DRM, Publishers, and Pirates

Lately there have been some games being released that offer a single-player mode as well as a multiplayer option, but both only work if the owner of said game is connected to the internet. Some people can’t see what the big deal is, but to others it’s a scandalous idea and places them in quite a predicament. Not to mention, should gamers accept these terms?

This isn’t a new idea, it’s been around for perhaps a year and the concept of online passes being slipped into games like Mortal Kombat 9 has become fairly popular in an attempt to quash the used game market. But the constant internet connection needed to play games has been around since before Spore a popular game by Sims creator Will Wright and the first really popular game to be released with the same design. This was, of course, to combat piracy which has become a steadily growing problem for some gaming companies (the Nintendo Gamecube supposedly used small mini-discs to decrease the chances of piracy). Since one has to be online and register a game, the old CD-Key wasn’t as necessary, but of course there are accounts, names and passwords everywhere instead and playing a videogame feels more like selling your soul these days. It was nice not having to need a lawyer present every time I wanted to pop in Donkey Kong Country. Again, though, what’s the big deal? So you have an account and have to maintain a connection to the internet? Well, there’s more to it than that.

Let’s say you just want to play the game alone- no one but you, your mouse and your cheetos- you still have to maintain that connection to play single-player . That’s fairly absurd, especially to the likes of me who tends to have internet connectivity issues frequently. That’s just unnecessary. But, beyond that, you still have to stick to the code and rules of the game even if you’re not playing with other people. In the recently released and highly anticipated Diablo 3, this restricts your name completely (no curse words, duplicates or names of characters in other Blizzard games as well as apparently religious themed names like Atheist, Christian and Jew-not terribly awful unless your name is Christian ) and that can be really infuriating to your casual player who just wants to pop it in and go. But who cares if you can’t name your character Analfist the Barbarian, you can just be “CloudStryfe4” and carry on, whatever, or at least you would if you could connect to the server.

You checked your connection, it’s fine; restarted the router, nothing wrong there either. But you re-read it and it’s Blizzard’s server that is off. For maintenance. Patching World of Warcraft. But you still can’t play Diablo 3 (again assuming you just want to play your single player game that you already paid $60 for as well as your on-going $20 a month internet connection and you just want to kick Satan’s ass). How frustrating is that? You paid for a game that you can’t even play and it’s not your fault. What happened? Why has gaming come to this? No one should have to reschedule their day around something like that, especially whenever they already coughed up the money for it, it makes you wonder if they ever really bought it at all. I’m not going to get angry over their having to do patches or maintenance, I completely understand, again it boils down to not being able to enjoy the single-player at the owner’s leisure.

Last year I bought two games through Steam that had to be played through Games for Windows Live, another bit of tedium involving accounts, emails, passwords, etc. Steam has DRM, sure, you have to be able to sign on and your games are linked to your account, but considering the safety of your account, the usefulness of Steam, and the constant sales; I’m not going to complain about them. But having to use Steam to launch Games for Windows Live to launch Dead Rising 2  is a bit overkill. How many doors did I need to unlock to get through to my game? It won’t even save if I don’t log in to Windows Live, making it an absolutely necessary evil. But earlier this month I reinstalled it- wanting another go at getting that sweet Arthur armor- but no, I had forgotten my Windows Live account. I fiddled about with Microsoft’s account deal thing, trying to remember my myriad of Microsoft accounts (though I could’ve sworn I combined them all into one, since Microsoft is so fond of that) and logged in to find out…apparently the game wasn’t registered with that account. I don’t understand how, it was definitely my Windows Live account, or at least I’m 90% positive. Regardless I couldn’t be allowed to save my game or progress, thus leaving me with one alternative: not to play the game and to write an angry letter in response to Microsoft about the DRM involved with the game and how frustrating it was. Despite having legitimately paid for the game, I was impeded by software and security precautions designed to stop those who hadn’t. Is that fair?

