The following essay was written for my WR 122, so before you read I would like to make the following points.
1. There maybe grammatical errors, as I am not the “good” student
2. Some information may already be completely outdated. For example my bit with Ubisfot’s “Always Online” DRM in the second half of my essay, as Ubi has been slowly changing the DRM from “Always On” to a one time activation.
3. This essay was written with much procrastination involved, so the quality may not be all that great.
4. The layout of the essay may induce eyestrain, due to the fact I did a copy past from word…
If anything I hope that you enjoy the read.
Video Game Digital Rights Management: Pirates Win, Consumers Lose
Before the widespread adoption of personal computers, digital media, and the internet, products of the entertainment industry existed only as physical objects. In order to watch a movie you needed the VHS tape, to listen to music you need the cassette tape, to play a video game you needed the cartridge. This allowed for the entertainment industry to easily keep track of sales, and made it difficult for knock-offs to be produced and sold. With advent of the digital age and widespread adoption of the internet, everything became easier, ranging from communication, to finding entertainment. However as the technology improved the entertainment industry quickly began to lose their iron grip on their products, especially in the video game industry. Today in the video game industry piracy runs rampant, pirates can easily acquire full retail versions of new games well before their street date, without out paying a single cent.
It is due to all of the rampant piracy and hacking that publishers in the video game industry have been including DRMs in their games. (DRM stands for Digital Rights Management; it is often as a singular object by the acronym.) DRMs are designed with the goal of preventing pirates from illegally making copies and distributing them to everyone else. For example every song you buy off of iTunes has a DRM on it that only allows you to have it playable on 3 different computers. In this case if the computer is not authorized to play the song, it becomes competently useless and piracy is stopped. While DRMs have been standard features in the industry for a few years, one thing has become clear; DRMs not only do not stop pirates, but they also alienate and drive off consumers due to the intrusive nature of the DRMs currently used by publishes. Many consumers find these DRMs to be intrusive as they inconvenience the consumers with limited installations, or forcing them to be always online while they play, while on the other hand the pirates can simply hack the game and remove the DRM. The industry needs to figure out less intrusive options for DRMs because the current DRMs are failing to stop pirates, and are only diminishing the consumer base, resulting in the loss of jobs throughout the video game industry.
In the earlier days of PC (Personal computer) gaming, it was a given fact that once you bought the copy of the game, you could install the game on as many computers as you wanted. (Installations, or the act of installing, is common place in the video game industry, as before one can play a new game, the game files must be installed on to a hard drive to have the game play properly.) As long as you had the disc, and the CD-key used to ensure not more than one person could be playing online with the game at one time, there was nothing to worry about. However powerhouse publishers such as Electronic Arts or EA (famous for publishing the Mass Effect series), and Ubisoft (famous for Assassin’s Creed series) have gone down the road of limited installations in order to combat piracy, only to backfire on the companies resulting in lost sales. In 2008 EA released the real time strategy, god game hybrid called Spore. This game was eagerly anticipated by the gaming community, as this was the brain child of The Sims creator, Will Wright. The game was plummeted straight into controversy as EA had put in a form of DRM which limited the amount of times the game could be installed to 3 times on 3 different computers. Because of the sensitivity of the DRM, a “different computer” was the same thing as a reformatted computer, which is the same physical computer only the programs and operating system had been completely erased and re-installed. While the intention of the addition of this DRM was to prevent consumers from pirating the game, it would back fire considerably as consumers pirated the game in protest of the DRM. Limiting the number of installations of game is seen as intrusive in the eyes of gamers as it challenges the consumer’s ownership over the game they have paid for. It has been commonplace in the game industry for decades that as long as you had purchased the game legally, you had the freedom to install as many copies as you wanted. A single consumer installing more than one copy does not create lost sales because at the end of the day, there is still only one copy being used.
One of the most famous cases of DRM promoting piracy occurred in the year 2008 with the release of the game Spore. It was announced before it released that the game could only be installed 3 times on different machines before your copy turned worthless CD. This sparked outrage in the PC gamer community, inspiring them to pirate the game just so they did not have to deal with the restrictions of the DRM.
“Spore was without doubt the most anticipated game of the year. The game itself has blown away the people who have played it, but the DRM encouraged thousands to get their copy illegally. Already Spore has been downloaded more than 500,000 times on BitTorrent, and this number is increasing rapidly.” (Torrentfreak.com).
At 50 dollars per copy of the game, it was an estimated loss of 25 million dollars all due to anger over the DRM. Several months after the launch of Spore, in December of 2008 EA relaxed the DRM and published a tool to negate the limited installations. However it was far too late and the damage had been done, as in that same month Spore had become the most pirated game of all time with 1.7 million copies downloaded illegally. (gamasutra.com). Due to the intrusive nature of the DRM, EA lost not only millions of dollars in sales, but also the trust of their consumers.
