Will Ubisoft Return to Always-Online After the uPlay Hack?
Ubisoft and piracy have once again found themselves sharing headlines this week. Russian hackers breached the security of uPlay, Ubisoft’s digital distribution portal for PC games. The hack makes the launcher believe a user already owns a given game, which renders it downloadable and playable at no cost and without DRM.
If that wasn’t bad enough, as a result, Ubisoft’s unannounced title Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon has found its way into the hands of the public. That’s right — the company just happened to have it lying around on its servers and has been frantically working to take down player footage of the game being uploaded to YouTube.
Now, we all know that Ubisoft hasn’t taken kindly to PC piracy in the past. So the big question is: how will Ubisoft respond to this? Will it begin shouting its anti-piracy war cry once more and adopt more aggressive measures, or will it let this one slide? The answer, I believe, depends on Blood Dragon’s sales.
Consider scenario 1: Blood Dragon sells well on PC. In this case, Ubisoft has nothing to complain about and may secretly believe that the act of piracy actually helped sales by allowing prospective players to try out the product and endorse it to friends. Hell, I bet some conspiracy theorists would even posit that this entire situation is a guerrilla marketing tactic orchestrated by puppet master Ubisoft.
Compare this to scenario 2: Blood Dragon does not sell well on PC. Ubisoft pins this purely on piracy — surely, it cannot be because the game sucks. The company now has fodder to revisit its slackened stance on piracy and the “always-online” debate.
You may think that even considering always-online in the wake of SimCity is utter madness. I would say the same about EA going ahead with always-online for SimCity in the wake of Diablo 3. Ubisoft has not resolutely stated that it will never reconsider always-online — quite the contrary, in fact.
Ubisoft’s past foray into the world of always-online followed a period of vocal disdain toward PC pirates. In 2008, Ubisoft Shanghai Creative Director Michael de Plater told VG247 that the PC version of strategy title EndWar was delayed because of piracy. “To be honest, if PC wasn’t pirated to hell and back, there’d probably be a PC version coming out the same day as the other two [console releases],” he said. “But at the moment, if you release the PC version, essentially what you’re doing is letting people have a free version that they rip off instead of a purchased version. Piracy’s basically killing PC.”
Speaking with Tom’s Games, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot stated that “Piracy is enormously damaging to the market.” He went on to explain his confusion over the difficulty that PC gamers have accepting DRM, saying:
“The PC gaming community is very often against any kind of system that prohibits piracy, which I have difficulty understanding. They need to help us to make sure we can invest on the PC, because if we can’t get a return on investment with PC games then we will not invest.”