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The day I realised always-on DRM moaners have a point

Thursday, 8 September 2011 07:23 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Ubisoft and Blizzard have angered many in the past year by insisting PC gamers maintain an internet connection during play, but I’d always been on the fence. Until this week.

I am going to bore you with the details.

I went to Sweden last week to see Battlefield 3 at DICE. On the way back, our flight was cancelled thanks to a fuel leak, and we had to sleep in a converted mental institution in Stockholm before heading to London the following day. This fucked my connection back to France, so I bought a new flight from Southampton for the morning after, travelled down to Brighton with Eurogamer’s Tom Bramwell and spent the night at my sister-in-law’s flat.

I’m talking to my wife on Skype that evening, and I can hear the thunder in the background.

“It’s a big one,” she says. We live on the Massif Central, and we get some hectic weather. Storms bring electrical failures. There’s a click and she vanishes, before calling my mobile to tell me the internet really does appear to be broken.

“No worries,” I say, assuming it’s just a case of turning it off and back on again. “I’ll sort it when I get home.”

Only I can’t. The data light on the router’s flashing piss-take red. I call Orange; so many people were hit by the storm in my department, I’m told, that I won’t see an engineer until Wednesday. This is Friday, so that means six days without any main connection at all.

I’m forced to concede that I judged the “always-on” moaners too harshly.

“No worries,” I say to myself, and turn my Android mobile into a wireless hotspot. It works. Twenty minutes later I get a text from SFR telling me I’ve exceeded my data limit for the month and I won’t be able to access the internet through my phone until Thursday.

“No worries,” I say the following day, and go to an SFR shop in Limoges, 50 miles away, to buy a French 3G stick. This all happens to plan – apart from the bit when the assistant clearly assumes I’m hitting on her with my terrible French – and I walk away with a mobile internet connection.

Except it doesn’t work. I am kind of worrying now. My wife spends half an hour on the phone to SFR before being told it’s going to be at least 24 hours before the new SIM’s activated.

And there we are. I’m offline. And when the stick does start to work it’s flakier than a corn flake factory’s bi-centennial fucking corn flake festival, and it can’t keep me connected for more than 15 minutes before doing the stupid red light thing.

The games bit
Aside from being a monumental pain in the ass from a business sense, I am now unable to play certain games, and I’m forced to concede that I judged the “always-on” moaners too harshly.

One of the hottest news topics in games in the past year has been that of some companies insisting PC gamers remain connected to the internet when playing single-player content.

Ubisoft has been the main culprit in gamers’ eyes with the requisite being central to its so far cack-handed efforts at PC DRM, but Blizzard recently came out of the closet with plans for Diablo III: you won’t be able to play the action-RPG at all unless you’re constantly online.

Capcom, too, has dabbled in the system, and id is now publicly a fan.

I have to be honest; I always roll my eyes when people kick up a stink about this stuff, mainly because, until this week, I had a reliable internet connection. I’m regularly being told that large swathes of the European and American gaming markets have flimsy lines with slow speeds, but I’m all right, Jack. I now know better.

It’s obvious that internet-specific games such as MMOs shouldn’t be obliged to provide offline play, but isn’t it clearly questionable to insist people are online to play a single-player game? Before last Saturday I didn’t care, but now I fully understand how infuriating it must be for those with shoddy connections to be forced to endure constant interruptions to play, or worse, to not be able to play at all.

Offline games are not online games.

Offline games are not online games. We have to assume that some people buy single-player games specifically because they don’t want to play online for whatever reason. The always-on demand is largely being foisted on the PC games market because of piracy – the same has rarely been asked of console games – but I cannot believe that Ubisoft, a company that has clearly invested a great deal of time and energy into creating a DRM system that’s as bulletproof as it can possibly make it, couldn’t come up with a suitably secure one-off registration check.

Blizzard demanded only a one-off registration for StarCraft II. It sold well, but it was heavily pirated. We all know the Ubisoft story with its always-on DRM: yes, it’s bound to curtail piracy, but at what cost?

