By Alec Meer on February 19th, 2010 at 4:34 pm.
Time to crack open the lid of this frightening Pandora’s box again… PC Gamer have arranged a follow-up interview with Ubisoft about their monstrous constant-connection DRM system. You know, the one that nearly 800 RPS readers have said understandably upset things about. While it clarifies and confirms how the horrid thing works, frankly it’s unclear why Ubisoft agreed to do the interview, given they pointedly fail to address gamers’ concerns in it. Instead, they repeatedly confirm the various everyday situations in which the game you’ve paid for will be denied to you, roundly proving that yes, it is as bad as everyone fears. But it’s okay, because they say they love PC gaming. Well, maybe they do, but they’ve got a bloody funny way of showing it.
I’ve been boring everyone I’ve spoken to about this nasty mess with this little observation, but it seems to me one of the (many) essential flaws with Ubisoft’s plan is that it’s adding online requirement to something that isn’t intrinsically an online product. We don’t have this problem with an MMO, with a browser game such as EA’S Tiger Woods Online project, or even to some extent (the offline mode can’t be trusted) with Steam, because they are innately products of the internet. We expect them to require us to be online, and moreover the fact they are online is why we like them.
They make a virtue of it, and they are easy to obtain, play and update because of it. Ubisoft, by contrast, are simply employing the internet as shackles around the wrists of something that isn’t otherwise of the internet. The sustained online check has been built as an ugly addition, not a natural spine, to these games. If Assassin’s Creed 2 was a streaming game, if there were visible leaderboards or player-made content throughout it (I’m just shouting totally random examples there), this wouldn’t seem so disproportionate and unnecessary a system. And no, the cloud saving system isn’t anything like justification enough for the game to be constantly talking to a server. That’s not a convenience anyone realistically needs.
Personally (i.e. my take is certainly not the RPS Group Consensus), I can at least understand why publishers are flailing for a response to what they blame for declining brick and mortar PC game sales. A developer is interested in making the best game they can; a publisher is not. Big publishers do not care about games, no matter how breezy their slogans or exclamation mark-packed their press releases. They only care about the bottom line that games can earn; that is, after all, their raison d’etre. That’s fair enough. Right now, in PC gaming, that bottom line is endangered, and so they’re trying to protect it. We’re foolish to expect anything else; appealing to principle or sympathy is all but pointless. Calling them names is pointless. But we do have to stop them crossing a certain line, and to do so we need to prove that expensive investment in DRM is not increasing their profits.
Which makes this a fascinating, potentially landmark event in gaming history. In this case, Ubisoft have not simply been excessive . They’ve made a mistake, an error of judgement (or so the interview’s resounding failure to address how unrealistic it is to expect 100% reliable net connections suggests) which steps over a fundamental line of convenience that prior DRM heavy-handedness hasn’t come anywhere near.
This isn’t only going to upset the people who turn a funny colour whenever DRM is mentioned, those admirably principled few who are, alas, easily dismissed by businessmen because they’re just a few thousand guys shouting at the internet. It’s going to affect *anyone* from that much larger world beyond ours who buys the game and tries to play it on the move, has a flaky ISP or sub-optimal wifi. It’s going to be returned en masse, retailers are going to be complained to, angry middle-aged men are going to ring up magazines and vent…
At least, that’s what should happen, and that’s where you merry band of heroes come in. The key is not to purely be furious, and it’s not simply even to vow you’ll never buy these games (especially if you weren’t going to anyway), but rather to ensure that people are fully aware of the restrictions this system means.
That energy you’re intending to spend on leaving a comment about how much you despise Ubisoft for this? Don’t waste it here, squandered on hate that goes nowhere but your keyboard. Go spend it on calmly explaining what it really means to someone who might unwittingly buy one of these games. Let those potential customers who don’t instantly pick up online scandal, or who aren’t web- or tech-savvy enough to know how to comb through the surface screaming and find the meat of the argument know why this system will prevent them from enjoying something they’ve paid for. That’s what this is about.