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Games Your Rights Online

Tensions Rise Between Gamers and Game Companies Over DRM 447

Tootech recommends an article at the Technology Review about the intensifying struggle between gamers and publishers over intrusive DRM methods, a topic brought once more to the forefront by Ubisoft's decision not to use their controversial always-connected DRM for upcoming RTS RUSE, opting instead for Steamworks. Quoting: "Ultimately, Schober says, companies are moving toward a model where hackers wouldn't just have to break through protections on a game, they'd also have to crack company servers. The unfortunate consequence, he says, is that it's getting more difficult for legitimate gamers to use and keep the products they buy. But there are alternatives to DRM in the works as well. The IEEE Standards Association, which develops industry standards for a variety of technologies, is working to define 'digital personal property.' The goal, says Paul Sweazey, who heads the organization's working group, is to restore some of the qualities of physical property — making it possible to lend or resell digital property. Sweazey stresses that the group just started meeting, but he explains that the idea is to sell games and other pieces of software in two parts — an encrypted file and a 'play key' that allows it to be used. The play key could be stored in an online bank run by any organization, and could be accessed through a URL. To share the product, the player would simply share the URL."
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Tensions Rise Between Gamers and Game Companies Over DRM

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  • by cosm ( 1072588 ) <thecosm3 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday August 22, 2010 @10:51PM (#33336694)
    I just bought two copies of GTA IV (pc version) for me and my girlfriend, in the hopes that there would be some cool co-op. After installing 'Rockstar Social', and having to get a damn 'Games for Windows' Live-esque account, and having to register account after account and confirm this after that after serial after serial, I said, well, Fuck. It. In the trash they go, and $40 down the tube. Shoulda looked at the reviews [google.com] first I guess.

    Overreaching DRM and poorly written interfaces upon interfaces are the death knell for PC gaming. I am sorry, but they just keep getting worse, and worse and worse. Albeit the gaming experiences might be improving, the overall software experience is absolutely terrible. The amount of disneylandish crap pc game devs are pumping into games to mimic the consoles is absolutely infuriating, and doesn't seem to be getting any better.

    I'll say it. I love PC gaming, but it is definately an industry that will die if they don't all get together and streamline some of the bullshit. Steam is the closest thing we have, albeit still is one more interface you have to use to get to another interface to start/load/join a game.

    Back to Q3A and CS 1.6.
  • by johnhp ( 1807490 ) on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:01PM (#33336748)
    Steam isn't just an interface It replaces the role of the brick and mortar store, as well as the role of the CD/DVD media. It also acts as a library of games and their mods, and provides anti-cheating features (if developers choose to use them). So rather than feeling like Steam is just "one more interface" standing between me any my possessions, I tend to think of it as a merchant who sticks around to organize and update my games.

    Long term, I see Steam as the big rival to iTunes. I think they'll eventually start to carry movies, and eventually music too.

    And as I've said before, I don't think PC gaming will ever have a chance to die. The line between consoles + TVs and PCs + monitors is very fuzzy even today (the XBOX and XBOX360 are already basically x86 PCs running Windows 2000), and in five or ten years it will disappear completely.
  • by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:05PM (#33336774)

    If the big names go away and leave the PC gaming industry, that would be good for PC gaming as a whole. We would see indies take over and fill the vacuum with original IP, and not just another FPS sequel.

    Piracy? NWN1 did something which did well at stopping piracy in the long term, and that was eventually chucking the CD-ROM DRM and requiring a valid and unique CD key to play multiplayer. No matter what, the pirates will be cracking the game anyway, might as well just keep them from using network services which legit players would use. This is a simple DRM mechanism, and it does an excellent job long term.

    Already, the big names treat the PC platform like crap. Might as well just show them the door, let them have the uber locked down console market, and let Blizzard, ID, and indies with something original to write take over.

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:09PM (#33336810) Journal

    "Alternative to DRM"? No, this is just another form of DRM.

