In an apparently positive, but nonetheless rather surprising step, Ubisoft says "We’ve heard you," and has announced plans to change its "always-on" DRM policy.
Since the beginning, Ubisoft has copped a lot of flak from customers over its DRM implementations. Ranging from the simple, always online model which required a high-speed internet connection for even single player games, Ubi also introduced a strict activation policy, limiting the number of PCs a game could be installed on.
Both styles lead to problems, when authentication servers crashed or wouldn't respond, or - controversially - when relatively minor hardware changes were recorded as an additional activation, meaning that games like Anno 2070 were potentially unplayable once you installed that new graphics card.
Stephanie Perotti is worldwide director for online games at Ubisoft, and she explains that the decision was actually made quite a while ago:
We have listened to feedback, and since June last year our policy for all of PC games is that we only require a one-time online activation when you first install the game, and from then you are free to play the game offline.
In an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun Perotti and corporate communications manager Michael Burk acknowledge that the publisher has made a number of "unfortunate comments" relating to piracy, activation limits, and whether or not the whole thing was working as intended.
Perotti explains the new situation, using Assassin's Creed III as an example:
Whenever you want to reach any online service, multiplayer, you will have to be connected, and obviously for online games you will also need to be online to play. But if you want to enjoy Assassin’s Creed III single player, you will be able to do that without being connected. And you will be able to activate the game on as many machines as you want.
Neither Perotti nor Burk are willing to discuss piracy figures in any detail, explaining that the information is competitive, and internally confidential ("not necessarily that we’re breaking anyone’s confidentiality," explains Burk). The pair acknowledge that by not acknowledging the numbers, they're weakening their own argument.
However, one number that Burk is willing to hand over is the fact that all of this fuss over PC gaming really is just a small chunk of Ubisoft's market. Consoles still reign supreme at the French publisher, with PC sales making up roughly 10% of revenue (7% last full fiscal year, 12% in the last quarter).
The entire interview is well worth a read. RPS has been petitioning Ubisoft "for a couple of years", and the wait's paid off - not just with this seemingly great news, but also in a relatively open interview, an attitude we're not used to seeing from the company.
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Jimmy the Geek