Printing Error Shows Flaw In 'Lock-It-Up' Video Game Business Model

from the clerical-error dept

It should come as no surprise to Techdirt readers that many people within the games industry hate used game sales. One of the methods these companies are implementing to fight these sales is to force buyers of used games to pay extra to gain access to the multiplayer portion. This works by inserting a one time use code in the new copies of games. Once the multiplayer code has been used, only the owner of the console used to activate it can access the multiplayer parts of the game. If that player decides to later sell or give away the game, the new owner would have to buy a new multiplayer code from the publisher, generally $10. So far EA, THQ, Ubisoft and Activision have dabbled in this system for various games.

It should also come as no surprise that such a system has a major weakness, the printing error.

Edge Magazine is reporting Ubisoft’s first foray into this new system has hit a road block. XBox 360 versions of Driver: San Fransisco were shipped to North America with a misprinted multiplayer code. Reports indicate the 360 is expecting a 25-character code, but the insert only contains a 19-character code. This results in an invalid code error when trying to redeem it. In response to this unforeseen (at least to Ubisoft) incident, Ubisoft is making the multiplayer portions of Driver free for all players worldwide, at least for 360 owners. There is no word on if this free multiplayer will be available for PS3 or PC owners.

In the end, it makes you wonder how, after 30+ years of printing registration codes inside PC games, such a system could fail so badly when translated to console games. 

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Companies: ubisoft

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Comments on “Printing Error Shows Flaw In 'Lock-It-Up' Video Game Business Model”

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AdamR (profile) says:

“In the end, it makes you wonder how after 30+ years of printing registration codes inside PC games that such a system could fail so badly when translated to console games. “

Simple…GREED.. Now they deflect this utter disaster and blame piracy as the reason why they need the codes in the first place. I guess not enough blood, sweat and tears went into the code panel.

Eugene (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Another reason is that these companies have zero memory. Every time a game is released, there’s a massive brain drain in the form of layoffs. The only people who stay are the ones being paid the most – which happen to be the administrators with no idea how to actually make video games or probably even use computers. So the people who knew how to do this back in the day are no longer there. Hell, they’re probably not even in the video game industry anymore. Most video game programmers aren’t career-people, they stay in the field for about 5 to 7 years and then they go “Fuck it, I’m finding a place that respects me” and peace out of the whole industry.

AdamR (profile) says:

“In the end, it makes you wonder how after 30+ years of printing registration codes inside PC games that such a system could fail so badly when translated to console games. “

Simple…GREED.. Now they deflect this utter disaster and blame piracy as the reason why they need the codes in the first place. I guess not enough blood, sweat and tears went into the code panel.

QA says:

Re: Re: Re:

I am not surprised. I work in the QA industry and it is not uncommon that the test codes (invalid/valid) are supplied to them during the software testing phase.

You assumption is that once it goes to the printer it is retested.

The main problem here is time and money. QA is largely considered a liability since they do not produce anything that generates income. Testing the product install/reinstall from a printed copy is a very valid test, but depending on the views of the company it may have been deemed too expensive.

I wish more companies could see the value that QA does bring and in this case perhaps it actually would have saved money by doing so.

This is all speculation in this case since we do not know what happened first hand.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’d call it a flaw in the business model. They’re adding unnecessary redundancies in an attempt to curb a market that’s vary beneficial to them. When you add unnecessary redundancies to a system that’s already complex enough, things start getting overlooked. When you add unnecessary redundancies that the people down the line know are damaging, things start getting ignored.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The flaw being that Ubisoft (and EA and all those other big game publishers) treat their paying customers as thieving scum. That’s the flaw in their business model.

They are so obsessed over a couple of pirated copies that they’ll risk their own goodwill, their own company and their own fans to get to them. At all costs.

Piracy might have an effect on their bottom line, though I have yet to see proof of it. Usually the big ticket items, the ones that already sell like hot cakes are also the ones highly pirated. So I don’t really see a benefit for them to go after these ‘pirates’.

Well, in any case, they have lost me as a paying customer, in fact I don’t play their games at all anymore. I’m much more willing to sink my money in the Indie Bundles and in whatever game Notch is producing next, than spend one more cent on a game by a company that doesn’t listen to its customers, that would much rather criminalize their customers by crippling products to the point that the pirated material offers more than the legally purchased material does.

Eugene (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Hardly. Developers are typically very short-sighted (mostly because they also tend to be very short-lived), so even a large successful place like Ubisoft has a tendency to take a very dim view of QA near the end of a project. Near the start, they’re great! They help figure out where the project is weakest and bug reports bring focus to the usually unfocused design team. But near the end…every new bug they report can threaten to delay the release, which is big money lost. And that’s all they see. They can’t see the money saved by fixing those late-project bugs, because that’s post-release money which isn’t on their radar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Printed Codes...

In the 90s, I bought my very first piece of antivirus software from McAfee. They included a printed code that was needed to download definition updates. The code was invalid. I wasted $50 on a piece of software that above almost any other application needs regular updates, and couldn’t use it. I hate those codes no matter what the situation is, because if they misprint it, or (even with reusable license keys ala Microsoft) if it’s lost, you’re out of luck, period.

