Saturday, March 6, 2010

Always-on Web required to play single player game? WTF?

I only heard about about Ubisoft's new DRM scheme after it got cracked. But it just blows my mind.

For those of you who don't game (or don't play in worlds where copyright is a hot topic), DRM = Digital Rights Management. It's a catch-all for any technology used to (try to) keep people from pirating digital content of any sort. You find it on DVDs, CDs, CD-ROMs, eBooks, various audio files, etc. etc. Often, DRM schemes require some kind of authentication to restrict use of the material to one (or some finite number) piece of equipment. For example, when you purchase eBooks from many companies, you have to unlock the file on your eBook reader, smart phone, etc. with a code or connection to a server. The system verifies your device and unlocks the content. You can then read the book, listen to the song, play the game... whatever.

Over the past decade, using the Internet for DRM registration has become possible. Basically, you buy a game (either on a CD, DVD or as a download), and then your computer talks to the game publisher's computer over the Internet and unlocks the game.

This is a big pain in the ass for gamers who do not have an Internet connection. I know that doesn't seem like it would be a lot of people, but it's still quite a few. It also means you can't play the game, even if you have Internet access, on a second computer in your house that's not hooked up. I know a number of families where the gaming and entertainment rig (used by the kids) is kept separate from the official family Web computer, which is used by the grown-ups and for monitored access by the kids for studying, etc.

So it's a pain. As is all DRM. I don't think piracy is good/right, but as someone who doesn't mind paying for content, it's a huge pain. I bought a bunch of eBooks, for example, on the Mobipocket platform over the past 10 years, as it works on Palm and WinMobile devices. Now that I use a Droid... not so much. I can't read any of those 30-or-so books on my current phone. Because Mobipocket hasn't released an Android client and the eBook files are all locked. My wife is not reading one of the series I bought on my old phone (which is no longer a phone). But that's cold comfort.

So along comes Ubisoft and figures out a *better* way to really piss off its customers: a DRM scheme that requires you to be connected constantly to the Web while playing the game. Mind you... these are *single player* games! You against the machine. WTF?

Oh, and games are saved on their servers, not on your hard drive. Which, I guess makes sense, since you can't play the game without being connected to their servers.

At some point, publishers are just going to figure out that their losses from pissing people off with inane DRM (for example, I'm never buying another Mobipocket book) are greater than their losses from piracy. Since DRM doesn't stop pirates anyway.

Cheeses my grits, is what it does.