Ubisoft Learns Hitting Customers Over The Head And Calling Them Thieves Is Not Good Policy

from the better-late-than-never dept

For many years, Ubisoft has been the go-to company for stories about DRM gone horribly wrong. They really seemed to believe that always-on DRM actually does something to stop piracy. That was followed with story after story after story of Ubisoft doing things that harm only paying customers and generally shoot themselves in the foot. You can go back over our posts about the company to see just how badly they have handled piracy for years. It really looked like the company was never going to learn the simple fact that it is more important to maximize sales than to fight piracy. So imagine our surprise when the following story came to light.

Ubisoft began making the rounds early this week, contacting a number of video game sites including Gamasutra and Rock, Paper, Shotgun and providing interviews. The purpose of these interviews? To tell the world that Ubisoft has changed its DRM ways. Much like the end of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' in which Scrooge takes to the streets to spread peace and goodwill, Ubisoft wants the world to know that it believes that providing its customers with the best gaming experience is the most important part of its new strategy.

In the interview with Gamasutra, Ubisoft's VP of digital publishing Chris Early speaks about its past use of always-on DRM.

If you look back to early 2011 and before, we did at one point in time go with an always-on activation, for any game. We realized that while it was probably one of the strictest forms of DRM, it wasn't the most convenient for our customers. We listened to the feedback, and have removed that requirement from those games, and stopped doing that going forward.

This is interesting because we had been complaining about always-online DRM since at least 2010 and other forms of Ubisoft DRM since 2006. However, the fact that they are actually listening to the feedback of consumers is a huge plus for them. This is a bold move for the company that decided that paying customers wouldn't miss playing their games at all for a few days while it moved its servers.

What we're trying to do is make [playing a game] easy for players who have legitimately bought our software, and at the same time put a registration requirement, or one-time activation requirement in, that includes some element of [software] protection.

The reality is, given enough time and effort, any game can be pirated, and many are. But what we're looking to do is validate the customer, then provide value to that customer for registering their software.

This is exactly what many customers have been asking for and many other successful companies have been giving. This idea that providing value to paying customers is a better way for success has been one that companies like Valve, Stardock and CD Projekt Red have known for years. But this lesson on DRM is not the only one that Ubisoft has learned.

Ubisoft also seems to have learned some very important lessons about piracy in general. Specifically, that not all people pirating a game are doing so just to get free stuff and that not all pirated copies are a lost sale.

I don't believe that every single pirated copy is a lost sale. In some cases I'm sure it's just someone trying out a game. At some level, you can almost look at it as a demo program. So as far as many of those could've been sales? I'm not sure.

In general, when people talk about piracy, there are all kinds of reasons cited, whether it's because of an economic imbalance, where people can't afford to buy a game in that particular [geographical territory], or it's a challenge, or it's someone who doesn't believe in supporting publishers by giving them money. There's a whole variety of reasons. That's why we want to focus on the rewards and benefits of owning the software.

This is another idea that other companies have known for a while, that piracy is the result of under-served customers. By focusing efforts on making the paid option more attractive than the free options, you can capture more sales than if you spent your time trying to stop piracy.

Over at RPS, They didn't go quite so easy on Ubisoft's representatives. RPS asked many times for a statement on just how bad its DRM was for paying customers and whether Ubisoft had any regrets, but all RPS ever got were whitewashed PR statements.

RPS: Do you acknowledge that always-on DRM has been extremely damaging to Ubisoft's reputation?

Burk: I think that, as Stephanie said, I think this is where that feedback comes in. We've obviously heard from PC customers that they were unhappy with some of the policies that we had in place, and that's why we're looking to make these changes – why we have been implementing these changes, as Stephanie says.

RPS: Would you be willing to say that it was a mistake?

Burk: No, I wouldn't say that. I'll let Stephanie say what she thinks, but I wouldn't use those words. This is a process, and we listened to feedback.

Perotti: I would say the same.

This attitude of not wanting to admit to any mistakes while still making this sweeping change in policy has the potential to leave a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouths. While the company is no longer hitting their customers over the proverbial head, they have not yet apologized for those actions, at least not out right. A good apology could go a long way in smoothing things over with their past and future customers — though perhaps just the act of changing and admitting to the change is a form of an apology for many.

Over all, this is a great move by one of the last hold outs in regards to video game DRM. While many other companies still require some form of DRM, none were quite so bad as Ubisoft in that regard. Hopefully, this change of heart will echo throughout the gaming industry and all developers will abandon efforts in the futile fight against piracy and instead focus on maximizing sales through added value for their customers. Ubisoft has a bright future ahead of itself on this path and I wish them all the best of luck.

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Comments on “Ubisoft Learns Hitting Customers Over The Head And Calling Them Thieves Is Not Good Policy”

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Mesonoxian Eve (profile) says:

One month to go for the next Assassin’s Creed game.


As I’ve said, make a great game, and the money rolls in. Make a crappy game, then burden the hell out of it, and money stops regardless how well a future game is made.

