Saturday, January 14th 2012

Anno 2070's Draconian DRM: Guru3D's Graphics Card Review Killed Off

Anno 2070's Draconian DRM: Guru3D's Graphics Card Review Killed Off (UPDATED)

Hilbert Hagedoorn of well-known PC tech review site guru3d.com recently bought a copy of Ubisoft's Anno 2070 and wanted to use it in one of his graphics card reviews. However, he became badly unstuck. This game comes on the Steam platform and the store page states: "3rd-party DRM: Solidshield Tages SAS 3 machine activation limit". Unfortunately for Guru3D, they found out exactly what this means, which resulted in just one performance graph, an aborted review, an unplayable game – and bad publicity for Ubisoft once again. They have published an article about their experience, pledging not to use their titles again because of this DRM.

The DRM in this game works in a similar way to Microsoft's product activation, in that it creates a hash value from certain key hardware components such as the motherboard, CPU, HDD (including mere partition changes!) and graphics cards among others, then uses this information to decide if the hardware has changed sufficiently to require a reactivation. It's that last one which caused the problem: Guru3D ran out of activations when swapping out graphics cards. Ubisoft claim in their FAQ (for Anno 1404, none available for Anno 2070, should be the same) that an email to their support department will grant you a new activation, completely hassle-free. They say this twice, in fact:
Question: How often can I activate my game?
Answer: To start with, you can activate your game on three different PC configurations – if you have used up these activations, simply contact our Support team who will provide you with further activations free of charge and without hassle.
and:
Question: I have already used the activation for three different PC configurations – can I get further activations?
Answer: Yes, if you do require further activations, please contact the Support team. They will provide you with new activations free of charge and without hassle.
However, in practice, this is certainly not what happens. Hagerdoorn sent Ubisoft support an email requesting a reactivation, but still hasn't heard back from them. Then he contacted Ubisoft's marketing department, where he tells us:
When contacting Ubisoft marketing here in the Netherlands, their reply goes like this: 'Sorry to disappoint you - the game is indeed restricted to 3 hardware changes and there simply is no way to bypass that. We also do not have 7 copies of the game for you'.

I'm sorry, but I am not about to purchase the title seven times to make a review that by default benefits Ubisoft sales.

Welcome to PC gaming Anno 2012.

Please find the results of our massive VGA performance review below on the one chart. With one hand in the air I wave to Ubisoft, more puzzled about this then anything.
Given that what it says in the FAQ is at odds with what actually happens, since the customer gets significantly less than what was promised – getting stuck with an unplayable game - then Guru3D have a right to a refund, since the product isn't fit for purpose and we believe that they should pursue it.

Unsurprisingly, Guru3D's wonderful experience has been picked up elsewhere, among them Softpedia, who reported on it here and then an interesting follow-up here. In the second article, they point out four major problems with Ubisoft's super duper DRM that we believe are highly valid. We present a summary of their points here:


1 The reviewing community will be more than frustrated

The games won't be used for reviews, removing free publicity for them. In fact, there will be a notable absence of games employing this DRM, if it spreads. If the reviewer decides to jump through the reactivation hoops or buys extra copies (just sounds wrong, doesn't it?) they will voice their dissatisfaction. Loudly.


2 The new DRM can damage the consumer hardware market if other developers imitate it

The hardware lock-ins that these games impose will get more significant if this DRM is used by others such as EA, id Software etc, making the hardware market suffer. This will happen, because gamers won't want to change their hardware at all if they fear that they will lose their games. However, this doesn't seem that likely to happen in practice for a couple of reasons. The hardware manufacturers such as AMD won't be happy in getting caught in the crossfire and will likely have something to say about this. The other reason is that piracy will likely skyrocket and real sales this time will actually go down significantly.


3 Game piracy will actually gain a measure of justification

This one we feel is worth quoting in full:
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in the United States back in 1998 in order to impose criminal penalties on those who spread means meant to circumvent content protection technologies.

That was (arguably) all well and good, but game developers quickly found that piracy wasn't going anywhere, so they started inventing more and more ways to fight it.

Always-on DRM (which demands constant Internet connection for permission to play single-player games) was among the most controversial, though, fortunately, it is losing steam.

