DRM, digital rights management, is a system for protecting software from being shared in any way that the publisher of content does not want it to be shared. It’s the lock behind some Amazon books, part of the key to Steams success on the desktop and the reason why you need a product key for Windows, Microsoft Office and many other pieces of software. DRM isn’t inherently evil, but due to it usually restricting the rights of legitimate owners it will often seem that way.
The problem that many people have with DRM is that it often inconveniences legitimate owners (or in most cases licensees…) of software. Just about any method used to verify software ownership can be circumvented. Once that happens, usually the person or group that cracks the software will upload to the web so that it may be downloaded for free without any hassle. Users get to skip pass toolbar installation prompt screens, game ownership verification and unwanted portions of just getting into games like signing into an online account. All of those and more are restrictions that are tightly bound to much of today’s commercial software industry.
One of the biggest offenders is a system that requires the player to be connected to the internet for the entirety of gameplay. For an online only game like World of Warcraft that isn’t an issue and wouldn’t rub any person the wrong way. You have to be online to play the game. For a game with single player or offline multiplayer modes that can be a major issue. There is no point other than a “guilty until proven innocent” approach for game verification. I understand that piracy is an issue because it allows for people to experience a the fruit of someone’s work without paying for the right to access that content. It is stealing and is a problem but DRM isn’t the solution. It differs from shoplifting in that the ability to experience and use something doesn’t deplenish its’ supply, it just cuts out the risk of getting caught and bypasses the need to earn money to buy the software, or heck books and anything else that can be digitized.
“A lock only keeps an honest man out” (along with bad thieves). DRM may deter some people from piracy but it largely stops game sharing. DRM in combination with online only multi-player is aimed at killing something as integral to customer creation via game sharing. A feature of DS games and early PC games is game sharing. One person may own the full copy, but that copy can send a full or limited version of itself to another system. What is it that Nintendo said again? “Playing is believing” was an original marketing line for the Wii and DS. In fact, most of the DS’s marketing revolved around getting customers into the game. Does anyone remember “Touching is good” or the public transit ads that told people to stop playing eyetag with each other and to start playing the DS? Isn’t the DS an insanely successful, gaming only handheld system that has hardware that even early smartphones would laugh at? It’s not about the power of your machine, or limiting how people can interact with your game. It’s about the experience and the experience alone.
Minecraft has made Notch and his company Mojang millions of dollars while keeping their players very extremely excited about the game. They’re so excited that they’re max level customers, they evangelize the product better than the creator could ever do himself. The same thing happened with Mario, the NES, Wii, DS, Sega Genesis, etc. Minecraft excelled do to gameplay and the community alone. The game itself has been available to download via torrent sites for a very long time. The same thing can be said for the games and software of other successful PC companies like Valve, Blizzard, Microsoft and many others. There are entire sites set-up to share or download books and regular copies of pc software like Dragon. If a game or anything for sale has value and can successfully present that value to the customer then it will sell.
My many years as a PC Repair Technician and Customer Service Representative have taught me that the product is always about catering to the needs of the customers and that your product should be able to create customers just by existing and by the word of mouth of happy consumers. DRM should not be forced upon anyone, but content publishers shouldn’t have to deal with their product being stolen either. It’s a dead lock, the weapons can be withdrawn but the stealing will continue. I believe that the best way to protest a game is to not play it, pirate it or to give it attention. It would be insanely difficult to pull off but if gamers organized to completely ignore a title that would send a solid message to publishers. They can easily track the pirating of their titles, if it bombs in the market and on torrenting sites then that is bound to send a solid message.
ISP’s do not require a customer to register their internet enabled devices so that they can use the internet in their home. If they did then how would your friends use your service when they visited? What would happen everytime you bought a new device? How would you authorize new devices if the old ones failed? DRM does this to people and that’s why it’s generally hated by consumers because it is antagonistic to their needs. Most items in our society, even the crappy ones, can only exist due to principles of mass production. It may suck to pay $60 for a video game but I doubt that you could find a group of people willing to make a game for a single person for only $60. Games have the $$ value beat on production value and the barrier to entry for creating games alone. What makes it easy to devalue a game is competition. Why pay Company ABC $60 when I can receive a similar or better experience for the same or lower price or for this thing that they do that I prefer? As Sean Malstrom says, game companies in the late 90’s and the early 00’s squashed competition by raising the bar on production values exceedingly high. Zelda and Final Fantasy are good examples of this. They didn’t defeat the competition to the point that they don’t exist, but their direct competition have a hard road ahead of them in order to do so.
DRM is only part of the issue, the software that most people use isn’t free. By free I’m referring to the face that it doesn’t grant the purchaser rights, or at least the rights that they care about. Your money doesn’t pay for that plastic disc and the content on it, though that should be part of the deal. It pays for the experience created by the people that crafted what you are playing today. Unfortunately, DRM is truly the only option for some of these businesses to stay alive (so they believe). I won’t knock it as a tool, but most of its’ current iterations simply provide an experience that is less than what the customer expects for their money while also allowing people who don’t spend any money to receive a better experience than those that do. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, will there be a brave business man or other person that can try something different to try achieve better results?
Remember the following statement in the correct context. “The customer is always right”. Many people abuse that statement, no they are not always right. I’ve had people tell me that their computer was wireless so it didn’t need any cords to function. No power cords or cords for any type of communication with their wired mouse and keyboard. Nothing to connect their monitor to their PC or to use for any type of inter-device communication at all. To view the previous statement correctly, please look at the next. When it comes to customer service, how the customer feels about a product and their treatment, the customer is always right. That is true. Yes, even if the politest person in the world is told that they treated someone badly, the customer is right in how they feel even if the facts or third party perception may say otherwise. A significant portion of business is all about finding the customers perception and then bringing it to a favorable view for their product.