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From Dust, DRM and Why Ubisoft Can Only Blame Itself

Players are furious with the publisher over its handling of From Dust on PC. They should be.

Those three dots are Ubisoft's forum moderators. That wave is made up of Reddit commenters.

What the hell, Ubisoft? Just a few weeks ago, everything seemed so simple.

"Ubisoft lied to us. The DRM requires you to have a constant internet connection, when they explicitly said this would not be the case."

"The DRM on this ass nugget is hilarious. I suggest you all get the fucker taken off. Stop slaughtering this game Ubisoft."

These are just a few comments pulled off From Dust's Facebook page, as fans take Ubisoft to task.

Ubisoft's DRM policies for PC games are handled on a case-by-case basis. The rationale behind each decision is sometimes difficult to figure out, but at the end of the day, it's Ubisoft's right to swing one way or the other, just as it's the right of PC customers to complain about the policies Ubisoft enacts. And complain they have.

Up until today, we were under the impression From Dust wasn't supposed to have DRM. Just a few weeks back--my email from Ubisoft is dated July 28--the company said From Dust would be an exception to the always-on Ubisoft DRM rule.

"I can confirm that From Dust will not require online connection to play the single player campaign and challenges," said company spokesperson Alex Monney.

Hackers were able to take down Ubisoft's login servers, a move done out of DRM protest.

This would be different than Ubisoft's handling of another upcoming Ubisoft product coming out on the PC, Driver: San Francisco, which would require an Internet connection to boot up and a constant connection to keep playing. Vocal concerns over this type of DRM, principle aside, stem from an incident where hackers brought Ubisoft's authentication servers down, stopping some users from playing Assassin's Creed II. This DRM was then stripped in favor of an online login. After that, no online connection was required. This altered DRM found its way into newer PC releases like Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

Still, Ubisoft hadn't settled on a consistent policy. Maybe it considered From Dust special; a new game from Out of this World developer Eric Chahi isn't something players would be as likely to torrent. Ubisoft has consistently cited piracy and DRM's effectiveness as the driver behind its DRM policies.

"[We have seen] a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection, and from that point of view the requirement is a success," said an unnamed spokesperson to PC Gamer last month.

On one torrent search engine site alone, there are nearly 2,000 players downloading a "cracked" version of From Dust. Piracy would happen anyway, but it's easy to see how much of that would be fueled by From Dust unexpectedly having DRM.

It doesn't help that, by all indications, the PC version is coming up short in a bunch of other areas, too: the frame rate is bizarrely capped to 30 frames-per-second and the camera control hasn't been optimized for a mouse.

"We are aware of some confusion over the inclusion of DRM in the release of From Dust on PC," said the company in a statement on the official Ubisoft message boards.

That would be an...understatement.

"To prevent any on-going confusion we would like to clarify From Dust PC will release with DRM requiring a one-time only online activation," continues the statement. "After which you will be able to play the game offline."

It's sort of "one-time only."

"After you have signed in and the game is running, you no longer need the internet connection for that session and can disconnect and play offline you so wish," said the company.

The key phrase here is "for that session," whereas Ubisoft's original statement suggested "no sessions."

Besides the DRM issues, the PC version has a capped frame rate and poor mouse controls.

Technically, Ubisoft has some wiggle room from its original statement. You don't need to be online in order to play the singleplayer or challenge modes, but you do need to be online to access them at all. It's a frustrating splitting of hairs. Given Ubisoft's communication issues with DRM in the past, however, if that's what it really meant, it should have been more upfront from the very start. It's not like players aren't used to this stance before.

"When we first introduced the connection requirement last year, we stated that our decision to implement it into our PC titles would be considered on a case by case basis and this remains true," said Ubisoft representative Dominic DiSanti last month, when I asked about Driver: San Francisco's DRM. "We will assess each future PC title and strive to offer the best gameplay experience possible while also ensuring that we are protecting the amazing work and effort of our talented creative teams."

ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAR!

PC gamers have a point when it comes to fears potential servers woes could prevent them from playing, but I'm sympathetic to the profound effect piracy's had on PC gaming, and I'm hard pressed to find too many instances where someone would find themselves without a connection.

That said, Ubisoft has no one to blame but themselves for this situation. It's not like its consumers haven't been actively asking for clarification on the DRM issue. The reason most of Reddit's gaming section has been flooded today with stories about From Dust's DRM is because the users feel lied to. If there's anything Ubisoft should have learned at this point, having gone through this combative cycle several times before, it's to be upfront. Consumers may push back, they may bitch to the heavens, but Ubisoft could say "We told you what to expect."

