Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Failure To Understand DRM

Digital rights management (DRM) is an umbrella term that refers to access control technologies used by publishers and copyright holders to limit usage of digital media or devices.

A World of Warcraft account is NOT DRM. Tobold argues otherwise, but fails to use harsh language. An account to an online game is simply a means of accessing a service. When a player decides to play an MMO they do so fully understanding they are purchasing access to a service. If they don't, they should quickly learn.

An MMO, without DRM, can be pirated. Illegal servers can be brought up to provide the service portion "for free". Someone, who has stolen the game, could then easily log onto the illegal server and play. Requiring an account for the official service does not in any way stop piracy of an MMO and therefore the account CAN NOT be considered a form of DRM.

DRM, if it exists for an MMO, would be placed on top of the requirement to have an account to access the official service. For example: the game requires having the physical media in a drive while playing, or non-account-related authentication of the files installed on the computer. This is why I've commented before that online, subscription-based games somewhat defeat piracy in the first place by selling a SERVICE, not a "pile of code".

It is not a lack of understanding about DRM. It is an unwillingness to spend money, in essence voting, for a "pile of code" that is reliant upon a remote source for local authentication before it will run. It is complete bullshit and I will continue the harsh language and posture towards it until I see fit that it is not a detriment to LEGITIMATE purchasers.

In the case of Spore, where access to online content is a feature, the tried and true system of having an account to access the online service is the perfect solution. One purchase = one access key = money earned by EA/Maxis. I don't see how they would even think of using another system, especially with their plans to rank content and allow players to vote for their favorites. Mark my words: there will be some sort of control, outside of the DRM, to access online content. Therefore, the DRM is serving a POINTLESS role while accessing online content.

The accounts system is not perfect. Accounts can be shared, stolen, etc. etc. However, it ensures at some point that a copy was purchased and that players looking to play legitimately. Plus, with current technology, it is not difficult to sniff out and stomp out shared accounts. Sure, it takes effort, but so does maintaining an authentication server for years. Not to mention the ass whooping customer service will receive if that authentication server goes tits up on launch day.

This leaves only the initial installation DRM, which will be cracked within days of release. Personally, I have no problem with installation DRM that authenticates remotely or does some magic to ensure I have purchased a legitimate copy. Steam is a great example of properly implemented and friendly DRM, coupled with an account system to manage access to the digital distribution service.

DRM can exist peacefully, but it is obvious that is not the goal for EA. EA is trying very hard to present a show of force against the evil pirates. Unfortunately, it is resulting in further alienation of an already alienated PC gaming playerbase.

NOTES for Tobold: I do not play MMOs all the time. I play games all the time, MMOs some of that time. I just talk about MMOs more.

Spore can be installed three times total. Good luck having it installed on multiple machines for any length of time.


  1. I've seen it said before that the main reason companies want some form of DRM on their games is so that it makes it easy to use the overwhelming powers of the DMCA.

    I've looked over some parts of the DMCA and it looks like if any form of DRM is bypassed it makes you liable no matter what type of fair use argument you might have. This is prevalent for cases where you aren't granted additional installs for a game because its no longer supported or has a install limit for a single purchase.

  2. Your opinion is valid, in the sense of an opinion.

    The 3 installations concept isn't that difficult. You can install it on a laptop and your desktop. If you change the physical parts of the desktop and it requires another application that would be your 3rd use. But if you need more, than you can talk to their CSR's and get approval for another one. And the key part of all of this.

    That 3 uses crap is arbitrary. I don't like the limitations. They should simply just make it a reasonable number, say 10 or something. I think 3 is a little draconian myself.

    But then again, if I need more authorizations, I'll go get them to extend my needs. And if it becomes a real problem, you can bet this it will be up on Digg in no time and they'll get their asses handed to them.

    So, as I said. Valid.

  3. Anonymous5:47 PM

    I agree with William on the number of installations, 3 just doesn't seem like it's enough. But you can always be "granted" extra installations.

    With that said, I would gladly allow any game on my hard drive to contact the publishers server for a few seconds to confirm that my copy is legitimate, if it means that I can play that game without a disc in the drive, even if it does it every 10 days, which I understand EA has removed that part of the DRM.

    How many times have you not played a game on your hard drive because you just can't be bothered to find the disc for it?

  4. Rob. game.ISO + Daemon tools = never need a CD... usually. I have done it for several games I play and gladly admit I've done it. Went a long time without a functioning CD drive.

    I would gladly authenticate my software to help fight theft of games, but not at the cost of potentially losing access to the entire game if suddenly the developer goes tits up.

    I don't buy the DMCA ploy either. Theft is theft, whether you actively engage in activities to conceal your activities or if you just blatantly walk in and grab that Snickers bar off the counter at the gas station.

    Make a good game in the first place and the sales will come. History proves it. Make a bad game, blame the pirates, and sales WILL NEVER come.

  5. A perfect real world example. I went into walmart about 2 years ago to grab a movie my wife wanted to watch with her mother over thanksgiving. I waited in the electronics area for about 15 minutes for someone to come open the cabinet and give me the new release. I paid for it and went home. The next morning I looked at the movie and noticed a slit in the plastic wrap. Didn't think much of it. Opened the case. No movie. I was annoyed but no problem. I went back to Walmart on the way to the in-laws to get my movie. The jerk at the customer service accused me of being a thief, but I got my movie and away I went.

    I haven't bought a movie, game or electronic purchase in WalMart since. I order online or pay a little more at Best Buy.

    Same thing With DRM. I'll just play other games. There might be a rare exception if the game is really really good and my friends all play it, but that will be the exception not the rule. Other titles just won't get a chance.


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