Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Still more reasons why DRM isn't working

Destructoid had an interesting comment thread in an announcement about Ubisoft games going offline for server maintenance.  With this downtime, legitimate copies of some of Ubi's biggest PC titles will be unplayable, even in the single player campaign.  Here's an excerpt from the article:

The affected PC games are HAWX 2, Might & Magic: Heroes 6, The Settlers 7. Those using a Mac will be unable to play The Settlers, Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Most other games will have their online modes unreachable for the day, although Just Dance 3 and Driver: San Francisco are said to be unaffected.

Understandably, people are less than thrilled about this.The comments in the Destructoid thread are funny, but they raise some good points.  This rant is continuing on the DRM rant that I posted a while back, and I'll be including some other topics that have come up since then.

With this server maintenance, the only people that will be able to play the affected games are the pirates.  This stuff really makes it difficult to believe that DRM is a good thing.  Also, what happens when Ubisoft shuts down their Assassin's Creed authentication server in 2035?  Hypothetically, of course.  Will all legitimate users be unable to play the game?  Imagine if Super Mario Bros. 3, on the original Nintendo, didn't work because it could not connect to a Nintendo server.  One of the greatest games of the NES era, completely useless.  Is Ubi going to keep their servers online permanently?  Are they prepared to accept the financial burden in ten years, potentially losing money to upkeep costs, just so that the handful of users that still legitimately own these games, can actually play them?  I wouldn't hold my breath, if I were you.

At the very least, Steam games allow you to play offline once they're activated.  You don't need a constant internet connection for most steam games.  Sadly, Ubi is once again the exception to the rule.  As Papa Midnight found out the hard way, and posted a forum thread about it.  Furthermore, Mr. Midnight was screwed out of any refunds, because of the "no return" policy on Steam games.  Because of Midnight's findings, it's entirely likely that someone will see this thread and decide to download cracked versions of these games in protest.  The actions do far more harm than good.

Last week, a developer for Volition Software posted in the #AltBevBlogADay about how used games were hurting developers and how online passes were helping improve new game sales.  This whole online pass thing really irks me, a lot.  Many people across the internet firmly believe the doctrine of first sale is being broached in ways that are useless at best and outright deceitful at worst.  Removing parts of a game because it was bought used has never been an issue until around 2007 or 2008, when various developers started talking about it.

Remember this piece of win?
Online Passes do not hamper used game sales.  For every pre-owned copy of Mortal Kombat that Gamestop sells, Gamestop puts one of the "Kombat Pass" codes on the receipt. Gamestop takes that $10 hit for the customer, and adjusts the price accordingly.  The pre-owned price of Mortal Kombat stayed at $50 until almost Christmas, when it dropped to around $45.  This was a game that I bought new, and bought the "Kollector's Edition," no less.  This was one of the best fighting games of 2011.  It doesn't need an online pass to prove it's worth buying new.

With Batman: Arkham City, Gamestop does the same thing.  They give the Catwoman DLC to the customer with every pre-owned sale.  Again, another game that needs no proof that it's an epic game.  I put it on my list of finalists for Game of the Year.  And again, developers need to consider the long-term effects.  Will the developer still give out codes in 2035? What about 2060?  Imagine picking up a copy of Arkham City from an antique shop, only to find that a chunk of the missions are no longer available because Rock Steady Studios went bankrupt 20 years prior?  Future generations will not get to experience Catwoman.  What if Mario Kart 64 locked the split-screen multi-player unless you had an activation code?  The staple of turn-of-the-millennium college dorms would basically be useless.  So again, I ask: when was that ever a good idea?

Personally, if I'm really stoked about a game that I've been following, I will pre-order it and pay the full $60.  And I will have no qualms in doing so.  It was that way with The Conduit, Shadows of the Damned, Arkham City, and I've already pre-ordered Lollipop Chainsaw.  Why do developers feel that used games are hurting their market share?

What if used games generated additional sales?  One commenter on the #AltDevBlogADay post shared my sentiments exactly:

That's how I got into Gears of War. Was happy with my PS2, then saw my brother in law playing Gears. I thought it was cool but wasn't 100% sold, so he let me borrow it.........since then I have both Gears 2&3 Collectors editions, and numerous statue's, Novels and other Gears Merch and A wife who's a bigger "Gear Head" than I am. 

This is essentially what happened with Opp1123 and Assassin's Creed. She had only recently picked up a 360, so her options for buying new copies of the first game were rather limited.  Target and Best Buy don't sell the first Assassin's Creed new anymore, but Gamestop has plenty of used copies.  She's loved the series so much that I pre-ordered and purchased Revelations for her.  Now, Mr. Durall, used game sales are hurting developers?  With the number of people that are ponying up for sequels, I'm rather skeptical of your claim.

So, I'm still convinced that the current DRM and Online Pass structures are bad ideas, but I guess some folks in the industry disagree...

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