Ubisoft is stripping people's licences for The Crew weeks after its shutdown, nearly squandering hopes of fan servers and acting as a stark reminder of how volatile digital ownership is

Image for Ubisoft is stripping people's licences for The Crew weeks after its shutdown, nearly squandering hopes of fan servers and acting as a stark reminder of how volatile digital ownership is
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

The downside of digital ownership has reared its ugly head for enjoyers of Ubisoft's open-world multiplayer racer The Crew. The publisher has revoked its licence for those who owned it on Ubisoft Connect, almost destroying fan ambitions to revive the game in both an offline and online format.

The Crew was pulled from sale back in December, with Ubisoft revealing that the servers would be shut down at the beginning of April. Frustratingly, despite a large portion of the game being doable in singleplayer, The Crew remained an online-only endeavour throughout its decade-long lifespan. That had already rendered the game unplayable, but it seems Ubisoft is determined to take things one step further to stamp out any attempts to continue playing it past its expiry date.

Fans began to notice earlier in the week that the licence to the game had been snatched away from them. A message at the top of the game's library page reads, "You no longer have access to this game. Why not check the Store to pursue your adventures?" It's also been moved to its own individual section in player libraries, listed under "inactive games". Apparently booting the game directly from the installation directory will still launch the game, but only in a demo mode.

The news has, unsurprisingly, gone down very poorly. "This was the saddest and most ruthless decision I've ever seen in gaming history," one Redditor commented after a screenshot began circulating on the site. "I will always fight for digital media, I love all the advantages it gives to users all around the world. But this… we need protection on the national or European level, that when we purchase something, we need to have lifetime access to it. No matter what."

Ubisoft Connect's store which shows that the licence for The Crew has been revoked.

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

A further Reddit user called it "really abhorrent behavior that needs to stop being legal," with another writing, "In an ideal world, revoking a license like this should entitle the buyer to a refund. I'm not sure why they're even bothering doing this. The game isn't playable anymore, so what exactly is the harm in keeping the game available for download for those who have purchased it? Server space? Is Ubisoft really that cheap?"

It's worth noting that it appears you can technically still download the game on Steam, but any attempt to play is followed-up with a request to input a game key

Now it's one thing to just delist a game and still allow owners to download and boot it up if they want—even if the game is technically dead—but it's another thing to revoke the licence to the files entirely. It came very close to putting a dent in plans to bring fan servers to the game, but one project appears to still be chugging along.

Ubisoft revoking licenses for The Crew, preventing owners who paid for the game from installing it. from r/gaming

The Crew Unlimited Discord server is housing a project called The Crew Offline+Online Server Emulation, intended to bring the game back to a playable state "both offline locally and online" via a community server—no cracking or pirating involved. I asked project member ChemicalFlood how it had impacted their plans:

"We are deeply saddened by Ubisoft's choice to start revoking licences to this game when people have paid hard-earned cash for it," he told me. "In regard to the project, yes! We are currently working on a Server Emulator as opposed to cracking the game. Before the shutdown of the servers, we took the precaution of capturing Network Communications Data. Had we not done this, the project would [have] sadly fallen over and this game would [have] been lost forever.

"Thankfully, a server emulation is still possible. But no other patch is possible due to the high amount of DRM placed into the game by Ubisoft, which sadly has restricted our ability to work on a fix, but not impossible!"

I also asked ChemicalFlood how the news had gone down with fans and The Crew Unlimited Discord: 

"Obviously, Ubisoft pulling the game licences has left a sour taste in every gamer's mouth and it has unfortunately made it so the game cannot even be launched without it turning into a restricted trial mode. However, we can bypass this new change made by them without having to modify the existing game files, so the project is still on track!

"It should go without saying that, by any means, the fact that the community has to implement something like this to continue playing something we all paid for is abysmal, especially something of this magnitude. We of course love the game and want it to be played for generations to come (my own son loved playing this on the PlayStation, 'loved' being the keyword!) But Ubisoft should [have] implemented an offline mode and they could [have]! The offline mode already exists in the files, we just can't turn it on because of the DRM in place.

"We hope that the Stopkillinggames campaign will mean that the communities and fans of these games will not be expected to be able to restore every single online-only game like this."

Ubisoft Connect's store which shows that the licence for The Crew has been revoked.

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

I've requested comment from Ubisoft regarding the situation and will update if I hear back. I'll be interested to know if the publisher provides any solid reason for being extra thorough with its shutdown process. There's a good chance it has something to do with licensing—there are a good deal of licensed songs in The Crew, not to mention all of the real-world car manufacturers present, too. It could make for a sticky situation keeping the files around, and perhaps it was easier to try and kill the whole thing instead. 

Regardless of the reason, it's an ever-looming reminder of how fragile digital ownership can be. A study by the Video Game History Foundation last year found that around 87% of games are unplayable without diving into some kind of piracy or fan-created archive, and that number could even worsen as physical discs slowly die out. But preservation is becoming a bigger topic, one that's now being taken more seriously as a means of conserving the medium.

Earlier this month, YouTuber Ross Scott launched a campaign called "Stop Killing Games" with The Crew as its primary example. His hope is to eventually win a legal victory that would require publishers to keep their live service games playable in some form after they end support, such as by releasing private servers.

Mollie Taylor
Features Producer

Mollie spent her early childhood deeply invested in games like Killer Instinct, Toontown and Audition Online, which continue to form the pillars of her personality today. She joined PC Gamer in 2020 as a news writer and now lends her expertise to write a wealth of features, guides and reviews with a dash of chaos. She can often be found causing mischief in Final Fantasy 14, using those experiences to write neat things about her favourite MMO. When she's not staring at her bunny girl she can be found sweating out rhythm games, pretending to be good at fighting games or spending far too much money at her local arcade.