This new measure that Ubisoft cooked up may actually top it. In fact, this new DRM outright justifies piracy to a greater extent than some may realize.

As we have already mentioned, few people, if any, will actually feel that a game (and, by extension, a game developer) has the right to dictate how many times they are allowed to upgrade their PC.

As such, when they run out of activations, there will be no sort of moral qualms about going online and getting a cracked version, regardless of the supposed possibility to reset the activation limit.

Why bother calling support each time you buy a new hardware component, when you can just overwrite a couple of files and be spared the headache forever?

Yes, as absurd as it sounds, this DRM can actually make people who bought the game decide to get a cracked version even if the original already rests in their desk drawer.

We don't endorse piracy – if you like a game enough to play it, you should like it enough to buy it – but red lights start to blare when game developers practically encourage it themselves, unwittingly or otherwise.

The jump from there to getting the pirated game from the start is very small. Whether Ubisoft likes it or not, it is encouraging people to resort to piracy instead of discouraging this tendency.
Yes, game developers dictating if and when you're allowed to upgrade your PC! Indeed, talk about giving potential customers a strong motive to pirate your product.


4 Game developers would be better off just making their titles worth buying

Piracy will never really go away, so quit worrying about what DRM you want to infect your product with and just make it DRM-free and good, then the customers will come. If DRM must be used, then don't get so draconian over it and put in something creative, such as an invincible enemy to thrash copyists around, as was included in Serious Sam 3.

These are Softpedia's four points and we would like to add that it has been well and truly proven by the DRM-free gog.com site and the various DRM-free music sites such as Amazon, that you can run a successful business without imposing DRM and make it more successful than with it.

The four points above seem quite reasonable to us and we hope, our readers too. Also, when reading that Anno 1404 FAQ, note how many hoops the hapless honest customer has to jump through just to play their game. Quite an off-putting proposition, isn't it? Might as well just buy another game that doesn't impose this garbage on you... Of course, 'pirates' have no such problems and can run the game stripped of all its DRM. Mind you, they might get malware infected games this way, so this isn’t so clever either, regardless of the morality of getting a dodgy copy.

As usual, we recommend to boycott purchasing the game over this issue, but just as importantly, don't download a dodgy copy, either. That way, Ubisoft go down in flames without being able to point the finger at 'pirates' and they'll be forced to remove this ridiculous DRM.

Well then, despite its graphical excellence, along with Guru3D, this looks like one game that certainly won't be used as a review benchmark on TechPowerUp, a significant review site on the PC enthusiast tech scene.

Ubisoft: well done in alienating your best possible promoters, all in the name of fighting 'piracy'. For shame.

UPDATE

Guru3D have now updated their article with the following:
Update monday Jan 16 - 2012:

We have been contacted by bluebyte over the weekend, the company that developed the Anno series. Our key has been pretty much unlocked allowing us to properly work on this article. To be continued ....
It would be nice to know a bit more detail, such as has the three machine limit been removed completely, etc. Still though, it seems unreasonable to have to jump through these bureaucratic hoops along with the wasted time and frustration just to play a game, or benchmark with it as in this case.
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81 Comments on Anno 2070's Draconian DRM: Guru3D's Graphics Card Review Killed Off

#1
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
Thanks to treehouse for this great news tip! :toast:
Posted on Reply
#3
newtekie1
Semi-Retired Folder
I'm ok with DRM when implemented and handled properly. Activation limits are fine as long as there is a quick and easy way for the consumer to re-activate when the need arises. It sounds like Ubisoft tried to do that, but didn't follow through, at least not if you try to email support for a response. Though the whole situation just started Thursday, so it has only been 48 hours that he has been waiting for a response to receive his extra activations. Also, why email them and sit and wait in the queue for a response? They give you a phone number in the manual for a reason, use it and get an instant response and instantly get re-activated, and I bet it isn't nearly as big of a deal if you do that.

by: Wrigleyvillain
Their games suck anyway.
Actually Anno 2070 is a pretty bad ass game, so is the Assassin's Creed series.
Posted on Reply
#4
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
by: newtekie1
Also, why email them and sit and wait in the queue for a response? They give you a phone number in the manual for a reason, use it and get an instant response and instantly get re-activated, and I bet it isn't nearly as big of a deal if you do that.
Have you tried phoning them for a reactivation then? Did they reset you on the spot? That would help mitigate the problem somewhat, but is still a pain in the ass that I don't feel people should have to go through. The way Steam does it is way better. Period.

