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DRM (Digital Rights Madness)

"''n Grap is 'n grap maar jy maak nie a sambriel in 'n man se hol oop nie!" Leon Schuster

So I just had a chat with a friend about DRM, Digital Rights Management. While most of the media hype and warfare is over (that I've noticed) one can still watch as it creeps into our everyday lives and infiltrates how things work.

I'm going to assume that you already know what DRM is and if not that you're going to pause reading here for a moment and hit up Wikipedia. It's a simple concept but worth knowing about.

So why does game piracy happen? From what I've noticed it has a very predictable life pattern. A group of people get together at a LAN and want to play something that very often one of the people present actually owns. It looks good and they all want to try it so a copy is made and distributed on the little network. That's not global piracy but it is where it starts because then a while later one of those players goes to another LAN with new people and then they want to play the same game and that copy is copied again. It moves like an infection growing at an exponential rate. I'm guessing this is why most copies of games are mulitplayer games. There is a branch in the pattern in that sometimes a single person wants the game with no intention of group play. Either way it's a case of "I don't care." and they play it without paying or (what I end up doing) "I don't know if I'm going to like this game so let me try it out first." Often I've bought a game, gone home, popped it into the machine and went "Ugh..." and while this might not be a very good excuse since I can always sell the game to someone else or, more easily, read up about it in reviews it is still very frustrating.  Demos were supposed to help here but a company can just make a really good demo and sell a bad game. (Apparently that happened to Mirror's Edge but I can't speak from experience.) In the end I wind up getting a cracked game and playing it. If I like it I pay for it. Case and point being Spore, Anno 1701 and Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines (Which was so good it got me into their table top rpg too) Special mention on Anno 1701 is that I liked it so much I also bought Anno 1404.

Now DRM is supposed to stop those evil gamers who don't care about the companies that provide the games. Being a programmer myself, I know exactly how much blood, sweat and tears goes into the production of making a triangle move across your screen, let alone produce an entire, fully developed game. That's a lot of employees to pay. But the one thing I've been watching happen is that the DRM techniques employed to stop the pirates are actually punishing the legitimate players. Common elements include "Only 5 installations" and "Must register online" and even more scary "Can only play while online." Ubisoft tried that last stunt with Assassin's Creed 2 and when their sever crashed only the pirated copies of their game were still running. So not only are they trying to make piracy impossible (and failing to do so) but the companies are actively pushing their users towards piracy. This has also placed an extra push on us South Africans since we don't have amazing Internet connections like other countries do. The Mouse Trap summed this all up quite nicely.

So what would remedy the situation?
I acknowledge it may not be a completely viable idea since there are a lot of scummy people out there but trusting the gaming community could help. Yes piracy will happen. It's unavoidable. Scummy people might be amoral but they're not retarded so they will find a way around your preventative measures. It is a matter of trust. Gamers should pay for their games knowing that the money they just spent is going towards making the next game more awesome and game development companies need to stop being so paranoid that everyone is out there to get them. Piracy is going to happen but your DRM is only encouraging it. Big Brother is not an option. Further more you can lower the prices of your games and still make the same profit margins because you won't be paying for all that complicated DRM stuff. This, in fact,  will encourage more people to actually buy the game and possibly earn you more money. If you haven't noticed it is a bit of a status thing to actually own a game you liked. (It's only really the teen aged, pizza faced super dorks who hate the outside world and can't get a date with a real girl that think that pirated games are cool and while they stereotypically are seen as your biggest "customers" they are in fact in the minority.) One could also make provisions for those frequently copied LAN games in mind. Provide each owner with a license to run an entire LAN legitimately. Sure lots of people are playing off of one purchased copy but it would be like free advertising. They aren't going to LAN that one instance for all eternity. Reward the users who legitimately own it by giving them something that the other players can't have unless they have their own disk.

So you want to praise the owner? Give each disc a serial number. Let the game run in multiplayer mode without the disc but if you are playing with the disc in then you get something cool. Don't make it something that imbalances game play since that will encourage others to copy the disc to make up for the disadvantage. Yes there are ways around this but think about it.
Friend: "Hey give me a copy of your disc. I wanna play as a blood knight too. (or whatever boon is appropriate.)"
Owner: "Hell no! I'm gonna be the only blood knight in this group!"
And if they do copy the disc then the game can tell by the matching serial numbers. Inform them that you know they're cheating, turn it into a joke and randomly assign the boon to only one player who seems to have the disc. Then the real smart arses will figure out a way to get around this but chances are they're going to like you, because you are funny and not some authority figure waving the law at them, and go buy a disc because the game was awesome and getting the blood knight is worth half the price of a game today since they're not paying for your DRM attempts.
Notice how your game has to be awesome. No excuses for crap games here. Sorry. If it's even mediocre then it won't be worth the effort and money.

Finally. A note to all those first world countries. Internet is not free everywhere. Hell, it's not even available everywhere. But just because there's no decent Internet connectivity doesn't mean the place is just mud huts and animal skins. We have computers out here in Africa. "Must play online" in South Africa roughly translates to "At the mercy of Telkom." so stay away from unnecessary use of the Internet because then you are immediately excluding maybe a million users worldwide who would also pay to have it. Without Internet they're even more likely to buy it since they can't download it.

I make no claims to be an expert on the matter and I might be unexpectedly optimistic with the human race right now, thus being horribly wrong but this does sound like something worth looking into.

I'm just going to leave it at "Stop bullying me around or I'm going to floss your teeth with that umbrella after you've opened it."

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