In interview with Rock Paper Shotgun, Stephanie Perotti, Ubisoft’s worldwide director for online games, has said that the company has decided to remove the need for a permanent connection to play its PC titles.
The cheery response to the announcement of a new SimCity game was quickly tempered back in March by the announcement that it'll require a permanent online connection to work. Videogamer caught up with Maxis' Lucy Bradshaw to ask why SimCity won't end up mirroring Diablo 3's launch. Bradshaw says that EA are "investing quite a bit in making sure we're locked and loaded."
This probably isn't what the British Phonographic Industry hoped to achieve. The Pirate Bay's traffic has increased by 12 million following a high court ruling that the site should be blocked by six major UK ISPs. “We should write a thank you letter to the BPI,” a Pirate Bay insider told torrent news website TorrentFreak.
On Wednesday, Virgin Media's four million UK customers became the first to be denied access the infamous file-sharing site. Users trying to access the site were greeted with a message saying "Virgin Media has received an order from the Courts requiring us to prevent access to this site in order to help protect against copyright infringement".
Speaking to Joystiq, SimCity Lead designer Stone Librande has revealed that the new SimCity will be an "internet-dependent experience." You'll need to stay connected to the net through Origin if you want to keep playing. He cited SimCity's multiplayer features, like the global economy that will let players sell excess resources on a massive connected market, as the reason for the always-online requirement.
Though SimCity will maintain its connection through Origin, we won't have to buy it through EA's digital store. SimCity will be available to buy through other digital distributors, and at retail, but that's small comfort for those with unreliable internet connections. As we've seen with Ubisoft, you can have the most stable connection in the world and still be at the whim to server switches and meltdowns at the developer/publisher end.
Good Old Games relaunched this morning, and shall henceforth simply be known as GOG. The online store has occupied a neat niche in digital distribution, reselling modernised versions of classic games with bonus parts like soundtracks and extra artwork, DRM free. The relaunch heralds a bit of a shift in their remit. GOG will now sell indie games through the service, and games from major labels within three years of their release. Trine, The Whispered World, Machinarium, Darwinia and SpaceChem are on the way, with more planned soon.
The increasing variety of games available on GOG will dilute their identity a bit, but they're planning to sell new titles and indie games with the same principles in mind. Their stance against DRM remains as firm as ever, as managing director Guillaume Rambourg told Gamespot. "It has taken us 3 years of hard work to build up this catalogue and convince rights holders that removing DRM is actually the best way to fight against piracy, a "sector" that managed to succeed where most of the gaming industry failed to perform: providing (illegal) gamers with a simple and fast access to games within a few clicks."
"DRM does not protect your game. If there are examples that it does, then people maybe should consider it, but then there are complications with legit users." That's what Marcin Iwinski, CEO at CD Projekt, had to say to Joystiq last night.
The value of digital rights management protection seems to be a contentious issue at the Polish developer. Back in December, CD Projekt's VP of Business Development talked up breakthroughs in DRM technology, saying they had achieved 100% accuracy in detecting pirates. They even sent letters out to thousands, demanding cash.
“If you’re not making your customers happy you’re doing something stupid,” says the new-look, full-bearded, Gabe Newell. Penny Arcade have been chatting with Valve’s managing director about his job, the state of PC gaming, and more. They also have an image of Gabe with a beard that we're not sure we can use yet, hence the artist's interpretation up there. EDIT: I've just got permission from The PA Report. Find the real-life beard embedded below.
Gabe even went into depth on DRM and how it affects game sales. He reckons intrusive measures can result in a false economy: “You know, it’s a really bad idea to start off on the assumption that your customers are on the other side of some sort of battle with you."
“We tend to try to avoid being super dictatorial to either customers or partners. Recently I was in a meeting and there’s a company that had a third party DRM solution and we showed them: ‘Look, this is what happens, at this point in your life cycle your DRM got hacked, right? Now let’s look at the data, did your sales change at all? No, your sales didn’t change one bit.’”
Recently we mentioned that many Ubisoft games would be unplayable this week because some server shuffling at Ubi HQ. The downtime has started, locking players out of Might and Magic: Heroes VI, The Settlers 7 and Tom Clancy’s HAWX 2. Players who have just bought Assassin's Creed Revelations, Anno 2070 and Driver: San Francisco won't be able to activate their games while the servers are down.
