As with most of the company's major game launches since early last year, Ubisoft planned to lace the PC version of Driver: San Francisco with its pesky always-on DRM. The mechanism has appeared in titles including Assassin's Creed II, Silent Hunter V, The Settlers 7, as well as Splinter Cell: Conviction and it always disappoints gamers. Without fail, many would-be customers have vowed to boycott the new Driver over the developer's invasive digital control system.
In response to the disgruntled upwelling, Ubisoft said Driver: San Francisco would "no longer include" the DRM that requires a permanent Internet connection -- a half-truth. Although you won't have to stay connected through the duration of your playtime, you will require an active Internet connection so the game can perform an authentication check each time you want to launch it. Once that validation has completed, you can choose to play Driver offline if so desired.
Although that's an improvement, it doesn't address the primary concern of users who criticize the always-on DRM, because it still requires an Internet connection to play the game -- if only briefly. Someone playing at a hotel or grandma's house might not have access to the Web, thereby preventing them from launching the game. On a scale of draconian DRM mechanisms, Ubisoft has effectively turned the dial from 10 to 9, and we're not sure what good that'll do.
As with previous instances, users have questioned the effectiveness of Ubisoft's controversial DRM. All of the above games were swiftly cracked and uploaded to torrent sites, making the whole effort seem fruitless. Pirates are unaffected by the DRM while paying customers have to jump through hoops, and Ubisoft has to waste resources developing said hoops. Although it seems pointless to the casual onlooker, Ubisoft is convinced that its DRM is a "success."
Speaking with PC Gamer a few weeks ago, Ubisoft said the studio has witnessed "a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection, and from that point of view the requirement is a success." Unfortunately, the developer didn't offer any hard figures to back that claim and most of the commenters don't buy it. Some even admit that they wound up downloading a cracked version of games like AC2 after purchasing a legitimate copy.
In a separate, unrelated announcement today, Bethesda revealed that the PC version of its upcoming Elder Scrolls title will use Valve's Steamworks platform for DRM. As with Fallout: New Vegas, that goes for copies purchased through retailers and Steam itself. Once you activate the game, you can play the title in Steam's offline mode without an Internet connection. We assume Steam will also be used to serve achievements, patches and downloadable content.