How DRM destroys the gaming industry

DRM has been an incredibly controversial topic the past years. Several large gaming publishers are employing more aggressive DRM methods which in several cases have left gamers who paid for a copy unable to play their legally purchased games. So why do publishers insist on such draconian DRM methods? What is this actually doing to the gaming industry and how does it affect all of us? Here’s our take on it.

What is DRM?

The Wikipedia page explains this as well as I ever could: Digital rights management (DRM) is a term for access control technologies that can be used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to limit the usage of digital content and devices. The term is used to describe any technology that inhibits uses of digital content not desired or intended by the content provider. The term does not generally refer to other forms of copy protection which can be circumvented without modifying the file or device, such as serial numbers or keyfiles.

Why DRM?

The primary reason why publishers feel they need to protect their games with DRM is to protect their game against piracy. Popular games get pirated thousand upon thousands of times, in some cases exceeding the number of legally purchased copies. Publishers see this as lost revenue, shortsighted managers panic and as a result, more aggressive and intrusive DRM methods get applied to games.

Why is this bad?

DRMRecent years have shown that DRM can often prevent legal owners of a game from playing it altogether. This isn’t just frustrating for the person in question but completely unacceptable as far as we are concerned. It massively decreases the trust a consumer has in that publisher and has a very damaging effect on the gaming industry as a whole. There is a very good reason why PC gaming is on the decrease: The gaming industry is now the biggest entertainment industry in the world and consumers are not willing to put up with patches, crashes, their purchase not working or any other problems. We *love* PC Gaming here at Mana Pool but we certainly understand the attraction of consoles when it comes to ‘plug & play’. For casual gamers, the entry barrier into PC Gaming is just too high.

Why DRM does not work

  1. All DRM can be cracked, thereby ultimately defeating the purpose.
  2. The more draconian the DRM methods, the fewer people buy the game. Companies such as Ubisoft endure wide-spread campaigns of people urging not to purchase any of their games until their DRM methods change. Players are worried about not being able to play their game when they want.
  3. Games are too expensive these days, with DRM being the ‘final straw’ in the decision making process for a gamer. This drives gamers TOWARDS piracy and not away from it.
  4. DRM costs money. DRM thus makes games even more expensive, further reducing the attractiveness to consumers.
  5. There is no guarantee to the player that his/her game will still work in the future. Authentication servers can go off-line and games can stop being supported. I for one find this unacceptable. I might still want to play this game I love 10 years from now. This of course applies to digital distribution methods as well. (Never mind trying to play it NOW and not being able to because one of the servers of the publisher isn’t working…)
  6. When you purchase content with DRM, you are supporting the DRM. Not everyone is particularly happy with this, so this could decreases sales for publishers.

Long story short – it all comes down to this: The publisher is afraid of lost sales due to piracy and employs strict DRM methods. The publisher as a result loses out on sales as players don’t want to purchase the game. The publisher also loses a lot of brand reputation as players endure problems with the game or access to the authentication servers. Remember the outrage when people couldn’t play The Settlers 7? Or Assassin’s Creed? We have a copy here which didn’t work at all after the first time it was loaded, and they refused to take it back. That’s £30 spent on a game which cannot be played!

The solution

Our opinion is that DRM hurts the industry more than piracy does. We don’t support piracy and feel that people should reward the hard work of developers of games they like by actually buying the damned game – but publishers often forget that piracy has a funny side effect: It markets the game at absolutely no expense. A lot of people who download pirated copies wouldn’t have bought the game in the first place – there’s a reason they went for the pirated copy. Granted, some people are just being cheapskates and going for the ‘easily available’ option, but there’s a huge chunk of people out there who wouldn’t experience a game at all without having downloaded it.

So why don’t clever publishers leverage this? Ensure you have some awesome content only available to those people who bought the game legally. Most games have online gameplay elements which don’t work with pirated copies anyway – so no loss there. Reward people who bought the game and turn the pirates into your workforce. Do you think that those people who play a pirated copy don’t talk to their friends? And they to theirs?

Just make sure that the price at which you sell your games matches the amount of gameplay players get out of it. Nothing annoys us more than paying £30 for a game and finishing it in 6 hours. Online gameplay does not count in this, unless a game is ‘online only’. We feel that a gamer should get a minimum of 1 hour out of every £1 spent on a new game, as that makes the game good value as it drops in price and becomes older afterwards.

As for DRM? A good old serial is really all that’s needed. Stop using your own DRM methods, stop using your own distribution networks and make games available easily, affordably and reliably for all gamers. That’s what will protect your revenue, not the next big development in DRM! Meanwhile, just buy more games from companies who have vouched to NOT use DRM and less from those who use these extreme measures. Ultimately that’s the only thing that’s going to change their minds.