In that respect, Ubisoft failed.

Some users around the Internet are claiming Steam is offering refunds to upset users over the DRM. I've contacted Ubisoft about this but have not heard back. If you've managed to secure a refund, let me know, but when I submitted a customer service inquiry to Steam about the possibility of a From Dust refund, a representative basically told me it wasn't possible:

"As with most software products, we do not offer refunds or exchanges on games, DLC or in-game items purchased on our website or through the Steam Client. We will make an exception and refund preorders as long as the request is received prior to the release of the game. This only applies to preorders purchased from your account, preordered titles received or sent through the Steam Trading system cannot be refunded."

For now, PC users will continue raging. And while I think they're being a tad hyperbolic, they have a point.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
328 Comments
Posted by LordKorax

Regardless of your stance on the matter, Ubi's handling of this was slimy at best. When the word came out that the DRM was much more restrictive than they first claimed, they tried to edit/delete the initial board post to make it look like they never said it, and only reposted the initial statement after being called out on it.

Posted by Jimbo

It's a joke how Ubisoft are handling their PC releases nowadays, and not just because of the insane DRM.

I refuse to believe that deliberately causing confusion by pretending their PC releases are coming day and date, before inevitably 'delaying' them at the last minute (eg. From Dust, Call of Juarez, Driver, the AC games - too predictable now to be genuine delays) ends up being beneficial for them. I understand the thinking behind it -to avoid PC piracy harming the console release, without having to call their PC customers thieves- but I strongly suspect they have come to the wrong conclusion in this case (I begrudgingly accept that delaying the PC release of something like AC probably does make sense, though they still don't need to lie about the inevitable 'delay').

If a game like Super Meat Boy can go without DRM and end up selling better on PC than XBL, then From Dust certainly would. Or at least it would have if Ubisoft hadn't fumbled around and fucked it up so badly. This is a game where they clearly should have been treating the PC as their primary market, not as an afterthought.

If they don't want to put any effort into selling to the PC market then I'd rather they just stopped entirely. Ubisoft have made some of my favourite games of this gen, but all they're doing now is generating badwill.

Posted by zaglis
@GenghisJohn said:

Why do companies even bother with PC games anymore?

Yeah, I dunno. Magicka sold like 800k copies. Awful for a 10$ niche digital-only game, right?
Posted by atomic_dumpling
@GenghisJohn said:

Why do companies even bother with PC games anymore?

Too bad you intended your comment as a cheap flame bait, because in the specific case of Ubisoft that is actually a valid question.
Posted by Vexxan

I bought the game on 360 but this still pisses me off. To think they screwed up so badly.

Posted by Sweep

Currently arguing with a bunch of people about this on Twitter. I agree that the From Dust DRM situation is a total mess. What I do not agree with is people treating it as an excuse to pirate the game, as though poor DRM entitles them to free content. It's fucking ridiculous. If you don't like the way a game is being sold then don't buy it. Vote with your dollars, bones, rupee's or gold coins - piracy is just counter productive.

Moderator
Posted by TorMasturba

I was considering getting this on Steam. Ah well, I was already playing Bastion anywho, and I'm very happy with it. :-)

Posted by paulunga

Isn't that the EXACT same DRM solution as in Half-Life 2? People are still losing their shit about this? Seems to be a bit of an overreaction in this case simply because Ubisoft's been bad with the DRM in the last few years.

Posted by Jimbo

@TEG said:

"[We have seen] a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection, and from that point of view the requirement is a success,"

I wonder if they are seeing increased sales as a result? If not, is it really worth alienating legitimate consumers?

You're totally right, and this is exactly the difference which the industry (and certain analysts I could mention) seem to have trouble with. Reducing piracy doesn't mean anything in and of itself, so crowing about it is meaningless. It only matters if it leads to an increase in sales, which nobody can really prove one way or the other, but seems unlikely to have happened in Ubisoft's case.

I can only speak personally, but I know there are at least half a dozen Ubisoft games which typically I would have bought, but took a pass on because of the DRM they implemented. Maybe they made those sales up from the ex-pirates, and good for them if they did, but who can say whether they did or not. The way Ubisoft keeps flip flopping on this issue indicates that they certainly don't have a clue whether it's increasing sales or not - they're guessing, just the same as the rest of us.

