The news around the web this week is that Ubisoft is again returning to its evil ways with plans to bring back DRM with some of its new games. Many PC games have come with anti-cracking software installed in the past, but Ubisoft took it to a whole new level with some of its games, such as Assassin’s Creed II”, by requiring the user’s computer to be connected to the Internet at all times to communicate with the DRM server. If the computer disconnected, even single-player gameplay would cease. When the DRM servers crashed, thousands of Assassin’s Creed II gamers could not even play single-player missions.
After a fierce response from angry gamers, Ubisoft released a patch to fix the always-connected requirement of their DRM. But now, news has surfaced that Ubisoft plans to institute a similar system once again with their upcoming “Driver: San Francisco” title.
Before we get into discussing why Ubisoft’s reliance on DRM is bad for their PR and for customers, we should first understand what DRM is and why game, ebook, streaming video, and music publishers insist on it.
Since the days of the VHS videocassette, media has often been equipped with anti-piracy features. For movies the popular choice was Macrovision, a company that instituted encoding for media management, designed to prevent copying of movies. When DVDs came out, movie companies continued the trend, encrypting the movies so that DVD burners could not simply copy them. Some game publishers have continued the same tradition in attempts to keep their games from being copied and distributed on the Internet.
In every case, however, those efforts have failed. Media pirates, with their eye patches and hooks for hands, always found ways around these restrictions, whether it was for DVD ripping or PC games. You can even find console games on the Internet as well. Although the purpose of using technology like DRM, which stands for Digital Rights Management, is to limit piracy, no DRM solution has emerged that hackers could not crack.
Who DRM Actually Hurts
If DRM does not bother media pirates, why are gamers upset about it? They are upset because DRM does not hurt pirates at all but does hurt honest consumers. If we go back to Ubisoft’s example, the problem is not that their always-connected DRM system will stop piracy. The problem is that pirates continue to crack it and share it, while customers who paid for it are treated like criminals, unable to continue playing if their Internet connections go down.
Some stores also implement policies like this. They install metal detectors, cameras at every corner, security guards to watch over you, and someone at the door to check your receipt on the way out. Does all of that make the customer feel secure? Absolutely not. It makes the customers feel like the store owners do not trust them. Meanwhile, the criminals are smart enough to know not to walk right out of the front of the store with merchandise in hand. They find clever ways to get away with their crimes and only see the security measures as greater challenges to overcome. According to UK dedicated hosting server specialists at 34SP.com, 63 percent of games are cracked on or even before their release dates, and only two days after release, 92 percent of games have been cracked and made available for download on file sharing sites.
DRM hurts honest customers and does nothing to prevent piracy. This is the unfortunate reality that Ubisoft and companies like it fail to realize. They institute it hoping to curb piracy and produce greater revenue (reasoning that is flawed from the beginning). Instead, they end up losing money from angry customers who are fed up with their mistrust and unnecessary security. In the best case scenario, it is a minor inconvenience for customers and the publishers, who must respond to customers complaints and technical support calls. In the worst situation, gamers get fed up and piracy increases out of spite.
Tavis J. Hampton is a writer and web content administrator for The Derwin Smiley Show. He is also a librarian and father of two beautiful girls.