DRM Strikes Again: Ubisoft Makes Its Own Game Unplayable By Shutting Down DRM Server

from the legit-screwed dept

It’s not exactly a secret that we’ve been very anti-DRM here at Techdirt for some time. It’s honestly perplexing how anyone can be otherwise. DRM has shown time after time to be of almost no hindrance whatsoever for those seeking to pirate video games, but has done an excellent job of hindering those who actually bought the game in playing what they’ve bought. Ubisoft, in particular, has had issues with this over the years, with DRM servers failing and preventing customers from playing games that can no longer ping the DRM server.

And while those instances involved unforeseen downtime or migrations impacting customers’ ability to play their games, this time it turns out that Ubisoft simply stopped supporting the DRM server for Might and Magic X-Legacy. And now basically everyone is screwed.

Last month, Ubisoft decided to end online support for a bunch of older games, but in doing so also brought down the DRM servers for Might and Magic X – Legacy, meaning players couldn’t access the game’s single-player content or DLC.

As Eurogamer reports, fans were not happy, having to cobble together an unofficial workaround to be able to continue playing past a certain point in the single-player. But instead of Ubisoft taking the intervening weeks to release something official to fix this, or reversing their original move to shut down the game’s DRM servers, they’ve decided to do something else.

They have simply removed the game for sale on Steam.

This, of course, does nothing for the people who already bought the game and now suddenly cannot progress through it completely, as all the DLC is non-functional. They can play the game up until a point, but then it just doesn’t work.

There are multiple bad actions on Ubisoft’s part here. First, using DRM like this is a terrible idea with almost no good consequences. But once it’s in use, you would think it would be the obligation of the company to ensure any changes it makes on its end don’t suddenly render purchases made by its customers unplayable. In other words, rather than ending support for a DRM server that nixes parts of a paid-for game, the company could have rolled out patches to remove the DRM completely so that none of this happened. After all, with the game no longer even available as a new purchase, what would be the harm in removing the DRM? And, of course, there’s the total lack of communication to Ubisoft customers about basically all of this.

Which is what has people so understandably pissed.

Players are now understandably pissed, taking to the game’s Steam reviews to leave messages like:

“Doesn’t work anymore. Ubisoft refuses to fix the game. Pathetic.”

“Ubisoft took my money then shut it down.”

“This is theft, and if Steam and the relevant governments are fine about it, it’s legal theft. I will never purchase anything from Ubisoft anymore on principle, even if they decide to try and do something about this mess.”

All because Ubisoft just cannot imagine a world where the DRM its using could just go away, leading to happier paying customers.

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Companies: ubisoft

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Comments on “DRM Strikes Again: Ubisoft Makes Its Own Game Unplayable By Shutting Down DRM Server”

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55 Comments
Samuel Abramsays:

Simple solution:

Just strip the DRM and put it on GOG (or release it by themselves on a website sans DRM. Whichever.).

I’m not a regular Ubisoft customer for the reason that their games don’t appeal to me. Now I can add that they disrespect their customers as well.

Say what you will about Nintendo hating you, at least the Super Smash Bros. Melee you bought 20 years ago will still work on a Gamecube or Wii.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: 'I'm upset!' 'Are you still paying us?' 'Yes' 'Don't care th

This, in a nutshell, is why entertainment companies like EA and Ubisoft still exist. When it comes to smartphones, milk, cereal, cars, and other physical items the consumer can always go "No way am I buying Nestl?. I have ethics. I’ll go with <generic brand X> instead". Not so much if you’re really into the Assassins Creed Franchise, Dragon Age or the Star Wars game series…EA is that one supplier. They can do whatever they like and if the customer complains, fsck ’em – there’ll always be enough suckers to float the brand.

And this breeds a certain type of corporate culture into their marketing, where the customer isn’t the king but the unwashed pleb whose proper position is groveling obeisance.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: 'I'm upset!' 'Are you still paying us?' 'Yes' 'Don't car

Yeah, if you don’t want to support Nestle, you can buy on off-brand imitation that often is of acceptably comparable quality even if you don’t want to switch the type of cereal you want. You want a sports game with all the licenced teams and players? You have one choice, and random made up players and teams is always going to offer you an inferior experience to the one you want. So, the choice is go without or hold your nose and buy the EA game anyway, and most people don’t care enough about all the underlying issue for it to be a problem except in the rare instance when they really mess up.

