What’s Mine is ‘Mine’: Denouncing DRM

Seems like every time I get online over the last few weeks, I see more controversy over “always online” DRM (digital rights management) restrictions.  Penny Arcade did a comic on the subject, and forums are aflame on gaming news sites from Gamasutra  to Rock, Paper, Shotgun.  The ire most recently stems from controversy over Blizzard’s announcement that Diablo III will require require a persistent Internet connection to play…even in single-player campaign mode.  Does this irritate me?  Absolutely.  Just as it irritated me last year to hear that Ubisoft was doing that very thing with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and sure, it irritated me more when sure enough, within a month, said DRM requirement backfired on the players.

But here’s the thing that really gets me.  When I saw the quote from Blizzard’s VP that he was “actually kind of surprised” over the backlash, at first I thought, how clueless can this guy be?  But reading the comments attached to the article, I see the problem…the fans lining up on either side of the fence are merely arguing the conveniences of the issue.  The argument of choice for those not offended by this seems to boil down to several variations on “It’s 2011.  If you don’t have 24/7 access to the internet, it’s time to crawl out of your cave, mmmkay?”  Those defending their outrage are actually responding on this level, going into great detail about rural connectivity, monthly data caps on some plans, the reliability of game servers, and whether they can Play On A Plane.

Mass effect 3

You wouldn't pass around an advertisement from Commander Shepard on the Citadel...

Folks…forget those arguments.  They’re valid points, but spending your time arguing about them diminished the reason you should be mad, in my humble opinion.  That reason is, and I want you to say it with me:

“IT’S MY GORRAM PROPERTY AND I WILL DO WHAT I WANT WITH IT.”

I realize my opinion is probably coming from an old-fashioned perception of ownership, and that my outlook is colored by having grown up pre-Internet, buying games on floppy disks and CD-ROM, books made from real trees, music on vinyl records, cassette tapes, and compact discs.  And I am not naive – I recognize the difference between my ownership of a disc and the author’s ownership of the work it contains.  I would not presume to believe that purchasing a CD gives me the right to use it for commercial purposes, or to reproduce and distribute its content to all my buddies.  But that CD – that one, specific CD – that is my property, which I happen to believe I should be able to listen to where and when I like, make copies for my personal use, or install on as many machines as I can cram into my house.

The increasingly intrusive DRM push is based on a lot of fallacies.  I’ve seen these issues raised online before, so I’m not exactly saying anything earth-shattering here, but hey, my soapbox, my prerogative:

1.  Increasingly draconian DRMs stop pirating and don’t punish paying customers.
2.  Piracy is some dread new crisis that will bring the entertainment industry to its knees.
3.  Nobody will pay for art if they can get away with pirating.

Progressively more stringent and frustrating DRM, much like the TSA, reminds me of the saying “closing the barn door after the cows have run off”.  Pirates find a way to hack the copy protection, so technology comes up with a new way to copy protect.  Which – surprise! – pirates are going to find a way to hack.  There is no such thing as copy protection that can’t be cracked.  There is only copy protection that hasn’t been cracked…yet.  And when it is, it is the pirates who have a quality, unrestricted copy of the game, while honest customers are being punished for paying for it.

video game piract

Damn it. We missed "Talk Like a Pirate Day".

Is piracy a new threat?  My parents were rather prolific pirates; you tell me (and while you’re at it, get off my lawn.  And turn that noise down!)  Oh, I didn’t think anything of it at the time…but looking back to the ‘80s, the dozens of games I had for my C64 were largely packed onto floppies with handwritten labels, several games to a disk, with phrases like “Cracked by SuperCoolGuy” on the title screens.  Our sizeable collection of VHS movies consisted of 2 movies to a tape, their titles neatly scripted in my mother’s handwriting, some recorded from TV but many copied over from video store rentals, as VHS was still fairly new and often unprotected.  My folks aren’t bad people…frankly, I think it was pretty common back then because people simply didn’t think too much about it.  Sure, I saw the FBI warning at the beginnings of movies, but my parents never copied and sold any movies or showed them publicly, and it just seemed harmless.  These days, however, every album/movie/game they have is bought and paid for, and I seriously doubt it’s because they don’t know how to make copies anymore; they simply do the right thing, as the vast majority of us do.  And you know what?  Despite the prevalence of pirating I saw in the ‘80s of VHS movies/games/cassettes before copy-protection became standard, the movie/game/music industries still flourished.  Moreso nowadays.