Posted by retsub101

I'm always connected anyway so the DRM doesn't bother me too much but the controls just suck, I'm constantly fighting with the mouse. :(

Posted by teekomeeko

Damn, I almost bought From Dust yesterday on PC. I'm about to have to change internet providers and would have been screwed out of playing a game I legitimately payed for.

It doesn't help that all the benefits of PC gaming are thrown out the window for a god-awful port (apparently).

Edited by lokilaufey

I can empathize with publishers wanting to prevent piracy but they just seem to be doing it in the worst way possible. Seriously guys... 
 
I don't like things requiring an internet connection for SINGLE PLAYER content. I DO actually play on a laptop in an area with unstable or no connection. The connection at school is of mediocre quality & cuts out constantly, and is only available in the commons rooms. I can't just go anywhere to play, or outside. There is no wifi in my office so I can't play on my break time. And no, I won't just buy and then pirate or just pirate. One, I don't pirate games. Two, I shouldn't have to pirate a game I already bought just to play offline.

Posted by HeadNodShy

@Sweep said:

Currently arguing with a bunch of people about this on Twitter. I agree that the From Dust DRM situation is a total mess. What I do not agree with is people treating it as an excuse to pirate the game, as though poor DRM entitles them to free content. It's fucking ridiculous. If you don't like the way a game is being sold then don't buy it. Vote with your dollars, bones, rupee's or gold coins - piracy is just counter productive.

Isn't that going back to the whole "is it really stealing?" vs. "of course it's stealing!" ?

Posted by Metal_Mills

I'm glad this disaster of a port(for a game I was very excited to play on PC...) is getting some attention like this on GB. Good job, Patrick.

Posted by Skogen

Im amazed that developers are still putting out such poorly optimized ports.

30 frame cap and unsatisfactory mouse controls? Among the worst mistakes possible for a PC RTS styled game, but fear not there's DRM too!

These kind of rumors will absolutely destroy sales on PC, hope it was worth it Ubisoft.

Posted by masternater27

Publishers, your game is going to be pirated no matter what you do. Here's what you do: Provide enough value in your product so that some torrenters turn to buyers instead. Don't fuck over your customers that are buying with orwellian DRM. Easy. Alternatively make your game something that is always online for gameplay reasons and you can get away with this sort of thing.

Posted by gretzkyranger

There's gotta be a better way to counter piracy than customer screwing DRM. Perhaps just treating customers with some respect like Valve is the right course. There's no perfect solution to stop piracy of games but being a company that is upfront and honest while not looking to screw over paying customers seems like a great way to go.

Edited by Cmdc00kie

It's funny because this is done to stop pirating in the first place and all it does is encourage it. "You mean I can have the game without all these troubles AND for free?"  And the thing is, pirating isn't the problem. Majority of the piraters who pirated the game end up buying it anyways. Those who don't usually never intended on getting the game at all.

Posted by Capt_Ventris

It's not the DRM that bothers me, it's the crappy port of a game that should shine on a PC. Own goal Ubisoft.

Posted by jmrwacko

ROAAAAAR
 
Something is wrong on the Internet, guys. I'm scared.

Posted by darkdragonmage99

I will never understand the logic of treating all of your legit consumers as criminals. Sooner or later they are going to take a step to far make it easier to pirate the game then play it normally and then they are fucked.  
 Why pay to be treated like a criminal when you can be a criminal download the cracked version and play as much as you want without paying a dime?  Either way your gonna be treated like you stole something.  You might as well get the benefits right? 
  
I don't know about anyone else but when I'm accused of something enough I just feel like doing it just to give them a reason to bitch. 

Posted by sandwich_adjustment

I hope its ok that I can use GB to vent a bit....i dont want to go anywhere near ubisoft or steam forums.

AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO DOESNT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS SHIT? Everything works - day of purchase. No "youve been disconnected from EA servers" . Game runs f fine because wow i spent 400 bux on a new video card and cpu. I dont know...Its just frustrating to see this shit all the fucking time. Maybe im the 1% of users that can play ubisoft games as they meant their DRM to work.

That being said. THIS DRM SHIT IS A WASTE OF MONEY AND TIME. Good Job Ubisoft. I almost feel embarassed for Eric Chahi! You guys wasted your efforts since the BS with AssCreedII. And for what? Your DRM was cracked. Pirates won anyway. Like always. So all you got for your cash were a bunch of pissed off twats and dumb articles all over the web that poopoo on your face.