    I like what Steam offers. I think it's a fair trade. I'm still not going to call it something other than DRM.

    You know what the "alternative" to DRM is? Not putting fucking DRM on your products!

  • by aekafan ( 1690920 ) on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:10PM (#33336818)
    I hearing about this, the death of PC gaming, for years now. People keep spouting PCs are dead platforms for games. BS. Which console was it that had WOW, EVE or Starcraft II? Which System let me buy FO3 GOTY edition for $2.50 and GTA IV for $3.50? Oh wait, that's right, none of them. When Consoles can match my PCs performance (look at Mafia ii PC compared to either console version) or price, then i will look them up.
  • by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:14PM (#33336834)

    Don't forget:

    DRM writers can write drivers; they can be cracked.
    DRM writers can use hardware dongles; they can be virtualized.
    DRM writers can demand use of servers; the servers can be emulated.
    DRM writers can download items in pieces; the chunks can be put together via snapshots of a filesystem and memory.

    For every item, there is a counter. Every dime spent on more Draconian DRM means a dime less spent on making the game suck less. And to me, some of the big PC companies which sell DRM with a game attached needs to start spending their cash on quality of releases, not new DRM schemes which will get cracked anyway.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:19PM (#33336856)

    why are you so upset about a system that requires you to be online?

    Because they will turn the system off eventually.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:27PM (#33336896)

    I personally hate how Starcraft 2 works. You must connect to battle.net even to play single player. There is no LAN play.

    It's all crippled by choice, and is one of the more evil rights restriction methods out there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:28PM (#33336906)

    We don't buy from them, they blame their loss of profits on piracy, then buy laws to fuck us over even more!

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:30PM (#33336918)

    To reword it into something more witty...

    Detractors look at Steam, and see the DRM, resource usage and potential spyware.
    Advocates look at Steam, and see the Digital Distribution, community features, automatic updates, and synchronized saves.

    It's a matter of which seems more important to you, and I, for one, see the (relatively minor) DRM as worth the other features.

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:36PM (#33336948)

    Considering the fat sacks of cash Valve is raking in from Steam? Not likely.

    Besides, the customer base is large enough that they COULDN'T shut Steam down without a class-action lawsuit. They're already on shaky ground, legally terming it a "subscription service" to bypass various first-sale laws. Even if they won the suit, they would have lost millions in attorney's fees. It may have been possible several years ago, but Steam has a critical mass of users. While that's a good thing for Valve, in that it makes Steam the de-facto digital distribution system, it also puts some restrictions on them. Namely, if they piss off enough of their users, they'll get sued, big-time.

  • Re:One opinion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:43PM (#33336972) Journal

    how about the general gaming public's response:

    we won't buy anything with annoying DRM. Really, the solution is to add more DRM? Not exactly a solution.

    Steam is no exception, and is only tolerable because it has no competition in that aspect.

    Once other companies wise up to the steam concept nobody will give a crap for it anymore either.

  • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Sunday August 22, 2010 @11:50PM (#33337014)

    There's one more serious oft-overlooked problem with DRM. For every copy of DRM'd software they sell they spend money every time somebody calls or emails with an activation problem. There's an on-going cost of maintaining servers and software to keep giving permission for installs. Basically, over time, their profits are getting eaten away by their own customer service. Sadly I think it'll take a couple of years before anybody realizes the problem with this. Heh.

  • by hardburlyboogerman ( 161244 ) <kwsmith41747@windstream.net> on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:03AM (#33337086) Homepage Journal

    Right.If a product has DRM,I don't buy.Hit the bastards in their pocket book,they'll learn REAL FAST.

  • Not just that (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:37AM (#33337238)

    DRM also costs money in and of itself. If it is your own, you pay someone to develop it. If it is third party, you pay a per copy license fee. Either way you pay someone to implement it in the game. The more complex and tricky the DRM, the harder the implementation. Some extreme ones, like the Cubase protection, does dongle checks on almost every operation, even opening menus. Lots of extra coding to make that happen.