Sales? They can be recouped. Gamers’ hearts and minds? Not so simple.

I’m writing this on Wednesday night. The engineer came today and said France Telecom will need to fix the main box outside my house for me to get back online. That might happen on Friday. Might not. For all the “might nots” in the gaming world, I can only hope that the increasing trend towards always-on DRM reverses sometime soon.

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39 Comments

  1. tenthousandgothsonacid

    Great post. I’ve not been paying attention, when did you move to France ?

    #1 3 years ago
  2. manamana

    Great post, indeed. Always on is a terrible thing, if you ever come across a downtime. Its like real life – everything is fine until you get toothaches.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. albo88

    lets face it who does not have internet contention this days lulz
    peoples have internet to write this stupid troll stuff and not to play games? fffuuu

    #3 3 years ago
  4. T_L_T

    I pirate Ubisoft games now, I used to buy them.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. alterecho

    I smiled every time you said “No, worries”.

    Glad you see our point :)

    Hopefully the publishers do too.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Christopher Jack

    Does the DRM apply to Steam/GfWL/other versions?
    @Pat, It seems that you finally understand the fear of these cloud only services like OnLive, there are plenty of times you simply can’t use it, doubt you can with the internet stick you have right now too.
    @4, That’s still not a valid excuse to pirate.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Patrick Garratt

    @3 – I’m connected on the stick now, but there’s no way I could play a game with always-on DRM. It constantly drops the line. To write this comment I had to reconnect because the connection crapped out.

    @1 – Thanks! We moved at the beginning of last year.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. FabioPal

    Agree with every single word you wrote Pat.

    I don’t know the numbers but, in my experience, I remember not buying a game because of DRM at least 3 times. And I’ve got a pretty reliable internet connection.

    They should realize that limiting the user only helps spreading the piracy.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Gurdil

    Glad you get it Pat. I’m not one to bitch without a reason, always-on DRM ARE a problem and they’ll be an even bigger one if Europe does get this fraking BS “à la carte” internet policy… But that’s another problem.

    And on another note, that’s exactly why I left SFR. I took a Bouygues sub and my data use is now unlimited even if there’s a fair data use threshold after which the connection slows down.

    Edit: Plus always-on DRM does NOT prevent piracy. Remember Assassin’s Creed 2? Buyers had to pirate their games so they could play… Nice irony, huh?

    #9 3 years ago
  10. BULArmy

    Excelent article, but as of now dropping the always on DRM is not gonna happen. What is the number of ppl who experience such problems and bought such a game or are willing to buy it – 500, 1000, 5000. I think for the publishers this is pretty small number and thay are ready to loose this sales in order to stay on what they want.
    Of course here comes the ethical point, that pirates play such games after they are cracked problem-free, of course without MP most of the time, after most of the companies stopped putting LAN MP in their games, but the buyer is actually screwed. So now I want to save me from the trouble and I pirate game, except if I really want to play also the MP part of the game(D3 case).

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Blerk

    “it’s flakier than a corn flake factory’s bi-centennial fucking corn flake festival”

    glols!

    Hope it all gets sorted soon, Patrick. “No internet” gives me cold sweats.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. OwnedWhenStoned

    This happened to me last night, my normally teutonically efficient and reliable German cable connection fritzed. Admittedly for the first time in years, but still Steam wouldn’t let me play Civ 5… if anyone can tell me why Offline mode didn’t work, I’m all ears.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. roubignolo

    @Pat
    Tu aurais du aller chez NOZ en zone Nord à Limoges acheter un vrai stick 3G…
    Never thought you could live in France. Especially there…

    #13 3 years ago
  14. Gekidami

    Oddly storms sometimes knock out my internet, i dont quite get why seeing as its cable, but it happens often. Generally its gets fixed rather quickly, i’ve never gone for days without internet as a result of that, at least.

    But anyway;

    1. Play games on console.
    2. Dont deal with always on DRM.
    3. ????
    4. PROFIT!

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Chockster

    It was a converted mental institution.

    And for one night only, we converted it back.

