PC gaming has become the unwitting battleground for a ‘just war’ against piracy which may impact everyone, even console users.
The news that Russian hackers had fooled Ubisoft’s Uplay distribution platform into allowing unrestricted access to their games, even unreleased ones, was at first met with unbridled jubilation. Exciting, hilarious footage of upcoming Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon spread across YouTube and Liveleak as the publisher desperately tried to remove it, but unlike traditional clips from unscrupulous alpha testers, this was the full version being played by end users. The tide quickly turned as the repercussions for the industry as a whole were calculated.
There have always been two distinct camps on the issue of piracy and it used to be a simple question of morals. You either stole games off the internet or paid for them legitimately and felt smug about it. Since then, the former camp has been vilified for negatively impacting the latter, as publishers become increasingly incentivised to put digits rights management (DRM) into their games to curb piracy. But the Uplay incident may galvanise an abrupt throttling of the already diminished love for PC gaming production, and may even affect the next generation of consoles.
Even with tools like Uplay, hackers can bypass security systems and plunder to their hearts’ content
Consumerist magazine’s ‘Worst Company in America‘ for two years running, Electronic Arts, has been lambasted for its heavy-handed response to potential piracy over an even longer period. The suggestion that such Scrooge-like practices are, in fact, necessary to protect intellectual property is disheartening. If, even with ‘always-on’ DRM tools like Uplay, hackers can bypass security systems and plunder to their hearts’ content, then why would they even bother?
There are good reasons why they should bother, of course, and it’s ironic that publishers’ perceived lack of respect for their customers may be part of the problem. CD Projekt RED confirmed that Witcher 3 will not have any DRM because they believe it hurts the user experience and acknowledge “you can’t do anything about” piracy. This hints at a weird scenario where good-guy developers who are less precious about protecting their rights, end up minimising their exposure to piracy. Idealism 101.
Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox is conspicuous by its absence and tweets by a rogue representative have at once insulted potential customers and heightened fears that the console will be ‘always-on.’ From an investor’s perspective and in light of Uplay’s slip, this suddenly seems like a real coup. Anything to imbue trust in potential developer partnerships. It doesn’t bear mentioning how dreadful a console which requires an internet connection to even function would be for some.
Hopefully the worst that PC gamers have to endure is the threat of more invasive DRM, and perhaps the relationship between benevolent game-maker and respectful game-player will even grow stronger. However, the Uplay debacle certainly hasn’t paved the way to better times in any obvious way, and things could get a lot worse. Consolers may too find themselves hampered by piracy prevention precautions and the next movements by Microsoft and Sony are likely to mould the future of gaming for the decade to come.
Featured image: Ubisoft