How DRM hurts the paying customers and increases piracy.

I’m sure many of you have heard of Ubisoft’s new DRM(Digital rights management) that has shown up on PC versions of Assassin’s Creed 2, Silent Hunter 5, and will be in all of Ubisoft’s upcoming PC releases. This new DRM forces players to maintain a constant internet connection to Ubisoft’s verification servers in order to install, save and in many cases to even play the game. Even if said game is only single player like Assassin’s Creed 2. Is this the solution to the piracy problem that has plagued the PC for decades? No, it’s far from it. This poorly thought out DRM will only hinder the gaming experience of the actual paying customers while the pirates enjoy the game to it’s full potential.

This DRM would make the game almost impossible to play if you travel a lot. You might think that having to maintain a constant internet connection isn’t so bad if you have the capability to maintain it but it works both ways: just shortly after Assassin’s Creed 2 was released, one of the Ubisoft servers went down. Paying customers who were anxiously awaiting their chance to assassinate conspirators were left with a denial of service error. Many of the customers could not install, save or play the very game they had spent $50 on.

And that isn’t Ubisoft’s first DRM failure. In June of 2008 an update for the PC version of Rainbow Six Vegas 2 added multiplayer tweaks, new ranks, new gameplay modes, and a disc check. The problem with this is that those who chose to buy the game digitally from services like steam or Direct 2 Drive had no discs to be checked and could no longer play the game they had paid for. You’ll never guess how the geniuses at Ubisoft solved this problem. They released another patch that contained a version of the executable that had been modified by pirates. They used a pirate hack, something they had tried to stop by adding the DRM in the first place, to fix their own broken DRM.

Ubisoft isn’t the only company to impose awful DRM onto it’s paying customers. The EA published Command & Conquer 4 requires a constant internet to play. Thankfully (unlike Ubisoft) it appears like this DRM won’t be in all EA published games.

This kind of obtrusive DRM will increase piracy. The reason for this is that it is much more convenient for many to just illegally download games. Which would you choose? A game with DRM that restricts how you play your game that you payed for or a completely DRM free version of the same game. I’ve known people who’ve gone out and purchased their game and then downloaded a pirate hack to remove the DRM related restrictions, and that should not be the solution. The fact is that piracy will happen, pirates aren’t stupid people and no matter what game developers put in their way they will eventually circumvent the DRM. The DRM will only serve to delay them. Sure it might work for a short while but the actual paying customers will be left with the permanent effects of the greed of the company that created the DRM in the first place.

I in no way support piracy, especially on the PC where developers are choosing to simply not release their games for the PC because of piracy issues. Piracy is slowly killing the one gaming platform I truly love. The pirates themselves are just as guilty as the companies that are imposing restrictive DRM.

Despite the rampant piracy on the PC platform there are companies who have successfully prevented piracy without incredibly restrictive DRM. Valve is one of these companies. Valve provides a very convenient service to it’s customers through Steam(a service where people can buy and then download games straight to their hard drive). Gabe Newell (Managing Director of Valve) once said “By focusing on the customer and by doing useful things for the customer, piracy really becomes sort of a non issue for us”. And from what I’ve seen, this is true. Many former pirates (including myself) claim to have stopped pirating video games due to the convenience of Steam and similar services.

So what can Ubisoft and other companies learn from this? Well they could start by having DRM that doesn’t punish those of us who buy their games.

16 thoughts on “How DRM hurts the paying customers and increases piracy.”

  1. You know… DRM, WGM, and all the other anti-piracy measures everywhere are just ******* me off as a customer.

    I remember back when I first started online music shopping with things like iTunes, and when I transfered my old computer to my new laptop, I LOST ALL MY MUSIC. I’d spent COUNTLESS dollars on music, supporting the artists that I love and admire, and to LOSE IT ALL.

    I immediately quit supporting any and all companies that did that to me, and sent a very kind, and seething, e-mail to their company, informing them that they’d lost not only my support, but the support of many of my friends and family.

    This just continues my distaste for pirates and the idiots in the industry that pull this junk with anti-pirate methods that HURT THE CUSTOMERS.

    This is also a big reason why I don’t play PC games. Installing games became such a hassle, that the last actual game I bought on PC was Starcraft, and we all know how OLD that one is.

    1. Your iTunes comment reminds me of why I love steam, you buy your games, and then you can install them on any computer as many times as you want and some games even let you carry over your save files and preferences.

  2. It really just seems like a waste of resources to even bother. Pirates tend to get around most defenses within a few weeks it seems.

    There have been a handful of examples of good defenses against piracy, but there have been so many more wasted attempts to stop pirates only to harm the consumer.

  3. I agree completely with your assessment of Ubisoft’s DRM.

    I hated spore’s DRM which limited installation to three computers (or three configurations of hardware), but I absolutely abhor this DRM. I could not think of a more obtrusive way to authenticate a game and, while I will not pirate Ubisoft games, I am done buying them until they stop locking me out of my own possession.
    I think the question needs to be asked by whoever decides how to protect these games: “Would our method of reducing piracy actually make a pirated version of the game preferable?” Unfortunately for people with high moral standards, the answer is often yes.

  4. I’m not sure why companies are so eager to get rid of pirates…its free advertising. And I know my friends who pirate would never have even considered playing the game unless they could pirate it.

    All that’s accomplished by making a game unpiratable is that less people will play it. :

  5. Great article, and totally agree.

    The only thing strict DRM like this does is encourage piracy. If there’s a game that goes out of its way to annoy me as a paying customer, it’s just going to make me want to pirate it.

    There’s always cracks, hacks and various workarounds to these things at least within a month or two of release. And if you pirate the game and use one of these hacks, guess what happens? That’s right you don’t have any of the inconvenience that comes with being a paying customer.

    Something is backwards when the game harasses you AFTER you’ve bought the game and the only way to escape it is to be a pirate… I just don’t understand what they’re thinking.

    There have been games in the past I was going to buy but finding out they have DRM like this made me decide not to purchase the game at all (someone mentioned Spore already, that’s a good example).

  6. I can’t say myself that I hate DRM, since I’ve never played an Ubisoft game containing it, but I can see your point, and it’s one heckuva good point.

    Pirates’ll crack any anti-piracy stuff that they possibly can to get at the game, and this just makes it so much easier for them and so much harder for people who bought the game legitimately.

    I hope that Ubisoft realizes that.

  7. I don’t see the problem with pirating after spending thousands of dollars on various gaming platforms and video games.

    Why should anyone continue to spend money on expensive platforms and their games when the entire system for doing so is flawed?

    For example, why would anyone pay 60 dollars for a crappy game after paying 60 dollars for an amazing game?

    It makes absolutely no sense.

    The only options are to either pirate all games, buy only the games with true quality, or **** your money away.

    Perhaps if games’ prices truly reflected the quality of their craftsmanship, I, or anybody else, wouldn’t need to pirate any of them!

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