Report: Ubisoft Releases Patch That Removes ‘Always On’ DRM Requirement

It may have been the most draconian and ill-advised copy protection of a copyrighted product since the Sony Rootkit scandal, but now, reports are surfacing that says that Ubisoft has released a patch for the games (including Assassin’s Creed 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction) affected by the infamous “always on” DRM system. The patch will no longer require a constant internet connection, but will still require an internet connection every time the game is turned on.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Ubisoft made headlines back in August last year over a highly controversial DRM system which they ultimately backed off and used Steam for their products. The controversy began when games like Assassin’s Creed 2 required a constant internet connection to play. The, at the time, new copy protection, or DRM, was hailed as a breakthrough in stopping piracy when it was released – that finally there was a copy protection that would stump video game pirates in their tracks.

It all went downhill from there for Ubisoft.

Just 24 hours after the game was released, the copy protection was cracked and then re-cracked to defeat the copy protection just 24 hours after the commercial release. This allowed the unauthorized downloading and playing of the video game anyway. Many were already pointing out that the constant internet connection of the game for authorized copy was really degrading the gaming experience – particularly for those with flaky internet connections. This meant that those who had the pirated version enjoyed smooth single-player action while those with authorized copies would have the game freeze on them in mid-play whenever their connection gave out. As one could imagine, fans of the game were furious over having such a highly strict copy protection while the same system wasn’t stopping pirates from playing the that game. In short, why should I put up with the game constantly freezing on me because of the DRM when I can go download the pirated version on BitTorrent and basically improve the performance by defeating the copy protection instead?

The issue went from bad to worse for Ubisoft. Shortly after the game was cracked, the servers responsible for the DRM went down. This caused the perfect storm for Ubisoft. Everyone with unauthorized copies were playing their games without a hitch while everyone who legally paid for the game found themselves locked out. If you paid for the game, you were punished for it. If you were pirating the game, you were rewarded handsomely in comparison. Assassin’s Creed 2, as we pointed out when the story was initially making headlines, will probably go down in history as a shining example of how DRM can ruin the gaming experience. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that this is an incident Ubisoft would rather forget.

Shortly after the controversy erupted, Ubisoft did back off and start using Steam for the games, but the copy protection issue remained for other versions. Now, a report has surfaced saying that Ubisoft has released a patch for the games affected by the “always on” copy protection. The patch drops the requirement for a constant internet connection and, instead, requires an internet connection for starting up the game. This means that after you boot the game properly, you can shut off your internet connection and still enjoy the game if you so choose.

While some are commending Ubisoft for taking a step in the right direction, I’d say the damage has already been done for disenfranchised users who now think that Ubisoft games don’t work. Maybe it shows my age a little, but I think that requiring an internet connection for playing a video game in a single player mode is excessive and ridiculous. Even with copy protection, shouldn’t the only internet connection requirement be for authenticating the game? When someone buys a game and plays it in single player mode, that copy isn’t going to magically become pirated on their own. The company made their money on that copy, leave the user alone I’d say.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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