According to Ubisoft's Uplay page, Anno 2070 was one of the few games that was supposed to remain unaffected during the switch-over, but many players can't launch the game. Our copy of Anno autopatched without a hitch, but when we tried to start it up, we got the error message above. "We apologize for the inconvenience, it seems some of you can't connect to games announced as playable during migration," said Ubisoft on Twitter, adding that they're currently working on a fix.
Players on the Ubisoft forums say that they can't log into Driver: San Francisco either.
Ubisoft are having a bit of a hardware reshuffle next week, according to Eurogamer, which means major disruption to their DRM servers.
Games that use Ubisoft's always-online DRM system ping these constantly to reassure the publishers that you're not a pirate. That means that next week's switchover will render Tom Clancy's HAWX 2, Might & Magic: Heroes 6 and The Settlers 7 unplayable for an unknown period of time. The servers are set to go down on February 7. Ubisoft don't say when they'll be back up again.
The year is 2012, and yet somehow Games for Windows Live is still a thing. It's a dark future, to be sure, but even so I never imagined I'd have a problem as weird as this: I need it. And I can't get it. It's hard to stay angry when you're laughing.
I'm trying to play Batman: Arkham City on PC, an excellent game that was unfortunately developed in 1408 AD, the last time anyone alive didn't know Games for Windows Live was universally hated. And it's working - in fact, it's working better than usual. It's working without Games for Windows Live. That part of the game simply never starts - I'm not asked to log in, the Home key won't summon it, the main menu option does nothing, and the game seems to function smoothly without it.
DRM's the hideous multi-tendriled monster PC gamers pump shotgun blasts into while bellowing "Why! Won't! You! Diiiiiiie!" And, questionable punctuation aside, it's a good question. DRM gives legitimate customers no end of trouble while providing pirates with an allegedly righteous cause for their actions. In the cases of companies like Ubisoft, it's utterly baffling. What gives? Do publishers hate our money?
Obviously not. However, according to Paradox Interactive CEO Fred Wester, we can't aim our pitchforks and torches entirely at maniacally monolithic companies that erupt in a din of evil cackling and ominous lightning strikes each time someone's booted back to a start screen. Business, he says, isn't such a one-sided game.
Ubisoft's finally seen fit to pipe up about Anno 2070's extremely sensitive (read: prone to detecting minute graphics card changes - not penning tear-jerking poetry) DRM, and well, perhaps no news actually was good news. In short, Ubisoft told RPS that its DRM is functioning precisely as intended. Worse, the publisher really doesn't see why everyone's making such a big deal about this.
Ubisoft's DRM isn't exactly known for its gentle, loving caress in matters near and dear to PC gamers' hearts, but the latest tightening of the cuffs seems a bit overkill-ish even by Ubi's standards. In attempting to review Anno 2070's performance on a range of hardware configurations, Guru3D made an extremely disappointing discovery: The second the site switched out a GTX 580 for a GTX 590, Anno demanded another, separate activation. On top of that, the game gives you a whopping three whole activations to work with, so think carefully before spelunking around in your machine's brittle innards.
I've fired off a mail to Ubisoft asking whether this is an intentional piece of extra armor plating for its DRM Voltron, or merely a glitch the publisher plans on patching out. Fingers crossed for the latter, though precedent's not exactly on our side.
Recently, I spoke with Bohemia Interactive's CEO about the three most reviled letters in the gaming alphabet: D, R, and M. His company has been making waves with tech that slowly renders pirated games unplayable with all manner of obnoxious, sometimes hilarious effects. From where Bohemia's standing, DRM's a necessary evil. No one ever said, however, that forcing thieves to pony up couldn't be worth a laugh or two.
But that's only one perspective. So, in the wake of the announcement that GOG's version of Witcher 2 made a sizable stack of real, non-Monopoly money without any sort of DRM weighing it down, I decided to get in touch with CD Projekt. Read on for CEO and co-founder Marcin Iwinski's thoughts on DRM schemes like Bohemia's, why we should get rid of DRM altogether, how many Witcher 2 copies were pirated, and how piracy can even occasionally be beneficial.
