On Monday we reported the strange discovery by Guru3D that something so simple as changing your graphics card could use up an activation on Ubisoft game, Anno 2070. At the time I suggested that this was perhaps a bug in the DRM Ubisoft uses, Tages, meaning it was overreacting to hardware changes. It seems I was wrong, and Ubisoft have confirmed to us that this is how they intend the DRM to work.
We got in touch with Ubisoft to find out what was happening, asking,
"This sounds more like a bug than a deliberate choice by Ubi. Is that the case? Will there be a fix forthcoming to ensure people can change basic hardware without losing the ability to play Ubi games?"
But to our surprise, the official statement we received in response reads,
"While it’s correct that copies of Anno include three activations and that changing hardware may trigger the need for reactivation, the vast majority of Anno customers never encounter this scenario. On the rare occasion when a customer does need additional activations, Ubisoft customer service is available to quickly resolve the situation, and we encourage those customers to contact us directly so that we can ensure they are able to continue to enjoy their game."
The Tages system means you can install your copy of Anno 2070 on three separate PC configurations before it will refuse to work. Ubisoft insists that should these all be used up, contacting them to receive a new set of activations is quick and easy, but that's not the experience Guru3D had. Rather, it took the intervention of BlueByte before they could perform the tests they wanted to do.
Tages is a little odd, however, not offering the option to deactivate an installation. Ubisoft insists this is fine, because when you uninstall it leaves behind a config file on your PC that means it'll remember itself, and not need reactivating on reinstallation. Of course this makes no sense - should you need to format your PC, or reinstall Windows, that file will be meaningless, and despite not changing configurations, you'll still be using up an activation.
But most strange is what appears to be a wildly oversensitive reaction to minor hardware changes, right down to objecting if you change just your graphics card. While most DRM software that attaches itself to your hardware configuration will measure this by your motherboard or processor, Anno 2070 and Tages has opted for anything that can be easily swapped out of your machine, which makes no sense to me at all. This DRM, as ridiculous as it is in the first place (as of course it only interferes with legitimate copies, and leaves pirated versions alone), is intended to stop you from installing the same version of a game on multiple machines. So why is it caring if you change graphics card? That is in no way indicative of multiple machine installations, and allowing customers to make such changes without penalty wouldn't make it easier to repeatedly install the game on all your friends' PCs.
And this is just how Ubisoft want it to be. Which is mystifying. But then from the publisher who enforce "always on" DRM onto their legitimate customers, it's hard to know what not to expect.