Tag Archives | DRM

Hey Ubisoft, Stop Messing With PC Gamers

Ubisoft already uses some of the worst digital rights management for its PC games, at times requiring a steady Internet connection to play, but this week the publisher made things worse with mixed messages to players.

PC gamers are upset with Ubisoft over its treatment of From Dust, a strategy game that launched last month for the Xbox 360 and this week for PC. On its forums, Ubisoft first said that the game wouldn’t require an online connection for each play session, as long as players signed in once after installing the game. But then, Ubisoft removed that forum post, and instead said players would have to connect to Ubisoft servers every time they fired up the game.

From Dust players are also reporting crashes, a lack of graphical customization settings and a limited frame rate of 30 frames per second, Rock Paper Shotgun reports. A Ubisoft forum moderator is telling players that they can pursue refunds.

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Ubisoft Slays Online-Only DRM for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

A year ago, Ubisoft started requiring a persistent Internet connection to play its latest PC games. If for any reason the connection dropped, the game would either freeze or quit. Offline play was out of the question.

Now, Ubisoft is backing away from this restrictive form of digital rights management for one of its blockbuster titles. Ubisoft confirmed to VG247 that the single-player portion of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood will only require an initial login, and then will be playable offline.

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EA Sports to Used Game Buyers: Pay Up

Electronic Arts is getting ever more desperate to cripple the used video game industry, requiring a one-time access code to play its sports games online.

Starting with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, players will need an “Online Pass” to enjoy the game over Xbox Live or the Playstation Network. These passes are included with new copies of the game, but used buyers will have to purchase another pass for $10. All EA Sports games for Xbox 360 and PS3 will require an online pass from now on.

Sony did something similar with SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3, including a voucher for online play in the retail packaging and charging $20 for replacement vouchers. Sony said it was only trying to stop piracy, but EA doesn’t hide its disdain for used game sales. “We want to reserve EA SPORTS online services for people who pay EA to access them,” the company said in an Online Pass FAQ page.

EA previously experimented with innocuous ways to encourage new games sales. New buyers of Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, for example, received free bonus content that used buyers had to purchase separately. Online Pass promises bonus features for new game buyers as well, but it takes the idea one giant leap further by withholding a core part of the game.

The writing’s on the wall: Gradually, publishers will begin locking up more of what’s on the game disc until there’s no advantage to buying used. It started with bonus content, now it’s multiplayer, and pretty soon it’ll be the whole game. EA’s justification for Online Pass — that it deserves to be paid — really applies to all game development, so you’re kidding yourself if you think the trend stops at online sports games. Want to play the final chapter of your second-hand first-person shooter? There’s an access code for that.


Ubisoft to PC Gamers: You Must Play Online

Count Ubisoft’s latest anti-piracy plan as another ill-conceived scheme that punishes legitimate players.

Gamespy reports that the publisher will allow unlimited installs of its future PC games, but Ubisoft’s servers will handle saved games and authentication. That means you can’t play without an Internet connection.

In way, it’s a forward-thinking plan. Ubisoft’s looking ahead to a time when Internet connections will be everywhere, so you’ll never have a problem proving you paid for a copy of the game. Storing saved games online also means you can start playing on your laptop from where you left off on your desktop.

The big problem is we’re not yet in the age of ubiquitous Internet connections. Sure, you’ll have no problem playing at home — unless your Internet connection goes out for whatever reason — but this scheme rules out airplanes, remote areas or hotels that don’t have Wi-Fi. Ubisoft is betting most people don’t play in those situations, but it’s not fair for the publisher to make that decision. At the very least, Ubisoft game boxes should have big warning labels so players know what they’re getting.

One other concern: Ubisoft’s authentication servers aren’t guaranteed for life, and 10 years from now, players could be shut out of the game they bought. In fact, last time Ubisoft tried online authentication with Assassin’s Creed, some players had trouble immediately after purchasing.

In any case, is this really a fool-proof method for stopping piracy? If it was, I’d think other publishers would be using the same methods. Even Steam, a major platform for PC gaming that uses online authentication, has an offline mode.

The funny thing is that, in 2008, Ubisoft released Prince of Persia for PC with no digital rights management, apparently fed up with its past failures to stop piracy. I don’t know the results of that little experiment, but I guess Ubisoft figured it’s more profitable to penalize their paying customers than to let pirates roam free.


Sony CEO: We Could Have Beaten Apple

sonylogoBoxing in customers is rarely a good idea, and Sony CEO Howard Stringer says he’s come around to that reasoning.

In an interview with Nikkei Electronics Asia, Stringer spoke of how his company didn’t take open technology very seriously in the past, pointing to the failed Sony Connect music store as an example. The site’s tunes came in the proprietary ATRAC format, which only worked with Sony’s music hardware and obviously displeased freedom-seeking customers. Connect was phased out beginning in 2007.

Stringer blames the store’s failure on a type of proprietary digital rights management. “At the time, we thought we would make more money that way than with open technology, because we could manage the customers and their downloads,” he said. “This approach, however, created a problem: customers couldn’t download music from any Websites except those that contracted with Sony. If we had gone with open technology from the start, I think we probably would have beaten Apple Inc of the US.”

The interview, published this month, seems slightly dated, as Stringer talks about Apple’s use of FairPlay DRM and how Sony can maybe exploit that weakness. Of course, Apple removed DRM from iTunes last month.

Beyond Stringer’s “open vs. closed” epiphanies, the interview’s other main takeaways deal with the Playstation Network. He drops some hints about an expansion of the network “to hardware other than the PS3” and speaks of “evolving the PS3 into a platform for Web services,” but doesn’t elaborate in specifics.