Ghost Recon Online producer Sébastien Arnoult says that free-to-play games are a response to piracy - and an alternative to the restrictive DRM that's annoyed PC gamers in so many recent Ubisoft games.
"We are giving away most of the content for free because there’s no barrier to entry. To the users that are traditionally playing the game by getting it through Pirate Bay, we said, 'Okay, go ahead guys. This is what you’re asking for. We’ve listened to you - we’re giving you this experience. It’s easy to download, there’s no DRM that will pollute your experience.'"
While Ghost Recon Online is exclusive to PC, Ubisoft's other Ghost Recon game, Future Soldier, uses a traditional payment model and will only be available on console.
"We’re adapting the offer to the PC market. I don’t like to compare PC and Xbox boxed products because they have a model on that platform that is clearly meant to be €60’s worth of super-Hollywood content. On PC, we’re adapting our model to the demand."
Deep in a coma dream, Tanner floors his imaginary gas pedal and begins the chase. The suspect in the red SUV desperately weaves in and out of traffic, but if he’s hoping the risk of civilian casualties will keep him safe, he’s in the wrong car chase.
Tanner may not yet realise he’s lying in a hospital bed, but that doesn’t stop reality being his subconscious’s bitch. As the suspect hits the freeway, Tanner becomes a floating, ethereal spirit, possesses a truck driver coming the other way, and turns his truck into a high-speed battering ram.
And later, things get a bit odd.
Here's some good news for those of us waiting patiently for Assassin's Creed Revelations to tip-toe onto PC in a few weeks. Ubisoft have told RPS that Revelations won't have their dreaded always-on DRM system that required players to be constantly connected to the internet, even during a single player campaign.
It's a bit of a turnaround from Ubisoft's position this summer, when they told us that the always-online DRM was "a success" that had led to “a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection." Thankfully for us, they didn't listen to themselves.
For many PC gamers, the recent trend toward always-connected games – sometimes referred to by the name of its top-hat-wearing, mustachioed alter ego, “always-on DRM” – is an oncoming black cloud. Developers, however, insist that there's a silver lining. The likes of Blizzard and id, for instance, argue that they'll make up for a tiny loss of control with a heaping helping of convenience. "In the end, it's better for everybody," id's Tim Willits told Eurogamer. "Imagine picking up a game and it's automatically updated. Or there's something new you didn't know about, and you didn't have to click away. It's all automatically there.”
And then Darkspore's dark days happened.
GSC are currently considering using online-only DRM as a possible anti-piracy solution for Stalker 2, according to an interview with Ukrainian website KP spotted by Kokaku. GSC said:
"Protection from piracy? Part of the content will be located on the server and downloaded as the game progresses. Permanent internet access is required. Text information, code and quests will be loaded through that connection."
Later, speaking to Rock Paper Shotgun, GSC clarified that this was only one of many possibilities, saying:
“The idea of implementing DRM came in as a possible anti-piracy solution. You know the severe level of commercial piracy we have here in ex-USSR region. This said however, there is no firm decision to go for DRM with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 as of now. Be assured, we do realize how uncomfortable this solution is for the players, so we’ll continue looking for most effective, yet acceptable for all, way of protecting the game by the time of its release.”
Last week, Eurogamer examined PC piracy in an attempt to discover how much it actually harms companies, and the effects of different approaches to DRM. Unfortunately, as the PC Gaming Alliance's Christian Svennson admitted up-front, you can't really quantify the problem or the efficacy of its remedies "because you end up having to do a set of cascading assumptions that you have no real ability to validate in any meaningful away."
However, Ubisoft provides a test-case. We are almost two years into its aggressive attack on PC piracy. Recently, Ubisoft called its "always-on" DRM a success, claiming "a clear reduction in piracy.”
In terms of actual sales, however, the results seem decidedly mixed. Michael Pachter told Eurogamer that Ubisoft's "PC game sales are down 90% without a corresponding lift in console sales."
Pachter framed the problem in terms of piracy, as I'm sure Ubisoft frames the problem, but a 90% decline in PC sales is a catastrophic number. If piracy were the problem, then their "successful" DRM policy should have prevented such a free-fall.