Ubisoft Director Backtracks On Piracy Complaints After Public Lashing

from the this-is-getting-old dept

Thanksgiving week was not a good week for Ubisoft Shanghai creative director Stanislas Mettra. When asked if a PC version of the game I Am Alive would be coming, he responded that it wouldn't because of piracy.
It's hard because there's so much piracy and so few people are paying for PC games that we have to precisely weigh it up against the cost of making it. Perhaps it will only take 12 guys three months to port the game to PC, it's not a massive cost but it's still a cost. If only 50,000 people buy the game then it's not worth it.
This statement and one about PC gamers "bitching" got the gaming press and PC gamers all riled up. Very soon the news was everywhere that Ubisoft, the company pushing always on DRM and complaining about piracy on the PC at every turn, was at it again. This bad publicity led to Mettra backtracking on his comments.
What I meant is that the pc version did not happen yet [sic]. But we are still working to see the feasibility of it, which is not necessarily simple. I gave some examples to illustrate the problematic [sic], but obviously it is not in my hands and not my part to talk about this.
Although he attempts to avoid the topic of piracy specifically in his retraction, he still leaves the reader with the same message, PC gaming is a losing venture. Is this in the Ubisoft training material or something? Are they trained to believe that the PC is rife with piracy and that it should be treated with the utmost contempt and caution? It wasn't that long ago that other Ubisoft developers were complaining about the same thing.

I would be happy to leave this discussion at that if it weren't for the comments from a few other developers that same week on the very same topic. While Mettra believes the problem lies with piracy and the lack of paying customers on the PC, these other developers came to a very different conclusion. First we have Devolver CFO Fork Parker speaking about the PC version of Serious Sam 3:
Piracy is a problem and there is no denying that but the success of games like Skyrim and our own Serious Sam 3 on PC illustrates that there is clearly a market willing to pay for PC games, It's on the developers and publishers to put something out on the market that's worth paying for in the first place. Those that place the blame on the consumer need to rethink the quality of their products and the frequency in which they shovel out derivative titles each year.

The other side of the equation is the distribution model. In games, we have amazing PC digital download services like Steam, Get Games and Direct2Drive doing the same thing for games that iTunes did for music. Offer the consumer a variety of great digital content at a reasonable price and the majority will happily pay for the games that suit their tastes.
Here is a developer who recognizes that the market for PC games is ripe for the taking. Gamers are willing to buy quality product. If the game fails to turn a profit it is not the fault of the gamer or the pirates, it is the fault of the developer and publisher. If they take advantage of the services that PC gamers use to distribute their games, they will see a return on that investment.

Next we have Valve's CEO, Gabe Newell, speaking on the subject once again.
We think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24/7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country three months after the U.S. release and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate's service is more valuable.

Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customer's use or by creating uncertainty.
I know we quote Newell a lot when the topic of game piracy comes up, but his comments are always relevant. He is a man who gets it. He has learned that the battle with piracy cannot be won through the use of DRM, region restrictions or any other restriction that you can throw at the customer. This is something that Ubisoft has continually failed to learn. If you want to succeed in PC gaming, you need to bring the games to where the customers are, make them available and restrict them as little as possible. When you do that, honest customers will support you.

Really Ubisoft, this is getting old. I feel like a parent scolding his child for the 20th time about hitting his sister. You think the child gets it after the first time and that the second time is an honest mistake. But, when the child continues to hit his sister, you need to take drastic disciplinary action. What will it take to get the message through to those in charge at Ubisoft? Gamers want your games and will buy them, but you have to provide the service they want. That is the only way you will succeed.

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    PaulT (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 3:14am

    "Perhaps it will only take 12 guys three months to port the game to PC... If only 50,000 people buy the game then it's not worth it."

    Wow, really? How much to game developers get paid? Assuming those 50k sales take place at $50 each, that's $2.5 million. Even taking into account retailer cuts and costs, surely Ubisoft would still clear half a million to a million for those sales? Am I missing something?

    Unless there's an industry insider who can maybe explain this to me, what he's basically saying is that a possible million dollars of revenue isn't worth bothering with because people might also pirate the product. I honestly don't understand that logic.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 3:53am

    Re:

    Doesn't justify you taking their games for free. Unlike you, Ubisoft have principals.

     

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    BraindeadBZH (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 3:59am

    Re:

    Don't try to understand those people they are all morons. They are the reason why EU is dying. They all try to keep the old business running by making thousand of laws. It only accelerate the fall. At least they still continue to make billions. But for how long? With no innovation, delocalization, short term strategy, ...
    Gabe Newell's statement is all right. Even if Steam is not perfect it is the only real alternative to piracy.

     

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    anonymous, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:01am

    DRM is the biggest problem, mainly because instead of 'securing' the game, it invariably breaks it! as for Ubisoft condemning 'piracy'. it isn't long ago that they were using a 'pirate-made crk' to get their game to work! what does that tell you? it seems to me that 'piracy' is the scourge of the various game makers, an excuse they can use to try to cover up a shit, broken product, until it gets the product working correctly and makes them money, then it is the dogs bollocks! yet another example of double standards!

