Assassin’s Creed 3 director Alex Hutchinson described himself, his team, and his game as dinosaurs in a recent interview with Edge Magazine. “We’re the last of the dinosaurs. We’re still the monster triple-A game with very large teams [and] multiple studios helping out on different bits. There are fewer and fewer of these games being made, especially as the middle has fallen out.”
The disappearance of “the middle,” B-list games like Ubisoft’s own Beyond Good & Evil that could succeed without selling millions of copies at retail, is really only one reason that the triple-A release is an increasingly rare bird in video games. Piracy, at least according to Ubisoft, has crippled its PC gaming business so not only do triple-A releases have to duke it out in the risky, competitive console market, they face impossible odds earning a buck on PC. How bad is PC piracy? Ubisoft claims that 95 percent of its PC players don’t play illegally obtained video games.
For the past few years, Ubisoft has combatted the problem by bolstering its triple-A games with aggressive digital rights management, namely through the Uplay network. Ubi was amongst those publishers that thought the key to protecting its intellectual property on PC was to require players to have a persistent Internet connection while playing. In other words, it tried to protect its dinosaurs with dinosaur anti-piracy measures.
It’s interesting then that, in a week where Ubisoft admits that the era of the blockbuster game is ending, it’s also abandoning its archaic DRM. Speaking with Gamasutra, Ubisoft’s VP of digital publishing Chris Early said that customer outcry has allowed it to change its policies.
“If you look back to early 2011 and before, we did at one point in time go with 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.
For some games, but not all. “It depends on the type of game, but in a single player game, we require a one-time authentication, then we allow offline play,” continues Early, “Then for online multiplayer, obviously when you’re playing online, you’re authenticated and then you remain online. It’s basically as simple as that.”
Ubi’s change of heart could be construed as a feint though. Even more endangered than the triple-A game is the single player triple-A game. If all games require some kind of online play in the future, Ubi won’t have to worry about offending players that want to play offline. What will those Ubi games look like? Watch Dogs. That’s precisely what they’ll look like.