With the exception of Bravia TVs and maybe the revamped Walkman X-Series, I don’t see much room for expansion. Owners of a Playstation 3 and PSP can already transfer movies and TV shows between the two, and the PS3 is the only home console that can access Hulu, albeit through the machine’s Web browser. That’s not to say those two pieces of hardware wouldn’t benefit from an online media store.

And besides, Hulu and video downloads are relatively recent developments anyway, taking hold in the second half of last year. Perhaps Stringer’s shift in thinking began a while ago.


Sims 3 Goes Back to DRM Basics

thesims3Electronic Arts, architects of possibly the biggest Digital Rights Management disaster in PC gaming, are abandoning their wicked ways and going back to a less intrusive copy protection process.

The Sims 3 will use a simple, disc-based authentication system, similar to the one used in The Sims 2. Players won’t have to go online to validate their copy of the game, so presumably there won’t be any control over the number of installs.

A letter from Rod Humble, Executive VP of EA’s Sims Label, says the company has heard the requests from customers. “We feel like this is a good, time-proven solution that makes it easy for you to play the game without DRM methods that feel overly invasive or leave you concerned about authorization server access in the distant future,” he said.

Humble doesn’t make specific mention of Spore’s DRM, but anyone who followed that fiasco could perceive a reference. The game originally came with three installs and no easy way to deauthorize computers, but EA eventually caved to the outcry and added two more installs and a deauthorization process. Meanwhile, angry players launched an Amazon bomb, and software pirates helped make Spore the most illegally downloaded game in history.

Obviously, this demonstrated that even the most DRM-shackled games can and will be pirated, and as publishers go to greater lengths to stop it, customers will only get more irate. That’s a sad reality, but at least EA is no longer taking it out on legitimate copy owners.

One more thing: The move by EA is part of what seems like a wave of anti-DRM sentiment among publishers. Earlier this week, Microsoft and Steam introduced less burdensome authentication processes, and yesterday Ubisoft released a batch of old games to the Web site Good Old Games without any DRM at all. Perhaps the days of punishing the consumer for pirates’ transgressions are slowly coming to an end.

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Ubisoft Goes DRM-Free for Old Games

prince_of_persia_-_the_sands_of_time_2003The folks at Good Old Games, or GOG as they like to be called, sent me a beaming press blast today about how they’ve brought megapublisher Ubisoft on board. The Web site’s stock in trade is old video games for download — Duke Nukem, Freespace, MDK, etc. — so now they’ll be getting titles like Beyond Good and Evil and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

But here’s the hook: GOG’s offerings don’t include any Digital Rights Management, so players are free to install as many copies as they want, wherever they want.

Ubisoft has stumbled with DRM in the past. Last summer, legally downloaded copies of Rainbow Six Vegas 2 for the PC wouldn’t work because they lacked an authentication disc (duh), and the company resorted to an illegal crack from a warez group to fix it (d’oh). A few months prior, DRM rendered Assassin’s Creed unplayable for some rightful owners as it unsuccessfully tried to authenticate over the Internet.

So when Prince of Persia was released for the PC in December, Ubisoft threw its hands in the air and abandoned DRM for the game. Ars Technica suspected that this was just a way for the company to build evidence of how much money they lose without copy protection.

I don’t know whether that’s true, or whether the results from Prince of Persia had any bearing on the deal with GOG, but it’d be great to find out. Unfortunately, the handful of questions I sent Ubisoft’s way have so far gone unanswered.

In any case, I’m not keeping my hopes up for a drastic change in Ubisoft’s philosophy, but I’ll post an update if I hear differently. I suspect the company is willing to play by GOG’s rules in order to get the content out there. The site launched a public beta in September, and its as good a source of revenue for dated PC titles as Ubisoft is going to get. Besides, if there was any danger of widespread piracy for those old titles, it reared its head a long time ago.

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Don’t Hold Your Breath for DRM-free iTunes

apple-logo-2The latest rumor-du-jour being served up by AppleInsider cites a French technology website claiming iTunes long love affair with DRM will come to an end tomorrow (Tuesday). Here’s how its put via a translation of the story that’s found here:

In French:

Comme toujours avec Apple, nous avançons avec prudence. Toutefois, les signaux sont clairs aujourd’hui. iTunes devrait proposer les catalogues des trois majors Universal Music, SonyBMG et Waner Music débarrassés des mesures techniques de protection mardi prochain, le 9 décembre. La mutation vers le DRM Free devrait se faire à un niveau mondial (voir Les DRM objets de toutes les négocations).”

Translated (merci, my french-speaking friends):

“Apple always proceeds with prudence. However, the signals are clear today. iTunes should offer the catalogs of the three major labels — Universal Music, Sony BMG, and Warner Music — without DRM next Tuesday December 9. The switch to DRM-free should be worldwide.”

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25 Arguments for the Elimination of Copy Protection

Can I begin with a few disclaimers? I believe that people who create things deserve to be rewarded for their efforts. Which means that I think that stealing entertainment and software is wrong. Actually, come to think of it, if there was a form of copy protection that was never a hassle for paying customers but which effectively prevented piracy, I might enthusiastically support it. (Go ahead, mock me if you must–I’ll wait.)

With that out the way, I also believe this: Copy protection (also known in recent years as Digital Rights Management) just stinks. At its best, it creates minor but real inconveniences for the people who pay for stuff; at its worst, it badly screws up their experiences with the products they buy. Let’s just say it–the world would be better off without it.

Most of the best arguments against copy protection aren’t so much arguments as case studies. Over and over, it’s caused both anticipated and unanticipated problems. Including ones for the companies who use it.

So let’s review the case against copy protection by looking at what it’s done for us over the past 25 years or so. Warning: Persons whose blood boils easily should read no further…

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