Ubisoft gets creative with decoys instead of using DRM

Game company Ubisoft may have found a new way to combat online piracy that is aimed at being even more annoying than digital rights management (DRM). Unlike the constant PR struggle surrounding DRM, however, Ubisoft hopes to be able to punish pirates only, while legal paying customers are completely oblivious to these new measures.

The company is now circulating a fake ROM download of its game Michael Jackson: The Experience that is crippled, preventing pirates from gaining access to the menu system. Once loaded, the game is likely to freeze since the game needs a functional menu system to load content.

Ubisoft gets creative with decoys instead of using DRM

If pirates do find a way to play the game or try to rip the songs from the soundtrack, they’ll find further difficulties, because Ubisoft has included the beautiful sounds of vuvuzelas playing over the tracks.

Ubisoft and other game companies have looked for viable methods to combat piracy without interfering with legal customer gameplay. These game studios have to figure out if DRM is what will be used — and how it can be modified to stop pirates, but not normal gameplay. A survey indicates the use of DRM may actually lead to higher piracy, and DRM remains a business decision for most companies.

Ubisoft has been criticized for its past “always-on” DRM efforts, including Assassin’s Creed II’s DRM, which resulted in a DDoS attack before being cracked.

The industry is still unsure how to properly combat P2P file sharing. Copyright holders would rather punish and attack their own customer base rather than working on a solution that benefits everyone. Departments such as the Swedish Prosecution Office report that illegal file sharing remains a “devastating social problem” that could be fought with harsher jail sentences.

DRM isn’t going to go away in 2011 — but some game studios and companies understand simply using intrusive methods may not be the best way to prevent piracy (and keep customers happy).

Does this fake download strategy indicate that Ubisoft might ditch their annoying behavior of attaching highly restrictive DRM to their games? We sure hope so.