In 2014, the slogan “Don’t copy that floppy” takes on a whole new meaning…
No doubt about it, technology has complicated PC gaming over the years. I happen to be one of those uppity bastards who feel that better hardware generally equates to a better game experience (not always, but usually). This translates to the home consoles as well, but nowhere is this fact better highlighted than in the evolution of desktops over the years. However, aside from better graphics, better sound and new frontiers these advancements have afforded us, a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences has been unleashed. Ones that have caused great headaches and ill-will among mouse and keyboard gamers for quite some time.
The bane of our time comes in the form of three evil little letters: D.R.M.
Standing for “Digital Rights Management” (but you already knew that), this system has been used by many in the gaming industry to fight software piracy and the loss of revenue through copied releases. It also had done more to make gamer’s lives difficult than bad RAM or their liquid cooling systems leaking on their motherboards combined. From making it damn near impossible to enjoy the game you purchased in multiple locations (like your laptop upstairs vs. the PC sitting in the family room downstairs), to rendering some games completely unplayable upon install (due to cached licenses not being cleared properly) it didn’t take long for gamers to see DRM as just another way for “the man” to come down on them. It would appear this was just as much to do with shaking the last few nickels out of gamers pockets, as it was combating piracy. But hey, that’s just a paranoid delusion on my part right?
Actually no. In fact, Adam Sullivan (one of the legal muckety-mucks at Square Enix) recently confirmed that DRM is in place primarily to protect their bottom line, first and foremost. “The primary benefit of DRM to us is the same as with any business: profit” he said in an interview. “We have a well-known reputation for being very protective of our IPs, which does deter many would-be pirates. However, effectiveness is notoriously difficult to measure--in short, we rely on the data available to us through our sales team and various vendors, along with consumer feedback”
So let’s pick this ass-backwards statement apart shall we?
First is this notion that DRM has been put in place to protect profit. Some of you might suggest, “Yeah, dummy…that’s the whole point.” Here is why you’d be as wrong as Sullivan (and others in the industry). Stopping someone from downloading a cracked version of your game DOES NOT equate to putting additional revenue in your pockets. If they could get that concept through their thick skulls, life would be much easier for all of us. Data collected on the subject actually suggests that only a very small percentage of those who got their copy illegally would have instead purchased it (had the cracked version not been available). So what you have left is a system that does nothing to deter pirates (but rather motivates them) and does everything to punish those customers who actually supported the company (after buying a DRM laced nightmare). Secondary, I literally laughed out loud when I read the part about “relying on consumer feedback data.” Either there information is gathered from a remote corner of Mars, or they’re simply kidding themselves. The PC community has been vocal about their disdain for DRM for years, yet companies like Square Enix and others make no strides in doing away with it.
As much as they will try and pound it into your heads, remember that DRM is not some Holy Grail that must be protected. For years the industry flourished without it. Granted, there wasn’t the same level of sophistication when it came to things like torrenting back then, but this is no excuse to justify a horrid system that needs pulled out by the roots now! Other studios like CD Projekt have already abandoned ship, and Sony is currently selling off its stakes in Square Enix as well. If I were them, I’d re-evaluate some things.
Frankly, if this trend continues, the very concepts of “purchasing” and “owning” will lose all meaning in the future. If that doesn’t scare you, what will?