As for the apology, I disagree it’s needed. Once we, the gamers, established they were idiots for using DRM in the first place, we knew they were handicapped in the “forward thinking” department, so an apology is implied because we knew they’d come around.

If an apology is to be made, it should be for taking this long to figure it out.

PaulT (profile) says:

“We’ve obviously heard from PC customers that they were unhappy with some of the policies that we had in place”

Hopefully they also realise that there’s a huge number of people they didn’t hear from. People who just vowed never to buy another game from them. People who were deterred from even trying the game in the first place by friends or news reports from people who had already suffered. People who simply decided this was the last straw and it was this – not piracy – that caused them to stop buying mainstream PC games altogether.

It’s one thing to field complaints from customers who bothered to do so, but they have a lot of sales lost where nobody bothered to contact them. However, I am glad to see that some people at the company at least realised that they needed to stop the “we lost sales – let’s assume it’s piracy and introduce new DRM!” cycle they were stuck in.

Time will tell whether they have actually learned this lesson, but most of the damage has already been done. It was far easier to lose customers than it will be to attract them back. Hopefully they will understand that attacking customers isn’t the way to go in the used console game market, as some seem to think is the next battleground.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I now for a fact I was going to buy Anno 2070 when it was on sale on Steam. I even had it in my cart and was about to hit “pay”. Then I remembered “Wait, this is Ubisoft” and double-checked the product page. Right… limited activations. Fuck that.

This after demoing the game for free for about a month (and finding the extra “features” like ark upgrades worth paying for a few bucks at a discount).

Lord Binky says:

Re: Re:

This group of people that silently say ‘I’m done’ and never return are one of the most overlooked and impactful groups to a business. It’s amazing that customer service acknowledges this group of consumers exists, but they are almost universally ignored.

It’s hard to read them as a service provider, because they just quit, if you even get a chance to ask why, they will give you their reason, but they won’t be screaming at you about their problem giving you the chance to deescalate the situation and provide the opportunity to win them back. They are easy to write off because they are not a nuisance to operating even though their effect is huge and nearly permanent without a near-monopoly.

Fickelbra (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I would wager you are very correct. I personally boycotted Ubisoft games myself for a while. For example, I tried Outland months back and was genuinely intrigued by it. Opened up my Xbox Guide to buy it, saw Ubisoft, turned the game off and said “Oh well”. The reality is that there are tons of great games around to play. One publisher does not have the power to curb that reality.

Now, I am not done with my boycott. But if Ubisoft puts action to their words, I might not turn the game off when I see Ubisoft next time.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: lolwhut

I had to pinch myself in the cheeks a few times to make sure it wasn’t some sort of trollish dream.

But easier said then done. I’ll hold my tongue till we see the next few releases. If this change of heart actually materializes then I sure as hell am going to praise them and maybe review my personal policy of never buying from them.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: A great first step.

Maybe. But hardly myself. I like to play the complete game before buying it. I made an exception to Diablo 3 recently but that’s because I actually got the game for free while renewing my WoW subscription.

I’d say that the level of piracy is really not an issue. The issue is the level of people buying the legit thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don’t expect them to change much. If history is any indication, they will “play nice” for a while, but then will find an even more irritating form of DRM to implement.

Remember: Ubisoft already used a very invasive DRM mechanism called Starforce (which messed up your system really badly) extensively before. They only backed down huge backlash, promising to be nice in the future. And look what that got us.

We’ll see if they learned anything, but I doubt it.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

I am waiting for the DRM vendors to mount a counter-offensive. DRM is one of those industries we don’t really need. Furthermore it isn’t a very effective industry because nearly 100% of the DRM systems put on commercial software is broken within weeks of its release. But the DRM industry does represent a lot of money and has strong connections throughout the software industry. I don’t see them going down quietly on this issue.

SujaOfJauhnral (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sure I could! I used to design game maps that consisted of horrible obstacle courses full of barney molesting the kids pictures all over the walls with mexican rap blasting through the whole thing at full volume! And the objective everyone (AKA my lab rats-, i mean, the poor players who where forced to play it) was looking for? A giant turd monster.(The whole map was a giant toilet)

I’m an expert at torturing people. That’s how I know I’d be ace at making DRM!

mikey4001 (profile) says:

Crocodile tears

This does not count as an apology. An actual apology goes like this: “We’re sorry.”
Full stop.
Its’ a step in the right direction perhaps, but without an admission of guilt, it is, ultimately, meaningless.

All they’re saying is “Please buy the expensive new game(s) we have coming soon. We may or may not treat you like a criminal this time.” I am expecting a very incomplete game, packaged with a one-time-use code to download/unlock “bonus content” that is really just the other 50% of the game that should’ve been included in the first place. Without a very public and very consumer friendly 180 turn-around, this “apology” does not even scratch the surface of my hard-hearted loathing for this company.

Anonymous Coward says:

as a gamer that has had a love/hate relationship with Ubisoft I will say they are TERRIBLE at understanding their audience.