Schmoo says:

Re: Printed Codes...

$50 was a small price to pay for the awareness you received – you knew your computer was unprotected. If you’d have installed it, you’d have believed you were safe and subsequently been devastated when you realised that MakeAFee was (still is? Who knows!) completely and utterly useless, and that your computer was riddled with malware.

False security is far, far worse than no security.

PlagueSD says:

We should just go back to the old days of the game randomly asking you to go to page 23 and enter the 5th word on the 2nd line of the 4th paragraph of the User Manual. If you didn’t, the game would exit and you’d lose any unsaved progress. (and no, you couldn’t back out and do a save.)

Anyone still have their user manuals anymore? In fact, I don’t think games come with printed manuals anymore. Everything is online.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Elite for the Commodore 64 came with a little orange piece of plastic with legs, in this was a little clear prism deal, every time you booted up the game, it generated a weird pixely shape on the screen.

You then held up the prism to the screen, and typed in the now de-scrambled (by the prism) code. Then you could play.

I used the prism ONCE, then downloaded the fixed version that didn’t need the prism each and every time I wanted to play.

Once again, paying customer having to jump through more hoops than pirates.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

How would that prevent people from buying used games with the manual included?

it was supposed to prevent copied games. the logic being that xeroxing the manual was an insurmountable obstacle for your average floppy copier.

today you just crack the game’s executable to jump over the call for the validity check/unlock code/nag screen so that the anti-copying mechanisms never come into play.

older games that you play in an emulator, like the SCUMMVM games (the old monkey island series) used to include scanned images of the code wheels that came with the manuals and worked like a kind of decoder ring to unlock the game.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, I remember those. I also remember manuals that were printed and came inside the box! Damn, I think the first F1 game and F-19 Stealth Fighter came with details 200+ page manuals IIRC.

I also remember losing or damaging my manuals, meaning I either had to source a cracked pirate copy (not that difficult even in the sneakernet floppy days if you knew the right people) or, later, download a copy off the internet.

Same story as ever – DRM is broken by design, and once a single route around it is found, only paying customers are ever affected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: no we need.... CODE WHEELS....

Forget manuals and having to look up random words, what we really need is for all software to come with some of those funky 3-4 layer code wheels that used to be popular in RPG games…

Turn the outer ring to ‘Orc’ the second ring to ‘Klingon’, the third ring to ‘Griffendorf’, the final ring to ‘Precious’, and type in the 82 digit code in the ‘WTF’ box….

I’m being a little sarcastic, but those things were ‘da bomb’ in PRM (Paper Rights Management) for their time (as long as you didn’t have a copy machine, hole punch, razor blade, and some time… or a table of the data that you could just look up the code, you know, the list you downloaded off of usenet…) Who didn’t love TSR and the Gold Box series???

Anonymous Coward says:

Resale value

The only real point to UbiSoft doing this is to decrease the resale value of their games — as the previous TechDirt article mentioned, UbiSoft seems to have a real issue with people buying used copies of their games.

As such, I’d argue that their attempt was actually a success — I’d be far less likely to buy a used copy of a game given their restrictive DRM and limited functionality. Of course, I’d also be less likely to buy a new copy of their games, but maybe they didn’t think of that.

Pitabred (profile) says:

Re: Resale value

Ubisoft’s mistake in this whole thing is their hubris in thinking that they are irreplaceable. That people won’t go elsewhere if they feel abused enough. That line is different for every person, but it’s still a line. It’s the same line the music and movie industries have run into… you abuse your customers enough with inferior product and try to lock them into that, and they will go elsewhere.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nice one, you managed to miss the point completely once again! The error resulted in many paying customers not having access to their paid-for content; pointing out the glaring flaw in all software protection measures. When someone makes a typographical error in composition, it doesn’t render the entire message useless.

Also, Mike is not the author of this post, learn to read.

Grae (profile) says:

The (possibly multi) million dollar question is: how much money would they saved if they just didn’t bother to implement a whole system whose only purpose is to act as a counter measure against secondary market sales?

I wonder if the revenue from secondary market consumers on other consoles buying multiplayer codes will even dent the loss of implementing this whole DRM system on the 360 and having to scrap it after the game was released?

It’d be really interesting to see some numbers on just how much money they’re spending on blocking the secondary market vs how much money they receive from “core feature unlock” code purchases.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Can someone answer this question for me please?
I thought that Xbox Live Gold membership was primarily marketed as giving you access to online play.
So what are Ubisoft doing charging for online play for a used copy? (and yes, I did read the article, but it was their original plan). Aren’t the game servers being run by Microsoft, so I have to pay Microsoft (not Ubisoft) to play online?
So basically people, we’re being charged THRICE for online play.
First, the ISP. Second, Xbox Live Gold. 3rd, the actual game.

AdamR (profile) says:

Re: Re:

To play games on Xbox Live you need their Gold service which close 60.00 yr, auto recurring. The online pass that these companies are starting to sell is because of Gamestop is making a killing selling used games a few bucks off what the new game would cost.

