Ubisoft drops its crappiest DRM, dodges all the interesting questions

Game maker Ubisoft has dropped its notorious DRM requirement that all games must be played on computers that are continuously connected to the Internet, even for single-player modes. This comes after many years of categorical statements to the effect that this sort of DRM is an absolute necessity, that it stops piracy cold, and so forth. Rock, Paper, Shotgun interviews Ubisoft spokespeople on the issue, and they just dodge and twist and refuse to give any substantive answers. It's a fascinating read -- a perfect example of corporate doublespeak. Kidos to RPS for sticking to the subject.

RPS: Do you acknowledge that always-on DRM has been extremely damaging to Ubisoft’s reputation?

Burk: I think that, as Stephanie said, I think this is where that feedback comes in. We’ve obviously heard from PC customers that they were unhappy with some of the policies that we had in place, and that’s why we’re looking to make these changes – why we have been implementing these changes, as Stephanie says.

RPS: Would you be willing to say that it was a mistake?

Burk: No, I wouldn’t say that. I’ll let Stephanie say what she thinks, but I wouldn’t use those words. This is a process, and we listened to feedback.

Perotti: I would say the same.

RPS: So you say you’re not talking about data. I find that quite interesting bearing in mind data is the one thing that’s lacking in this entire discussion, across all publishers, the whole spectrum. The one thing no one’s ever shown is any data whatsoever to show DRM’s efficacy. Why do you think that is?

Perotti: I think they are complex topics, and as a company we do not disclose this kind of data for confidentiality reasons. As I said earlier, the situation can be very different, from different games, from different territories.

RPS: Whose confidentiality is being broken by publishing piracy rates?

Burk: It’s internally confidential meaning competitive, not necessarily that we’re breaking anyone’s confidentiality. It’s competitive information and therefore confidential.

Interview: Ubisoft On DRM, Piracy And PC Games


  1. All the other kids were doing it, and no one wants to be first to admit its just flushing money down the toilet. 

    With our super duper DRM we were finally able to figure out its treating our customers like shit and pushing unfinished crap out the door that is hurting our bottom line not piracy.

    But admitting DRM is stupid is a quick way to get the cartels to turn on you, they have been engaged in this long term battle that once they have the perfect DRM the money will start rolling in, rather than the simple answer of we exist to sell things to consumers, if we offer them what they want at a decent price they will buy.

    1. Purchased their Splinter Cell: Conviction this summer sale on steam for $5. Its a 2009, SINGLE PLAYER game. My biggest regret and worst purchase ever, because ubisoft treats its customers likethieves. The game kept showing a pop up window that i need to be onlien to continue to play (just because my unstable dsl went down).

      Again, a 3 year old single player game, with annoying always on DRM. What makes them think i’ll bother with their next game? Needless to say I didnt bother playing that $5 game after those initial 10-15mins. Useless buy.

      They need better strategies than always on DRM and shitting on their legit paying customers.

      I also bought AC: brotherhood the same summer sale for $12-$13 iirc. I love that game to bits but I’d return it if I could just to boycott their nazi-like draconian DRM. Again, DRM doesn’t stop piracy. These games get ‘cracked’ on day 1 and pirates get the best deal with no headaches of annoying-pop ups when their internet goes down.

      I dunno who makes these policies, but they sure don’t play their own games in the same setup that their clients do. I don’t want to give up my right to play a game that I paid for just caz my interent won’t be back up for another few hours.

      1. Sure they playtest them.  On a network directly connected to the auth server. 
        Its like the old modem speeds, dialup zomg i’m old!, they could reach x speed in a perfect world in the lab… but you were lucky to get that full speed in real world application.

        And you have to wonder if all of those “pirates” are just downloading the cracked copy to see if the game is unfinished crap again before plopping down way to much money for a game that will get patches for 6 months before its playable or end up in the discount bin abandoned again.

        1. Yeah and there’s no update for the game I’m talking about. So unless I want to follow manual workarounds (Read:  finding versions of the game that have the DRM stripped off), there’s no way I’m playing that again.

    1. Cartel Math…  its an extension of Hollywood Accounting that the **AA’s use to come up with the money they claim to be losing.

    1. …which will be a Steamworks title if it ever sees the light of day. I mean, I love Steam, but pretending it’s not (among many,many other tings) a DRM platform is just Valve fanboyism.

      1.  Yes, but it’s mostly-tolerable DRM.   Only very rarely do you actually really notice the DRM bits, most of the time it’s unobtrusive enough to be OK (in my opinion, at least)

        1. I find DRM to be like cellular phone providers.  They all suck but Steam happens to suck a little less than the others.

