DRM protection in games is often controversial, but Ubisoft's PC games have a record of shipping with restrictive, always-on activation that strikes a particular sore spot with gamers.
In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Chris Early, VP of Digital Publishing at Ubisoft, acknowledged that including anti-piracy measures in games is a tricky balancing act that, if done poorly, can cause problems for players who purchased their games legally. Early added that while the company very clearly desires that players pay for their content, they understand the need to avoid alienating players.
Is it fair for someone to enjoy our content without us receiving some value for that? I think at the core of that is, no. "Otherwise, other than works of charity, there would be few games made. The balance, however, is, how do we do anything about that and not harm the person who is giving us value for that?
That's been the delicate balance that the industry has walked over time. It continues to be one that we grapple with as an industry. How do we create content and receive good value for that, and at the same time, not inconvenience the player who has given us value there?
Very few players would argue that Ubisoft has yet mastered the art of not inconveniencing customers. "I don't know that there is a perfect answer today," Early added, explaining that no one has "a single, good answer yet" and that the problem was complex. There are nearly as many approaches to DRM as there are publishers of games, with a small handful developers beginning to skip content protection altogether.
Ultimately, Early suggested, the best solution for Ubisoft in the future would be to "create enough value that the need for DRM goes away." He cited "MMO systems" as a way of creating continuous, constant content updates that create strong incentives for players to own legitimately sourced games:
The question is, with enough on-going content development, content release, engagement at the community level, can we create that kind of MMO value system? I think we can. As the rest of the game industry continues to evolve, the more you hear about cloud gaming, the more you hear about companion gaming, the less a pirated game should work in all of that environment. So, therefore the value of that pirated content becomes less.
It is slowly becoming understood across the media landscape that the best way to get consumers to pay for your product, instead of pirating it, is to make it simply, readily, easily, and affordably available on platforms the consumers are willing to use. The question then becomes, in gaming: how willing are consumers essentially to become subscribers to, rather than owners of, their single player games? We're only just now beginning to find out.