New Game 59.95
Used Game 54.95

That’s for newer or popular titles. Somehow these game companies feel that there are been cheated since Gamestop is not cutting them in on the action.

AdamR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

To make thing even more tragic for consumers if you have an Xbox 360 and would like to have Netflix you have to be a Gold member(60.00) and now pay the 7.99 streaming plan to Netflix also. Its all greed and fear that’s running things now these days. The thing that gets me further pissed off about all these they make no mention of the extra you might have spent on downloaded DLC. They just want more cash from Gamestop.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

> Gamestop is making a killing selling used games a few
> bucks off what the new game would cost.

This will have to change. Automatically, a used game is worth $10 less than a new game.

In the end, this will backfire. The only reason I’m okay with spending $60 on a game is the knowledge I can sell it for $40 after I’m done playing it. If publishers make my used game semi-worthless, I’m much less likely to pay full price.

AdamR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well if you are one the first you may get 40.00 back but i highly doubt that. I would think it starts @ 30 something and starts dropping fast to maybe 15 or 20.

The fact is Gamestop is making more money selling one used game than a new one. It’s all greed and fear. Gamestop knows eventually a majority of game publishers will set up digital distribution methods and Gamestop wouldn’t see a dime so lets gouge now. The publishers been the stupid moron that they are are pissed Gamestop is gouging first and what some of the action.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

The cost of a new car pays for the factory it was built in, factories that cost money. When you buy a used car, you have not helped pay for those factories.

Sounds stupid right? Now replace “car” with “anything you bought used”. Sounds totally f’ing ridiculous right? Explain why games should be treated any differently to other used products.

DCL says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ford, GM, Honda and Toyota don’t give you free oil changes or do ongoing maintenance for free.

BMW does for a few years (but then that ends too), then they hope that you will be ‘trained’ to go back to them for any issues with the car and not mind the $60 oil changes.

If you sell the car private party the dealer or manufacturer does not get a cut, but chances are you will take it back to them to get maintenance as well.

(I am sure this will spur comments that only smucks take their cars to the dealer for maintenance, but the fact remains a lot of people still do).

My point here is that companies try to get your money on the first sale and as ‘create opportunities’ for a followup sales as well.

AdamR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

WTF are saying there, I’m either tired or drunk maybe both…

“The cost of a new car pays for the factory it was built in, factories that cost money. When you buy a used car, you have not helped pay for those factories.”

OK so i buy a new car that pays for the factory that it was built in and after after a few years i decide to sell it and take the money i made and buy another new car that pays yet again for that same factory. So you have an issue with what? Please don’t tell me you think that the auto manufacture deserves to keep collecting off the one purchase?

ChrisB says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

A better analogy is if you sell your car, that is still under warranty, and the manufacturer tries to charge a “warranty change fee” to the new owner. They might claim that the new owner didn’t pay the manufacturer for the car but now they are getting the “benefit” of the warranty. This is idiotic because there won’t be any more claims whether I have the car or the new owner has the car.

Greevar (profile) says:

They're a sacred cow, for some reason.

Why is it that games should get special treatment in the secondary market when I can resell my clothes, my car, or my furniture without hearing anybody from those industries crying that they should get a cut of the action or have the power to block people from selling them? The game publishers want the games they sell to be treated like a physical product, so they’re going to have to accept that people will resell their games as is allowed by right of first sale. It just comes with the territory. It was through the act of fixing the games to a proprietary format that made the used game market possible.

If people aren’t buying the game at retail price but they are at the used price, then you’re pricing it too high. One thing that Steam has been very successful at is getting people to buy games that at the retail price points they would never have bought them, but at the crazy low price of $5-$20 you pick up new customers. If you only sell a game at $30-$60, you’re cutting out a huge swath of apprehensive buyers. Drop the price a little lower, and you’ll likely pick up more sales. What you might lose in profit margin, you could make up in volume.

Philadelphia Collins says:


This is just more evidence how rushed this game was. The demo felt like it just couldn’t stack up to other racing games, especially point to point racing. They just wanted to get it to market as fast as possible. It can’t really compete with Burnout.=, but Driver used to be a good series…it doesn’t even play the same now.

Joe (profile) says:

Can't they just use console ready QR codes?

With the push towards adding camera’s to the gaming experience with Kinect & Move why aren’t they making these one time codes similar to QR codes to go along with the written code? It is a pain in the butt for consumers who buy the game “new” to have to type in these extra long codes, where we have to leave the game to activate the codes to begin with.

Why not make it more user friendly for the consumers you appreciate (new purchasers) instead of punishing them by giving them a long work around process to “get in the game”?

Seriously WTF, the good gamers are being punished because publishers are getting penny pinching over used game sales.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’d like to know which PC games this dude was playing 30 years ago, because I sure don’t remember any coming with registration codes. Sure, there were methods of copy protection, like looking stuff up in the manual, or a code wheel, or requiring an original floppy/CD, something like that, but never registration codes until maybe more like 10-15 years ago (and then at first just for online games). None of the games I bought in the 80s or 90s had registration codes, and I bought plenty of games back then.

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