Ubisoft is responsible for some damn fine games. Unfortunately, the company is also responsible for just about the worst DRM solution imaginable to protect said great games on the PC, and because of the system in place, the only people who will be able to play the majority of Ubisoft's games on the platform next week will be the pirates. Good job, Ubi!
What It Is
In the barest of terms, Ubisoft's PC's offerings — minus some of the company's biggest titles — require that you always be online to play, even if you are playing a single-player game by your lonesome. This means that folks who have a poor Internet connection, are out on the road, are serving in the military overseas or who don't have access all the time on their form factor of choice, such as a laptop, are S.O.L. It also means that while playing, an interruption — even a brief one — in service will kick you out of the game your playing, sometimes causing you to lose progress.
Ubisoft calls this always-on approach its Online Services Platform (hereafter OSP), and its tissue-thin justification is that players are getting more value for their buck thanks to auxiliary services, such as never having to put in a CD-ROM (I can't remember the last time I bought a CD, what with how mature digital distribution is on the PC), and having access to Ubisoft's Uplay service, which gives you tokens for your in-game achievements that can be traded for Ubisoft-exclusive extras that aren't worth the price of OSP's admission.
Why It Sucks
Since OSP forces you to be online all the time no matter what you're doing, next week when Ubisoft does a little server migration, a lot of the company's PC games are going to go dark. Worse yet, the company knows the migration will start next Tuesday, Feb 7, but doesn't know when it'll end.
From game blog Eurogamer:
PC games scheduled to go dark include Tom Clancy's HAWX 2, Might & Magic: Heroes 6 and The Settlers 7.
Mac gamers will lose access to Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell Conviction and The Settlers.
Uplay on PC will fall offline completely, although other PC games not mentioned above will remain playable offline if already connected at least once.
Top titles Assassin's Creed: Revelations and Driver: Francisco will remain playable online throughout the server move across PC and all console platforms.
What really steams my clams is that Ubisoft has caved and repealed OSP from some of its own big-ticket titles (which is why they remain playable), but instead keeps it on smaller games from smaller developers published by Ubisoft, such as The Settlers 7 by Blue Byte Software.
Blue Byte recently put out Anno 2070, the futuristic sequel to mercantile simulator Anno 1404, which in turn claimed dozens of hours of my life. 2070 uses OSP DRM (something 1404 didn't have before it), and even though it's not listed by Eurogamer you can bet your biscuits it'll be down, too. In fact, 2070 launched with even more restrictive DRM rules than OSP prescribes, which brought more criticism and caused more embarrassment for Ubi. In the end, it was Blue Byte that came to the rescue, not the stoic Ubi.
[UPDATE: Don't bet your biscuits yet, apparently Anno 2070 will be playable after all.]
I've never been able to reach Germany's Blue Byte to comment directly on this (and the studio's website currently looks like this, and has for a while), but I can't imagine this super restrictive, super unpopular DRM is doing Blue Byte any favors, a company that has put out a ton of well-loved games that are now hidden behind Ubi's iron curtain.
Barrier to Entry
Best case scenario, Ubi's server migration takes a solitary minute and no one notices. Even then — and that's not going to happen — it doesn't excuse OSP or Ubi's approach to PC gaming. Especially at a time when more often than note gaming studios, while acknowledging that piracy is a huge problem, are saying that DRM is not the answer. The bottom line is that this server outage and the disconnects that happen during play because of Ubi's insistence on always-on DRM is something that a pirate wouldn't have to put up with. It's forcing paying customers in a walled-in dystopia that only hurts them, offers no real value and doesn't do anything to keep pirates from torrenting the game, cracking it, and playing it more freely than someone paying for the privilege.
I'm one of those paying customers who suffer under OSP. I love The Settlers 7, when Ubisoft allows me to play. I want to pick up Anno 2070, being such a huge fan of 1404, but there's no real point in buying it before next week's blackout, is there?
You know your in trouble when your own FAQ has a question like the one directly below, which is pulled from Ubi's question and answer page for OSP in the U.K.:
Why is Ubisoft forcing their loyal customers to sign up for a Ubisoft account when they don't want to give their private data and only play single player games?
We hope that customers will feel as we do, that signing up for an account will offer them exceptional gameplay and services that are not available otherwise.
Are you a loyal customer who is affected? Disgruntled by OSP? Not bothered at all? Straight up boycotting? Let us know in the comments below.