EDIT: I've just remembered that Ubisoft's marketing department told guru3d that it's three activations and that's it. A far cry from what the FAQ says, which makes all the difference.
Posted on Reply
#5
LAN_deRf_HA
Pirating isn't always so appealing either. Looking this up on the bay it seems like it's one of those everyone is having a zillion problems releases, and no crack for the latest patch. Though maybe the increased attention from this will make it happen.

by: newtekie1
Actually Anno 2070 is a pretty bad ass game, so is the Assassin's Creed series.
Assassins creed is a terrible game. I could barely tolerate it for 5 minutes. It's the embodiment of dull and watered down you always get when you don't trust the intelligence of your audience. Though unfortunately they're usually right to doubt the consumers intelligence.
Posted on Reply
#6
xenocide
Anno 2070 is not a bad ass game, between the terrible DRM, and the fact that it runs on a single thread the game is just not fun to play. I was excited to try it out, but the more I read about it the more I heard it was just not worth the time, money, and frustration.
Posted on Reply
#7
jalex3
I have not bought a Ubistink game in years, even if its DRM free I refuse to give them as cent.
I upgrade hardware often and would like to use my games on my other computers.

If games like theme hosptial and the old medal of honor games, had this DRM I would had to chuck the discs years ago.

I don't care you can contact them about it, You should not have to.

(NOTE: Not buying it does not mean I pirate it. It is stupid to add the to statistic that only supports their use of this crap.)
Posted on Reply
#8
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
by: jalex3
(NOTE: Not buying it does not mean I pirate it. It is stupid to add the to statistic that only supports their use of this crap.)
Exactly. I agree with your whole post, but this bit is especially important. Just vote with your wallet and they'll go down in flames.
Posted on Reply
#9
hat
Maximum Overclocker
I thought Ubisoft promised to stop with the overly excessive DRM bullshit not too long ago?
Posted on Reply
#10
entropy13
by: hat
I thought Ubisoft promised to stop with the overly excessive DRM bullshit not too long ago?
That's the "always-online" DRM, which they did stop using.
Posted on Reply
#11
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
by: hat
I thought Ubisoft promised to stop with the overly excessive DRM bullshit not too long ago?
Also, weren't Ubisoft the ones that released some game DRM-free, saw it copied all over the place, yet still sold handsomely, yet they bitched about it and said never again?

If someone can google for an article on this (I'm feeling lazy after the effort of writing this article, lol) then that would help for future articles on them.
Posted on Reply
#12
DrPepper
The Doctor is in the house
by: hat
I thought Ubisoft promised to stop with the overly excessive DRM bullshit not too long ago?
Never trust the french.
Posted on Reply
#13
entropy13
by: qubit
Also, weren't Ubisoft the ones that released some game DRM-free, saw it copied all over the place, yet still sold handsomely, yet they bitched about it and said never again?

If someone can google for an article on this (I'm feeling lazy after the effort of writing this article, lol) then that would help for future articles on them.
Well, I got this one.
Posted on Reply
#14
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
by: entropy13
Well, I got this one.
Thanks, but it's not quite what I was thinking of. It was totally DRM-free with no catches and despite the sales, they still weren't happy. :rolleyes:
Posted on Reply
#15
Live OR Die
This is what cracks are for when crappy company's do this you turn to cracks
Posted on Reply
#16
Liquid Cool
UbiSoft? Is this the company that ruined Far Cry?

LC
Posted on Reply
#17
mediasorcerer
Well done qubit great catch mate, thanks for staying on all this terrible corporate advantage taking of consumers who just want to pay the money and have a good time, not be utterly flabbergasted by malignant corporate whiplash policy that critically effects our ability to consume and enjoy, a privelege we PAY FOR .

