Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Digital Rights Management is ruining my gaming experience

So, I spent a good half an hour installing Batman Arkham Asylum on my PC, fully intending to get a head start before running off to work today.  What with Arkham City just around the corner, I figured it was worthwhile to brush up on the happenings prior.  Well...that didn't exactly happen.  Thanks to some wonderful software included with the game called "SecuROM," it's not working for me.  I had installed this game over a year ago, and had no issues whatsoever.  One system upgrade later, and I'm left in a frustrated heap, rocking back and forth and muttering incoherently.  There are right ways to do DRM, and there are wrong ways.  Honestly, there must be something better than this.

DISCLAIMER:  Before people start accusing me of being anti-DRM, I just want to say for the record that I'm opposed to DRM which excessively restricts the games I pay for.   I'll elaborate on this later on, but I figured it'd be good to get this out of the way now.

I figured out why Arkham Asylum wasn't working.  The game installer had uninstalled my graphics drivers.  How and why that happened are beyond me.  I don't know anymore, and I don't care to.  Anyways, on with the rant.

Learning opportunity? Why not?
Ever since people could copy something, forgeries and piracy have ruined the lives of many people.  I'd venture a guess that if you, the reader, found out that someone was making a quick buck off of your hard work, you'd be pretty irate and out for blood.  Back before gaming was done on consoles, developers would include the answer to a puzzle in the instruction manual.  Metal Gear Solid on the original Playstation had you reference the back of the CD case for the codec to advance the story.  Even better than that, however, is the steps taken by HAL when they made EarthBound.  The game would check for a physical chip on the cartridge, which wasn't included in the pirated carts.  The joke was on the player, when enemies would get harder and harder, and dad wouldn't always wire you money.  The best part about this, however, was when the game would delete your save file right before the final boss.

This is a great way to deal with pirates.  It doesn't affect the legitimate users, and the people who don't buy legit find themselves with a nice little "surprise" when they try and play their game.  People who cracked the Half-Life 2 game "Garry's Mod" had an error message show up after a patch update, and they flocked to the support forums en masse to get assistance.  This error message was placed deliberately, and the ne'er-do-wells got banned from steam entirely.  A little bit of clever genius goes a long way.

While I'm on that thought, Steam is one of a handful of companies that do DRM well.  Valve has made Steam's DRM as painless as possible, from my experience.  After you've activated a game online with steam, you don't need to be online after that.  For recent games, you can store your save files online and take them with you wherever you go.  If you're at a cyber cafe and you want to play one of your games, all you have to do is sign in to Steam, let it verify that the game is installed (if it isn't, it'll download it for you), and then you can pick up where you left off.  This is awesome stuff.  I really wish more developers did this in similar fashion.  Otherwise you end up with nightmares like Assassin's Creed 2.

This game would be much more fun if you could play uninterrupted...
The PC version of Assassin's Creed 2 requires a constant internet connection, even though there's no multiplayer modes.  If your connection to the Ubisoft servers gets interrupted, you get kicked back to the login screen and lose any progress that wasn't covered in the auto-save.  This angered quite a few fans, some of whom staged a boycott of sorts.  In addition, at least one enterprising hacking group spammed denial of service attacks on the Ubisoft authentication not once, but twice.  Now Ubisoft was in trouble on two fronts.  First, it had to contend with angry fans who purchased the game legally, but could not play.  Ubisoft said that the amount of customers affected was approximately 5%, but if the level of backlash that happened with Assassin's Creed 2 is any indication, I think the number was much higher. Not only that, but when you have PC Gamer magazine telling its subscribers to avoid a fantastic game because of your copy protection, you have some serious damage control to do.

Second, the attack made the cracked copies of the game all the more appealing.  "Hey, are you unable to play that game you spent sixty bucks on?  You could have just downloaded the cracked version.  Works even better than the store bought game!"  When the illegal versions are more appealing to your potentially legitimate customers, they are most likely going to go for the illegal stuff.  Some people just don't want to deal with hassle.  Treating every legitimate customer like a thief is a good way to lose customers.

Okay, I think I've made enough waves with this rant, see you next time.

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