Why Ubisoft DRM for Assassin's Creed 2 has outraged gamers

The new Ubisoft DRM requires a constant Internet connection while you play. It might reduce piracy, but will it also reduce sales?

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    Ubisoft DRM requires PC gamers to have a constant Internet connection to play Assassin's Creed II (pictured).
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Ubisoft's anti-piracy scheme has many gamers fuming.

This week, game reviewers received the PC version of last year's console hit Assassin's Creed II. (The Windows edition will hit stores March 16.) Some writers were frustrated to find out firsthand that the Ubisoft DRM (digital rights management) protections are as draconian as advertised.

French video game maker Ubisoft now demands a constant Internet connection in order to play Assassin's Creed II or Settlers VII. If a player disconnects from the Ubisoft DRM servers at any time – such as a router hiccup or power outage – the game locks up and ends without saving. "All your progress since the last checkpoint or savegame is lost," reports PC Gamer, "and your only options are to quit to Windows or wait until you're reconnected."

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When Ubisoft announced this scheme, bloggers railed against the piracy shield, calling it onerous. The company argued its DRM was essential. By insisting on a solid Web connection, Ubisoft can better police who has a legitimate copy of its games or who downloaded one illegally. Basically, its DRM servers will regularly check in like a suspicious bar bouncer – "let me see that license again; wait, let me see it again." This could whittle down piracy, but history suggests that outlaws often find another way in and that harsh DRM just annoys real customers. Many hoped the company would scale back its plan before the March release, but Ubisoft confirmed that the review copies reflect the final product.

Requiring Web access is standard practice for multiplayer matches, but this new Ubisoft DRM affects single-player modes as well. For most players, this means Assassin's Creed II will be unplayable while traveling or over shaky Wi-Fi connections. This blogger's home wireless router acts up about three times a week. Rebooting it only takes 30 seconds, but doing so would wipe any unsaved progress.

Assassin's Creed II autosaves regularly, eliminating some of the problem. (No one in the office has played Settlers VII. Let's hope its equally prudent.) But perhaps there's a bigger lesson here: don't wait too long to play these games. If players need to be connected to the Ubisoft server at all times, the server needs to be on at all times. But as we saw last week with Microsoft shutting down online features for original Xbox games and EA pulling the plug on some multiplayer sports titles, no server runs forever.

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