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Ubisoft Backs Down On 'Always-On' DRM

Posted by: , 12:55 UTC, Fri September 7, 2012

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Ubisoft backs down on the use of 'always-on' DRM, citing customer feedback. But is it too little too late?
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One of the major supporters of 'always-on' DRM, Ubisoft, announced in an interview this week that they will now abandon the practice.

In an interview conducted by Rock Paper Shotgun, Ubisoft representatives finally spilled the beans on the success, or rather the lack of it, of 'always-on' DRM and has vowed to stop using the draconian DRM system on future game releases.

'Always-on' DRM works by requiring game buyers to have a constant connection to the Internet during gaming sessions, even for single player games. The game checks back with Ubisoft's servers every second, and if the servers are down for that second, of if the user's connection is down, then the gamers is immediately prevented from playing, sometimes even kicked out of the game entirely without having their progress saved.

As expected, a huge public backlash followed, especially as it seems only the paying customers were being affected by this DRM, dubbed disparagingly as UbiDRM. And when Ubisoft's servers go down for planned maintenance, or suffer under the strain, of when an exploit is found in the DRM that turns it into a rootkit, Ubisoft's reputation suffered as a result.

Ubisoft recently cited that their PC game piracy rate was as high as 95%, despite the wide use of UbiDRM. Some suggested that the high piracy rate was actually a direct result of the harsh DRM being used, where people deliberately chose to pirate Ubisoft games to protest its DRM. A quick browse at the Steam forums during the sales of Ubisoft games, and the most asked question always seems to be related to whether the title uses UbiDRM, with some choosing not to buy due to the harsh DRM, even when the price of the game is less than the price of a cheap lunch.

And this is all despite the company initially hailing UbiDRM a huge success - words that Ubisoft now regrets. "That was an unfortunate comment," Stephanie Perotti told RPS. Perotti is the director for online games at Ubisoft.

Regardless of history, Ubisoft seems genuine this time in its abandonment of UbiDRM. "We have listened to feedback, and since June last year our policy for all of PC games is that we only require a one-time online activation when you first install the game, and from then you are free to play the game offline," explained Perotti.

But despite Ubisoft's change of heart from more than a year ago, the company is still infamously known for its DRM schemes, and a broken relationship with gamers that may be hard to repair.

And other publishers have yet to learn the harsh lesson for themselves, although some, like Blizzard with their Diablo III game, have had qualified successes deploying the same 'always-on' model, and this will most likely encourage others to try their hand with 'always-on'.


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