Consumers do revolt and cause them to change behaviour occasionally (for example Star Wars Battlefront 2’s failure due to them openly ripping players off), but the mainstream public don’t care about most of these issues enough for them to take action.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: 'I'm upset!' 'Are you still paying us?' 'Yes' 'Don't

"So, the choice is go without or hold your nose and buy the EA game anyway…"

And even holding your nose isn’t enough. I know people whom, every six months or so, start getting the urge to buy Dragons Age: Origins because they love the franchise. But alas, not unless you want to dip your PC into the raw sewage which is EA’s Origin launcher.

So every time it just ends with them shrugging and firing up their TPB copy instead.

Now EA knows just how unpopular the intrusive, bug-riddled pos called "Origin" is. Yet they persist in using it, fixing the worst bugs and calling it a day. Because the customer is a peon and there are enough suckers born every minute for their turnover to remain unchallenged.

Sony has taken a solid beating in every hardware endeavor they’ve attempted for exploitative behavior ranging from the ridiculous (cameras only able to use Sony-branded SD’s) to the borderline illegal (all the turns around the PS3). And yet they persist, knowing their part of the console crowd indentured themselves to the Playstation exclusives for perpetuity.

"Voting with your wallet" only works when there are alternatives to be found. It’s no wonder the copyright cult clings to its monopolies with a dead man’s grip.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: 'I'm upset!' 'Are you still paying us?' 'Yes' 'Don't

Yeah, if you don’t want to support Nestle, you can buy on off-brand imitation that often is of acceptably comparable quality even if you don’t want to switch the type of cereal you want. You want a sports game with all the licenced teams and players? You have one choice, and random made up players and teams is always going to offer you an inferior experience to the one you want.

Just as off-brand food "imitations" are going to be inferior to "the one you want", if what you want is the branded product. It’s not a fair comparison. You’re making the assumption that brands are more important in sports than in foods, and I don’t see that as something we can take for granted.

(We could, by the way, make a very similar statement about people "taking the backhands" from sports leagues, many of which have anti-fan policies too.)

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Stating the obvious

"You know who is probably completely unaffected by all this? Anyone who pirated the game. Good going, Ubisoft."

As always the DRM solution only hurts the paying customer. Not that the copyright maximalists will acknowledge the game distributors part of incentivizing pirates.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Stating the obvious

You guys realize you’re both implicitly taking Ubisoft’s side here, right? You’re using "pirate" to refer to the players. Between Ubisoft and the players, I don’t think you’re making the correct call about which group has "taken property" from the other. Neither literally has; but, by my reckoning, Ubisoft’s actions make it more derserving of the label.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: Stating the obvious

"Between Ubisoft and the players, I don’t think you’re making the correct call about which group has "taken property" from the other."

It remains, however, that in order to play the game in the OP you will have to obtain an unlawful copy. Thus "pirate".

The legitimate customer, meanwhile, has long ago clicked the little "I accept" button whereby they allow Ubisoft clearance to recall the ability to actually play what the customer purchased.

Morally speaking your point is on target. Legally however, principles of proportionality and reason can go get fscked, because…copyright law.

If it helps, your reckoning in this case is my conclusion also, but that won’t change legislation.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Stating the obvious

It remains, however, that in order to play the game in the OP you will have to obtain an unlawful copy. Thus "pirate".

Well, you later mention copyright law, and that usually uses the term "infringe" rather than "pirate"?the latter being a term used by those who want restrictive copyright. Regardless of the law, it’s your choice whether you’ll use language that supports the maximalist worldview, rejects it, or is neutral. Historically, such "unofficial" actions have preceded and guided changes to the law (for example, gay-rights supporters stopped using judgmental terms like "sodomy" and "buggery" long before those acts became legal; would they have ever become legal if people had kept using language suggesting immorality?).