More recently publishers such as Ubisoft have become notorious in the PC gaming community because of their use the “Always Online” DRM. This particular DRM works by maintaining a constant stream of back and forth communication between your copy of the game, and the authentication severs that are on the publisher’s side. This prevents having multiple players using the exact same copy of the game, and allows for the industry to weed out pirated copies. While it is a sound method of stopping pirates, it is also drives away the loyal consumer base.
By many gamers this is considered to be intrusive due to the fact that it greatly reduces the accessibility to the game. In the 2 decades before the internet had become widespread, the only interaction between the consumer and the publisher was through the act of purchasing game. As a consumer once you had forked over the amount of money required, the interaction between you and the publisher was finished. By forcing consumers to be always online and connected to the publisher’s authentication severs, it has drastically changed the interactions between the consumer and the publisher. Because of this, the “Always Online” DRM has a very intrusive feel. The intrusive nature of this DRM is only amplified, as it forces consumers to take into another variable into account when playing games: problems from a third party, such as the publishers themselves, and internet service providers or ISPs.
While in this day and age the internet has spread out all over the world it is important to remember that not every place in the world is going to have a high speed and/or stable connection. This is a major problem for consumers trying to play games that have an “Always Online” DRM, as the internet may not be fast of enough for them to enjoy the game as intended. However, there will be those that are cursed with an internet connection that frequently disconnects the consumer from the authentication severs rendering the game completely un-playable. This a great source of resentment towards “Always Online” DRM as it prevents the consumer from accessing the product that they paid legitimately paid for. Even if it is not a problem with the ISPs, the publishers are not perfect either, as they are susceptible to attacks from hackers, shutting down their servers, or needing to shut down their servers to perform maintenance or transfers. While the latter is understandable, it prevents many people from playing a wide variety of games due to this DRM becoming more common. All of the above combines into the “perfect storm” that not only upsets consumers, but completely drives them away from doing buying games from publishers that use this kind of DRM.
A prime example of this DRM pushing away the consumer occurred earlier this year in February. The PC gaming website “PC Gamer” published a short article about the publisher Ubisoft announcing that it would be taking down its authentication severs for to switch them around, locking people out of several games. At the end of the article it closes with “For many, next week’s server outages will only reinforce their decision to steer clear of Ubisoft’s games entirely.”(“Ubisoft Sever Switch to Render Always Online DRM Games Unplayable Next Week:” www.pcgamer.com). All it takes is a few seconds to scroll down to the bottom of the article to the comment section where you can find many pc gamers voicing their opinions such as “I have not bought a single Ubisoft game with this DRM, because of the DRM.” And “ Well… Next time a Ubi game comes out.. vote with your wallets… stop buying the crap.” Only a week later PC Gamer ran another article as the server downtime began as it was discovered that there were several other games that people where locked out of un-intentionally. Once again in the comment section below the article fellow PC gamers call each other to arms to vote with their wallets and stop buying games from Ubisoft. Meanwhile admist all of the outrage from consumers who had legitimately obtained their copies, pirates continue to “crack” the game disabling the DRM allowing them to play the game, regardless.
Piracy and lost sales are great threats to the videogame industry, as like every other industry it consists of a wide variety of people that depend on the games they develop and publish to meet or beat their expectations for sales. Even if a game is hailed by critics and consumers as the “Best Game of the Year”, mediocre sales will lead to the loss of many jobs across the industry due to the importance of the bottom line. While piracy runs rampart and companies are driving away consumers in droves, but there is hope. This hope comes from less intrusive DRMs that do not punish the consumer instead of the pirate. A poignant example of one of these alternative DRMs can be seen in the game known as Garry’s Mod. If a user pirates the game, it stops working within a few seconds of starting up the game and presents the user with an error message, and an error number to help identify what went wrong. The number that is presented with that error message is the ID number that has the pirates account information attached to it, which allows for the developers/publishers to permanently ban the account for using pirated software. ( “Garry’s Mod Catches Pirates the Fun Way”, www.playerattack.com).
While DRMs are a necessary evil of the digital age their current forms are far from effective at preventing piracy, and much better at driving away consumers. If the industry is going to successful reduce piracy, while keeping their consumers, they must create and use DRMs that punish the pirates, instead of the loyal consumers who buy their games legally.
“Spore Most Pirated Game Ever Thanks to DRM”
Date accessed 5/14/2012
“EA’s Spore Breaks Piracy Record”
Date accessed 5/14/2012
“Ubisoft Sever Switch to Render Always Online DRM Games Unplayable Next Week:”
Date accessed 5/14/2012
“Ubisoft DRM server downtime locks players out of Anno 2070, Driver: San Francisco and more”
Date accessed 5/14/2012
“Garry’s Mod catches pirates the fun way”
Date accessed 5/14/2012