on Jan 30, 2012
We begin with this story, where Guru3D tries to test Anno 2070 on various test machines with different configurations of graphics cards and quickly runs out of allowed installs. And then later Ubisoft thought this was perfectly reasonable.
At the time I wrote:
I’m actually glad that Ubisoft isn’t falling over themselves trying to make this right. Yes, this DRM is horrible, unjust, counter-productive, and anti-consumer. We’ve been over this. But aside from the DRM itself, I’d say the most pernicious practice is one where the media is excused from having to deal with it. If a publisher wants to saddle their game with time consuming, annoying, nagging, inconvenient DRM, then that practice should be reflected in the review score.
Developers don’t like this idea because they don’t want their magnum opus to end up with a low score because of something the publisher did. I admit that’s a bad deal for them, but reviews aren’t written for the benefit of developers. They’re consumer advice, and if they don’t advise the consumer then they’re worthless. (See also: Bugs.)
But before I got around to posting that, Ubisoft announced they would remove graphics cards from the “machine identification” process, thus letting Guru3D get their benchmarks without Ubisoft having to confront or even explain their nonsensical DRM policy. I was depressed by this. It’s technically a small victory for customers, since it means Ubisoft games will be slightly less annoying to install and run, but it was a window of opportunity for them to re-evaluate their policy. They could have sat down and thought about DRM and the impact it has on piracy, consumers, and the medium as a whole. But instead they put a band-aid on a PR problem and walked away.
Try to imagine this:
Highly paid people got together in a room, had a conversation with each other about DRM, and this is what they came up with? They looked at this situation and concluded that the only problem was that their DRM shouldn’t eat one of your limited installs when you buy a new graphics card?
They’re ignoring everything any halfway decent software engineer can tell you: DRM can’t stop piracy. They’re ignoring what Valve software has learned in the process of making millions of dollars in Russia: Convenience, not DRM, is the #1 weapon against piracy. They’re ignoring what you can learn from just about any forum discussing Ubisoft games: People hate this DRM so strongly that they will vow to pirate the game simply out of protest. It ignores what any sober business grad will tell you: If you drive away a customer in the process of stopping a thief, then you aren’t gaining anything.
When I was young, I had a tendency to assume that my betters knew what they were doing, even if I couldn’t make sense of it. I thought that executives were masters of secret knowledge. I believed this because the alternative seemed insane: People can be paid upwards of a hundred thousand dollars a year, even if they have no idea what they’re doing.
And now I see I was wrong. The people at Ubisoft are provably incompetent. I say this, not knowing anything about about the sales figures behind recent Ubi titles. It doesn’t matter what those numbers are. Those numbers are beside the point. Their DRM is manifestly a bad idea and you can prove it on a blackboard in under ten minutes.
Also, let’s remember that publishers defend their limited-activation installs by claiming that if you need more they will be happy to issue more installs through support. Let the record show that Guru3D waited days for that to happen, and it’s not really clear if that request was ever honored.
And so it goes.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.