     

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    BraindeadBZH (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:02am

    Re: Re:

    Ubisoft, principals? Are you kidding?

     

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    LyleD, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:04am

    Butbut.. It's Ubisoft!

    Ubisoft only have themselves to blame with the current state of their PC sales.. They've pissed of so many PC gamers over the years we just refuse to buy their games anymore..

    Crap games, Bugs galore, DRM, DRM and more DRM.. Screw them.. Hope they go bust!

    (And before you AC's pipe up.. They're not worth pirating either, did I mention they're crap buggy games?)

     

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    PaulT (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:04am

    Re: Re:

    Ah, the siren call of the pro-corporate moron - if someone disagrees, assume they're stealing. That way, you don't have to address any of my real opinions.

    Please explain why querying why $500k+ revenue isn't enough to bother working is equivalent to supporting piracy. Show your work.

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:05am

    Re: Re:

    Oh look, another AC who completely misses the point. Did PaulT say he was going to infringe copyright? No! He was questioning the clearly bad math that Ubisoft are throwing out here. Just what is it with people like yourself? We point out clearly logical fallacies with things copyright maximists do and say, and you just turn around and say "OMG YOU IZ CRIMINAL!"
    And no, Ubisoft doesn't have principals. They kinda lost them when they wanted to stand over my shoulder every time I wanted to play one of their games, and if my internet dipped for even a second (something clearly not my fault) they would accuse me of theft and stop me from playing the game I paid for.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:05am

    Re: Re:

    Not everyone who dislikes anti-piracy measures, like not getting the game at all on PC, pirate themselves you know. They just dislike the obsicles they have to put up with, when many of these obsticles are not there if you do pirate, making them more or less pointless, so they want these obsticles gone so they can actually play the game. They don't pirate them, they just don't play them. Unless you are saying that anyone who doesn't buy the game is a pirate of course.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:06am

    Re: Re:

    One game developer says that he cannot make money due to privacy and other that says they make money despite privacy by providing the games and service the customer wants.
    I paid for all of the Serious Sam games and bought my daughter, Skyrim for her PC.

    Seems like one guy gets it and makes money. The other doesn't and will become obsolete as a result. Negative cash flow due to your own stupidity is a bitch of a life lesson.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:09am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, the siran call of the pro-piracy moron- if someone disagrees, call them a moron. That way, you don't have to address any of my real opinions.

    Please explain why they should port their game for pirates?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:12am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Steam is DRM. You defend one company who uses DRM to protect their investment, but attack the other for doing the same?

    You techdirtbags are real class acts.

     

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    Richard (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:14am

    Re: Re:

    Doesn't justify you taking their games for free. Unlike you, Ubisoft have principals.

    Your credibility is not helped by your failure to understand the difference between principle and principal.

    Ubisoft may well have principal programmers, principal accountants etc - but they may not have principles.

     

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    IronM@sk, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:16am

    Re: Re:

    I clicked the "funny" button so many times. I think it's a shame it only registers once. Are you seriously that deluded that you would actually refuse $1M physical dollars just for the apparent satisfaction of doing nothing and stamping your foot on the ground and complaining about losing potential dollars? HAHAHAHAHAHHAHA.

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Please explain where in the article or in PaulT's comments that he is pro-piracy. Plus, you yourself are guilty of the exact thing you're trying to pin on him "address any of my real opinions". When he commented on the bad math that Ubisoft released, you ignored all of that and called him a pirate. THAT is not addressing any opinions. THAT is being a moron.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No, I call morons morons.

    "Please explain why they should port their game for pirates?"

    I'm not saying they should. I'm saying that I don't understand why they wouldn't want to port it for the 50,000 or more paying customers he thinks the product will have. I'm genuinely interested in how the figures would work, yet all I get is personal insults for things I never do.

    That's why I label you a moron.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Steam DMR isn't a pain to use. (for me at least)

     

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    Chris, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Implementation is everything. They are not the same.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:26am

    Re: Costs..

    It's just more cost effective to spend the development money on something that will have much larger returns.

     

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    ScytheNoire, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:28am

    Enough with the piracy lies

    The lies about piracy are just getting old. Ubisoft just doesn't know how to do it right. They are using fear and excuses, the big, bad piracy monster is going to get you if you develop games for the PC. Simply put, it's not true. There are many games on the PC who do great for sales, some who outsell their console counterparts, such as Skyrim, and many who profit while offering their games for free.

    Simply put, Ubisoft keeps spewing lies to try to keep up the false notion that PC gamers are all pirates and any one who likes PC gaming must be a pirate who just steals it. This is far from the truth, and many companies, such as Valve, Blizzard, and BioWare, know this.

    Piracy is the same boogie man as terrorist, it's simply used as a method to justify their bad behaviour.

