Well, the storm of commentary and attention directed at my Assassin's Creed 2 DRM article has died down a little bit. I suspect that that little blog post is one of the most read pieces of text I've ever written. At this point, 90% of the Internet has posted on Slashdot, The Escapist, or somewhere else to say I'm an idiot. The intensity of the reaction was quite interesting to me, and the various responses left me with a lot of what, for me, passes for thoughts.
I think a lot of the intensity of the reaction was because, simply, many people hadn't heard about this new DRM system. Or, if they had, they were still heated up over it. Add in the constant need among pirates to come up with increasingly overwrought justifications for their obviously illegal and immoral actions, and you have the expected traveling firestorm.
It is now rumored that crackers are making short work of this new DRM software. Believe me, I hope this is the case. As I said in the previous article, I think these measures are overall bad for the PC games industry (of which I am a part). However, this alleged victory will, I think, be short-lived. Once these games are being coded to constantly contact the developer's servers, developers have a lot of new weapons in their anti-pirate arsenal. More about this in point #2, below.
But, in the mess, interesting things were said. Here is what I have learned (or still believe):
1. To "work", anti-piracy measures only need to stay unbroken for the peak sales period of the game. That is, the first three months or so. If it stays uncracked for that long, the developers win. I never said that there was uncrackable DRM, because that is not true. It does not need to be uncrackable.
2. UbiSoft's "Have the game maintain a constant Internet connection and move a lot of the processing onto the server" solution will slow down cracking. If not now, then in the future. Developers can move more and more processing onto the server. Right now, it's just saved games. Later, they can move more and more code off of your machine and onto theirs.
You want your very-difficult-to-crack DRM system? Here it is! Take all the statistics (and maybe scripts) for creatures and items and weapons and put them on the server. The game only downloads them when it needs them. This is ten thousand little chunks, only a handful of KB, of vital and irreplaceable data, and it will take a long time for a cracker to get the game to download all of the bits so he can isolate and read them all and put them in his fake server/cracked game. And God help you if he missed an item. Don't just wave your hands and go, "Oh, someone could break that easy." This system is already routinely used by MMOs, and it would work.
(And I suspect Assassin's Creed 2 has some of this and they just haven't told us yet. Remember, it has to be using that constant net connection for something.)
Once the game is developed with a constant net connection in mind, the developer can heap an arbitrary amount of work on hackers. I've read a lot of "easy solutions" to the problem over the last few days. All assume they know everything that's going on on the server side. Not a good assumption.
3. Oh, and by the way, the constant server thing is temporary. UbiSoft has already said that, when they don't want to maintain the servers anymore, they will release a patch removing the need for the game to talk to them. I give it about six months until this happens. Maintaining that many servers is expensive, and once that period of time has passed they won't need the DRM there anymore. Then Assassin's Creed 2 is free to appear on ten buck shovelware DVD compilations, coming to a Best Buy near you.
4. People have an almost religious need to believe in the power of the cracker to overcome any obstacle in his (or her?) way. I think that part of the ideological structure pirates build to justify their actions must include believing that, "Hey, it'll always be cracked anyway." Either that, or people just don't wanna believe that the river of cool free stuff they believe they are entitled to might dry up.
5. If you use the terms "hacker" and "cracker" interchangeably, you will make a small number of people very angry at you.
6. Suppose, for the sake of argument, they did develop pirate-proof DRM on the PC. Lots of people seem to assume that, when people can't pirate the game, they just won't buy it. Hogwash. People LOVE games. If they have to pay money to get games, they will. Just look at the XBox, Wii, and PS3. It's possible to pirate games there, but it is not easy. Thus, people pay tons of cash for them. It's easy to talk big about how you will never pay money for games with restrictive DRM, but everyone has a price. If games as sexy as Diablo 3 ever start coming with the mean DRM, a lot of people are going to sigh, grit their teeth, and accept it.
So, as repellent as the new system is, they aren't insane for trying. The rewards for success are considerable.
So thank you for all the attention. And, if you don't think I'm an entire idiot, my newest fantasy RPG for Windows and Mac doesn't have any scary DRM at all. And the demo is huge and free. Please excuse this blatant self-promotion. Thank you, and good night.