Opinion: Ubisoft, piracy, and the death of reason

Rob Zacny at

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.

Football Manager 2012 Steam DRM enrages fans

Tom Senior at

Football Manager fans have voiced their anger at the integration of Steamworks into Football Manager 2012. The move to Steam means copies of the game will need to be activated online before being able to play. Eurogamer indicates 40 pages of comments reacting to the news on the Sports Interactive forums, with thousands of posts from fans angry with the changes.

Some fans are threatening to boycott the series until the online activation requirement is removed. Sega tell Eurogamer that Football Manager has moved to Steam to combat piracy.

"Make no mistake, if a quarter of the people that usually pirate the game switch to purchasing Football Manager 2012, the sales of the game worldwide would more than double," they say.

From Dust DRM removed

Tom Hatfield at

Last month, Ubisoft said they would patch their online-at-startup-DRM out of From Dust and now RockPaperShotgun are reporting that they have made good on their promise. The next time you fire the game up on Steam it should update and sync up your savegames with the Ubisoft servers. Rejoice!

Previously gamers would have to be online and connect to the Ubisoft servers when they started From Dust, although they could disconnect and continue as normal afterwards.

The DRM was one of many issues with From Dust's launch, if you want our verdict on the game itself, read our From Dust review.

Diablo 3 game director: mod support would "add a couple of years" development time

Richard Cobbett at

Speaking with Jay Wilson at Gamescom, we've already heard bad news for anyone with poor internet connections and thrifty habits, though plenty of good ones for people who want to head online with friends and crack skulls until the cows come home. But what about tweaking and adding your own stamp to the game with a few mods? You're out of luck, at least officially...

"None of the Diablo games have ever supported mods and primarily because being able to do modding along with high fidelity art that is also randomly generated is a really, really big challenge. And when we started the project we went 'Well, if we’re going to do mods, we’re going to add a couple of years onto the product.'"

From Dust DRM to be patched out

Tom Senior at

Ubisoft have decided to remove From Dust's controversial DRM system that requires players to be online whenever the game is launched.

A post from Ubisoft on their forums, spotted on Eurogamer, says that a patch will arrive in approximately two weeks to remove the start up authentication procedure. They say that the development time is needed to ensure that players' game saves, currently stored on Ubisoft's servers, are relocated to users' hard drives before the servers are switched off.

"Once the patch is ready, players who already have the game will automatically receive the update on their next login and subsequent game sessions will be 100 per cent offline," reads the forum post.

From Dust DRM requires internet connection to launch, players experiencing bugs and crashes

Tom Senior at

Three weeks ago, Ubisoft insisted that their god game, From Dust would "not require a permanent online connection" to play. RPS also spotted a forum post from a Ubisoft employee who wrote that From Dust will have "a one time only activation. After which you will be able to play the game offline."

After a last minute delay, From Dust is finally out, and while it doesn't require a constant internet connection, you will need to be hooked up to the web to launch the game. RPS note that the Ubisoft forum post has since been changed to say "'From Dust' requires an internet connection when you start the game."

From Dust review

Tom Francis at

From Dust is singleplayer only, but its copy protection requires you to be online at all times – if you’re disconnected, the game pauses and won’t let you save. I’m telling you this now because it’s ridiculous, and so I can move on to talking about the game.

Update: Re-tested, and this has changed since this review was written - the game no longer kicks you out if your connection is lost. You do need to be online to start the game, though. (Thanks John).

I’ve never played anything quite like it. It’s a game about sculpting landscape by sucking up swirls of lava, water and earth and trickling them into rivers and ridges to protect your masked tribe. It’s extraordinary, exhausting, spectacular, and frequently no fun at all.

Skyrim won't use Games for Windows Live on PC, will use Steamworks instead

Tom Francis at

Update - the Skyrim twitter account has just confirmed that they will be using Steamworks instead.

Our man Graham is out at GamesCom in Cologne at the moment, seeing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. He asked Bethesda's vice president of PR Pete Hines whether the game would use Games for Windows Live - a DRM system that asks players to log in, and ties downloadable content and savegames to your online account.

Hines says no: it is published under the Games for Windows label, but it won't use the Live part.

There was some concern back in June when the collector's edition was announced, showing the PC version of the game with partly obscured Games for Windows branding on the box. It's a huge relief to confirm we won't have to tangle with the maddeningly unreliable GFWL.

I got to play Skyrim on Monday, but I'm not allowed to tell you anything about it yet. I am, however, booking a certain week in November off.

Driver: San Francisco delayed on PC, no demo planned

Tom Senior at

Following the revelation that Driver: San Francisco will be constrained by Ubisoft's always-online DRM system, Blues News have discovered that the PC version of the game has been delayed, and the demo that has just landed on consoles won't be coming out at all on PC. While retailers are still listing a September 6 release date for Driver: San Francisco, Blues News have been told that the PC version will be out on September 27.

Ubisoft have recently made a habit of delaying their games at the last minute. From Dust was the most recent victim of a last minute delay. That's now due to come out on August 17.

Blizzard defends Diablo III's auction house, always-online requirement

Nathan Grayson at

Diablo's finally back, but has it sold its soul to a bonafide gaming devil? Not exactly. After the big unveiling of Diablo's new real money auction house, we sat down with online technologies VP Robert Bridenbecker to hear Blizzard's side of the story.