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The DRM in Steam is ACCEPTABLE. While we "techdirtbags" don't like DRM in general, what Steam offers is an acceptable compromise. Let me lay it out for you.
    PROS of Steam DRM
    1) Games are listed under your account
    2) Cheap games and frequent sales
    3) Re-download your games as often as you want, on as many computers as you want (as an aside, one recent release, Anno 2070, for some strange reason, has a separate 3 machine DRM on top of Steam)
    4) Auto-updates, no more having to look around websites for patches.
    5) Backup your games to separate hard-drives, saving you precious internet bandwidth if you want to uninstall the game but know you'll be playing it sometime in the future.

    CONS
    1) You have to log in to your account to play the games.
    2) Sometimes, (although I rarely get it myself nowadays) it will say "Servers Are Busy" and refuse to launch the game.
    3) Not all the games it sells actually work. For example, I got Broken Sword 2 from both Steam and GoG, and only the GoG version works (that's because GoG actually optimise their library to run on modern OS's).
    4) You can't re-sell your games. Try and do that, and you risk losing your account and thus all of the games you paid for.

    As you can see, the benefits of Steam DRM outweigh the cons. Yes, the cons do annoy me, but I'm willing to put up with them.

    What we techdirtbags attack is DRM that is stupid, wasteful, inefficient and just downright wrong. Case in point, Ubisoft's Always-On DRM, where if your internet connection dips for even a moment, you're thrown back to the main menu of your game. This was included in SINGLE-PLAYER games, so a constant network connection isn't something you associate with single-player.

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:29am

    Re: Re: Costs..

    And if they refuse to sell at all...how will they have returns?

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Steam isn't a bitch to use or work with. i.e. Hey, I can live with this! Other DRM tactics that do things like, write a root kit to my hard drive are unacceptable and I will not buy their products.

    And in the final analysis, one game company is making and selling PC games, while the other isn't and is losing sales.

    Putting yourself out of business though stupidity is fascinating to watch.

    So, I'm sorry, what was your point again? Oh yeah, providing a game and a service customers are willing to pay for!! Thank you so much for making this point clearer for me.

     

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  24.  
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    IronM@sk, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:38am

    Re: Re:

    Gabe Newell's statement is all right. Even if Steam is not perfect it is the only real alternative to piracy.

    Here's the fundamental disconnect between game developers and gamers. File sharing sites provide a service. Steam provides a service. Good Old Games provides a service. Direct2Drive, OnLive and many, many others, provide a service. It's not the only alternative to anything. They are all just competing services.

    Most of these stupid game developers still view what they do as creating a product when what they should be doing is providing a service. One that people are willing to use.

    Provide a good enough service at an acceptable price and people will be willing to support it. The "digital goods" boat has sailed guys. Stop crying and move on.

     

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    IronM@sk, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:43am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'm sure if you have him a multiple choice question with that last sentence as an option, he'd pick it.

     

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    Vic B (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:45am

    basic logic

    Actually the math is more of this order:

    12 guys for 3 months = $70K (salary) + $70K (business cost of employee) x 12 employees / 4 (3 months) = $420K Any slippage (very common) adds $140K/month.

    50,000 copies x $15 (30% margin on $50 product)= $750K

    Based on above, it's not worth porting to pc.

    If the company's pc sales tripled or more (very possible based on sales of competing products) then it's a poor business decision not to port to pc.

    At the end of the day, the issue is less about piracy than faith in one's product.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 5:00am

    Re: Re: Costs..

    Then... do so. Just don't give the excuse of "OMG piracy".

    I'd have no problem with "we don't think this product will sell enough copies so we'll divert the resources to make sure that Far Cry 3 is awesome". It's the lies and scapegoating while the company's own DRM is chasing away customers that I have a problem with.

    This is one of the "connect with fans" ideas that Ubisoft seem to miss. This could be an opportunity to gain ground support from fans, encourage mass pre-orders and ensure a profit before the game is even ported. It could be a way to gauge demand for the product for free, combined with free marketing and decent PR for being a fair minded company. Instead, we have name-calling and a refusal to service a market because someone *might* be getting the product for free.

     

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    Richard (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 5:02am

    Re: Re: Costs..

    It's just more cost effective to spend the development money on something that will have much larger returns.

    In the short term that might make sense - but in the long term they will destroy their customer base.

    Incidentally what DRM actually does is to destroy the future supply of games programmers.

    At present they rely on a lot of thirty and forty-somethings who learned their trade on the machines of the 70's and early 80's. At our University we now see a serious shortage of students who ca program. 20 years ago 90% of the intake had some useful programming experience - now it's down to about 5%. It's really difficult to teach coding to older (post 18) students.

    I put the blame for this on the prevalence of platforms that either prevent the user from doing their own thing or make you buy extra , expensive stuff to do it. XNA is a small step in the right direction - but is still too hamstrung with restrictions to encourage enough people.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 5:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Obviously you know nothing of DRM. Let me put it simply.

    Steam is GOOD DRM. Non-intrusive, has an "offline mode", etc. Why is Steam good? Because it provides a great service. You can chat with other gaming friends, easily gift games, redownload games AS OFTEN as you need (in case of hard drive failures, OS upgrades, etc.), purchase games easily (and routinely get games either cheaply or even for free, they have amazing sales pretty much all the time), easily allows for game updates/DLC purchase and