Posted by ItBeStefYo

Solution: Never buy another Ubisoft game on the PC till DRM is scrapped and they admit they were wrong

Posted by darkdragonmage99
@Sweep:  If I'm gonna be treated as if I stole it in the first place why the hell not steal it?  Being punished for something you did not do and getting no benefit from it. 
Posted by Slaegar

According to a post on the Ubisoft forums you actually need to have internet 24/7. Even during a game, if your internet cuts out, you get kicked and lose all progress.
 
Which if true, means ubisoft lied...twice!
 
http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/9751064939/m/2901034249 
 
^ Ubisoft's edited DRM post
 
http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/9751064939/m/6311026249
 
^
Forum post about it not being true, again.

Posted by Metal_Mills

@Capt_Ventris said:

It's not the DRM that bothers me, it's the crappy port of a game that should shine on a PC. Own goal Ubisoft.

Seriously, the capped 30FPS is bad and weird to say the least but ok, I'd live with it. The lack of settings and options is bad too but my PC should be able to run it ok so it's not the end of the world. But the controls, the controls are FUCKED. And this is a game that looks like t was built with a mouse in mind! It blows my mind at how bad this port is.

Posted by Oddsor

Looks like I can never buy a game from Ubisoft ever again.
I'll do my best to part ways with Steamworks and Battle.net as well in the future. I almost feel like I've rediscovered my principles!

Posted by Afroman269

A PC game with a 30 FPS? That's fucking stupid.

Posted by FritzDude

In my country "from dust" means "from moron", or "from jerk". I guess it's a perfect metaphor for this failure of a port.

Posted by BlazeHedgehog

PC gamers have a point when it comes to fears potential servers woes could prevent them from playing, but I'm sympathetic to the profound effect piracy's had on PC gaming, and I'm hard pressed to find too many instances where someone would find themselves without a connection.

Take heed, Patrick. There was a time where GiantBomb was going to go exclusively to streaming video, but many with spotty internet connections (myself included!) convinced Dave and the engineers to code an option to keep "Progressive" playback mode, otherwise the site would basically become worthless. Bad internet is a problem for some of us.
Posted by hagridore

Poor performance aside, PC gamers brought this DRM shit on themselves. You think Ubisoft has crazy DRM because they're mean? Its because most of you pirate games.

This is the reason everyone but Valve and Blizzard ditched the platform for Xbox 360. Why bother with the PC and the immature response to situations like this?

Posted by subyman

Ouch. The sad part is there is already a cracked version out there, the pirates get to play without the DRM woes at all while the legit gamers get slapped in the face. DRM does not work.

Posted by wickedsc3

Already got this game on console, don't care. Maybe people shouldn't steal games and DRM wouldn't be a problem. They have the right to protect there product, but they shouldn't have lied about it. But maybe they were planning on this not being DRM, but seen how many people were already stealing it and decided to implement it.

Posted by dezvous

This is why Steam works so well. It works as a sort of DRM in itself but it provides a service anyone with a PC benefits by having. I know I have spent way more money on PC games than I ever have in the past thanks to Steam and I freaking love it. How these other companies haven't figured this out yet is beyond me.

Edited by darkdragonmage99
@Oddsor:  I see no problem with battlenet and steamworks  Yes they are pretty much the same thing and the same hassle but they give you something for that hassle.  It's one thing to give you friends list  player states and so on and make you be connected to use it. It's a completely other thing to force someone to be connected for no reason other then you think they stole the game.  
 
This  DRM system is  based on  guilty before proven innocent. 
Posted by Giantstalker

I was almost sure I was going to buy this on the PC once it released.

Now, I'm not going get anywhere near this game. So screwed up on so many fronts; years from now, I truly wonder if people will look back on Ubisoft's foray into DRM and say it saved them money... or it cost them.

Posted by Firrae

@digitalsea87 said:

Ubisoft lied, and that's obviously an asshole move. But what I don't get is the outrage at always-online DRM (remember the Diablo III news a while back?). Isn't everyone who plays video games pretty much always connected to the internet? I mean, you surely are if you're playing From Dust, which is a digitally distributed game. It honestly feels like whining over nothing. What's wrong with being connected to the internet? I'm connected to the internet right now. It feels good. Bad mouse controls and a capped framerate, however, those are bad things. Sounds like I'll be playing it on PS3, if I ever do at all.

I may be connected to the internet now, but I have a cap on my internet usage here in Canada and it's only 60GB, if I leave my computer connected to the internet all the time it really doesn't last long as the ISPs here have a real hard time of gathering your proper usage (they tend to think 1Mb is more like 100Mb for some reason). Always on DRM is horrible for me as a gamer under such circumstances. I also regularly travel across Canada and the only major airport that still offers free wifi through the entire building is in Vancouver, it's horrible while I travel.

