Companies that publish PC games are in the business to make profits. We know this. PC games are extensively pirated. We know this too. DRM set ups don't really slow down piracy but do discourage a number of regular consumers from purchasing games. Again, all of this is well known.
Now we have a new situation that's brewing that will be bad for everyone; game developers, game publishers and consumers. Ubisoft's future PC games will now require an "always on" internet connection to play PC them, even if those games are designed solely for single player. That means that the PC games that you pay your hard earned money for won't be able to be played 24/7. The reason is, of course, that the internet for most people is still a flaky infrastructure to rely on for a "service" like Ubisoft's.
The publisher has tried to deflect the critical hits it has taken in the press so far by saying all of the good things they are allowing PC gamers to do with their new set up. Yes, you will be able to install all future PC games from Ubisoft on as many PCs as you like. Save games will be stored on a separate server which means you can play your PC games from the publisher wherever you are and still continue where you left off. And there will be no need to keep a CD in case you wanted to purchase a new PC.
However none of these benefits don't mean a lot if you can't play your game whenever and wherever you want. And that's the big problem with this system. As revealed on the UK PC Gamer blog, any loss of your net connection while playing a game boots you out of the game even if you are playing a single player title like the upcoming PC port of Assassin's Creed 2. In other words, the game that you thought you owned isn't really yours. If you have a flaky internet connection at home, as many of us do, good luck trying to play your next Ubisoft PC game. If you have a laptop and want to play future Ubisoft PC games on the road it will be even tougher. Finding a free WiFi spot is tough and even a laptop with a 3G access card can still get a flaky net connection.
Ubisoft's reasoning for such a move can be spelled out in one word: piracy. The Ubisoft rep that chatted with PC Gamer seemed almost paranoid that their PC game products would be pirated if they didn't do something like this. Their rep stated, "In the end it all comes back to one single truth: piracy is a big, huge, hairy problem. It's a market that suffered a lot because of piracy, and we're all just trying to figure out what we think is the best way to deal with it." The message embedded in that statement is clear; Ubisoft cares more about what PC game pirates do than they care about the people like you and me who actually pay for games. And that's just not a good business model to practice.
Let's look at a couple of other, and much larger, entertainment businesses that are also massively affected by piracy; the movie and music industries. There are still huge amounts of pirated movies and songs traveling through the internet. Now imagine if a movie studio or a music publisher said, in order to combat piracy, your DVD or Blu-Ray player or iPod must always be connected to the internet in order to watch a movie or listen to a song. It's not a huge stretch of the imagination to figure out there would be a mass outcry from the general public and the press to such a set up. It's also not much of a stretch to figure out that those industries would quickly cave and put things back the way they were.
And then there's the biggest fact of all: that someone, somewhere, will figure out a way to hack this "always on" DRM set up to allow people to play Ubisoft's PC games without having to deal with a net connection. Even Ubisoft seems to admit this will happen, saying, "Do we think that it's the one system that God has sent onto earth that will never be cracked by anybody ever? We can't guarantee that, but we believe in it. " Well we believe this system will be hacked a lot sooner than Ubisoft seems to think. And after it does, where does that leave the company? With PC games that can still be pirated but still keeps consumers who don't use the hack from playing their games when and where they want.
We know that piracy is a problem in the PC game industry but it's certainly not exclusive to it. Console games, movies, music and other PC software are subject to online pirates. Yet Ubisoft wants to fight piracy by making this hard on real people who want to purchase their titles. That's just not the way to go. Why can't Ubisoft and the rest of the game industry's publishers try to ban together and actually fight PC game pirates by shutting down their servers and putting the people in charge of these servers behind bars? We think that would certainly be a huge deterrent and would show that Ubisoft actually cared about its customer base.
We know that the publisher is feeling the heat for these moves and will continue to do so. We hope they will do the right thing and take another look at their current plans for DRM set ups. the meantime we at Big Download will continue to report on and review any PC games from Ubisoft, but we will always mention that their games will require an internet connection in order to be played. In our humble opinion, their "always on" feature should be permanently turned off.