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Stating the obvious

"It remains, however, that in order to play the game in the OP you will have to obtain an unlawful copy. Thus "pirate"."

Well, that is debatable and something that’s not been tested in court AFAIK. Supposedly, when you buy a copy of the game you’re not buying a copy as would be understood in the old school physical media sense, you’re merely buying a licence. If this is the case, then you should be authorised to obtain the software in any way you wish so if, for example, you game disc dies due to disk rot then you can legally download the game to use it. The illegal part of piracy is the distribution, not the download, and I dare say that "there was no way for me to legally use the software I bought" would be a great defence in court.

Now, I’m very sure that somewhere in the EULA there’s something that makes you the bad guy for downloading the game you bought from a source that allows you to play it. But, I think that even Ubisoft would think twice about suing people who bought their software for the crime of trying to use it.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

You never own the things you pay for.
I can see no benefit served to the public by allowing a company to decide to kill a game whenever they want.
I can see no benefit served to the public by having laws that make it illegal with crazy penalties if someone wants to strip the DRM so they can still play the game they purchased.

Its happened with movies, games, music, televisions, electronics, playstations, nintendos, Tesla’s…
Perhaps we should demand better, that the law punishes them for removing access to things you purchased & interfere with your enjoyment of them.
Allowing them to keep inventing ways to ensure future profits by allowing them to retain long term control isn’t something that should happen.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re:

"I can see no benefit served to the public by allowing a company to decide to kill a game whenever they want."
"I can see no benefit served to the public by having laws that make it illegal with crazy penalties if someone wants to strip the DRM so they can still play the game they purchased."

I have to remind you of what we always keep telling Baghdad Bob in his various nicks – public benefit has nothing to do with commerce. Regulation only happens (and should only happen) when business models actively generate public harm.

You could argue that monopolization and copyright actively harm the public as a whole as they strip the public of property ownership, suppress creativity and freedom of speech, but…the magnitude of that harm when it comes to games isn’t in itself enough to justify legislative action.

"Perhaps we should demand better, that the law punishes them for removing access to things you purchased & interfere with your enjoyment of them. "

This is a better angle to take; If a company has a DRM solution which allows them to retrieve or shut down property bought by gamers then they should be forbidden to use the word "purchase" and need to be up front that what the customer pays for is a time-limited lease subject to termination at the sole behest of the copyright holder. Normal consumer protection.

I’m pretty sure that if that was the language used companies might have to think twice before using certain types of DRM.

Anonymoussays:

Re:

Allowing them to keep inventing ways to ensure future profits by allowing them to retain long term control isn’t something that should happen.

Especially as they use that control to remove a product from the market to maximize sales of new products. How many films and how much music has been lost because of that control, and loss of master recordings?

K`Tetchsays:

Ubisoft is registered with the Ferengi Commerce Authority, and all complaints should be sent care of the FCA

… where they’ll send it back and charge you for reading it, quoting the following rules of Acquisition

1 – Once you have their Money, you never give it back

17 – A contract is a contract… but only between ferengi

239 – Never be afraid to mislabel a product

299 – After you’ve exploited someone, it never hurts to thank them. That way, it’s easier to exploit them next time

Jeroen Hellingmansays:

The lesson learned...

The lesson learned: you can never buy anything with DRM, until the DRM on the product is fully broken: it is rental at best.

Of the two crimes of supporting a business that uses unfair business practices or the infringement of copyrights held by the same business, the latter is clearly the lesser.

PaulTsays:

One would hope that since this is affecting people in countries with stronger consumer protection laws, they should face some consequences for doing this. They have basically prevented anyone who bought the game legally from using it, which last I checked is at minimum fraud if it was not communicated at the time of "purchase" that it was only a long-term rental. It would be nice to have some legal precedent that forces companies to, at minimum, issue patches to remove DRM when they shut down servers.

In the mean time, the lesson is as always – DRM only affects legal paying customers. Pirates are still playing the game uninterrupted. So, why not just be a pirate next time?

