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DRM: Necessary evil or consumer insult?

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The industry insider’s view


Ubisoft aren’t the only ones who have suffered from an attack on their servers through DRM backlash. Sports Interactive’s Miles Jacobson speaks candidly on the issue of those who push through the Football Manager turnstiles without paying.

 

To what extent are Football Manager games pirated? How do you assess how many of these downloads are lost sales? 

I can currently only look at figures for one particular year, where we had hooks in the copy protection system we used to show who was playing legit or pirated copies. Seventy percent of people playing the game were playing pirated copies. This hook was removed, but late in the day, so this figure is likely higher in reality.

There is no way to know how many of these are lost sales. My estimate is 20%-30% of these would purchase the game if there was no other way for them to get it, but we can never be sure of that. And, to be frank, that’s not really the point as far as our anti-piracy measures are concerned. We already provide a lengthy demo for people to play to decide whether Football Manager is value for money or not, so don’t believe those pirating the game have any reason to in the first place!

Is the copy protection attached to new releases regarded as a piracy solution, or is it a stopgap measure to prevent damage to week one sales?

We have only used DRM once, and that was with FM2009. We have used other copy protection systems before and since, but not DRM. The idea of it is to be a piracy solution. It’s just no one has found something yet that works in that way! People and companies will continue to try, just like people have tried to create solutions to stop people breaking into cars and houses. At some point, someone may succeed, but at the moment, anti-piracy measures work only as deterrents to some.


Above: Far Cry 2 was downloaded thousands of times before it hit the shelf 

What problems did Sports Interactive come up against in with the DRM in FM2009?

The only time we have used DRM, the system we used was hit by a massive denial of service attack on the day the game was released. This stopped legitimate customers from being able to authenticate their games. It was the worst 48 hours of my career to date, and it was dealt with as quickly as possible.
I still don’t understand, and never will, why there are people out there so determined to ruin other people’s enjoyment of the internet by doing DoS attacks – it’s an alien concept to me.

What do you make of the current fashion of publishers demanding a permanent online connection? Is the outcry from the PC community justified?

Personally speaking I’m not a fan, as it would stop me being able to play PC games on my laptop whilst travelling, which is when I’m most likely to be playing games.

Would a similar online-only scheme ever work for Football Manager?

It works for Football Manager Live, because that’s an online game. I’m not looking at solutions that involve this kind of system, although online-only authentication is something that is brought up regularly, and would be considered if we can get around any possibility of DoS attacks.


The Ubisoft Diktat


The decision to lock Ubisoft games tightly to an internet connection has not come out of the blue – as a company they’ve experimented with copy protection more than most. For example, 2008’s Prince of Persia came free of DRM – a move widely seen as the company testing the water for their future policies. Whatever they discovered clearly made them decide to move over to the other extreme: the tyranny of Uplay.


Above: Pirates operate in moody lighting 

With save games stored externally and a constant online connection required to allow code that was missing from the game players received buying it to be downloaded, rather than a simple online activation, Uplay has been successful at keeping the pirates at bay. But in terms of keeping them out wholesale it has failed.

Early hack attempts provided playable yet incomplete versions of Silent Hunter 5, and now Assassin’s Creed II has been hacked and can be played to completion. The process to actually get it going, however, is a real time-sink. The Uplay system is certainly still putting off casual pirates. Ubisoft claim that their system will “evolve and improve,” making this round one of a series of bouts against the pirates.

Yet the public relations storm that has surrounded the issue is something of a disaster. Denial of service (DoS) attacks brought down some of Ubi’s authentication servers for seven hours, and Ubisoft’s name has certainly been muddied.

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28 comments

  • Yetiman969 - May 25, 2011 9:39 a.m.

    I had to pirate AC2 because of the DRM, but followed SkidRows advice and bought the game, that is why the DRM is useless, an outdated concept. I just chose to buy cause I'm nice, but most people won't. Also, another problem with DRM's is the bigger, the tougher the challenge then the more people that'll go after it. Crackers wan't a challenge, give them a puny DRM, instead of a Draconian Ubisoft one, and Crackers'll probably focus on something else.
  • Pruman - May 26, 2010 3:42 p.m.