    Also of course if the DRM is invasive, it may cost sales. I won't buy Ubisoft titles with their new DRM, too invasive.

    What it comes down to is that an economic analysis needs to be done on any DRM. Weigh how many more sales it is likely to generate vs costs. Then choose something intelligently that makes more money. That may be no DRM, it may be something non-invasive like Impulse::Reactor, but is probably not these insane high cost, high maintenance DRMs.

  • by Legion303 ( 97901 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:45AM (#33337272) Homepage

    Yes. They'll learn to blame poor sales on piracy and use that to justify more DRM, copyright lobbyists, etc. etc.

  • Re:One opinion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jackie_Chan_Fan ( 730745 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:57AM (#33337328)

    It's not just DRM that is the problem.

    It is also the fact that many companies are now opting to host servers, rather than let you host a server. This severely prevents you from ever owning your game. Once the company decides to no longer host the servers... that game is dead.

    Classic gaming will be a thing of the past. You will not own what you bought.

    How will people play Street Fighter IV 10 years from now? Probably the same way people play SF3 online now, with hacked custom server code, that runs through an arcade emulator.

    But thats not really owning your game if you have to hack it, write server code... etc

    is it?

    Actually, these companies would consider that illegal.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:01AM (#33337346)

    If the big names go away and leave the PC gaming industry, that would be good for PC gaming as a whole. We would see indies take over and fill the vacuum with original IP, and not just another FPS sequel.

    What you will get is a flood of low budget - low risk - casual games.

    Already, the big names treat the PC platform like crap

    The big names have treated the single player PC gamer rather well of late: Bioshock, Dragon Age, Fallout, Mass Effect, etc.

    As for iD, whatever the merits of Carmack's game engines, he hasn't released a genuinely innovative or significant PC game in the last ten years.

  • Re:One opinion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DeadPixels ( 1391907 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:02AM (#33337348)
    Personally, I have no quarrel with the way Steam is run. It offers me a great deal of convenience, some excellent sales, and the ability to download and play my games on just about any computer I want to. When I buy games digitally, I buy through Steam because I feel that they've done DRM "right", or at least well enough that I don't have any problems.

    Steam's customer support has also been fantastic to me over the years. I sent them an email inquiry just this afternoon about a purchasing question and they responded within a few hours - on a Sunday. The response was polite, succinct, informative, and written in perfect English.

    Valve itself has also done a great deal to command my respect. When I sent an email to a member of the Team Fortress 2 team regarding an issue with the game overlay I was having, I was put into contact with one of their programmers who examined some stack traces I sent over and helped troubleshoot the issue. Their executives also have a sense of humor and personally respond to emails frequently. Every single time I've contacted Valve and the Steam team, they've been respectful, helpful, and treated me like a customer rather than a criminal. As a result, I shop almost exclusively at Steam because I feel they've earned my loyalty as a customer. That is what I feel most software/music/movie companies fail to realize: if you treat your customers like criminals, they'll certainly consider acting like them.
  • by SpazmodeusG ( 1334705 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:05AM (#33337370)

    You're forgetting the worst thing Blizzard is currently doing. Region locking. Someone with a US copy of SC2 simply cannot play with a friend in Europe as each copy is region locked to one online server. It's destroying the international pro-gaming scene which is what Starcraft is meant to be all about.

    The reason they do this region locking isn't to prevent piracy either. It's so they can charge a different price in different regions. Maximising short term profits at the expense of pro-players support.

  • Re:One opinion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:23AM (#33337476)
    And clearly, no one cares about the environment because a vast majority of vehicle sales are coming from vehicles that run on gasoline/diesel.
  • Re:One opinion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jerrei ( 1515395 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:32AM (#33337524)
    "we won't buy anything with annoying DRM."

    What a load of shit. It's been proven time and again that "we" will not pay for anything we don't have to..

