Glad I’m not playing Diablo 3.

Diablo 3 launched today to the excitement of many. I mentioned over the weekend that I wasn’t interested in it but was expecting to feel left out. Well, I’d forgotten about the always online DRM that Blizzard was building into the game. Despite the fact that you can play Diablo 3 completely single-player, you can’t actually play it offline. In effect Blizzard launched a single-player MMO today (an SPO?) and had the usually MMO launch issues, namely overwhelmed servers.

So instead of there being a deafening silence on Twitter as everyone was engrossed in playing, or having to read tons of messages about how amazing the game is, instead I was reading complaints about lag, server timeouts, and error numbers. It really reminded me of the original launch of WoW more than seven years ago, and made me wonder why Blizzard wasn’t able to prepare better. After all, surely if any game developer has the experience and resources to handle a massive launch it should be Blizzard. Right?

Personally, even were I interested in the game, I still wouldn’t be playing it as I really dislike the trend DRM is taking at the moment. At least Valve has built Steam to allow for offline play, surely Blizzard could manage something similar if they cared to. Or maybe it’s Activision that doesn’t care?

Either way, I hope that things calm down soon for those of you who want to play, so you can get in and get some quality time in-game.

Ubisoft never disappoints me.

I love the Anno series of games. I love the art style and the game mechanics involved in city building. The combat systems are a bit rough, but I normally turn those off. The real challenge for me in those games are building a stable trade web between multiple islands.

Despite my love for the series, I haven’t and won’t be buying Anno 2070. I want to, I really do, but I think it’s asinine of Ubisoft to include their patented must-be-online-POS-DRM in a single player game that’s available through Steam. Why on earth I want to deal with two layers of DRM? Especially when the one layer that’s not needed and offers zero incentives isn’t even managed properly.

DRMless is Worth More

I usually don’t play old games. I admit that I ‘m a shallow gamer. Once I know there’s a better looking version of a game out, I just don’t enjoy playing the old one as much, even when the I prefer the style/mechanics of an older version.

As a result, I’ve never bought anything from Good Old Games until this week. I preordered Witcher 2 through, even though I bought the original Witcher through Steam. I was planning to get the sequel through Steam when it went on sale eventually, but then I read that it wasn’t going to have any DRM on it through GOG. To me, that’s worth paying full price and not waiting on some crazy Steam sale.

Now I just need to actually finish the first one.


I’m not a fan of DRM lock-in in any medium, but especially not with books because I like to keep and reread them, sometimes more than ten years later. With music, I didn’t start spending money on MP3s until Amazon came out with their DRM-free store.

That said, I ordered a Kindle.

Why a Kindle and not a Nook?

First, I tried out a Nook in the Barnes & Noble store a few weeks ago when they announced their price cut but the touch screen felt a little laggy to me. Second, I’ve tried out both the Kindle and Barnes & Noble software on my phone, using it to read some free samples, and I liked the Kindle version better.

So what changed my mind?

Well, I’ve been tempted to get one before out of sheer gadget lust, but always managed to make my saving throw. Until my wife asked me recently about what we would need to stream Netflix to the TV. My wife suggesting a gadget purchase is a rare event, so I was pretty excited. Thus, while I was on Amazon ordering a Roku box, I somehow ended up ordering a Kindle as well.

So I actually haven’t changed my mind, I do think that I’m taking a risk of having to buy some books multiple times because of DRM, but hopefully by being aware of that and making some decisions about what I buy in which format, I can avoid getting burned in the future.

I’m intending to be fairly choosy about what I buy electronically. If Amazon ever decides to get out of the ereader business, I’m at their mercy to remove the DRM from my purchases so I can transfer the files to text or to different hardware (assuming I don’t break the law and find away to do it myself). Honestly, that not something I see publishers ever allowing though.

Being choosy means that I will get Kindle editions for things like programming books, since they get outdated within a few years,  and any vacation reading, like the Burn Notice tie-in I read recently. Certain authors will continue to be hardback purchases: Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, and Patrick Rothfuss, to name a few. Basically, anything that I’m likely to reread or collect.

The big challenge for me will be the convenience and immediacy of getting Kindle editions. For instance, if I’m chatting on Twitter and someone mentions a book, I can order it from my phone and start reading it during my lunch break at work. Something I’ve actually done recently.

I still don’t like that you can’t use readers on planes during take offs and landings, but I very rarely travel so that’s always been a picked nit on my part.

I ordered the new Kindle 3 (wifi/3g) but they’re back-ordered right now, so I have to wait until mid September to see how much I actually like it. In the meantime, I’ve bought two BlackBerry development books and the Elemental game tie-in, Destiny’s Ember, and I’ve been reading them on my phone (which is great for downtime at work) and on my desktop PC.