    Harsh DRM is a major problem because all it succeeds in doing is punishing the exact people game companies should be rewarding - the customers who actually pay for games! Pirates are always going to pirate the game because it is their nature, like the scorpion in the fable of the scorpion and the frog. The right way to combat piracy is to make a paid product better than free. Valve successfully did that with Steam by offering a wide availability of game choices, great prices, and the ability to play your Steam games on any computer with an Internet connection. Good DRM is unobtrusive and nearly invisible to the user. I believe Valve's DRM accomplishes that. Also, I read the best metaphor for piracy on Cracked the other day: "[the fact that there are no games on PC] has nothing to do with the morality of file trading. It's simple cause and effect. We're smashing out all the windows because it's fun, and then complaining when the rain comes in."
  • D0CCON - May 24, 2010 12:31 a.m.

    If the technology evolves enough to make it impossible to pirate a game, then it will be a necessary evil. Until then, I think that this only increases the number of pirates. Once the game gets cracked, people who hate DRM will try downloading it, even if they were planning on buying the game legitimately. Being one of the few people who prefers playing most games with a controller over a mouse and keyboard (only exceptions come in RTSs and games like Dragon Age Origins, and I rarely play RTSs anyways), I don't really care about the issue. Assassin's Creed 2 needs DRM? Fine, I'm enjoying it on my 360 anyways. But I still think that DRM hurts in its current form.
  • mentalityljs - May 22, 2010 5:23 p.m.

    Hey, I got an idea. How about Valve developes every game from this point on and have it activated through Steam!
  • Dibol1987 - May 20, 2010 5:36 p.m.

    Glad I gave up on PC gaming after 2008 (Tiberium Wars was my last game)
  • slapdatass - May 20, 2010 10:59 a.m.

    "Above: A one-stop shop for ill-gotten games" Why would you post a screencap of Torrentfreak there? TF is a blog about P2P, not a torrent site. Otherwise, good article.
  • ShadedPhoenix - May 19, 2010 8:45 p.m.

    heres another thing, if back in the days my uncle didnt gve me a cracked copy of system shock and boulder dash (and some other) i probably would had never started gaming in the first place (why should? books just cost 5-15 bucks depending on its age and where you look) As well to the issue with mw2, it has more online then retail sales, just get on steam and see the amount of people playing all day worldwide, its at a constant 50-100k most times still, and you cant play almost no game online over steam with a hacked copy, and now look what company did made steam and for what game, valve for half life 2, a drm invention that is good, a neccesary evil that is actual friendly (i cant repeat this often enough)
  • ShadedPhoenix - May 19, 2010 8:35 p.m.

    For me a perfect game has no drm, ill pirate anything before buying it (unless i was satisfied with the demo) but most times i dont have the money to immedietely buy me a game, so i dl it anyways, but i pad for many games nonetheless, and for way more if i didnt, here some examples of the earliest, Mass Effect 2, Bioshock2, Darkest of days, Metro2033 and ontop, i wont any game that has a too strict drm, or is not using steam, which is strict by nature but very very user friendly and it even has inbuild services like news, autoupdate, friends list, the ideal plattform
  • JohnnyMaverik - May 19, 2010 6:29 p.m.

    I cant play Ubisoft games now since I live in Univercity halls of residance and the connection here aint so great. Not only that but the nessesary ports to play games online get blocked, not sure if that'd have an effect in this case but I'm also not willing to take the risk, and even if it didn't, I still have the extremely flakey connection to contend with. I'm not guna pirate them either cuz quite frankly I can't be arsed, but hey, if something comes along that I really wanna play (see I Am Alive, which looks interesting)while I would buy the game with out the requirement for a constant connection, with it there's no point, as I'd just end up with an expensive tea coaster. The theory behind the DRM is solid and from what I know so far it's been harder than usual for the pirates to crack, but the problem is not everybody has a solid connection, in fact many don't, so while the theory may be solid, in practice the inferstructure just isn't there to support it yet, ergo you get people who can't play and therefore won't buy your games, and you know what, might just torrent a DRM free version instead, not because they don't/won't pay to play the game, but because they can't.
  • IHateMakingUserIDs - May 19, 2010 6:25 p.m.

