Mar 27

Punishing the Whole Class: DRM

DRM TitleRemember when you were younger, sitting in a classroom, diligently listening or working while a couple kids goofed off. Then suddenly your teacher not being able to take anymore would explode, making the whole class skip recess as a punishment? Remember how unfair it felt as a child to be chastised for something you didn’t do? To be punished for being good and doing what you were supposed to? Well that feeling of anger and frustration has come back with a vengeance in nearly all forms of media, but never more invasive and broken than in Digital Rights Management in Video games.

As the video game industry grows increasingly reliant on digital distribution piracy to has grown to match it. It’s easy for any kid to type in the name of a game and quickly come to a result that will allow them to download the game and be playing it in just a short time. In an effort to curb this wave of illegal activity, companies have taken to putting large invasive controls on their programs. Things that generally make it difficult for genuine consumers to enjoy their own purchase, while having little to no effect on pirates and piracy in general. In many cases games with invasive DRM show up a few days early cracked and ready to play. But after years of failure to reign in piracy with more and more extreme forms of DRM, the companies don’t seem to understand that they’re going about it the entirely wrong way.

It’s gotten so bad that it has lead groups like the Free Software Foundation, and a group called Defective By Design to start using some different wording to describe it. Try instead: Digital Restrictions Management. It’s not only gaming that is effected by DRM, but all manner of media. DRM stifles the legal use such as backing up the materials you bought, as well as hindering uses that are normally covered under the fair use laws. Pro-DRM corporations often use outdated copyright laws and lobbying to get what they want from politicians and lawmakers.

Naval BattleIt would appear that right now we’re in a transitional period. Where companies have not quite come to the realization that the old ways of protecting their media isn’t going to work in this new age of computers and endless amounts of hackers. But rather than develop new methods to address the problems of piracy, they instead spend gratuitous amounts of times devising safe guards that are often broken even before the product even makes it to market. Leading the consumer to become disenfranchised and sick of having to navigate the treacherous waters and endless log ins and spotty performance of DRM.

Unfortunately rather than do something that on paper looks like they’ll be hurting their bottom line, I worry that instead we’ll see more companies offer “Always Online DRM” ala EA and the SimCity Fiasco. Basically meaning gamers will no longer own their purchases, but instead simply be renting them until the company decides to shut down their server. So now comes the battle between the consumer and corporations, do consumers allow corporations to dictate when and for how long they’ll have access to something they’ve legitimately purchased? Even worse we end up seeing pirates with unlimited access to their games! Back to the class analogy, it’s like the teacher is punishing the students behaving while letting the kids who caused it all go outside to play anyways!

Luckily for us the big attempts at Always Online DRM, Diablo 3 and SimCity both did not go over well with consumers. Hopefully people will begin to wise up and realize that punishing honest consumers will never stop the problem with piracy, in fact only driving more to it. While a portion of piracy is caused by cheapness and the desire to get something for free, I maintain that piracy is the result of not only unnecessarily high prices, but also a lack of convenience. Something that Steam’s platform is trying to address. Sure you could go torrent the game for free, worry about your ratio and bandwidth usage, hope you didn’t get a virus, and play an (often) unpatched version of the game. Or you could spend a few bucks and be up and running on Steam in no time.

The use of sales has become more prevalent over the past few years. After what must have been a smashing success with Steam’s first Christmas sale. We found ourselves celebrating it during the summer too, and then again in the fall and spring. Now we even see weekly deals and numerous other websites are taking on the power of the sale to finally see some decent revenue. Clearly showing that a $60 selling point might not be whats best for games in the long run. As more and more users are finding it easy to simply wait for a big sale to take advantage of.

While it’s true that Steam is in and of itself a form of DRM, you’ll find that thanks to their offline mode, ability to accept games from other publishers and many many indie games, that gamers don’t actually mind Steam as a source of DRM. In fact many will actively choose it against other DRM free forms of games that you find with increasing frequency these days. Opting instead to keep their catalog in a single repository, with robust community and friends features.

What’s more is that we’re seeing an increased appearance of bundles on the internet. Strange enough an actual selling point, beyond the incredible prices, is that you can often choose a copy that is free of DRM. One might argue that would simply encourage piracy, and yet we’ve seen huge success time and time again when it comes to things like the Humble BundleGroupees Bundles, and others!

It’s clear to me that consumers don’t care for the current path of major DRM and the companies behind it. Much like indie gamers are stepping to fill in the lack of innovation and fun from the companies content to release rehash after rehash. I believe we’ll continue to see gamers happily adopt consumer friendly forms of DRM and enjoy the bundles who offer consumers a choice to their game, instead of simply punishing the whole class for a few kids acting up.