    You might stand on principle against DRM, or only use piracy as a means of evaluating a product before playing blind date with fifty bucks, but you're in a very, very small minority. The majority is scum who will download the pay what you want Humble Indie Bundle off a fucking torrent. The sooner everyone can admit that piracy is a serious problem, and DRM schemes are often desperate developers pushed into a corner, the sooner we can work toward finding a good middle ground.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:39AM (#33337542)

    They don't establish "original IP" either, which was one of the GP's complaints. Blizzard games are always Starcraft, Warcraft, or Diablo. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but "Original IP" it's also not.

  • by gringer ( 252588 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:50AM (#33337596)

    There have been numerous $20 DRM-free indy games that were pirated just as much as everything else.

    There is no reward for companies that go DRM-free

    DRM takes effort to implement. There is also no (or very small) reward for companies that go with DRM.

  • by jmerlin ( 1010641 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:41AM (#33337822)
    1. You aren't citing a source of this information. I'd love to know who is the authority on copyright infringement rates, they're usually wild estimates that are highly inaccurate.
    2. You're falling victim to the common fallacy that 1 copyright infringement = 1 lost sale. This is simply not the case. I've only ever seen infringement to hurt bad games, the ones that even with massive publicity cannot survive. I've bought many an indy game simply because myself or a friend got it free and thought it was cool. Yep, betcha didn't see that one coming, did you? Because it NEVER, EVER HAPPENS in the minds of morons who can't see beyond this simple fallacy.
    3. Yes, because a requirement of a consistent internet connection is gaming friendly. Do remember many games lasted for well over a decade because people could play them with their friends on a LAN -- even without the internet. When you require something that is, at times, as difficult to obtain as an internet connection (even such a seemingly simple requirement) you instantly kill that and your customer base will quickly get annoyed, very annoyed, at random outages when your servers fail (yes, everyone has outages, even you) or when they're playing a SINGLE PLAYER GAME and their internet cuts out because their ISP sucks ass (like most in the USA do) and suddenly their game tells them "oh hey you damn pirate, gtfo!" and closes. Thanks so much for thinking of your paying customers.

    The simple solution for you is to stop worrying about these "pirates." The customer is always right, and your loyal, paying customers are getting fucking tired of telling you to STOP DOING THAT. When it's clear that "piracy" leads to a reduction in offensive DRM and higher accessibility to games, even those who would pay to buy your game won't. It's simply not worth the aggravation imposed "for the good of the game."
  • by basicasic ( 1185047 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @04:08AM (#33338164)
    With you on that. I've bought all 4 previous versions of Civilization and was eagerly looking forward to buying Civ V until I read about having to install Steam crap. Having gone through a hideous experience years ago with Steam just to get to play Half Life 2 which I'd bought and paid for I vowed never again to buy any game with Steam or DRM. And I haven't. They can whistle if they think I'm going to buy Civ V. I'm not going to pirate it though. I'll carry on with Civ 4 or not bother at all.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @04:48AM (#33338344) Journal
    I think this post is the best advert for free software that I've ever read...
  • by doctormetal ( 62102 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @05:11AM (#33338454)

    But how much of those pirated copies are actually a lost sale? Most people that pirate software do not intend to buy the game if they are not able to get a pirated copy. The irony is that most pirated copies actually work better due to the removal of the obtrusive DRM. For a lot of legally bought games that required the CD/DVD in the drive I installed a no cd crack so i would not have to juggle the discs ll the time. You hear a lot of issues with DRM failing on some system configurations which makes the game unplayable for people that legally bought it. DRM hurts sales instead of improving them.

    I sometimes play some of the oldies I have for years. This will not be possible with the current games. If the publisher no longer want to support it it will no longer be playable.

