Trodamus

On DRM

In The Gaming Community, Video Games on April 19, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Piracy has always been a hot-button issue with PC gamers and development companies, so much so that it is almost pointless to discuss it; you already have your opinion, your moral justification, your marketing directive or your contractual obligation to your publisher and little else needs to be said.  And, as much as I hate to toss the hat of my opinion onto the mountainous pyre of internet discourse on the subject, I do actually wish to contribute.

Succinctly, to my fellow gamers: piracy exists.  It exists and it’s widespread enough that every developer needs to have some kind of strategy acknowledging it wherever deploying their software is concerned, so cease acting as though it’s an extraordinarily isolated population of gamers or that utilizing any DRM at all makes a developer way off its base.  Stop acting surprised that a game requires an access key, disc verification and online authentication, and really, who are you fooling with your protest against online authentication at set intervals?  If your internet went down you’d be screaming at the loss anyway.  Game companies, just as piracy does indeed exist, know that it will always exist no matter how many millions of dollars you spend wishing to the contrary.  There are actually people out there, on the internet, that love pirating so much that they’re dedicated to hacking apart your copy protection like unto a climber ascending Mount Everest (you know, because it’s there).  It doesn’t even matter that they could sell their secrets to your DRM consulting firm for so much money they could pay the copyright fines and rebuy everything; they honestly prefer pirating and enabling others to do so.  So stop disenfranchising honest gamers who have to put up with your nonsensically draconian DRM; they’re going to wish they had pirated the game anyway, since pirates don’t need to bother with DRM.

Your target demographics are gamers that buy everything, and gamers that sometimes pirate when they feel like it.  That’s it.  Forget about the career pirates — they’re never going to buy anything, ever, anyway, and the more difficult you make it for them, the more honest gamers are feeling unfairly targeted or punished for that which they have not done — or something that they only do when, say, a game company dicks over its customers with crappy DRM.  Please stop pretending that the number of illegal copies of your software equals a like amount of lost profits that would be yours, if only.  That’s a lie your DRM consultants told you to convince you to buy their DRM.  And stop spending so much on DRM in the first place unless you intend on putting “difficult to steal” on the back-of-the-box list of features.

Those two demographics either already have every reason to buy games legitimately, or they really want a reason to do so.  Give it to them through magnanimity.  Be a good game company that makes good games; proclaim loudly that you hope to make more of the kind of game people like, if only it sells well; incorporate fan critique into your content releases; and boldly state that the goal of your DRM is to be as unobtrusive as possible.  The last thing you want to do is to give these fans a reason to abstain from purchasing your game, piracy notwithstanding.

And speaking of your DRM, ask your vendor to abide by a few principles: first, it should be non-invasive, which means you’re transparent about what it is and what it does, and what it does is only affect the bundled software, and only then under certain conditions that are truly indicative of having pirated the game (having daemon tools installed doesn’t count).  DRM should never hinder normal game play or ever, feasibly, prevent someone from playing a game they’ve purchased.  Lastly, your DRM should give as much as it takes: if you require access keys, online authentication, installation limits, re-verification and completely non-transferrable usage, consider granting the users disc-free access, bundling the online verification to an online profile that updates with the players’ achievements and progress, add matchmaking through this system, and finally grant easy, no-headaches access to patches and DLC.  Steam should be a big success story since people are largely unaware that it’s a DRM vehicle — quite an impressive feat if you consider the outrage around the initial installation and online authentication of Half-Life 2.

It’s no secret that PC gaming is a shadow of what it once was; games like Fallout, Baldur’s Gate and Unreal, games that defined PC gaming, now see their successors hosted on consoles for which they are primarily developed, with the PC version being ported.  It’s an expensive hobby when you consider that consoles cost a fraction of a cutting-edge PC, and most gamers are taking advantage of the HD TV revolution to enjoy crisper graphics on larger screens than your typical PC user.  Not to mention all of their games are tracked in a single online profile and matchmaking standard, while PC users muddle about with everything, from the lowly Gamespy to the hotly criticized Games for Windows Live, but never will all of their games and achievements be located under one roof.

So why work that much harder to make PC gaming even less appealing?

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  1. Interesting and well put, except for one thing: What’s DRM?

  2. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, the catch-all term for anti-piracy measures. That you couldn’t play Worms: Armageddon on your 360 after purchasing it on mine is a form of it.

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