Diablo 3 cannot be played offline

Tom Francis at

At an event in Irvine on Tuesday, Blizzard told us that Diablo 3 will be online only. Without an internet connection, you can't play the game at all.

Senior producer Alex Mayberry says there were many reasons for the decision, including the prevention of cheating. Since players can buy and sell items for real money, any way of cheating to make or acquire better ones would be very lucrative - and unfair.

From Dust "will not require a permanent online connection" say Ubisoft

Tom Senior at

Ubisoft have confirmed to VG247 that their recently delayed god game, From Dust "will not require a permanent online connection to play in single-player mode.”

This week, we learned that Driver: San Francisco will have Ubisoft's always-online DRM system. The From Dust Steam entry does list the Ubisoft Online Service as third party DRM, but it looks as though it's a less stringent version.

Ubisoft told us yesterday that they see their DRM system as "a success," saying that it's led to “a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection.”

Ubisoft: our DRM "is a success"

Owen Hill at

We recently reported on how Driver: San Francisco will require a constant internet connection to play. It's a controversial measure put in place to defend against piracy, and we don't like it. We don't like pirates either, mind.

Ubisoft see the DRM as a success. Speaking to us earlier today, a Ubisoft representative admitted that the developer has seen "a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection, and from that point of view the requirement is a success".

Ubisoft have traditionally been the developer with some of the harshest DRM in the industry. In the games that use their always online "connected services", players can no longer to play if no internet connection is detected. The publisher first implemented this always-online DRM with Settlers 7. Since then, it's featured in Silent Hunter V and Assassin's Creed 2 and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

Sadly, legitimate players often take the brunt of such security measures. Intermittent internet connections and server issues at Ubisoft's end can stop PC Gamers from playing the game entirely. Not cool.

Similarly frustrating measures were also introduced in the recent Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, where offline players were restricted to playing a small selection of the characters. Capcom later withdrew the DRM after fan criticism.

Driver: San Francisco is out on August 30 in the US, and September 2 in Europe. You can read our preview here.

Driver: San Francisco "requires permanent internet connection" on PC

Tom Senior at

A Tweet from Ubisoft community developer Mathieu Willem, spotted by Eurogamer, confirms that Driver: San Francisco will require player's PCs to be constantly online to work.

This marks the return of one of the most controversial DRM systems of recent years. Ubisoft started using always-online DRM with Settlers 7, and included it in a few other titles including Silent Hunter V and Assassin's Creed 2. Players with flaky internet connections struggled to play, and at were at one point locked out of their games for days when Ubisoft's servers suffered problems.

Dragon Age 2 DRM detailed

Tom Senior at

Bioware have confirmed that the Steam version of Dragon Age 2 will be using Steam's built-in DRM system. Those buying retail versions of the game will have to log in with their EA accounts to install, which will then need to occasionally connect to a verification server to continue working. Read on for the full details.

Good Old Games on online activation: "it's just bollocks."

Rich McCormick at

It's been a rollercoaster week for retro game publisher Good Old Games. They closed! No they didn't! They're back! They apologised! They're wearing monk costumes! They're making money hand over fist! What the hell!

Before it all kicked off, PC Gamer sat down with GOG co-founder Marcin Iwinski and Managing Director Guillaume Rambourg to discover the story behind their relaunch, and how they convince publishers to release their games without DRM, how they combat piracy, and their holy mission to improve PC gaming. Warning: this interview contains Poles explaining themselves using slightly awkward metaphors.

To re-iterate - this interview took place before GOG closed their site.

It may not be time to panic about Good Old Games

Tom Francis at

At the weekend, the home page of beloved DRM-free classic games shop Good Old Games went down. It was replaced by a sober message saying that "unfortunately, we've decided that GOG.com simply cannot remain in its current form" and that "Working on GOG.com was a great adventure for all of us". But on the forums of a Polish financial website, someone posting as the head of parent company CD Projekt says (in Polish):

"Note, the date of the conference is probably 22nd, early Wednesday evening. Information about this soon on GOG.com (please do not panic after reading the information contained there:)"

Four Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood classes

Jaz McDougall at

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is all the stabbing of the original games but with the additional stabbing of multiplayer. What kind of stabber will you be? Will you be sneaky and stealthy? Sultry and waving a pointless fan around? Angry priest with a knife? Massive guy with an axe? Why do only half of these sound like proper assassins? Have the official class card thingies below. I've also wrote them up into words, which you can read by pressing your eyes onto the screen.

RUSE will not use Ubisoft DRM

Jaz McDougall at

RUSE will not use Ubisoft's standard DRM, the RUSE team have confirmed. Instead, it'll use Steamworks and will be playable offline in the normal Steam fashion.

PC Gamer UK Podcast 42

Tom Francis at

Trust me, I'm Machiavelli: We kick off season two of our podcast with talk of our new site. Tim, Tom, Graham and Craig discuss why Guild Wars 2 will be genuinely different, the crushing disappointment of APB, the cleverest thing about Portal 2, how drama works in The Old Republic, why Bethesda should use the Rage engine for the next Elder Scrolls, the ridiculous inconsistencies of Singularity, and how the PC fared against the consoles at E3. The true identity of the podcat is also revealed. One Twitter question demanded a photo of where we record our podcast, so there's a grainy phone pic below the fold.

Download the MP3 here, subscribe here, and find our older podcasts here.