Samuel Abramsays:

Re:

In the mean time, the lesson is as always – DRM only affects legal paying customers. Pirates are still playing the game uninterrupted. So, why not just be a pirate next time?

I?m no pirate, but if you want to know whyI do my PC game shopping mainly from itch.io and GOG, this is one reason why.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re:

For me, it’s basically – console DRM is fine because it doesn’t interfere with any non-gaming activity. DRM on rentals is fine, because I’m not paying for a purchase.

DRM is bad on PC because I’m supposedly buying the product, yet at any time I can either be faced with not accessing what I bought or some some other issue threatens the non-gaming things I use the machine for.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re:

For me, I have a huge GOG library, and I pretty much abandoned PC gaming entirely for various reasons, the main one being that I don’t mind DRM on a dedicated console that won’t cause me security and performance issues since I don’t use it for work or banking.

There’s other reasons, but I’ve not bought a PC game for at least a decade outside of the DRM-free stores, and DRM is the reason why.

PaulTsays:

Re: Hypothetical question

The act of piracy is in the distribution of the game, not in the act of using it, so I presume that someone is in the clear if they use a copy they already have.

I’d imagine that if you paid for a copy that can no longer be used, and you had to resort to piracy to get a working copy since no legal working copy exists, then it could be a defence in court. But, to my knowledge this has never been tested.

Toom1275says:

The Kingdom Hearts mobile game, which collected IAP money for years in exchange for the "medals" needed to be able to keep up with high-tier power creep, recently shut down all online function and completely deleted from the game all the gameplay features and inventory players had built up and paid for all these years. All that remains is a "dress-up" various cosmetic packs, and a gameplay-free "theater mode" of just the cutscenes.

Anonymoussays:

Most console games that have online modes eg sports and driving games switch off online servers after 3 years so you can only play offline single player modes
Some games that have single player modes require an online connection to play the game
As tech advances it will become harder to play console games
without an online connection
Companys prefer to sell the latest new game than support older games

christensonsays:

Ubisoft Hates You...

So, from a moral standpoint, Ubisoft sold a game and pulled the plug after a few years, effectively making a strong argument that piracy is a good thing.

Legal Question:
Is that actually within their terms of service, which I bet most consumers did not read? Is there a deceptive practices angle for a class action suit or mass arbitration request?

PaulTsays:

Re: Ubisoft Hates You...

The fact that they’re still apparently selling software that they have prevented from working should be a good basis for a suit. The real question is something that’s not been tested very well in court – how much can they put in a EULA and still get away with it? In countries with a robust consumer protection atmosphere, I don’t think that having an obscure clause that puts a guaranteed unspecified time limit on usage of a purchase is good enough, but we’ll only see if this does make it to the courts.

Davidsays:

Re: Re: Ubisoft Hates You...

The appliance market these days has import products that will break within few months under frequent but normal use, standard brand products for three times the price that will break within two to three times the mandated minimum warranty time, and high-priced brand products for yet again double the price that are not specifically designed to break under normal use.

Software is sort-of different here because it is covered by copyright. Books have a chance to be still readable after the copyright runs out. Musical record media have become a lot more iffish. Software? Forget it. Not just because of DRM.

The laws really do not match the problem space a whole lot.

Rekrulsays:

Re: Ubisoft Hates You...

Legal Question:
Is that actually within their terms of service, which I bet most consumers did not read? Is there a deceptive practices angle for a class action suit or mass arbitration request?

Every single piece of software ever sold, without exception, includes a clause in the EULA that says in effect that there are no guarantees as to whether or not the software will actually work.

Whether or not such things would hold up in court is an untested question.

Anonymoussays:

Thanks for reminding me

I like games… I have nearly 8000 on Steam and intend to continue to buy them… I just added Ubisoft to my ignore list.
Sure I’ll add a game if I get it from a bundle (which I might just add a negative review for), but I won’t be making intentional purchases of games published by Ubisoft anymore…
Ubisoft… if you’re listening… Stop taking away my ability to play games I’ve already purchased! Fix them and I might consider un-ignoring you again…

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