Will E-books Kill Nostalgia?

My recent bout of nostalgia for gamebooks had me thinking about e-books again.

Even though I’ve been tempted by gadget lust several times, I don’t own a Kindle, a Nook, or an iPad. A few years ago, I bought a couple of ebooks from Fictionwise when I was experimenting with lunchtime reading on my PDA. Reading experience aside, my PDA reading experiment has a big similarity to using a Kindle, Nook, or iPad: if you lose the device or stop using it then all of the books you’ve purchased are gone.

This make me wonder if nostalgia experience like I recently enjoyed will vanish once e-books become more common. The switch from paper books is much different than the switch from film photos to digital photos, because digital photos are portable across different types of devices and can be copied. E-books are tied to a specific device by DRM software. If I read an e-book and I fall in love with it and want to be sure that I can pick it up and read it again in 5, 10, or 20 years, then I would either have to buy a paper version or I would have to store the e-book reader and hope that the battery and electronics still worked years later.

E-books have much more in common with digital music from several years ago, and it’s going to take a similar loosening of control before I’m ready to commit to it. Even once I started listening to MP3’s primarily, I continued to buy and rip CD’s. It wasn’t until Amazon opened their DRM free music store that I stopped buying physical media. I just did not want to commit myself to the walled-garden of iTunes or Play-for-sure. Unfortunately Amazon’s entry into the e-book market is just as locked down as anything Apple did in the music-space, so I don’t see the current e-book environment changing in the near future.

For now, I’m going to stick with paper.


Dear, Ubisoft, I heard your DRM servers are causing people a few issues.

Apparently people haven’t been able to play for most/all of Sunday. Of course the thread is only 7 pages long with a few hundred posts, so either not a lot of people are having problems or not a lot of people bought the PC version of your game.

I think this marks my last Ubisoft DRM post. At this point all of the bad things I assumed would happen have and I’m getting tired of feeling negative. I may change my mind if they do something monumentally stupid, but I’m not sure how they could top themselves.

No Surprise, Ubisoft DRM Cracked Already

In what was surely only to Ubisoft, their shiny new DRM scheme has been cracked within 24 hours of the release of Silent Hunter V. There’s more details and links at Info Addict, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Destructoid if you’re interested. Ubisoft claims that it really isn’t cracked, but what else are they going to say.

I would say I predicted this, but really who couldn’t have. Regardless of the crack, I’m still not planning to buy any of their games PC or 360. Too bad, I hear Assassin’s Creed 2 is pretty good, but then again I have a literal pile of 360 and PC games I haven’t finished yet.

No Excuse for Piracy

Even though I despise DRM, I don’t consider it a good excuse to pirate games.

First there are the ethical considerations. Pirating a game is stealing. If you want to play a game then you should pay for it. If you think it is too expensive, if you don’t like the DRM it comes with, then just don’t play it. I can see using pirated games as demos, but that’s really the only exception to the rule.

Beyond the ethics, there are very good practical reasons not to pirate.

First, you you never know what you’re getting when you download a cracked copy of a game. Key loggers, viruses, root kits, who knows what kind of malware has been dropped into that unlocked copy of Whatever 5. Sure you can limit where you get stuff from and use anti-virus and anti-malware, but that’s no guarantee. Oh, and yeah, I know some people consider certain DRM programs to be viruses or malware, at that point see the ethical responses above.

Second, if you buy a DRMed game and then download a utility to strip it out then the publisher and developer don’t see any impact to their sales. Which means they won’t understand their mistakes. They’ll continue to add DRM layers to their games. One exception to this is Spore, but there’s very few games that will garner that kind of publicity.

D, R, effing, M.

DR-effing-M. *sigh*

I am reminded of the following quote:

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. – Albert Einstein

Ubisoft has decided that they do not want to learn from the experiences of EA and 2K Games.

PC Gamer has an article about how Ubisoft is requiring an internet connection for Assassins Creed 2 for the PC. That’s not just for registering the game initially, or launching the game, but for the entire time the game is running. So your router goes down, or your 2 year old son unplugs your modem? You get kicked out of your game. When your connection comes back up you’re at the last checkpoint you reached. Hopefully there are a lot of checkpoints in the game.

There’s a follow up at PC Gamer where Ubisoft tries to address their concerns, but the only thing I got from it is that they don’t have a firm grasp on reality.

