GAMES PUBLISHER Ubisoft has suffered the inevitable embarrassment of having not only its anti-piracy measures cracked but the ignominy of its servers at the heart of the policy brought down.
Ubisoft's latest anti-piracy measures caused a barrage of complaints when it was revealed that the system required gamers to login via the publisher's website prior to playing and required users to have a constant Internet connection. The firm then issued a rallying call to crackers worldwide when it said that should the servers be taken offline a patch would be released to circumnavigate the authentication servers.
Sure enough a crack was published and the world witnessed another feeble attempt at DRM fall by the wayside. Ubisoft was keen to play down the release saying that the cracked versions of games were "not complete", perhaps referring to the absence of DRM in them. In a surprising move, the PR flunkies seemingly overcompensated by putting out in Twitter updates that they had confirmed that no cracked versions of Assasins Creed II or Silent Hunter 5 existed.
While it seems most were having more than a healthy dose of schadenfreude at Ubisoft's expense, a few thought it would be more appropriate to take their fight directly to Ubisoft by attacking the servers that validate an install. As expected the servers gave up the ghost leaving thousands of gamers with legitimate Ubisoft titles unable to play.
Ubisoft's servers were running with "reduced service" between 2:30pm and 9:00pm CET yesterday and were only fully restored at 1:00am. In a bid to downplay the situation, Ubisoft said that only people trying to login were affected. Given that you need to login in order to play the game, Ubisoft was essentially saying that only those who tried to play their games were affected.
As expected this left gamers irate, with many venting their anger on the publisher's forums. Parsing the 570 posts and the growing thread, it's hard to see any of the PR flunkies who were so keen to tweet responding directly to those who actually paid for the game. It has left hundreds to attack Ubisoft with vitriol filled forum messages, not packets.
Ubisoft isn't the first company to get its DRM cracked, and in fact firm's past attempts at imposing DRM have been met with failure. However what this sorry saga has gone to show is Ubisoft's inability to understand what its customers want. As a further slap in the face to those consumers who chose the moral high ground and purchase Ubisoft's products, its half baked anti-piracy solution represents a failure to understand basic network service provisioning.
One must wonder what was being consumed when the decision to deploy a system that depends on two vital technologies to work was given the green light. Leaving aside the requirement of an Internet connection, the policy relies on the expectation that Ubisoft can keep its authentication servers up and able to answer queries. It beggars belief that no one at Ubisoft realised that its authentication servers would become targets for various attacks.
The irony for Ubisoft is that it is the very peer-to-peer networks that publishers such as Ubisoft vilify could be the only way it might implement such a system to provide the characteristics required. The smartest course of action for Ubisoft will be to look inwardly rather than casting a judgmental eye over its customers.
However, those who believe that all in the games industry maintain the same views as Ubisoft might be surprised to learn that Valve, the developer of Half Life and CounterStrike and the content delivery platform Steam, doesn't list piracy as a top priority. In an interview, co-founder Gabe Newell said the misconception within the industry was that copyright infringement was conducted by those who wanted to steal material. Newell believes that it is in fact "bad service" that leads people down the illegal route.
Even though Steam itself has been cracked, the platform has gained traction with many developers using the delivery platform to release new and back catalogue titles. With frequent special offers, gamers are able to purchase titles for a few dollars which makes going to the trouble of acquiring illegitimate copies hardly worth the effort.
What Ubisoft has managed to do is present the case, very succinctly, for other publishers not to pursue draconian and ill-conceived measures to fight piracy. For the French publisher, its actions might mobilise those who are honest to either avoid its game titles or worse still, turn to alternative means to acquire them. µ
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