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.
Add your own comment

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

#1
ViperXTR
Rayman, FarCry 1, Sands of Time, Warrior Within, Two Thrones (Starforce) good tiemz :D
Posted on Reply
#2
ET3D
Game developers would be better off just making their titles worth buying
It's not the developers who demand the DRM, it's the publishers. It's unfortunate that people don't make this distinction.

Regarding the DRM, Ubisoft should take a clue from Microsoft. Just changing a single piece of hardware shouldn't cause a license problem. I changed graphics cards twice and the CPU and Vista didn't even blink. I once changed MB+CPU+graphics on XP and had to call Microsoft, but that was sorted out without a problem. People should be allowed to change any number of graphics cards without this requiring a new activation.

This DRM is basically equivalent to renting the game. You know that at some point in the future you will no longer be able to play it. Many gamers upgrade often, and for them that time will come sooner. At least provide a way to deactivate, like Mass Effect did. Not perfect, either, but I can accept it better.
Posted on Reply
#3
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
ET3D said:
It's not the developers who demand the DRM, it's the publishers. It's unfortunate that people don't make this distinction.

Regarding the DRM, Ubisoft should take a clue from Microsoft. Just changing a single piece of hardware shouldn't cause a license problem. I changed graphics cards twice and the CPU and Vista didn't even blink. I once changed MB+CPU+graphics on XP and had to call Microsoft, but that was sorted out without a problem. People should be allowed to change any number of graphics cards without this requiring a new activation.

This DRM is basically equivalent to renting the game. You know that at some point in the future you will no longer be able to play it. Many gamers upgrade often, and for them that time will come sooner. At least provide a way to deactivate, like Mass Effect did. Not perfect, either, but I can accept it better.
I agree with your post - Ubisoft should be reasonable the way Microsoft are and there would be no problem. I myself have activated Windows many times over the phone just fine.

However, for your first line, really it doesn't matter who demands it, the end result is that the customer is stuck with DRM, so the distinction isn't all that important. I wouldn't buy products with such DRM, regardless of whether it was the publisher or the developer that demanded it.
Posted on Reply
#4
xenocide
I acknowledge the problem is with the Publishers, but Developers need to start throwing their weight around, and stop allowing Publishers to completely control them.
Posted on Reply
#5
ET3D
I think publishers usually have the developers by the balls, unfortunately. I agree that in terms of boycotting a DRM it doesn't matter if it's the publisher or developer who wanted that DRM, but it's still better to put the blame where it should go.
Posted on Reply
#6
DannibusX
Most developers that I can think of really can't throw their weight around, after all they're wholly owned subsidiaries of the publisher, or the publisher is funding their entire project.
Posted on Reply