What it boils down to is that they are trying to combat piracy. They are trying to sell this system as a value add, by saying that you don’t have to have the disc to play, that you can install as many times as you want, and that your save games will be stored on a server. What they don’t seem to understand, though, is that when I buy a single player game, I don’t want to have to worry about launch day player floods of the authentication server. I understand, and expect, that as part of the MMO experience, but I don’t want that in my single player experience. Ubisoft doesn’t even believe that it is unhackable. So, once again, people of rip off the company will be able to play however they want and paying customers get to deal with the hassle.

Let me explain something to Ubisoft. I haven’t played Bioshock. I didn’t buy it for PC because of all of the problems 2k had with their server-based DRM scheme. There were plenty of other games for me to play at the time, so why purchase something that is going to cause me frustration. I also didn’t buy it for Xbox 360, since I didn’t want to encourage bad behavior. Not a big deal, right? That’s just one sale. Well not exactly. I’m not buying Bioshock 2 either. Not because of any DRM of 2k boycott, but because I never played the first one, and I feel I would be missing out on the full experience by not having played the first game.

This whole debacle is very timely. I didn’t play Assassin’s Creed 1 because of some of the reviews it got about repetitiveness, and I was deep into several other games at the time. Generally this means that the window of opportunity for me to get into a franchise is closed. Assassin’s Creed 2 has been getting such good reviews, though that I thought about picking up both games for my 360. I was actually in Best Buy this last weekend and had both games in my hand. I didn’t end of buying them, but only because I decided I should check with friends and see if I really needed to play the first game or I would be better off watching some Youtube cut-scenes. Boy am I glad I didn’t buy those games now. So Ubisoft has cost themselves two sales from me, and likely any additional sales on the franchise since I’ll be so far behind on the story.

As rants go, this one is pretty weak, but I’m not really pissed off so much as exasperated. You would think that gaming companies would look at case studies of what the music industry went through already, or at least what other gaming companies have already tried and failed at.

It reminds me of a corporate reorganization at a former job. We had a full IT department meeting, where the CIO outlined a reorganization we were going to do. Instead of grouping staff by technical skills (team of Java devs, team of Oracle admin, and so on) we were instead going to be grouped by business area/process. This meant that a team in charge of a specific business area would have one or more developers (of different skills sets like Java and Progress), a DBA, a tester, etc. The funny thing about the meeting was the CIO introduced the idea by saying it had been tried at other companies and never worked, but we were going to give it a shot anyway. I left wondering what the heck he was thinking.

So good luck to Ubisoft, trying to do nearly the same thing that EA, 2k, and others have already tried. I’m sure that you won’t have a multitude of issues every time a new game releases and thousands of players try to authenticate against your servers at the same time. I can’t imagine that you’ll have a horde of  angry customers calling support wanting to know why they can’t play their offline, single player game because your DRM servers are down for maintenance. I’m sure no one will mind in a couple of years when you decide to decommission the servers for old games, or really care if you decide to patch out the DRM at that time.

If you want to read some more about this, there’s some more good information and opinion over at both Rock, Paper, Shotgun! and Ars Technica.

Personally, I’m not committing myself to a boycott of the company or anything. I’m not going to start rage posting on forums or signing a petition. I’m just not going to buy the game and then move on with my life. I suppose I may be tempted at some point to buy an Ubisoft game despite the DRM, but right now I can’t think of a game that I’m looking forward to enough that I’d be willing to deal with that kind of DRM. Assassin’s Creed certainly isn’t interesting enough for me to bother. I have so many more convenient ways to spend my entertainment time.

Gears DRM Debacle

Event like the Gears of War DRM debacle perfectly illustrate why Digital Rights Management is such a bad idea for the PC platform.

As a software developer myself, I can guarantee that there is no such thing as bug-free code.  Any piece of software that has more than 50 lines of code in it is going to have bugs, and any bug fix can introduce additional problems.  So anytime a developer adds functionality (like say DRM) to a product they are adding new possible problems.

When new functionality improves the game experience, this increased risk of problems is worthwhile to a gamer, but the addition of DRM usually provides no experience  improvements.  This is why Valve’s Steam has so much customer buy in.  Games are digitally distributed so there’s no CD/DVD required in the drive and I can buy and play a game without having to leave my house, and Steam allows me to download my purchases again if I need to.

With the exception of MMO’s, I’ve stopped buying PC games except through Valve’s Steam or Stardock’s Impulse.

Game publishers (and movie studios) need to look at what happened with the music industry.  Record studios pushed DRM in different forms for years without success, and now both iTunes and Amazon are doing great business without any DRM at all.  Customer’s pay for convenience and quality, not hassles.  Pirates won’t pay no matter what kind of protection is included.