    Oh, and Pat is completely right on this DRM business. I’m a convert to disliking it. In the past I defended the publishers’ right to use it to defend against piracy. Somewhere they crossed the line and became too draconinan – and the next gen consoles will now doubt have similar “features”.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Ansob

    Could I suggest not calling them “moaners,” then?

    Oh, and would that conservatives of all stripes be similarly forced to experience what the people they spit on live with. :P

    #16 3 years ago
  17. jnms

    Nice piece Pat! Though I was about to say you’re a bit; “but I’m all right, Jack.” so glad you said it first!! :)

    #17 3 years ago
  18. T_L_T

    @6 The fact that the pirated product is superior to the legitimate one is a reason to pirate.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Yoshi

    Awesome article. I’ve got Virgin Media and my god it can really fail sometimes, if I download anything during the day it’ll start a hissy fit and won’t let me use parts of the internet, browsers, online only games etc, even though it’ll let me start Steam.

    Even though Starcraft 2 was pirated so was Splinter Cell Conviction, Driver and many more Ubisoft games. Their DRM doesn’t work to stop pirating users so if that’s their reason to use it? Then they might as well stop.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. viralshag

    ^ I too have Virgin media but I have to say I find my time with them has been pretty decent. I’m on the 50mb connection and I can’t say that I have much time without the net due to them.

    My wireless router on the other hand… I don’t know why I haven’t binned the stupid thing yet.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. Yoshi

    ^ As long as I’m gentle and easy with her she seems to work alright but even if I attempt to download from a torrent (completely legit download of course) she begins to fire up the fail orders. But like I said it’s strange as I can use Steam, Steam friends, go on some online games but not others that are online all the time games.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. Old MacDonald

    I’m pretty much in the same boat. I don’t have a good internet connection, but it is always on and it’s not much of a problem. Unless… well, it is.

    Because since my house is right at the end of both the phone line and the electrical line, thunderstorms are always an issue. I am pretty much guaranteed that I will have a number of days every year where there is no internet connection (and that’s ignoring the fact that my provider sometimes have problems on their own).

    It’s easy to go “yeah, but you’ll be okay for most of the time”, but when you’re sitting there without internet for a week and every single game you’re hooked on is on Steam which demands to be online to be able to go offline, you’re screwed and it’s no fun.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. G1GAHURTZ

    @20 & 21:

    Cable broadband > Phone line. (I assume you have a phone line connection, Yoshi.)

    I had 50MB Virgin cable and it worked pretty much perfectly about 99.9% of the time.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. Dralen

    This post is exactly what has always been my greatest fear. That I’m somehow going to be stuck without the internet and I’m not going to be able to play games because of it.

    What the hell are we going to do when there is a zombie apocalypse and there are no Internet Service Providers around? :P

    #24 3 years ago
  25. drewbles82

    Some people may have awesome connections but like to keep a pc that isnt hooked up to the net so they can avoid all the crap that comes with the net like pop ups, virus, spyware etc.

    My business computer is not hooked up to the net, its purely just for photo/video editing.

    I refuse to buy any games that say i gotta be online all the time. Some people like to have pc games etc for those times they cant get on the net with their consoles.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. noherczeg

    All I can say is Torchlight II.

    Any questions?

    #26 3 years ago
  27. Freek

    Witcher 2 removed it’s DRM, still sold a metric fuckton, Torchlight 2, no always on DRM and has LAN play and only costs 20 dollars. Bound to sell allot.

    It simply doesn’t make sense to treat your legitimate customers as criminals, while at the same time the actual criminals play a cracked version anyway!

    #27 3 years ago
  28. Craymen Edge

    I was without internet for internet access for a whole 3 months (including the entire christmas holiday) last year when I moved my broadband from a legacy package to a new tarrif.

    Neither plusnet or BT could figure out what was wrong (or agree on who’s problem it was for that matter), and the only reason I got internet access back after 3 months was because I ended my custom with both companies and went with Cable instead.

    It was a massive pain, and is the reason I’m never going to support always on DRM in my single player games.

