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Ubisoft Director Backtracks On Piracy Complaints After Public Lashing

This article was originally published on Techdirt.com.

Thanksgiving week was not a good week for Ubisoft Shanghai creative director Stanislas Mettra. When asked if a PC version of the game I Am Alive would be coming, he responded that it wouldn’t because of piracy.

It’s hard because there’s so much piracy and so few people are paying for PC games that we have to precisely weigh it up against the cost of making it. Perhaps it will only take 12 guys three months to port the game to PC, it’s not a massive cost but it’s still a cost. If only 50,000 people buy the game then it’s not worth it.

This statement and one about PC gamers “bitching” got the gaming press and PC gamers all riled up. Very soon the news was everywhere that Ubisoft, the company pushing always on DRM and complaining about piracy on the PC at every turn, was at it again. This bad publicity led to Mettra backtracking on his comments.

What I meant is that the pc version did not happen yet [sic]. But we are still working to see the feasibility of it, which is not necessarily simple. I gave some examples to illustrate the problematic [sic], but obviously it is not in my hands and not my part to talk about this.

Although he attempts to avoid the topic of piracy specifically in his retraction, he still leaves the reader with the same message, PC gaming is a losing venture. Is this in the Ubisoft training material or something? Are they trained to believe that the PC is rife with piracy and that it should be treated with the utmost contempt and caution? It wasn’t that long ago that other Ubisoft developers were complaining about the same thing.

I would be happy to leave this discussion at that if it weren’t for the comments from a few other developers that same week on the very same topic. While Mettra believes the problem lies with piracy and the lack of paying customers on the PC, these other developers came to a very different conclusion. First we have Devolver CFO Fork Parker speaking about the PC version of Serious Sam 3:

Piracy is a problem and there is no denying that but the success of games like Skyrim and our own Serious Sam 3 on PC illustrates that there is clearly a market willing to pay for PC games, It’s on the developers and publishers to put something out on the market that’s worth paying for in the first place. Those that place the blame on the consumer need to rethink the quality of their products and the frequency in which they shovel out derivative titles each year.

The other side of the equation is the distribution model. In games, we have amazing PC digital download services like Steam, Get Games and Direct2Drive doing the same thing for games that iTunes did for music. Offer the consumer a variety of great digital content at a reasonable price and the majority will happily pay for the games that suit their tastes.

Here is a developer who recognizes that the market for PC games is ripe for the taking. Gamers are willing to buy quality product. If the game fails to turn a profit it is not the fault of the gamer or the pirates, it is the fault of the developer and publisher. If they take advantage of the services that PC gamers use to distribute their games, they will see a return on that investment.

Next we have Valve’s CEO, Gabe Newell, speaking on the subject once again.

We think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24/7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country three months after the U.S. release and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable.

Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customer’s use or by creating uncertainty.

I know we quote Newell a lot when the topic of game piracy comes up, but his comments are always relevant. He is a man who gets it. He has learned that the battle with piracy cannot be won through the use of DRM, region restrictions or any other restriction that you can throw at the customer. This is something that Ubisoft has continually failed to learn. If you want to succeed in PC gaming, you need to bring the games to where the customers are, make them available and restrict them as little as possible. When you do that, honest customers will support you.

Really Ubisoft, this is getting old. I feel like a parent scolding his child for the 20th time about hitting his sister. You think the child gets it after the first time and that the second time is an honest mistake. But, when the child continues to hit his sister, you need to take drastic disciplinary action. What will it take to get the message through to those in charge at Ubisoft? Gamers want your games and will buy them, but you have to provide the service they want. That is the only way you will succeed.

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