I've been looking forward to Silent Hunter 5 for a while now as regular readers will know I am a bit of a submarine fan. Playing number 2 and 3 to death, for those wondering Silent Hunter 4 was set in the Pacific and in my opinion nothing could be more boring :-) Silent Number 5 when it was first announced was looking fantastic.
However a few months ago it was announced there would only be one submarine, a Type VII. Now I don't know about you, but I started my career as a U-Boat captain in a Type II before the start of the war, then to get a Type VIIB, and then a couple of years later to start longer range patrols in IX. Desperately trying to hang on until 1945 and with a bit of luck somehow manage to get the epic Type XXI, I could never survive long enough personally but it gave you a goal to try and achieve.
It was also announced the game would end in 1943. Say what?
Both of these facts diminished my interest. But not as much compared to what I heard last week. Ubisoft's new copy protection system that they've got coming down on their games this year has firmly squashed any intentions of getting this game close to release. May be I'll pick up a version when it's cheap somewhere. But I'm not getting it on release and not paying full whack for it, not when there's the possibility of the game not working half the time.
With this new copy protection scheme you're completely reliant on your internet connection to play, and Ubisoft's ability to maintain its servers. You need to stay connected to Ubisoft's servers or else you can't play. If you connection drops while playing you're kicked out to the main menu.
On the plus side there's no disc check. Or an activation limit. There's other cool things that I've been keen to get for a while, server-side saved games (ideally with a local cache but not in this case) and config. Like some of the Steam cloud stuff we've been seeing lately, so that's all cool. But then of course there's the bad things...
My opinion has always been that copy protection systems are pointless and that they only inconvenience your paying customers. After all the people who pirate it don't have to worry about the copy protection systems, they've already been ripped out.
If a game does have to require some form of copy protection, in my opinion these days it's reasonable to have an install-time activation over the internet. However, and importantly, your activation count should reset over time. Like it does with Windows, you can activate it once, try again the next day on a different computer and not be able to. But try again in a few months time and it'll activate again. This is more reasonable and takes into account people getting new computers.
There is of course always the danger that the company will go under, which is why they should always have a patch developed to remove the activation either at the end of the supported life, or if the company is about to go under. Ubisoft have however said that they will release a patch if and when the online service is shut down so that "core" gameplay remains unaffected.
Discs checks nowadays are also getting less viable as people start having computers without optical drives. And let's face it, it's annoying.
A Steam-like system is borderline usable. However the one big issue with Steam is you're required to be online to put Steam into an offline mode. Meaning if your internet connection dies and you want to play a game. You're screwed. A big issue for me as I'm much more likely to waste time playing games if the internet goes down.
Something like Fallout 3 is a good example of copy protection done right. It checks the disc on install. And then if you want all the cool stuff like being able to sign-in to Xbox/Games for Windows Live you need to use the Live access key and be connected the internet. But the game doesn't suddenly break if you lose your connection.
The minimum I would like to see Ubisoft change would be scrapping the whole booting you to the menu when the connection is lost. If the connection goes down, fine, keep playing, cache the save games locally until the connection is restored. That way most people at least won't notice if their connections dies. That's my biggest issue with this. Nothing would be worse than preparing to strike at a convoy you've been following for 3 days and losing all your progress because the connection dropped briefly.
Ideally though. Stop bothering with DRM, too much money is wasted developing it, it wastes more money in support costs and just hassles paying customers, and let's be honest. It doesn't stop people from pirating.
Silent Hunter 5, aside from the one submarine type and the game ending in 1943 and the obvious questionable DRM issues, looks like a fantastic game, and it is sad that so many people will not be buying it, at least on release due to the restrictions that Ubisoft have placed upon it, but we have to send a message saying that we aren't going to accept this level of copy protection.