  • Re:One opinion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @06:02AM (#33338636) Journal
    I'm trying to understand your logic. You say:

    DRM does not improve sales

    So, adding DRM costs money but does not give any return for this. Then you say:

    The point is numerous quality developers are having their necks wrung by piracy, and their quest for a way to guarantee profit - to them - is worth the relatively small number of customers that refuse to purchase their products due to DRM.

    So, DRM does not improve sales and, you agree, harms them (although you say by a small amount), but game developers are doing it because it is a way to guarantee profit?

    I don't see your logic here. You have something that increases costs, doesn't increase sales, but still somehow increases profit? The profit from selling any product is the per-unit price, minus the per-unit costs, multiplied by the number of sales. You've agreed that adding DRM drives up the per-unit costs and decreases the number of sales (albeit by a small amount), but you still somehow contend that DRM increases profits?

    Oh, and developers are not having their necks wrung by piracy. The number of pirates is completely irrelevant. Here's a simple thought experiment: would you rather 100 people bought your game but no one pirated it, or 1,000 people bought it and 10,000 people pirated it? The only thing that matters from an economic perspective is the number of sales. Reducing piracy is only important if it increases sales - as an end in itself it is meaningless, except perhaps from an emotional or moral stance.

    If your DRM scheme reduces piracy by 50%, but does not increase sales, it is pointless. It cost you money, but you got no return for it. If it increases sales (which you've already agreed it doesn't), but not by a large enough amount to cover the costs of adding the DRM, you get no return from it.

    Your argument sounds like someone banging their head against the wall and then telling people that they have to do it because they have a headache.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @06:31AM (#33338748)

    The sad, slow, and painful death of PC gaming.

    Pretty unlikely, since PCs have both larger installed base and far lower cost of development than any console. They are also technologically superior, so the most ambitious games - especially complex simulators and strategy games - simply can't be done on anything else.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @06:31AM (#33338752)

    If he's promoting religious tenets to those who are vulnerable (sick, injured, dying, uneducated, poor) then I'd have to agree. If he's only helping out as do many missionaries I have met, then he's done more good in 1 month than you will do in a lifetime.

  • Re:It might be. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pstorry ( 47673 ) * on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:05AM (#33339214) Homepage

    I like my physical media.

    For music, and movies, and so forth, anyway. It gives me freedom, to some degree. For instance, my collection of CDs is reasonable (500+), and some of them haven't been MP3'd yet. But worse, some were MP3'd years ago, at a low bit rate because when your player only has 64Mb of storage (yes, MEGAbytes - a Diamond Rio 500 - look it up!) you have to compromise a little.

    I'm now slowly going through them and re-ripping at a much higher bitrate. In that scenario, having media wins.

    However, I'm racking my brains trying to think why I'd want the media for games.

    I had the media for games a while ago, and it was a PITA. I then bought the iD Complete Pack on Steam - every iD game up to that point. I still had my media for old iD games like Quake III and Quake III Arena, but installing via Steam was much easier. No mucking about with CDs, no hunting through packaging trying to find what the serial number's written on... And no having to find and download the patches, then install them - sometimes in a specific order.

    With Steam and no physical media, I just download, copy the serial number, and go!

    It's not like a re-install from original media would allow higher quality. Just more hassle.

    I did once have an attachment to the original media for my games. Not any more. Not since I had to rebuild a machine and had to go off finding patches, hunt for lost manuals with serial numbers in them, and deal with scratched media. When I had a brand new machine later on, I just shuddered at the thought of the pain and time the physical media route would take. Then I saw the Complete Pack on Steam, and got my wallet out.

    I can still just about see a point to having the media for music and video materials. But that's partly because backing up virtual only media (especially video) can take terabytes once you've got a reasonable collection. And partly because I'm loathe to do any encoding at anything but a very high quality level, as I've learnt my lesson!

    I suspect that by the time I'm halfway through re-encoding my CDs, I'll be contemplating whether it's not just better to go looking at how much they'd cost to buy from Amazon or wherever... It may not stop me from re-encoding, but it might convince me it's not worth buying the physical media for my new music purchases any more...