    Always on Internet connection is a small price to pay. Did you forget on the first page where they same MW2 was downloaded 4.1 million times, and only purchased 270 000 times for the PC. that is only 6% of the total people playing the game buying it. Or on page 2 where the Football Manager guy says that he used hooks to see ho many people playing were playing retail copies, 30%! Piracy is a serious issue in PC gaming. And as such there needs to be drastic measures taken in order to protect companies rights to profit off their products. What does a PC game go for 40-60 bucks? If you use 50 as an average MW2 lost $205 000 000 in game purchases. Football Manager even offered a lengthy demo of the game for people to see if they liked it enough to purchase. That clearly didn't stop people from downloading illegal copies. I'm all for DRM's. If people want to play games for free, go playing at popcap.com, or addictinggames.com. There needs to be more enforcement of copyright laws. If you aren't doing anything illegal there wont be anything to worry about.
  • mutantsquid - May 19, 2010 5:56 p.m.

    This is somewhat ironic. I pirate PC games to test out the finished product and see if it will run and if support will be up to snuff. This is because the purchase of a PC game is a one time deal, there are no PC rentals and I cannot sell my copy back to the store. The ironic part is that both these reasons have come up BECAUSE of piracy. Bizzare.
  • MetalDooley - May 19, 2010 4:36 p.m.

    @philipshaw Killing the industry huh?Used game sales have existed as long as I've been gaming(20 years)and in that time the games industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry that rivals the Hollywood movie industry. Far from killing it the ease with which people can get rid of unwanted games has probably helped grow the industry Why is the games industry the only one complaining about used sales?Why do they feel they deserve special treatment?You don't hear the heads of Ford and Toyota complaining that used car sales are destroying the motor industry
  • Imgema - May 19, 2010 1:37 p.m.

    DRM is stupid because, in the end, it only effects the paying customer. If someone is a pirate, he won't buy a game because it has DRM anyway. He will probably wait for it to get cracked. If the companies want to fight piracy, they will need to increase the value of their products. All the money they spend on DRM, they should use it to make better packages, nice big boxes, fat good quality manuals and maybe some presents inside the box, like an action figure or a soundtrack, or a huge illustrated map. This way, more people will be tempted to buy the game rather that DL it. It wont destroy piracy, but it will reduce it. With DRM not only they don't increase the value of their games, but they even decrease it further. I was going to buy Dead Space for PC, but because of DRM i choosed to downloaded it. Later, i bought it for my 360. That's another reason why the PC software sales are so low compared to consoles.
  • AfricanWoolf - May 19, 2010 12:31 p.m.

    "So there are ways to see piracy as the start of a relationship with a future customer, not theft." Dangerous words :-P Though I must say not without merit. DRM is certainly a necessary evil, that said, straight forward, kick to the crotch DRM like Ubisoft's latest exploits, are not the way forward. Creative DRM that gives incentives for illegitimate players to become legitimate seems like the best way. Make the experience so much better for legitimate players that it becomes better to just buy the original game. Lowering game prices and going for a "high turnover" business model might also be the way forward.
  • vinicusg.t.guedes - May 19, 2010 11:40 a.m.

    PS3 won the piracy war, it has shown it's perfectly possible to be free of pirate copies without compromising the gaming experience. Unfortunately a closed platform in the likes of the PS3 is not possible in the PC.
  • philipshaw - May 19, 2010 9:43 a.m.

    DRM is a necessary evil because if you aren't buying games new, you are killing the industry
  • JohanLiebert - May 19, 2010 7:33 a.m.

    DRM reminds me of the drug war. It is punishing everyone by trying to prevent a crime that, obviously, is going to happen regardless of how good the DRM is. Piss on it.
  • RebornKusabi - May 19, 2010 3:53 a.m.

    As a fairly "casual" PC gamer, in that I have a relatively middle-range PC [laptop] and only play games that were released before 2004... I don't care how much publishers or developers attempt to justify it, the fact of the matter is that DRM essentially PUNISHES legitimate customers of a product while pirates get off scot-free due to the fact that all they have to do is download the game, get a crack and play the game without even paying a single cent. Sorry but I have no sympathy for measures that treat the paying customer like a thief...
  • Cwf2008 - May 19, 2010 3:35 a.m.

    Didnt they just write an article about how their sick of people complaining about DRM? Huh
  • EnragedTortoise1 - May 19, 2010 2:22 a.m.

    @Psylockerules: Yes, but eventually THAT will be cracked, too.

Showing 1-20 of 28 comments

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