People will pay for what they like.  People can be outright antsy to give their money for what they like.  People will even pay money for something they already got for free – because they know that a dollar is a vote, and because when you’ve really wowed them, they want to say ‘thank you’ with their dollar.  When Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog was released freely on the internet, I fell so ardently in love with it that when it finally became available for sale, I bought it on iTunes…less because I wanted an iTunes copy of it and more because I’d been dying to pay them for what they had created.  And then I also bought a DVD copy as a gift for someone else.  It is also worth noting, however, that this was my first iTunes purchase and will be my last…because I had repeated issues with the “authorizing” the video, first when attempting to put it on my iPod, and again when I got a new laptop and got rid of my old one.  Yes, I managed to fix the issues eventually, but that’s not the point.  The point is that the hassle offended me on basic principle, as it became increasingly clear that I had not ‘bought’ the movie at all, but rather bought the right to borrow it indefinitely, just so long as I checked in with them any time I chose to do anything with it.  And yet we’re supposed to pay $50-60 for a disc we’re not allowed to use when and how we choose.  By requiring the persistent Internet connection, companies are essentially taking your money for a product, but insisting they ‘hold on to it for you’, so they can keep checking your receipt, over and over and over again.

Maybe I’m spitting into the wind arguing about it.  Concepts of ownership when it comes to digital material seem to be changing rapidly whether I like it or not.  But let’s not go quietly.  Don’t let them tell you it’s necessary, it’s inevitable, or that it’s just to ‘enhance’ gameplay.  If buying something does not give you the right to use and enjoy that something, be dissatisfied.  Tell them you’re dissatisfied.  And make it for the right reasons.

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Comments

Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
Phil

Totally agree. I want to play more games on my PC now that consoles are getting long in the tooth, but the idea of being restricted in anyway, particularly by signing up to some on-line service and giving them my info and loggin into them to play a single player game irks me to the point of avoiding PC software like the plague.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
Jake

Thank god for people like you, writing articles of this magnificent magnificence so I don’t have to.

I really wish people understood me when I ranted about actually wanting to OWN the product I spend my cash on.

If in 10 years time I want to show my son Diablo III. I want to be able to take it out of a box, install it and play it without wondering if the servers are still up.

The reason pirates pirate (myself included) is because it is sheer madness to expect me to spend more money on a worse product. It makes no fundamental sense.

I have an original copy of The Witcher 2 beautifully displayed on my shelf because the product the developers offered me was far superior to the copied version (given all the extras that came with it). Even if it wasn’t, even if it came on a single DVD with no frills, if you pirate a product that is identical to the retail version that is stealing. STEALING. Hands down.

If you CHOOSE the pirated version because it is the superior product, that is LOGICAL. So far a select few companies understand this and I have never pirated one of their releases.

As for the rest, I’ll be buying your games off the back of a pickup truck.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
Anon

Wait… books aren’t made from trees anymore?!

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
ahoodedfigure

I came from the generation (I know, I know) where you bought something and were allowed to use it. Now that sharing and using data is much easier, I don’t know if I should change, or if the people planning DRM should learn to ease off. They may actually be discouraging the lazy from copying, but mostly they’re diminishing EVERYONE’S experience. And it’s not that people will refuse to play because of the DRM, most won’t (although some will wait until it’s discounted and effectively “unlocked”, which I doubt is noticed so often in statistics).

I’m not sure this takes into account stuff like Steamworks, which is more about registering than forcing players to be online all the time. The latter seems dumb to me, whatever your internet capabilities happen to be.

And as far as stuff being release for free, I’ve bought quite a few things that I’ve been allowed to sample in full beforehand, or at least been given a decent taste of through a demo.

I get the feeling this stuff will break down the more small developers ignore it and still garner a decent level of success, but I have to say I found the old decoder wheels charming. I wonder if there’s some solution that lies embedded in the no man’s land between absolute no and absolute yes, and I wonder if demos might provide a hint to that.

Some technical person will probably tell me it’s not viable, but what about a game that is sent in parts from several different sites, and is assembled by an executable you buy access to that is particular to your machine. I think by raising the difficulty bar, but not interfering with a legit buyer’s ability to use it, you might get somewhere. The purchaser can plug in license specs for multiple machines, limited copies for home use that they can spread among whatever machines they like, which could be given to friends conceivably, but wouldn’t be mass-producible like a single cracked system would be.

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