    #28 3 years ago
  29. Ireland Michael

    I’m going to admit this freely – I don’t pirate PC games themselves, but I regularly download hacks that allow me to remove the draconian DRM from the games that have this kind of crap on them.

    I bought the game. It is my property. If I’m playing single player, the publisher has no right to stop me. And the law seriously needs to step in regarding this kind of shit.

    #29 3 years ago
  30. DSB

    You know why they’re not gonna do that Michael.

    Publishers have cleverly spun a web where you don’t actually buy a game, you just buy a vessel that the game is on. You own the CD, you own the plastic cover, you own the cheaply printed pamphlet. Fascistsoftivision Arts owns the game, and I’m pretty sure there’s a clause in the EULA where it says they can knock down your door and take it away.

    It’s evil and wrong and all kinds of fucked up.

    I’m pretty sure the kind of realization that happened to PatGar up yonder will happen to most people once they have to face the offline Steam in the event of some kind of internet disaster. It’s painful bloody Hell.

    I’m pretty sure most people who love fascist publishers have run into DRM issues as well, it’s just chíc to bow to your overlord when we’re whining about ‘em all the time.

    @Pat Why don’t you do a story about Ubisoft losing half their earnings in two years on the PC? They essentially lost 40% of their business on the PC after introducing Ubisoft Online Services Platform.

    http://www.ubisoftgroup.com/index.php?p=164

    Seems pretty relevant to me. It’s just that people haven’t bothered to check.

    #30 3 years ago
  31. Yoshi

    @23 I’ve got a 10mb fibre connection

    #31 3 years ago
  32. OlderGamer

    Great write up. I would like to see a lot more attention given to this and other things that are common practice in the games industry that are just plan wrong.

    Personaly I have great internet. Its down less then 3times a year and even then only for a couple of hours at most. But I live in the rual areas where many people don’t have any internet, or very poor connections.

    #32 3 years ago
  33. ruckus

    If it’s DRM’d to hell and back then I have no interest in a game.
    I’m certainly not going to waste my time downloading it and committing the Serious Crime* of copyright infringement.

    If it hits the bargain bins and there’s a load of no dvd cracks for it, then I might still consider buying it and thus playing it.

    *Serious Crimes Act 2007 – such as counterfeiting, fraud, prostitution, money laundering, blackmail and copyright infringement /lobbying at work me thinks

    #33 3 years ago
  34. OlderGamer

    Aren’t DRM cracks(and no DVD cracks etc) also infringments on copyright laws?

    #34 3 years ago
  35. DSB

    @34 You just imploded the skulls of 50 different lawyers by asking that question.

    Depending on the trial, yes and no.

    In Norway you’ll probably win, in the US you’re dead on arrival.

    Obviously any company is free to write and claim and reserve whatever they want on their EULAs, but if they infringe upon other peoples rights, then it’s always going to be invalid. It’s not just a question of constitutional law, but also a question of how it’s enterpreted.

    Head implosion territory.

    #35 3 years ago
  36. Crab of Thunder

    Just to add something to all the reasons for not liking the always on scheme. Some people don’t have an unlimited broadband package, unlikely to be anyone here because we play games a lot. But there are cheaper packages for people who only browse lightly or whatever, so then they only get so many GB’s usage a month and having a need to be online to play would eat that up fast and exceeding it of course means you get charged.

    #36 3 years ago
  37. ruckus

    Surely they’d attack you using the DMCA in the US?_?
    Anyhoo – by using this crap (DRM) they are in fact disconnecting with some of their potential customers completely. Not all will ‘pirate’ it and thus they chance never having that customer return.

    That customer… WAS ME! XD /sorry

    #37 3 years ago
  38. Strange Sultan

    You are right!! i love to play games alone. sometimes yes, i enjoy playing online. but i’ve never bought a game to play it online.

    #38 3 years ago
  39. Ansob

    @14: you do realise that consoles are DRM, right? The publishers get to control what you see and how you see it.

    Oh, and enjoy paying £10-£15 more per game, by the way!

    #39 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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