In recent years games company Ubisoft have hit the headlines not only for creating some great games, but also having some of the most intrusive DRM schemes the industry has to offer.
For example, the first implementation of the DRM in the PC version of Driver: San Francisco required users users to be permanently connected to the Internet to play, although user backlash meant that the company backtracked on the policy.
What has become apparent in recent times through this and similar experiences is that DRM only hurts paying customers and does little to stop pirates from releasing hassle-free versions of Ubisoft games online. But with DRM or without, according to Ubisoft piracy levels are massive.
Speaking with GamesIndustry International editor Matt Martin at Gamescom this week, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot indicated that piracy levels of their standard ‘boxed’ games is currently sitting at between 93% and 95%.
Representatives for Ubisoft have complained bitterly about piracy in the past, and have openly blamed it for the company choosing not to release games to the PC market. Interestingly though, there is another way.
Guillemot says that the free-to-play model (F2P) has been a great tool for Ubisoft to market their products to areas of the world where piracy of PC games is at such a level that turning a profit has proven impossible.
“We want to develop the PC market quite a lot and F2P is really the way to do it,” Guillemot said. “The advantage of F2P is that we can get revenue from countries where we couldn’t previously – places where our products were played but not bought. Now with F2P we gain revenue, which helps brands last longer.”
The Ubisoft CEO said that the F2P framework is a good way to get closer to customers, hopefully with a view to enticing them to make the optional and hopefully repeating payments the model needs to survive. Interestingly, the percentage of people who pirate Ubisoft’s boxed products matches almost exactly with the percentage who chose not to pay in the F2P model.
“On PC it’s only around five to seven per cent of the players who pay for F2P, but normally on PC it’s only about five to seven per cent who pay anyway, the rest is pirated. It’s around a 93-95 per cent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage,” Guillemot said.
Although the choose-not-to-pay crowd is large, good revenues are still available. As revealed by Electronic Arts last year after it targeted South Korea with FIFA Online, F2P can prove lucrative, even more so than traditional models.
“We gave the FIFA disc away free,” CEO John Riccitiello said. “But, instead of charging people for software, we charged small payments within the game: 5p for injury updates, 10p for a new strip. We found that 10 per cent of all Korean households downloaded FIFA online and the consumer paid us more online than they would have done buying the game in a store.”
A short list of new Ubisoft F2P games can be found here.