It is not our fault there are pirates out there who copy, stop dumping it on us ubisoftcocks!!!:nutkick:
Posted on Reply
#18
newtekie1
Semi-Retired Folder
by: qubit
Have you tried phoning them for a reactivation then? Did they reset you on the spot? That would help mitigate the problem somewhat, but is still a pain in the ass that I don't feel people should have to go through. The way Steam does it is way better. Period.

EDIT: I've just remembered that Ubisoft's marketing department told guru3d that it's three activations and that's it. A far cry from what the FAQ says, which makes all the difference.
Most people won't go through it, and the rare instance they do phoning them up and resetting the activations isn't a big deal. I do it daily with Windows, it is a fine system.

And I really don't care what the marketing department says, they aren't tech support, they don't have the power to reset activations, and hence what they say doesn't matter. And because Hilbert Hagedoorn couldn't be bothered to call tech support and instead made a big write-up because they didn't return an email instantly we really don't know the real answer.

And since I don't own the game, I can't exactly call to have it re-activated. That should be an avenue the person writing the article bashing the system should have done before writing the article bashing they system...

Generally though when I see "Contact technical support" I don't think "I'll email them and should get an instant response."
Posted on Reply
#19
silkstone
by: qubit
Have you tried phoning them for a reactivation then? Did they reset you on the spot? That would help mitigate the problem somewhat, but is still a pain in the ass that I don't feel people should have to go through. The way Steam does it is way better. Period.

EDIT: I've just remembered that Ubisoft's marketing department told guru3d that it's three activations and that's it. A far cry from what the FAQ says, which makes all the difference.
What happens to people in non-european countries or countries without a ubisoft office? International calls every time you want to re-activate? No thanks.
Posted on Reply
#20
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
by: newtekie1
And since I don't own the game, I can't exactly call to have it re-activated.
Ok, it seemed like you owned it, from your previous reply.

Yes, you have a point about the phone activation. However, if you go to the Ubisoft support page linked to in the English language FAQ, you notice two things:

1 It's in German! (well, it's not English, put it that way ;) )

2 There doesn't appear to be a phone number or email address

This is hardly hassle-free and this very much gives the impression of a company that doesn't care about its customers.

Also, silkstone makes a very good point:

by: silkstone
What happens to people in non-european countries or countries without a ubisoft office? International calls every time you want to re-activate? No thanks.
Posted on Reply
#21
Solaris17
Creator Solaris Utility DVD
Man I really want to play this. it looks really sweet.
Posted on Reply
#22
vrdublu
by: DrPepper
Never trust the french.
The most idiotic statement of this entire post. Ohh and btw, " a lot" is not one word, genius. :slap: I know this and English is my second language.
Posted on Reply
#23
Jack Doph
Query..

Q.. with all due respect Sir, I cannot find anything you refer to in regards to Ubisoft's online support being as difficult as you state. In fact, all my searches have revealed everything easy to use (complete with tutorials on how to use Tech Support), perfectly fine in English, as well as their European Main office's site being in Dutch (which Mr Hagedoorn has no probs with, naturally), not German.
Perhaps you can provide a link to satisfy my curiosity if nothing else? :P

Piracy will always have more questions than answers associated with it in regards to getting around such an issue as you've mentioned. Even in Real Life™ one finds examples of blatant transgressions (I won't point and stare at China..), yet no progress seems to be stifled, as it can never be eradicated fully.

I do feel compelled to add: Guru3D is a great site that I've enjoyed for a great many years, but they also fall prey to being part of the 'sensationalism' crowd to boost or bolster their image, all for the sake of a few more potential hits on their site (which is heavily ad-sponsored, albeit for a good reason).
More exposure == more hits == more money from advertisers; et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum :/
In my, obviously no so humble, opinion this is driven by oh-mighty-dollar, rather than truly having the end-user in mind - regardless of the camp you're part of.

Great awareness raiser though ;)
Posted on Reply
#24
Dj-ElectriC
All i care is that massive 44% difference in performance at 2560X1600 :laugh:
Posted on Reply
#25
entropy13
Why don't Ubisoft just give up? They're Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys FFS! :laugh:

Wiki page here.

More informative, TVTropes page here.
Posted on Reply
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