
Ubisoft: That’s written into the goal of the overall plan of the thing. But we don’t plan on shutting down the servers, we really don’t.

I trust the developers that they don’t want to shut these things down. But I don’t trust the management that they won’t. After all, they get nothing out of second-hand sales, and they can stiffle those if only more recent titles actually work at all.

Cogs 150x117 PC: The Platform with Rampant DRM

Cogs, great indy game on Steam

Now, a common argument appears to be “but Steam does the same”. And I love Steam. But it has a few fundamental differences to this incoming Ubisoft system:

  • You’re only kicked out of actual online games if you lose the connection to the game server (and not the Steam server – the latter doesn’t have any serious impact whatsoever) – so Steam does not affect your capability to play games.
  • There is an offline mode, which always worked a treat for me in the rare occasions where I’m offline.
  • Steam uses the fact that it’s online for great benefit: automatic background updates, digital content delivery, online save data (well, Ubisoft plans that as well), community features across games (with text and voice chat), all with a very easy-to-use interface.
  • Steam is open for games from other developers, and notably, indie developers who gain a way bigger exposure to an interested audience through the system. Without Steam, I would have missed out on Cogs, Bob Came in Pieces, Defense Grid, or Braid.
VoteWithWallet 145x150 PC: The Platform with Rampant DRM

Vote with your Wallet

Ubisoft’s feature only does one thing: It makes it harder for legitimate customers to play the game. As i wrote elsewhere: Since no server connection is required at all, it’s just another small hoop crackers have to go through, and no change at all for pirates. On the other hand, it is a big change for legitimate customers. Yet again, legitimate customers are punished for piracy.

Piracy is merely a strawman argument. It shouldn’t convince anyone.

If it would actually make game piracy harder, I might understand it a slight bit. But it doesn’t: Cracks and patches will be out within a week tops, patching out the online requirement for pirates. Essentially making the game a better product for non-legitimate customers. They even have an internal schedule for about when the game will be cracked (Source):

Do Ubi believe this DRM is unhackable?
They accept that it’s all DRM’s fate to be eventually hacked, explaining that internally, they’ve already talked of a timescale for how long their games will be protected by it. But, they believe that it’s secure enough for them. “We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t believe in it. The guys who designed it believe in it. Do we think that it’s the one system that God has sent onto earth that will never be cracked by anybody ever? We can’t guarantee that, but we believe in it.

”

Well, I really looked forward to the new, back-to-the-roots, Prince of Persia games. Looks like I won’t buy them, completely unlike all but two (1999, 2008) of the previous ones.

I have one thing to say really: Vote with your wallet. If you run into this post after having bought a broken product like that, return the game. Ubisoft will only stop hurting you if you don’t encourage them to.

Disclaimer: Even though some of the contents of this post make it reasonable to believe that I advocate piracy: I don’t. I also do not play pirated games, or use pirated software – it’s a matter of ethics for me, being both a developer and an aspiring philosopher myself.