  2. By success, do they mean that cracked versions without the always-online requirement appeared on the internet a few days later?, and so those who pirated it essentially got a much better version then the ones who bought it?

    So successful.  Of course, by not admitting that DRM is absolutely idiotic, this leaves them free to try other crippling DRM schemes that will do nothing more but aggravate their consumer base.

  3. 93% piracy rates, so successful!

    But since Glorious People’s Game Company cannot admit to disastrous mistake driven by high ranking golden child who was sure there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Steam, this is about as close as we’ll get, I guess…

    They’ve outright lied multiple times about reducing DRM, so I won’t believe it till I see what they do on Assassin’s Creed III, but assuming they actually follow through instead of lying out their violet scented French asses like they did for On Dust, I’ll golf clap enthusiastically.

  4. I liked Civilization IV so much I bought it several times.  New computer, lost the CD, saw it on sale.  But I wouldn’t buy Civ V for that exact reason – it’s impossible to play offline.  That’s just a little too close to malware for my liking.

    It’s not Ubisoft, but pretty much the same M.O.

    1.  Civ V plays just fine offline.  You get a little message saying that you are not connected and it switches to offline mode and off you go.  :)

  5. I think that eventually in the future (and hopefully with better connections) the game industry will try an approach where they sell only a client while the core game (minus graphics and the other heavy stuff) will be on their server.
    This or the onlive approach (thin client, all on the server).

    Since this will prevent piracy, they will be able to evaluate if the cost is worth the investment in the infrastructure needed.
    Also other companies will choose the unprotected route instead, and we will finally see which method is more effective when the “you should have been nice so i wouldn’t have raped you” – sorry, i meant “you should not have protected and/or priced at will your game so i wouldn’t have pirated it” will be impossible.

    1.  Client/server setups can be very successful for certain types of games.  But it has the exact same problems that this company’s DRM scheme had, mostly centering around the issue of what happens when the server is down, the network is unreachable, or the company decides to shut down the servers.

      It’s also completely unnecessary for single-player games, which is why there is a lot of discontent about Diablo3 or the upcoming SimCity.

      And your comparison works just as well in the other direction: “you shouldn’t have pirated games so we wouldn’t have killed the first sale doctrine and installed rootkits on your computer.” 

      1. Yep, it has the same problem but a distinct advantage, when seen from the publisher’s perspective.
        The game can be made so that it cannot be pirated, because an essential part of the game is missing in what anyone but the publisher itself has.

        Of course this has no immediate advantage for the user (and a number of downsides), except that, with the elimination of piracy, the publishers will have more money to spend developing games.

        I think the market of active content (games, applications) will move in this direction, where someone will be able and will choose to lock their products and others will let them free.
        I’m curious about the outcome, but i’d bet that the big numbers will be with the first.

        Passive content (movies, music), on the other way, will never have a way to protect itself without complex liberties-crushing contraptions (a la Palladium), so i guess is going to be a poorer business.

  6. I quit playing Chessmaster as soon as the WIN Vista Ultimate came out with a chess game built in. I resented having to reinstall CM every ninety days. I never bought another CM after version 9.

  7. It’s funny how just by removing unnecessary PR hedgeshit tone words, they could sound like they’re being candid and frank, even if they aren’t.

    I think this is where that feedback comes in. We’ve obviously heard from PC customers that they were unhappy with some of the policies that we had in place, and that’s why we’re looking to make these changes – why we have been implementing these changes, as Stephanie says.”

    Contains the words:

    PC customers were unhappy with the policy and that’s why we’re implementing these changes.

  8. Pvt. Joe Bowers:
    What *are* these electrolytes? Do you even know?

    Secretary of State:
    They’re… what they use to make Brawndo!

    Pvt. Joe Bowers:
    But *why* do they use them to make Brawndo?

    Secretary of Defense:
    [raises hand after a pause] Because Brawndo’s got electrolytes.

  9. I personally miss plugging a “dongle” into the parallel port on my IBM AT to protect software vendors (Lotus?  Can’t remember) from piracy.

    1.  My Commodore 64 had the same thing for some software but for the life of me I cannot remember what software it was.

      However, if you were to ask me the countersign list to land at the base at the end of missions for Gunship I still have that kicking around in my head…

  10. When I worked for Ubisoft in 2009 I had dinner with my boss and his boss the European marketing director.  We had quite a discussion about this. I pointed out the fundamental stupidity of online only DRM.

    “We have staff playing Ubisoft games, on a Ubisoft internet account, in a Ubisoft office who can’t access the games they paid for whenever the internet connection drops out. Which is, quite frequently.”

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