Rarely you see someone that can put out such good games but then seem to be completely oblivious as to why people actually like the game and have let some very interesting titles and IPs just… die… because they refused to make changes that fans kept asking for.

If anything I’m shocked they finally came around on the DRM thing. Now if they would listen to forums on their next super interesting title that has easily fixed deal breakers in it…

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Listening to Money

Don’t confuse “listening to the customer” with “listening to the Money”.

Some companies bend over backwards to please the customer and that may or may not result in immediate monetary rewards.

Others craft/change their policy based on market pressure. This is the waxing/waning of restrictions based on what the competition is doing and what the market will bear.

Apple is the master of this game. Lock it down until competition forces it to open. Demands of the users is irrelevant (using flash, multi-tasking on the iPhone, proprietary cables, etc, etc).


Designerfx (profile) says:

this isn't a real apology from ubisoft

that’s why they aren’t going to fix any of the games they broke with existing DRM. This is just “going forward”.

In short, ubisoft is dipping the most miniscule inch of their toe into “let’s not treat our customers like crap” water, but in reality – they still think the customers are at fault for daring to want to buy their products and not be treated like pirates.

Chris Brand says:

Re: Re:

Sales dropping “like 90% or so” isn’t customer feedback ?

Personally, I’ll wait to see whether the actions match up with the words before they get more of my money. As somebody above said, I hope they realise that it’s going to take a while for their customers to start to trust them again, even if this really does signal a major change in policy.

Manok (profile) says:

> “I don’t believe that every single pirated copy is a lost sale. In some cases I’m sure it’s just someone trying out a game. At some level, you can almost look at it as a demo program. So as far as many of those could’ve been sales? I’m not sure.”

That sounds horribly weak. Like “yeah, very perhaps once in a blue moon there might be a pirated copy that is not a missed sale.”

Zachary has to bend that statement a lot to turn it into “Specifically, that not all people pirating a game are doing so just to get free stuff and that not all pirated copies are a lost sale.”.

Andrew (profile) says:

I don't trust them

I used to love Ubisoft games. In fact many of them still are really good games but from the time they started this protection and messing with users I just had enough.

I don’t think this is over by a long shot. I think they will find a way to piss off the users even more.

I honestly don’t trust them and they have a long long way to go before I even consider buying or even pirating a game from them.

I have other game companies to invest my money in who will treat me with some level of respect. As for the apology it won’t matter either way if they do or do not. They have to earn a lot of people trust back before they can come back from this

rangda (profile) says:

Before you get too carried away showering the love on Ubisoft, read the fine print on the “best gaming experience”. It includes such things as a limited number of activations of the game and requiring you to log into their “service” UPlay (Ubi’s GFWL). This will be on top of any service based DRM such as Steam. Left unanswered are details such as how (if at all) you “deactivate” an install of the game, etc.

I think this change was based purely on looking at how much it was costing them to keep their always-on DRM infrastructure going vs. the lack of a drop in perceived piracy rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if drops in sales had little to do with the decision (in Ubiland that is just more people flying the jolly roger).

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Can you confirm/link that please? I too had this feeling in my gut that this was too good to be true. While I have yet to actually suffer being booted back to the main menu because of the Always Online DRM, the pervasive fear that it could happen through no fault of my own was always there. Also, what do you know about them removing the DRM from existing games?

Anonymous Coward says:

Nice PR blurb as a reason to slow down on DRM. Ubisoft and EA are two companies I refuse to buy games from due mainly to the overuse of DRM.

Don’t think for a moment it was about listening to the customer. It was about we’re going bankrupt and if we want to keep making games, something is going to have to change.

Ubisoft has shown over and over they wouldn’t listen to their customers for years. This isn’t a sudden change in heart. It’s trying to mend the hole in the pocket.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“more lies from the pirate”

Still waiting on your evidence that he pirates…

“an under served customer, doesn’t buy your product”

Oooh! You almost stumbled across the point!

That’s exactly right, an underserved customer doesn’t buy. But, you idiots assume that his only reason for not doing so is piracy. So, you increase the problems he experienced that stopped him from buying, in order to punish the pirate who wasn’t buying in the first place. Another customer gets fed up, he stops buying, then you assume the reason is piracy and increase the DRM.

So long as you try to pretend that everybody who points out the massive problems with the industries you defend and try to pretend that everyone who doesn’t bow down to this bullshit is a pirate, you’re never going to recapture those “lost sales”, and probably cause more of them.

“an under served customer doesn’t steal your product, a pirate does, and then justifies it by any means they need”

…and the methods you use to try to punish him leads to more underserved customers who stop buying… Get it yet? Why not address the things that leave them underserved to begin with instead of this impossible vicious cycle?

Anonymous Coward says:

My short story on why I pirate games started when sony forced Me start an account on ps3. One day sony sent out an alert that passwords were insecure so I change Myn real fast and forgot what it was. I lost more than a thousand dollars on playstation store games, items, online friends all F***** GONE.

I vowed never to buy a game or console again.

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