New Ubisoft Games Must Always Be Online

Ubisoft are watching you, always.

Why not? Everyone loves it when our crazy comments page numbers thing kicks in. Ubisoft have taken their senses and posted them into outer space. Responding to the public outcry for more draconian, inconveniencing copyright management, they have replaced Starforce and announced their new PC-only DRM system. One that requires you be permanently online in order to be able to play.

The attempt to sell this new system begins with what it doesn’t do. There’s no CD check, and there’s no installation limits. A good start. And then, GameSpy reports enthusiastically, it will support cloud saving. Well, I love cloud saving – it’s something Valve promised ages ago (although with sadly little movement since). When I choose to use it. Which with this DRM, the current reports suggest, you cannot.

The price we pay for not requiring the CD in the drive, and for being able to install a game we’ve legally bought on as many machines as we want, is to be permanently online when playing Ubi games. It will authenticate itself online each time you load it, and then save remotely every time you save. This is, to stress, a game perhaps bought in a shop. So from now on, beginning with Settlers 7, potentially all Ubi PC games will require you to check in with them to let them know you’ve started playing their game, and then tell them every time you save, send them all the data in doing so, and then say bye-bye when you’re done playing for that day.

Shack News received some clarifying information from Ubisoft. They explain that they will apply patches should they ever remove the servers behind the games. They also explain that if your connection drops while playing, the game will pause while it tries to reconnect, and then will apparently allow you to carry on without the internet. They don’t say whether it will be impossible to save if you do, however. They also say in the same notes that, “you will need to have an active Internet connection to play the game, for all game modes.” So this is a little unclear.

This seems like such a bizarre, bewildering backward step. Of course we haven’t experienced it yet, but based on Ubi’s own description of the system so many concerns arise. Yes, certainly, most people have the internet all the time on their PCs. But not all people. So already a percentage of the audience is lost. Then comes those who own gaming laptops, who now will not be able to play games on trains, buses, in the park, or anywhere they may not be able to find a wifi connection (something that’s rarely free in the UK, of course – fancy paying the £10/hour in the airport to play your Ubisoft game?). Then there’s the day your internet is down, and the engineers can’t come out to fix it until tomorrow. No game for you. Or any of the dozens of other situations when the internet is not available to a player.

But further, there are people who do not wish to let a publisher know their private gaming habits. People who do not wish to report in to a company they’ve no affiliation with, nor accountability to, whenever they play a game they’ve legally bought. People who don’t want their save data stored remotely. This new system renders all customers beholden to Ubisoft in perpetuity whenever they buy their games.

Clearly publishers are terrified by piracy. While none of the major publishers has ever produced any evidence to support the claims that piracy decreases their sales, they clearly think it does, and are trying to do anything they can to prevent it. Their ultimate goal – to make more money from sales – is in our favour too, of course. We want more PC games, and we want them now. So if publishers aren’t willing to invest in the medium because of piracy fears, we’ll lose out in a big way. But sadly these peculiar, Big Brother-esque approaches do not seem close to the right way to go about it.

Perhaps Ubi will react to public outcry. Perhaps a more sensible version can be created, one that offers an offline mode for those who play games offline, as with Steam. A solution that’s designed to make games accessible to those who legally purchase them. I really hope so.

Update: Just noticed two other things.

Firstly, this new DRM also prevents the option to resell your game. There are implications here.

Secondly, this rather remarkable wording in the FAQ:

Why is Ubisoft forcing their loyal customers to sign up for a Ubisoft account when they don’t want to give their private data and only play single player games?

We hope that customers will feel as we do, that signing up for an account will offer them exceptional gameplay and services that are not available otherwise.

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