Ubisoft’s DRM Failure

Penny Arcade Comic [2/19/2010]

The debate between proponents and opponents of DRM is not a new one. DRM advocates want to protect their product from piracy. Piracy may be a legitimate concern, however, DRM is not a legitimate solution. This is mainly because DRM is not in any way a solution. DRM is proposed as a way to:

  • prevent piracy, and
  • encourage purchases.

Sadly, it is totally ineffective at either of these goals.

No DRM scheme has ever prevented piracy. The twittersphere and blagonets inevitably vomit up DRM-stripped versions of any product released with DRM. Sure, with some video games, it takes a week or two, but it always happens. This is because it’s impossible to create effective DRM. I don’t mean difficult, non-trivial, or technically challenging. It’s impossible, because you can’t give someone encrypted media, and the means to view the media, and have any hope that they’re going to follow your rules about when to do so.

Sure, breaking DRM is technically challenging, but that’s not a problem. It only takes one technically savvy digital activist to break your scheme, and post the DRM-free files to the intartubes, and it’s game over, you have 0 credits, please insert coins to continue.

On the second front, DRM isn’t useless, it’s actively worse than useless. DRM sucks; it lowers the value of the product that you’re selling. This anti-piracy measure has the ironic effect of making pirated versions more attractive than legitimate products. Loyal customers are made to suffer not just the financial cost of the product, but additional trials and tribulations of the DRM scheme in question.

There’s nowhere that this is more obvious than this weekend’s epic DRM fail by Ubisoft. Ubsoft’s latest crop of games require an active high quality connection to Ubisoft DRM servers at all times while playing. If your connection dies, you get booted out of the game, and returned to the last checkpoint. This is plainly pretty inconvenient, whether you live in one-provider rural America, or are posted on a military base overseas. However, this weekend, the unthinkable happened: Ubisoft’s DRM servers crashed.

This has to be the ultimate irony, the reductio ad absurdum of anti-DRM arguments. Paying customers were left with a totally useless product, while pirates who paid nothing had a fully functional game. Good show Ubisoft, good show.

This entry was originally published on the WWS/COS 586 course blog.

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About flamsmark

I do privacy at Mozilla. Years of security have left me incurably paranoid. Tech, policy, security, privacy, & anonymity are good. Open is better. GPG: 80AF07D3
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