Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DRM and the One-Save format

At least look me in the eye...

In the thousands of years man has been trading currency for goods and services or just out-and-out bartering, a precedent has been set. When you buy (or trade for) something, it is yours. It's your property. You're free to do whatever you want with it: trade it, sell it or keep it. I tend to be of the same school of thought. Gaming companies... not so much. Gaming companies have introduced us all to the wonderful world of DRM.
DRM, or digital rights management, comes in several forms but has the same goal: Preventing software piracy. Sometimes it means you must associate your game with an online account (like Steam) and sometimes it means you have a limited numbers of installs for your game.
Hey, I get it. Gaming companies are a business and businesses need to make money. In the 90's, video games were $50 brand-new. Until about 2010, they were STILL $50 except now the dollar is worth less and video games now have Hollywood-like budgets. So today, even with the $60 dollar price tag, making a profit is harder than ever. But is DRM the answer?
It all started with Spore. Spore may not have been the first game with DRM, but it certainly is the one the brought it unceremoniously into the spotlight. Spore's DRM software, SecuROM, installed a module in the user's computer which connects to the internet and provides authentication every 10 days. What's the big deal? The big deal is there was no mention of SecuROM on the box, manual or software license agreement. Moreover, the aforementioned module potentially left your computer open to software attacks (malware, spyware etc.). To top it off, the SecuROM module stays in your computer even after you uninstall Spore from your hard drive! To further sweeten the deal, SecuROM only allowed your copy to be installed to a maximum of 3 computers. What happens when you upgrade your rig? Or buy a new one? Decide to install it on your laptop? Format your hard drives?
You vile temptress...
Needless to say, there was quite the public outrage. Gamers argued that when we buy a game for $50, we damn well should be free to do whatever we want with it! It's our property! On top of that, it shouldn't be installing things in our computers that we don't know about! "We don't disclose specifically which copy protection or digital rights management system we use [...] because EA typically uses one license agreement for all of its downloadable games, and different EA downloadable games may use different copy protection and digital rights management.” EA argued. Gamers fired back by giving Spore 1 star reviews where ever they could, citing good gameplay but horrible DRM.  Many game review publications followed suit.
At the end of the day, all they were trying to do was prevent piracy, even if that meant punishing legitimate customers by limiting their number of installs. EA did give a little by upping the number of installs from 3 to 5, then giving the ability to de-authorize the copy so you can move installations. Ultimately, about 3 months into this debacle, EA released Spore on Steam with out any install limit.
The saddest part of the story? Spore was the most pirated game of 2008. That's right folks. All the debating, all the posturing, all for nothing. Lose-lose situation on all fronts.
So you'd think the gaming industry would've learned its lesson, but fast forward to today and here we are all over again. While not quite on the same scale as the Spore/EA fiasco, Capcom has introduced us to the "one-save" format in its new handheld title "Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D". It's not meant to prevent piracy, however; it's made to kill the used game market! It's quite diabolical, games with the one-save feature give you one save slot that cannot be deleted and cannot be overwritten. So that means once you play a game through, get all the unlocks and goodies, you're DONE. You can never go back, you can never start fresh and you can never sell it. It's a 1 playthrough game. Yeah OK, part of me gets it; if a gamer buys a game and returns it, then another gamer buys it, that's 1 sale where there could have been 2. Yeah well, perhaps if the game was good in the first place, the person wouldn't have returned it. Really this one-save system basically gives the developer the wiggle room to slack at developing a quality game. If the fans want the game, they must buy it brand new and will be LOCKED into keeping the game and developers don't have to worry about used sales. In theory, it can work for them. In practice it's a whole different story. It will likely play out 2 ways:
"I know, the one-save system makes me sick too!!"
1) It works and it sells many copies and the owners of the game will get a nice paperweight after they're done with the game. Or 2) all those gamers that mostly rent games won't get this title because... well the game won't even be available for rent, after all you don't want to rent a game that's already complete. Then the ginormous number of gamers that have the "Eh, I'll buy it and if it sucks, I'll return it" mentality will NOT buy the game with the thought process of "I'm not going to risk it" Then another huge chunk of gamers that say "I never buy new, I'll wait until it's used" won't buy it either. Who will buy this game? Hardcore gamers and/or hardcore fans of the Resident Evil franchise. That's it.
Luckily, this system is only possible on cartridge based systems (read: handhelds) so for now, the big home consoles are safe. But who is to say it won't be pirated? Cartridges have been pirated plenty of times in the past. In fact, you can find ROMs for pretty much any cartridge based game in the last 30 years.
So... 2 weeks into this circus, Capcom got the message: “I think it's fair to say there was never quite the malicious intent that the conspiracy theorists out there would have you believe,” Capcom VP Christian Svensson said. “I think it's also fair to say that in light of the controversy it's generated, I don't think you're going to see something like this happening again.” Companies like Capcom really need to realize this one simple fundamental:


That's right, bold, italic and underlined. Don't make me go crazy and use red font! It doesn't matter if there's no DRM, no SecuROM, no one-save, a good game is a good game is a good game. Good games sell. Developers use piracy and used game sales as cop-out, because the industry as a whole has become a myriad of cowardly, unimaginative hacks that constantly play it safe and never, ever try to innovate. Nowadays, you'll see indie developers take the big risks, really think outside the box, then, if the game is popular enough, the big companies see it's safe and make their own watered down, pathetic attempt. All game companies need to realize that you cannot tell us what to do with our games, they are our property that we spent our hard earned money on. It will never work. The precedent has been set, when you buy something, it's yours. Can you imagine if a movie production company put DRM on your Blu-Ray or DVD that only allows you to play it on YOUR media player? Why are video games held to a different standard? Hold on to those old Windows 95 CD-ROMs, they might be the only games left in your collection that actually belong to you.

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