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.
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?
Recent 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
- All DRM can be cracked, thereby ultimately defeating the purpose.
- 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.
- 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.
- DRM costs money. DRM thus makes games even more expensive, further reducing the attractiveness to consumers.
- 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…)
- 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!
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.