Please note that the above is meant to encourage discussion around the topic and that this isn’t neccesarily the ‘official’ opinion of Mana Pool on the subject.

the author

Managing Editor of ManaPool, Peter lives in York, UK and is a great fan and master of turn-based strategy games. If he isn't playing one of those, you'll probably find him in a role-playing game instead. He's definitely not afraid to provide a straight up opinion on any game and has a strong like for indie developers. We all start small, after all.

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  • steve mcqueen

    now there´s a nice point and a convincing article. i stoped buying games with DRM after my big problems with AC2 from ubi. but it´s not a question of money at all, i ve whaited 1 year plus for the damn game, i bought it day one and i played it 1 week after with lots of crashes and corrupted saves. i assume i prefer those hacked versions that even if illegal are our property and we play when we want to. thanks alot for the article and it´s a shame for the pc gaming industry having to take those mesures

  • Dan

    While I agree with the majority of your article. Most of the wankers building the games will tell you. “Well if you collect every single thing in the game and get all of the awards there is no way you can finish a game in less than 30 hours”. Rubbish. The game is a 6 hour game.. because MOST of us aren’t anal retentive gotta have that gamerpointscorewhore people. We’re gamers.. we enjoy PLAYING the game which is not collecting a rare coin from the emperors toilet. “unless of course that IS the game”

  • Axe99

    Are you seriously suggesting DRM costs publishers more than the often millions of foregone sales from piracy? Your argument here shows a lack of understanding of history – piracy came first (very early on, in fact), and then DRM, and not the other way around. As piracy has become more complex, so has the DRM. I’ve been gaming on PC since the late 1980s, and it’s obvious to anyone with any grasp of the facts that the reason devs lead on console (and sell more on console) is because of piracy. The devs themselves have said this!

    As for the gamers moving to console, the shift from PC to console happened after the increase in patches and compatibility errors with drivers (which has been an issue since the get-go, a good two decades before the kind of DRM you’re deriding here). It primarily occurred after 2000, during the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube ‘generation’, and was due mainly to console hardware being relatively not as far behind PC hardware as in the past. Not surprisingly, given that many high-end console games aren’t too far behind their PC brothers (on a rig that’s mass-market priced – clearly a $4000 uber-gaming rig will blow away the current gen of consoles, but equally clearly that’s a very niche market), this trend has continued with the PS3 and Xbox 360.

    As for suggesting that pirates benefit the industry, that’s just crazy talk. Sure, pirates talk to their friends “Hey, I downloaded this great game off Torrents for free, you can too”.

    And then you have the gall to complain about price! If the pirates weren’t robbing devs and publishers blind, then it would enable publishers and devs to sell games cheaper! As it is, piracy robs devs and publishers of legitimate sales, increasing the average price of games to cover development. Unfortunately, game pricing is not some communist “we charge what you like regardless of the cost of production” philosophy – game prices have to support development teams (real people, with real families and real jobs) of sometimes hundreds of people for years on end. If piracy cuts sales of that game by 30%, then the dev and publisher needs to make back that money somehow to pay the wages of the people that made and distributed the game. If this money isn’t made back (the game is priced too low), people lose their jobs. If it is made back, it means the publisher has done a good job and effectively the pirates have stolen from the gamers that don’t steal from the people that work at devs and publishers.

    Either way, though, piracy is the biggest threat to the gaming industry, and has always been. There is no moral excuse for it – pirates are leeches on the system that rob gamers (because of higher game prices) and devs and publishers of their hard-earned. And before you go on about ‘they’d have never bought the game anyway’ – then why did they download it? It’s quite clear (I live in the real world, and I know a number of pirates, who get regular “you know you’re killing your hobby” looks from me) that many, many pirates would have bought many of the games they’ve got for free. Just like more people bought CDs before music piracy online, more people bought games as well. Arguing otherwise is being a pirate apologist, either deliberately or delusionally.

  • BAT

    If I pay for the right to play a game, why do I need to pay full price a second time when I accidentally scratch my disc?

  • http://www.reclaimyourgame.com Wolvenmoon

    One executive once said “Everyone who disagrees with DRM is a pirate.” ( paraphrased ), his words carry more weight than yours among the people who can change this industry, so you have to prove everything you say.

    You’re arguing an uphill battle and I don’t think you have the force behind the weight of your logic to push your argument to the top. Think more deeply into each of your points. Figure out potential counterarguments, weigh them fairly in your text and preemptively shoot them down.

    Argue as if you were speaking to an audience who is going to disagree with you. Don’t argue with hostility, but with empirical evidence. If you make an argument without it to people who are in business you instantly find your argument treading water in an icy lake.

