Server Maintenance Reminds Us Why Ubisoft’s ‘Always On’ DRM is Stupid

It has been nearly two years since I reviewed ‘The Settlers 7: Path to a Kingdom’, in which I trashed the always-on DRM for the single-player, offline strategy title, saying:

As for the DRM … it is intolerable and unacceptable. The DRM is this: you need to go through all of the normal serial number and online activation hoops, but beyond that you also need to have a constant internet connection to Ubisoft’s servers. If that connection drops – ON EITHER END – you are booted out of your game. Originally the boot-out would lose all progress from the prior checkpoint, but an update made it so the game state was saved at the moment of connection loss…which was at least a step in the right direction.

It was reported that the new DRM system was cracked on the day of release for both Assassin’s Creed II and this game, which was made worse the following week when Ubisoft’s servers experienced issues and many folks were unable to connect and therefore unable to play. I was amongst those who tried to play the game and while my internet connection was fine, I couldn’t even get started.

Companies like Ubisoft like to say that these schemes are to lessen the impact of piracy, and many companies – and those who support this type of DRM – state that they will patch out the DRM later. As for the first item, there IS some indication that at least during the initial couple of weeks there is less piracy. But since some of the ‘most pirated’ games of 2011 had severe DRM, it is also true that DRM is not a long-term deterrent – and some would say that it actually increases animosity and therefore piracy in the long run.

But, for the second item – when is ‘later’?

Well, it isn’t within a year, or between one and two years, or even more than two years!

How do I know? Well, apparently next week I will be unable to play The Settlers or the more recent Might & Magic Heroes 6 according to Ubisoft, who is doing server maintenance. During that time anyone who wants to play PC games such as HAWX 2, Might & Magic: Heroes 6, and The Settlers 7; owners of Mac titles including The Settlers, Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell: Conviction; and any other games that require a login to a DRM server will simply be out of luck. During this time Ubisoft is making a server transition.

For online games, downtime impact makes sense, but in the case of offline games it does not. I like Might & Magic: Heroes 6 and had recently restarted playing the game – it is a single player game between myself and the computer with no need for any contact outside of my local system. ‘Always on’ DRM means I can’t take it to play while my son is in his piano lesson, or while I am waiting at a doctor appointment or haircut, and in general am out of luck any time the connection on either end drops. If everyone in my house is doing stuff like watching videos or streaming music, I can find myself booted out due to poor latency.

As mentioned, many games with this type of DRM ended up on the ‘most pirated’ lists, but companies like Ubisoft still believe that the lack of pirated copy availability in the first two weeks or so is critical to their sales. So I don’t begrudge them that protection – I would just like to again propose that they enter a fair contract with customers: after a month or two months of release, patch away the always-on DRM. Simple. They would protect their release window, and we would get a game we could play as we wanted months or years down the road.

I have not bought a PC or Mac game since before 2010 due to the shift in DRM, with my only Ubisoft games being review copies. If they made a shift I would definitely become a good customer again – and I know many who have boycotted Ubisoft over this ‘presumed guilty’ stance.

We want to play our single player games without being treated like criminals. How about it Ubisoft?

Categories: Gaming, Rants and Raves