Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

But I Wanted to be a Ninja Instead

So Octale, of Versus the World fame, linked a webcomic on the topic of digital rights management (DRM) yesterday. The strip really is funny because it’s true, but it’s also quite sad at the same time. I can absolutely feel the pain of the guy in the comic: I buy a lot of audio books on audible and can listen to them fine on my PC and my mp3 player. If I wanted them on my new smartphone though, I’d have to either crack or illegally download them because the DRM prevents me from just playing them on the phone.

I love my droid. Shame that playing my audiobooks on it would make me a pirate.

The same applies to games increasingly often. Just have a look at Ubisoft’s new DRM, I mean customer service, scheme. It seems that our friends at Ubisoft realized that pure online games are hardly ever pirated and concluded from that, that turning every one of their games into an online game would be the solution. Clever, eh? Let’s put aside for a minute all the obvious problems that arise with such a scheme, such as what happens when the internet connection is lost during play (you get booted!), what happens if Ubisoft shuts their service down (“But we don’t plan on shutting down the servers, we really don’t.”), and what happens to people with slow internet connections.

Let’s focus instead on the effectivity of such a DRM measure. Will it prevent Joe Casual from simply burning a copy of the game for his friends? Sure, but so do CD keys and similar measures. Will it prevent the real pirates from cracking the game and making it available online to whoever is interested? No way. It may take slightly longer to crack this copy protection as opposed to creating a simple key generator or what have you, but it will be cracked at which point it is just as easy to obtain an illegal copy of Assassin’s Creed 3 as it is to obtain one of the first two games.

The crucial difference to real online games is that those have online elements that can’t just be patched into a cracked version of the offline client. Playing an MMO alone simply wouldn’t make any sense, and shooting bots all day in an FPS gets boring really quickly. Simple adding an internet connection requirement doesn’t turn your game into an online game.

“The system is made by guys who love PC games. They play PC games, they are your friends.” – Ubisoft

DRM only works against computer illiterate users or those who care little enough about money that they’ll buy the game as soon as that becomes easier than getting an illegal copy. The amount of prospective pirates that is turned away by increasing the complexity of a DRM scheme is extremely low when compared to the number of people whose buying behaviour is not affected by it at all.

Being a pirate is less cool than Hollywood wants us to believe.

A small increase in sales would still be better than none if the DRM had no downsides – but it always has. I’ve listed a few negatives of the Ubisoft system above, here’s another one: What if I want to play my game offline? What if I’m on vacation, in a train, or am simply switching internet providers and have a few days downtime? Oh no, you can’t use that time to finally play those single-player games you meant to try out, because they require a constant online connection. You know who doesn’t do that? Steam. You can start it in offline mode and all is fine and dandy, yet steam is highly successful.

In essence, Ubisoft is promoting piracy with its new DRM system. Not in a “I hate DRM so I will pirate” kind of way, that’s usually just a lame excuse to save some cash, but simply because a pirated version will be straight up better. A pirated version will run fine on a train or in that hospital bed and it won’t kick you back to the last save point when your roommate unplugs the router on accident. This is the complete opposite of good design – if you want your users to pirate less then you need to have added benefits to not pirating, not vice versa. Add a real online element (or, ghasp, a multi player mode) or something else that pirates can’t just patch in. That will get you the legitimate buyers, not some draconic measure that makes the game experience worse.

The other day I installed The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion again, a game I barely touched the first time around. After the install and about half an hour of googling I realized what my biggest issue with the game was: You can’t change the language. I don’t want to play the crappy localized version, it’s awful, I want to play in English pretty please. There is a setting in the ini file for different languages, but it simply doesn’t work. Couldn’t fit all the extra voice files on the DVD? No worries, just give me a language pack to download like Blizzard does. Instead I get nothing. So if I want to play Oblivion again I need to a) play the sucky localized version, b) spend cash again on a game that I already own and import it, or c) pirate it. Option c is by far the easiest of those, once more the pirated game is better and easier to obtain. Personally, I chose option d) uninstall.  This is exactly what will happen with those Ubisoft games if they don’t drop those ridiculous DRM plans: Players will pirate the games even more.

Localized Oblivion: I don't even know what that's supposed to mean!

Tobold tells us to just play something else when we don’t have an internet connection, but that is completely beside the point. For one, if this scheme is successful it will be adapted by other companies, greatly restricting the amount of games we can still play offline. What is even worse is that there are only so many interesting games published each year, and I really can’t just discard a good chunk of those. What am I supposed to do if Fallout: New Vegas is published by Ubisoft again? Not buy it? Fat chance.  But that’s a topic for another day, for now let it be known that DRM doesn’t work and especially not if the pirated versions are better than the original. Seriously, what were they thinking?

Update: As an added bonus for those who actually made it to the end of the post, here is another comparison of piracy vs. a legitimate product. The topic is a DVD movie this time.

Privacy Preference Center

Close your account?

Your account will be closed and all data will be permanently deleted and cannot be recovered. Are you sure?