I totally understand the idea of DRM and how it supposedly helps but over the past year or so how many big name titles with DRM actually remained unbreakable for longer than 20 minutes?

Posted by Shuborno

@paulunga said:

Isn't that the EXACT same DRM solution as in Half-Life 2? People are still losing their shit about this? Seems to be a bit of an overreaction in this case simply because Ubisoft's been bad with the DRM in the last few years.

Not the same at all.

Typical case of playing HL2 is log in to Steam, no longer need internet connection, play Half-Life 2. If you set Steam to Offline Mode I don't think you even need to be online again for your next session.

With From Dust, if I understand correctly you need internet connection at all times, from launching the game, to being in-game. If your connection cuts out at all while you are playing you can no longer play.

Posted by Veektarius
@Mumrik: Laptops don't equal poor connections any more than desktops do.  The only place I can see laptop being equal to a problem is for portable gaming purposes.. and I don't really believe that's a substantial share of the market.  Happy to look at stats that suggest otherwise.
Posted by Firrae

@hagridore said:

Poor performance aside, PC gamers brought this DRM shit on themselves. You think Ubisoft has crazy DRM because they're mean? Its because most of you pirate games.

This is the reason everyone but Valve and Blizzard ditched the platform for Xbox 360. Why bother with the PC and the immature response to situations like this?

It's the stereotyping in your comment that worries me. People like you help spread the word that PC Gamers are pirates and games should be console only. I would like to remind you that currently on a daily basis more console based games (per platform) are pirated than on PC. And not everyone has "Ditched" PC, EA still has many games developed for PC and ported to consoles (BF3 and Dragon Age being 2 of them), as a matter of fact not may companies make games solely for consoles, hte PC gaming market is still to big to just ignore.

Posted by Lobst

DRM needs to do one thing: prevent the average user from distributing a paid copy to all his friends. This can be solved with an actual one-time login at installation, or the first time you boot up the game. EA does this, and it works great.

Alternatively, consider:

  • Distributing a pirated version that has a nonessential component locked out, to incentivize pirate conversion (ex: leaderboards in Trials 2)
  • Letting market forces have their way with a full-price product, then having a Pay What You Want sale for a limited time (ex: World of Goo)
  • Not having DRM at all, and being an extraordinarily cool company (ex: CD Projekt/GOG.com)

Just a thought.

Posted by truckington

Just to stress this again, people are upset because Ubisoft lied, not just because of the DRM itself.

They specifically said it was a one time activation, when it was not. They then went back and removed the posts saying that, then edited it and acted like nothing happened.

Posted by darkdragonmage99
@Lobst:  Yeah the sad fact is the companies that don't bother with DRM and simple ask the torrent sites and hacker communities nicely are more effective at preventing piracy then any company that put overbearing DRM in there software.  DRM does nothing to prevent piracy all it can do is slow it down. If you get the people doing the work and hosting the stuff on your side on the other hand the stuff never gets pirated in the first place. 
Posted by Beomoose

What a big, wet dump by Ubi. Always-on DRM and the PC version is gimped. Why don't they just charge extra for playing it on the PC while they're at it?

Posted by Fuga

Well here are the links *I* visited on reddit:

Posted by Skronk61

Who isn't connected to the Internet when their computer is on?

Posted by Doogie2K
" PC gamers have a point when it comes to fears potential servers woes could prevent them from playing, but I'm sympathetic to the profound effect piracy's had on PC gaming, and I'm hard pressed to find too many instances where someone would find themselves without a connection.
 
One ISP or router blip (which happens more often than you'd think, especially in rural areas) and you're kicked out of your single player game without saving progress. 
Posted by Doogie2K
@Skronk61 said:
Who isn't connected to the Internet when their computer is on?
Some people can't get broadband where they live. Shocking, I know.
Posted by hermes

Correct me if I am wrong, but how is this different than the "always online" policy of Blizzard? 
They advertise it as a feature instead of a restriction, but its basically the same thing; however, no one seems to complain about it.

Posted by Thule

@hermes said:

Correct me if I am wrong, but how is this different than the "always online" policy of Blizzard? They advertise it as a feature instead of a restriction, but its basically the same thing; however, no one seems to complain about it.

World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2 are games in which being online is a large part(essential in WoW's case) of the game. SC2's campaign can be played offline, should you desire to do so.

From Dust is a single player game.