Ubisoft has earned itself a reputation for its aggressive digital rights management (DRM). This includes such limitations as the number of times a game can be installed on PCs (aka “install limits”), as well as requiring that certain games have a constant connection to the internet to allow Ubisoft’s servers to confirm a game as an authentic copy in order for it to be played. This latter policy, referred to as “always on” internet connection, is not aimed at games that need to be played online, but rather games like Assassin’s Creed, which is a single-player game for the PS3, Xbox 360, or PC.
As one might expect, there were potential pitfalls to the “always on” requirement. For instance, on February 7, Ubisoft transitioned its data servers to “better serve” its customers, while at the same time completely preventing (some of) them from playing their legitimately purchased games. This is an unintended consequence of Ubisoft’s aggressive and oft-criticized DRM requirement of an “always on” internet connection to verify authenticity via Ubisoft’s servers, as a means to prevent piracy. However, since all of Ubisoft’s servers will be down from February 7 until the shift to new servers is complete, there will be nothing for the games to connect to – effectively denying gamers the chance to play a legitimately bought game.
Gamers might ask themselves, “But isn’t this my game?” After all, they bought the game in the first place. Technically, purchasers of video games do not actually buy the game, they buy the license to play it. Ubisoft is completely in control of the extent of that license, under the assumption that this practice will support Ubisoft’s best interest and protect their intellectual property rights. After all, if Ubisoft cannot protect its IP rights, how can it maintain its business model?
However Ubisoft’s server transition is just another example of why enforcing its “always on” policy may not actually be in its best interest. Players of games like Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell Conviction will be unable to play until Ubisoft’s servers are back online, which as of now, is TBA. Furthermore, Ubisoft only provided 5 days’ notice to its paying customers that they would be cut off from playing on February 7, which came in the form of a message from Ubisoft on February 2.
Despite the legality of Ubisoft’s DRM decision, it may cause more harm than good to the company in terms of customer relations. The purpose of Ubisoft’s DRM was to prevent piracy of their product, but the overuse of their IP protection has placed frustrating burdens on legitimate consumers of their games. Not everyone has reliable internet connections, and being cut off from the internet momentarily while playing these games can cause the game to pause in order for Ubisoft’s server to re-verify the game as genuine. Installing a game on more than one PC went against “install limits,” and even upgrading the hardware of the same PC caused Ubisoft’s server to think the game had been installed on a completely new device, which also went against “install limits.” Video game companies need to balance protecting their intellectual property with creating a user-friendly experience for their customers. Even if Ubisoft completely prevents anyone from pirating their games, will they have any market base left if they force their customers to adhere to all of Ubisoft’s demands?