    -Wolvenmoon

  • Fred

    Piracy is like environmental pollution .You are just a drop in the ocean and it doesnt really matter what you do.If you throw the cola flask out of your cars window you wont kill earth(and for a big company 40-50$ is nothing).Piracy and environment pollution is bad and I would stop it if I could but I cant,in the end you are still just 1 drop in the ocean.

    Your options:

    a.)pay for a game and wait 1-2 days for its arrival,go for it yourself(wasting time and petrol) or download it from steam(the steam DRM is just +wasted disc space).

    or

    b.)download it for free without DRM(and without connection required to play) and play in a few hours

    Which person is the stupid a.) or b.)?You decide.

  • Fred

    DRMs are good for nothing except entertaining the famous(or infamous?) pirate groups (as I heard they all like challenge) and feeding the useless programmers(its creators) with money.You cant name a game which wasnt pirated in max 1-2 days after its release(except MMOs).

  • Axe99

    @Fred

    Your example shows the failure of human intelligence that leads to both the environmental issues and gamers actually destroying their own hobby. Let me spell it out for you – every time you pirate a game instead of paying for it, those dollars that would have been paid to the people that made that game get spent on something else (beer, food, whatever). The price of a game is $40-$60US in many cases – that’s what, 2 days rent, two meals for the family? That’s what you’re taking from someone when you do that. Piracy costs peoples jobs, and game pirates mean game developers become unemployed (and often have to leave the industry to another industry that isn’t rampant with IP piracy).

    Even if you’re a heartless SOB that doesn’t care about making people unemployed, when those devs leave the industry (or are unemployed) they’re not making games. Less competition means less pressure on developers, which means lower quality games (so even if you don’t like the devs going out of business, in the long run it’ll mean the devs you do like aren’t held to as high a standard).

    Basically, any gamer who pirates is either stupid, selfish and generally both. The available stats on torrents show, clear as day, that it’s the number one issue damaging the games industry and yet pirates (presumably because they’re stupid) think that they’re not doing anything wrong. Wake up to yourselves kiddies.

  • Abe

    True ,DRM is backfiring at a massive rate.
    It happens more than ones i had to download a crack to play the game i bought.
    It was even so bad that the advice of the studio of the Witcher game was to download a crack!
    Later they removed the drm in patch , the bad publicity did hurt them bad at that moment .
    It will make “good” people download illegal games , why ? Because if the ones you buy are worse to play than the ones you download illegal , it makes people angry and hatred that companies make them feel like criminals so they become criminals ,its bad but its very logic if you look at it in a physiologic view ,its still bad but that’s how human behaviour works .It gives them an excuse.
    All things in life are not black and white , we wish they where but its not that easy :)
    If you wonder.. yes i still buy them ;) and yes i will use cracks to make my game experience optimal if necessary !

  • Roy

    I don’t really agree with the people that say downloading a game is bad.

    I do agree with Axe about the drowning standards for game developers when the game-industry is going to collapse (This is why I like blizzard, they actually finish a game. I can assure myself of a copy of Diablo 3 once in comes out).

    Downloading shouldn’t be a bad thing (especially not on games).

    This is why: I just bought GTA10 in the store. I will install it on my computer to find out that the graphics suck big time, and that the game isn’t really my thing.

    Or, of course: The new GTA10 has just released, I’m just going to download this to see if it fits me. Well it does not, so I will not buy this in store and will not check out the multiplayer content.

    To make my point really easy:
    Buying a car without knowing how it looks (most game trailers are not ingame footage). Evetually looks bad (graphics), engine is one of the stone age (bad gameplay) and the chairs are broken (bugs & crashes).

  • Richard Arndt USA

    Hello.
    I have been Playing pc games fron the early days on ie. remember the 8088 computer. (1989-90)
    Its gone down hill with DRM. i have my stack of old games to new Steam is crap. Ea im done with and there games use to be the best. The Golden age of adventure gamming (Star flight)

    My point is im done with pc games untell DRM is done away with.

    Stand up and fight for your consumer right. Boycott DRM games.
    thank you.

  • John

    I think that the argument that pirates are taking the food out of the mouths of the developers children is a little ridiculous. The piracy probably does affect the profits of the gaming company and I don’t use pirated games. It may, in part, prevent software developers from making as many games as they could without the privacy.

    I think that the original poster’s point is that DRM as currently implemented may not be the best solution. Those without an internet connection should have some way to validate their game without having the constant internet connection.

    I actually kind of like the idea of having my games managed for me (i.e. steam). I don’t have to worry about keeping up with the discs and codes. The gaming cloud may not be the solution that everyone likes but seems to be the wave of the future.

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