    Sad but true. It'll be the end of an era.

    One final sad thought on the end of eras... I remember when albums had two sides. But right now it looks like I will have to explain to my children (well, my mates' children) that we once bought songs in bundles called Albums, on which the artists had sometimes painstakingly arranged songs into a specific order, for a certain effect. And that part of the pleasure of listening was to play the album, in order, to get that effect.

    Ye gods, I feel old now.

  • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:49AM (#33339558)

    if they are looking at piracy rates of 90% on a DRM-free title and DRM can cut that down to 80%, that doubles the amount of income they're making on that game, which probably does a lot more than doubling their profits

    This is a fallacy. There's no guarantee that those missing 10% now paid money for the game. It could easily be that simply less people are playing the game. It could even be that the total number of players dropped by more than 10%, in which case you're actually worse off.

    If you want a meaningful comparison, you have to compare the actual numbers of people paying for the game when all other factors (marketing, attractiveness of the game (admittedly impossible to determine)) are equal.

  • by Vaphell ( 1489021 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:59AM (#33340330)

    they refuted that rumor already, besides even if it was true, pro players would have to train in a high lag environment and then play tournaments with low lag which wouldn't make any sense.

  • by benhattman ( 1258918 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:12PM (#33345640)

    Anyone who's paying attention already knows that all DRM is crackable for people who are sufficiently cheap. In fact, I'm inlined to believe that excessive DRM only posses a "challenge" for players to crack. Instead of just having a game to play, there's the game of cracking the DRM, with the reward being you get to play a game.

    I think social-hacking by game makers would be a much more effective and affordable approach. To do it properly, they'd need some kind of carrot and stick approach. Here's an example, let's say the game takes a good old CD key. When it boots the first time it tries to authenticate with a server. If the server is found, and the key is valid and never before used, the loading screen displays something along the lines of "Thank you for purchasing this game. Your money allows GAME_COMPANY_X to make the best games possible." If it connects and the key is valid but not new, they could select a message based on how recently the key was used by someone else. If very recently, they could splash "It looks like you may be borrowing this game from a friend. We approve of sharing, but hope you'll love this game enough to purchase your own copy." Or, if the last user hasn't loaded in a while, it could display something friendly about reselling the game.

    Meanwhile, if the server finds the key is not authentic, or is being used by lots and lots of people at a time it could display "You do not appear to have an authentic copy of our game. We do not believe in punishing people who play our games, so we will not record your IP address or in any other way violate your privacy, but do know that our developers must be paid to produce games of this quality. So, if you like the game, please buy a legal copy or share one with a friend."

    My wording might be incorrect, but I think a simple scheme like that might go much further towards encouraging players who like the game to buy it while removing the fun of cracking from those who just like a challenge. Also, if I do purchase a valid copy and for some reason my key is being used by other people or I'm not on a network, I can still play the game and the message itself may even be positive. E.g. we can't authenticate you, but please enjoy our game anyways, and please play a legal copy.

    The only problem with this kind of idea is that to CEOs it doesn't look like you're doing anything. They won't realize it's probably more effective at reducing theft than any DRM they can dream up.

  • Anonymous Coward (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @05:36PM (#33347588)

    When are people going to learn that if you don't like something a company is doing then don't buy their products. If you keep bending over, they'll keep sticking it in. I think if everyone could keep from getting the newest versions of whatever game software for a year - you know, like maybe just hold on to Madden 10 for now and leave 11 alone for a year - they will have to adapt. By adapting, I mean they would have to give into the demand of their customers. If there is no demand for game software with DRM, don't buy it - they will not make it anymore, I guarantee it. Demand doesn't mean you keep providing a constant revenue stream and then bitch about what you've bought. If you keep buying products like this why would they change their course of ever "improving" DRM technology. You don't just keep buying shit you're not happy with and then bitch about it after the fact. C'mon, people have to be smarter than this.

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