UBISoft Blames Piracy for Not Releasing PC Games

UBISoft has a been the long time steward of the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon franchises. Recently they announced no new PC games would be produced and generally blamed piracy. PC Gamers (all eight of them) are generally outraged. UBISoft claims the game wouldn’t be a profit center for them. Lets take a peek at what’s going on in the PC world versus the console world.

At the top of the list for why UBISoft’s excuse is bullshit – The entire success of the XBOX is that it runs Direct X. You write a game that uses pure Direct X calls, your game runs on both the PC and the XBOX with zero effort required on your part. That’s really the bottom line right there and the beginning and end of the argument. If you use Direct X, it works both places. There’s more effort required in doing the PS3 port than there is going from XBOX to PC. To Microsoft’s credit, they’ve done a really good job making this work on both sides of the fence. This means two things – UBISoft must really mean it about the piracy and any other arguments are largely accessory to this.

Part B is they’ve released free versions of the games on PC. Why? You’re going to get them for free anyway, according to UBISoft, because you’re all a bunch of pirates on the PC. Nevermind the vast majority of PC OSes are legal (in the US) or firmly in the gray market (corporate licenses). If we can draw a line from legal OSes to legal games and assume they’re roughly the same level of piracy (people who pirate the OS are likely to pirate the games) then roughly 20% of software is pirated.

What’s the argument against this? PC games have to be pirated individually, and I would venture close to 100% of pirated versions of PC apps contain malware, spyware, viruses and god knows what else. Furthermore unless the company is using bone-stock copy protection, someone has to put the effort into breaking the copy protection for that particular version of that particular application. New version comes out? They have to play cat and mouse again.

The XBOX situation is particularly interesting in this regard because for one, it’s easy and universal and only requires a BIOS flash. For two, since microsoft actively patrols it’s network, getting an XBOX online with a flashed drive results in both the XBOX and the user’s account being banned from XBOX live. The result is that to engage in piracy, an XBOX user only has to do one thing which works for all the games and for two, he or she can never play the game online. UBISoft’s games have only recently had any online content and in the case of Ghost Recons previous to their newest titles, online support has been limited to co-op missions and team deathmatch. It didn’t bring anything to the table that games like battlefield and modern warfare didn’t, and in modern warfare’s case it’s a better ghost recon than ghost recon for having the same play styles and even more modes. I just don’t see a future niche for UBISoft unless they start making games people want to play online.

Compare this to the wii, where games are easy to pirate and the online service has no protection at all, and the piracy argument rings pretty hollow. While I think they’re avoiding the PC market where piracy is easier than the XBOX market, I think they’re doing it more because they’re shooting even lower than the consoles. I personally think they’re looking to enter the android/apple space on the tablets. Not only does that dovetail nicely with the play-for-free space (Android being java makes ports easier, but not as easy as Direct X) but it means the advertising revenue can be generated across all sizes of PCs from commodity laptops on up and in the cellphone space. There probably will be a market for more serious titles on the XBOX/PS, but it looks to me like UBI is more interested in the play for free space and was just looking for some excuse to avoid the “gamer” PC game space.

Thank god they didn’t go subscription like World of Warcraft.

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