Ubisoft Entertainment (EPA:UBI) announced on Wednesday that it is abandoning its controversial always-online digital rights management (DRM) practices for PC games.
In an interview with British gaming website "Rock, Paper, Shotgun," Stephanie Perotti, Ubisoft's worldwide director for online games, said that the company has "listened to feedback" and decided that it will "only require a one-time online activation when you first install the game, and from then you are free to play the game offline."
DRM has been a controversial issue since the early beginnings of the video game industry, pitting consumers against software developers and publishers over who has more control over proper use of a product. Publishers like Ubisoft and Blizzard have come under fire in particular for featuring these types of "always-online" requirements that force players to have a consistent internet connection and be logged into the company's proprietary web platform (Uplay and Battle.net, respectively), a feature that dramatically limits players' access to games and frustrated gamers who lost progress whenever a broken connection suddenly kicked them off a game server.
To justify stringent measures that control how consumers access their products such as online activation, always-online requirements, or copy protected files (something even Apple dropped from iTunes as far back as 2009), publishers like Ubisoft have often reasoned that DRM is the only effective way to prevent piracy.
Journalists and critics like John Walker at RPS, meanwhile, countered that all DRM really does is discredit legitimate customers by depriving them of any genuine ownership of the products they buy. Piracy, these critics often reason, is inevitable. Making the customers who are actually willing to pay for your product suffer for someone else's sins is, in another critic's words, "draconian."
Speaking to Walker in May about the possible benefits of DRM for a game like "Diablo III," he was quick to answer: there aren't any. Forcing players to participate online may give them access to unique features like a community to engage with in the game, but in return, he argued, users were giving up any "notion of ownership" over their own games.
Ubisoft, for its part, remained suspiciously silent when asked to present any figures about the extent of piracy it claimed it was preventing. Though in Wednesday's interview, the company did admit that it had quietly removed DRM from its PC games in June of last year, presumably holding off a formal announcement until the success of the relaxed measures had been tested.
"Whenever you want to reach any online service, multiplayer, you will have to be connected, and obviously for online games you will also need to be online to play," Ubisoft's representative said of the new standards. "But if you want to enjoy Assassin's Creed III single player, you will be able to do that without being connected. And you will be able to activate the game on as many machines as you want."
Despite relaxing its policies over a year ago, Ubisoft had continued to defend its anti-piracy measures until now, even telling PC Gamer in July of 2011 (a month after it apparently abandoned DRM) that the access control systems were "a success" for the company.