Ubisoft recently released an interesting little game called “From Dust” in which you play as some sort of nebulous, elemental entity who helps a lost tribe of worshipers to rebuild their civilization. It looked like a fun, modern riff on themes previously explored by games like Populus or Black and White. I was genuinely interested in buying it up until I saw the Ubisoft logo next to it.
If you recall, Ubisoft are the “pioneers” and “inventors” of the controversial Always-On DRM scheme. You probably heard people raging about this scheme back in March when they ruined Assasin’s Creed 2 with it. You probably also heard how it backfired when the activation servers crashed shortly after launch.
Needless to say, I was skeptical so I decided to do some research and check out what kind of malware they stapled to “From Dust”. Yes, mallware. Let’s face it – all DRM is mallware. Nobody wants it on their system, it usually gets deployed using bundled stealth installation and in some cases it can seriously impact the performance and stability of your system. Oh, and sometimes it stays on your system long after you remove the game it shipped with. To me it sounds like malware.
I didn’t even have to look far to see clear indications of a brewing shitstorm around the game. The range and anger of my fellow gamer geeks started streaming into my Twitter feed, and RSS Reader soon after “From Dust” went live. And it was not just some petty bullshit this time either – it was a genuine customer dissatisfaction.
You see, Ubisoft blatantly lied to it’s customers. During the pre-order phase, it went on record claiming the game will ship with one-time-only online activation. They were very clear about this – you activate once, and then you can play offline as much as you desire. Then, at the 11’th hour, just before release they completely reversed that position. Now all their documentation, and online documents state that you need to activate the game over the internet every time you start it up. Did they issue a formal apology to the customers that might have been mislead by the previous announcements? Did they offer to refund the game to those who foolishly preordered it assuming it will be playable online? No, of course not. Their official stance is a straight up denial that the one-time-only activation announcement has ever even happened. And they are doing it hard-core, 1984 style: “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, and From Dust hat always had Always-On DRM.” And if you would like to complain about this issue, you should do it somewhere outside the official Ubisoft support forums for the game, which are aggressively moderated to remove any and all signs of the DRM controversy.
So I guess I will not be playing From Dust. The game seemed fun, but I really, really don’t want to give Ubisoft any money. I could pirate the game and play it anyway, since it has already been cracked but then I would probably want to blog about it. This in turn would generate publicity for the game, and perhaps compel a few people to actually buy it. And I would loathe to help Ubisoft score even a single sale after reading about their DRM shenanigans. So I choose not to touch the game.
Not because it’s bad. Not even because the DRM sucks (don’t get me wrong, it does – it’s atrocious). I choose to completely ignore it because of the way Ubisoft is treating their customers.
It amazes me that companies such as Ubisoft and EA get away with blatant customer abuse. They moderate their forums and ban anyone who has a legitimate complaint, they completely ignore negative press without even as much acknowledging it and all their press releases are flat out disdainful and insulting. What other industry can actually do this and stay in business? Who can continuously lie to, screw over and insult their customers without loosing their business.
There is only one other line of work in which this sort of behavior works: drug dealing. Which makes me think that we, the gaming community are a little bit at fault here. We are like junkies, jonesing for the next fix – no matter how badly they abuse us, we always come back to them. We might be loud and obnoxious on the internet, but in the real world we have no sting. When a new game comes out, we roll over and throw money at them even though we have been boycotting that very product for the last 6 months. No wonder they don’t give a fuck.
I often wonder whether or not the irony of having your “Always-On” DRM game hit torrent sites before it is even available in the stores ever hit the executives of these companies. I mean, are they really that clueless? Do they not know that their precious anti-piracy software takes about 20 minutes to remove, after which it is free for all?
How can you run a milti-million game company and remain ignorant of the simple fact that DRM does not work as a counter-piracy measure. How can you claim that your Always-On DRM schemes are a success when a simple trip to pirate bay or any other torrent site is enough to verify that it did not protect a single game from being copied and distributed for free. Can you really be that short sighted?
They can’t be that dumb, right? I mean, DRM costs money, right? The guys who run companies like Ubisoft are bean counters – that’s pretty much the only thing they are good at. So I find it really hard to believe that no one actually realized that the whole enterprise might be just a huge money sing. Unless it actually isn’t.
Bear with me on this, but perhaps these guys sat down and figured out that while they can’t do anything to prevent tech-savvy guys like you or me from pirating their software, they still can thwart casual piracy. They can stop soccer moms from buying just a single copy of the game, and then burning copies for their five spoiled beastly brats. It can stop little Jimmy from sharing his copy with little Bobby. And it can stop that guy who can’t figure out “how to run iso file” he downloaded from the internet. Perhaps the reason why Ubisoft is stepping up their game with more and more annoying DRM schemes is that the soccer moms, Jimmy and the iso guy started to catch on. Believe it on not, but the “copy crack to game directory” method has been a staple of piracy for quite a few years now. The pool of people who know how to successfully download and install cracked games is constantly growing, and the number of numbskulls who can be easily fooled by simple DRM is getting smaller. So they are balancing the act, and making sure that only folks who can figure out how to run a spoofed activation server get to play for free.
In other words, they are praying on idiots to generate extra revenue. Their core revenue of course comes from us – the internet loudmouths, but we bend over and take it every single time. So they are concentrating on converting stupidity into cash. And guess what? Their new targets usually don’t frequent gaming forums, or read gaming blogs so all that stink we make about unfair DRM goes right over their heads. They get shafted too, but only after they forked over the cash so it doesn’t matter.
Is there anything we can do about this? I believe we can.
- Stop bending over and taking it. Let’s vote with our wallets and refuse to buy games with shitty DRM.
- Stop promoting their games for free. It really does not matter that you didn’t buy the game, if you blogged about it, posted about it on Facebook, and made Youtoube videos of your in game shenanigans. Perhaps you didn’t fork over money, but you helped to spread the hype and indirectly you may have got them a few extra sales. So if you want to send them a message, don’t pirate the game either. Just ignore it.
- Finally, be nice to n00bs and teach them how to fucking pirate. No, seriously. Somehow, somewhere this DRM bullcrap is generating sales. It shows up on sales reports, and validates their approach. So let’s make sure these sales increases stay low. Let’s make sure everyone knows how to circumvent their DRM. (actually, this may not be the best idea – let’s not do this)
The only way to combat it is to hit them where it hurts: their profit margins. Internet slacktivism is a great past time, and while it may feel like you are making a difference by generating negative PR, companies like Ubisoft clearly do not give a flying fuck about what gaming press and blogosphere says about them. So put your money where your mouth is. Don’t buy their games, don’t talk about them. And make sure your noobish friends don’t give them any money either. That’s the only way to send them a clear message.
Did you buy From Dust, or any other Ubisoft game lately? Did you get screwed over by the DRM, or was it mostly irrelevant?