Develop Jury Service sees the new online DRM tech praised and slammed

Ubisoftâ??s latest piracy wall divides dev opinion

A panel of developers today showed scepticism of Ubisoft’s latest attempt to contain piracy.

Last week it was Ubisoft said it will employ an ‘always on’ internet monitoring system for its PC games.

The DRM scheme will likely mean that users will need to have a constant connection to the internet – one key reason why it was treated with a mixed reception during this week’s Jury service feature.

“I don’t believe that online DRM on its own will ever stop piracy,” said Bizarre’s Ben Ward. “Your game will simply have that functionality stripped out by various hacking groups.”

He added: “The only way that DRM will be accepted by consumers is if it is delivered inside a service which brings tangible, real-world benefits with it.”

However, Team17 studio director Martyn Brown defended the move.

“Given piracy is rife on various platforms – PC particularly – then online checks would seem to be the next step really,” he said.

“I don’t think disc-based systems have ever proved to be successful other than irritating the user with sometimes draconian measures. However, if people are to invest in platforms such as the PC, I don’t think they can be blamed for protecting that investment,” he added.

Brown concluded that Ubisoft’s online DRM is acceptable, providing the solution isn’t too cumbersome or frustrating for the user.

(In fact, the panel discussion sparked off a whole debate on the issue of DRM versus consumer satisfaction, which you can read in full here.)

Meanwhile, experienced ex-Rockstar developer Chris Kruger lent his support for Ubisoft’s new anti-piracy measures, with a key proviso:

“I think this kind of technology is ok if it’s really unobtrusive,” he said. “As soon as it starts to be annoying I think it does more harm than good.”

Kruger also said that the online DRM will distinguish between the ‘saveable’ and ‘unsavable’ piracy enthusiast.

“If somebody wants to go to great lengths to never attach their system to the internet for the sake of piracy – then so be it; They’re an intractable pirate.”

In a thorough exploration of the issue, Kruger then went on to discuss what anti-piracy measures means for development budgets.

“There is a cost /reward trade-off on this too,” he said. “We don’t want to increase the cost of security more than we might get back from increased revenue. Cost of security would include the cost of developing and maintaining said online system, as well as the cost of the frustration of our customers, leading to lost sales and poor reputation.”

But Luke Maskell, an artist for Oxford studio Gusto Games, said he was “firmly against Ubisoft’s announcement”.

Said Maskell: “I think it’s a huge violation of privacy and is only punishing the legitimate customer; the pirates won’t have to worry about being online as they’ll find a way around pretty sharpish.

“All Ubisoft is doing is kicking their customers in the face. If they are going to provide a service that is worse than pirating the game, they are only going to attract more pirates.

“All the money they could have spent on this new system they could have just spent on marketing, attracting more customers and reducing the backlash against such invasive DRM projects.”

Assyria Game Studio’s Adam Green measured the pros with the cons, acknowledging that DRM can be too restrictive, but adding that any reduction in piracy “has to be a good thing for the industry.”

Green added: “I think online-checking of genuine software is the ideal solution in order to reduce piracy for that segment of the market. Especially as games are heavily distributed through digital, so in most instances users will need an internet connection just to get a copy of the game anyway. I think perhaps constant checking is a bit too intrusive, however. Perhaps once every 5 plays that way if the user is on a laptop without internet access.”

Concluding the discussion, Weaseltron managing director Adrian Hirst said that the key issue for the industry is “keeping the public on our side whilst managing to protect our investment.”

Said Hirst: “Previous draconian attempts at copy protection have only served to outrage our very customers.

“The best long-term answer is most likely to lie in providing a genuinely compelling reason to make the purchase – MMOs provide an online service to this effect, but we see ‘free’ downloadable game content with every actual purchase being an increasingly popular model.”

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