Piracy is seriously a problem. Remember when I brought up Spore? This was a game that was very anticipated and it’s release was marked on many people’s calendars. But apparently it also bred a degree of skepticism since it was pirated 1.7 million times in its first three months following release and sold only 2 million copies in the same amount of time, making it the most pirated game of 2008. Will Wright’s The Sims 2 was the second. This was a direct response to EA’s announcement that Spore would have a limited number of activations, preventing the games from being installed more than three separate times and destroying the potential of it being sold second-hand. This was the first real strike and beginning of the war of videogame piracy.

After that it’s been a constant “one-upping” to see who could win. The publishers of  videogames have tossed more and more DRM and anti-piracy software at gamers and many of circumvented it anyways and pirated it, some out of spite and others because of the growing hassle buying and playing videogames had become. And the war doesn’t seem like it’s going to die out anytime soon. It’s just become such a simple thing to do and most do it with no care of the actual battle between gamer and publisher.

The Humble Indie Bundle was released a couple years ago with a “pay what you want” format including a number of independently developed and released PC games, the first pack with a cumulative price of $80. Sure there were some people that paid a penny and there were others who paid upwards to a thousand- that’s to be expected, but there was also a large amount of pirating. Keep in mind, the Humble Indie Bundle is completely DRM-free, you pay it, you own it, do what you want with it, take it where ever you want, but some pirates couldn’t be bothered to pay the one cent minimum price tag for a pack of five games. That just makes them assholes, that’s really all I can say. Some of the price goes to the developers or to charities like Child’s Play but nooooo, that’s not a good enough cause.

There is the argument, however, that piracy makes up for the lack of a demo in game releases. This, I admit, is a sound argument considering the current price of videogames is incredibly steep- and who doesn’t want to know what they’re getting into before they shell out that kinda cash?- but I’m not exactly sure I can trust that it doesn’t go beyond that. There’s no way of ascertaining whether or not pirates are playing the first couple of levels or the whole thing once they’re in possession of it.

I feel that it’s an action that gets simpler the more often one does it and that it becomes less and less of an issue. After-all piracy isn’t just limited to videogames and I’m sure everyone has or knows of someone who has downloaded music or films. You eventually stop caring about your original intentions and what used to be trying out games could become outright downloading and taking them. Though it’s not the same for some and some developers believe that piracy can honestly help and not hinder them.

Now, it could be the fact that Minecraft has brought in over 9 million dollars already, but Markus “Notch” Persson has jumped to the defense of piracy and says that he see’s pirates as, not thieves, but potential customers– a similar idea utilized by science fiction author and liberal copyrights activist Cory Doctorow. He mentioned in reaction to , “Just pirate it. If you still like it when you can afford it in the future, buy it then.” I appreciate the sentiment and I would generally agree were it not having these wide-reaching effects across the market.

Since the DRM has become so out of hand, it’s leading more people than ever to take to torrenting websites in waves to track down the newest releases. It’s not like I can blame them now, there’s many reasons to, but it’s making the war worse and escalating it by being a part of the problem. In a way it’s justifying EA and Blizzard’s actions, regardless of intentions.

Pirates can discuss that they’re not stealing the game all they want, that’s fine and true, sure. But they ARE stealing potential money from people who could honestly use it. And because of them, they are making the gaming industry Hell for people who just honestly pay for games and want to play them without being hassled about for accounts, cd keys, limited activations, ridiculous DRM, etc. The market is changing right now and the rest of the world just honestly isn’t ready for these new trends and the progression is going to be hard. Programs like Steam have most definitely helped slow piracy by offering so many games simply and at an affordable price. This marketing plan is how most things will probably turn to be in the future and pirates are possibly just wanting this convenience in an even more streamlined way. Are pirates the death of gaming? No. But the beehive of publishers that they prod with a nice jousting lance are.

“And after this I can play Mass Effect 3 without Origins, right?!”

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~ by Ghostess on June 12, 2012.

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