DRM – Doomed to Repeat Mistakes

I get it. I really do. The gaming industry is exactly that; an industry. One can tout the artistic and technological merits of the gaming world all they want, but it is the consumer’s dollar that drives this industry. Remember that.

The publishers clearly have their eyes on our wallets and are looking to ensure that they are able to wring every possible cent out of a transaction. So much so that they view piracy as a legitimate threat.

image credit: digitalspy.com

image credit: digitalspy.com

In fact, piracy has always been a threat to sap away hard earned dollars from the publishers’ coffers. So long as there have been personal computers, piracy has existed with the sole purpose of saving a bit of change. Sure, publishers have tried a myriad of different strategies to combat piracy from serial numbers to proprietary media formats. But none have been as much of a thorn in a gamers side than persistent DRM (Digital Rights Management).

Now, the concept of DRM doesn’t bother me. I understand that its important to protect one’s assets and to ensure that only legitimate copies of software are functioning properly, be it a copy of Adobe PhotoShop or StarCraft: Heart of the Swarm, DRM is security for the publishers.

But read that statement again: “functioning properly.” This is where the publishers have lost sight of the symbiotic relationship consumers have in relation to industry. Remember what I stated in the opening paragraph? It is the consumer’s dollar that drives the industry, not the publishers, not even the developers. It is the consumers’ dollar that dictates whether Mario defeating Koopa or Sonic collecting rings become success stories. As much as developers crave to create games, it is up to the consumers to lap up their latest creation. Even more so, publishers need to understand that consumers really don’t like feeling like cattle, and just a faceless head with dollar signs for eyes.

Sim City Server Busy

image credit: forbes.com

The latest trend in DRM is an absolute slap to that faceless head. Maxis’ newest entry to the SimCity franchise (cleverly named SimCity) was highly anticipated, tested well in beta and looked like it would carry the torch highly for the landmark series. The game touted an always-online cloud computing system that helped in calculating the many tasks and computations that were needed throughout the management of a particular city. The cloud computing was mandatory and thus the game could not be played offline. What this translated to was an always on DRM that required a steady internet connection in order to connect to their supposedly mandatory cloud computing. If a user loses connection to the server, they are unable to continue. Likewise, if they are unable to connect to a server, they are unable to play. Furthermore, as is typical of big launches relating to online servers, the Electronic Arts and Maxis servers were not capable and ready to carry the immense load of thousands and thousands of gamers trying to play SimCity at the same time. What resulted was frustratingly long queues of players hopelessly waiting to connect to servers that they would ultimately be disconnected from.

You think they would have seen this coming. We are only a year removed from a similar debacle in persistent DRM in Diablo III which eliminated offline and private hosted games in favor of Blizzard sanctioned servers only. Like SimCity, if the Diablo III servers were down or you were unable to connect, you were frankly shit out of luck. Ubisoft had similar experiences with their generic DRM which required constant internet connection for their PC games.

Diablo III Error 37

image credit: neoseeker.com

As a consumer, if I make a purchase, I expect it to work as intended, right out of the box. This may not be the consistent reality, but it is the consistent expectation. Publishers are toeing a dangerous line by selling products that exists with the notion that it ‘might’ work. The funny thing is, it seems even developers are against DRM.

“As far as DRM goes, most DRM strategies are just dumb,” Valve founder and CEO Gabe Newell wrote. “The goal should be to create greater value for customers through service value (make it easy for me to play my games whenever and wherever I want to), not by decreasing the value of a product (maybe I’ll be able to play my game and maybe I won’t).” Valve’s Steam platform has become a steady constant in the PC realm and while the End User License Agreement states that purchases are considered permanent rentals as opposed to ownership of software, Steam still allows users access to their purchased software anytime, anywhere, online or offline.

Super Meat Boy

image credit: supermeatboy.com

Super Meat Boy developer Tommy Refenes shared this sentiment. “Unfortunately there is nothing anyone can do to actively stop their game from being pirated. I do believe people are less likely to pirate your software if the software is easy to buy, easy to run, and does what is advertised,” he wrote in a blog post regarding SimCity’s DRM issue plagued launch. “You can’t force a person to buy your software no more than you can prevent a person from stealing it. People have to WANT to buy your software, people have to WANT to support you.”

What both Newell and Refenes touch on is the importance of creating a product that exudes its worth. Yes a game should be fun, and sure you can promise all these cloud based features, but at the end of the day, if a game is purchased, it should be accessible, regardless of online status.

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