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16 December 2008

The War Against DRM - How the Prince of Persia is Fighting For Right

Digital Rights Management - In the software development community, it started as a way to slow down pirates in hopes that it would frustrate them and turn them into paying customers.

Like radar jammers and radar detectors, however, the DRM game is just another game of leap-frog. A DRM developer comes up with a newer, shinier, fancy-pants version that will "sure-fire show those blasted pirates this time!!!"; only to be disappointed when within days they've already cracked through and had their way with it.

So the game developers spend who knows how much in time and resources either developing their own or integrating with a licensed one; in hopes that this is the time that no one will pirate their game.

The problem is, there seems to be a misguided notion that DRM acts like locks on a car-door... keeping the honest, honest. I certainly don't believe this is the case. The pirates are already pirates; and most of them are likely to always remain pirates... until their conscience kicks in and they decide to turn around. Likewise, paying customers believe in the game developers and want to reward them for providing them with kick-butt entertainment.

That is, until it gets so freaking hard to install/play a game that it's not worth their hard earned money anymore.

See, it was one thing to start implementing CD-keys and disc authorization... those posed some annoying traits, but were manageable and easy to get passed. But when today, we see things like "You can only install 3 times before you have go on a wild-goose-chase to try to find someone from our support so we can play judge and jury to decide if you're worthy of more activations... and, oh, by the way, did I mention that if you're not connected to the internet, you can't play?!" I'm seeing it drive those who were happy to be paying customers running to the pirates to get a working version of the game that is much more worth their time because they can get it to work on their machines without the mayhem that is today's DRM.

The industry has seen a shift... but I think in the wrong direction than what their goal was.
See, paying gamers, when starting to have enough with the DRM bull would go purchase the game, install, then immediately go find a no-CD crack somewhere on the web so they could enjoy their game without having to find their CD. But they felt justified because they still paid their money.

Now that the DRM is getting harder for the paying customer to deal with... I dare say some of them are frustrated enough to just not even bother paying anymore and just go download it free anyway since they know they won't have the same hassle and can still play the game.

All the while the true-blue pirates have been doing the same thing they always do... no difference there... just now the paying customers are defecting; instead of the desired result of pirates converting to paying customers.

Now, the ones that really do desire to remain honest in their licensing of games have had enough. Many of us are boycotting the big companies that insist that this mega-restrictive and sometimes system-hijacking is necessary to stall the pirates... when really all it's doing is hurting the paying customers.

Why do these companies think that just because something may be easy to copy, that the paying customer is going to all-of-the-sudden lose their conscience and go get their game for free, just because it's easier to get free now? They need to realize the pirates ALWAYS provide the free version, but we, the paying customers, WANT to support the developers!!

But not when they make it so hard/irritating to try to get past the DRM to play the game that it's not worth the time/money we're spending on it.

Enter Spore from Electronic Arts (EA.)

A list of anti-DRM rant threads on Amazon for Spore
Click to enlarge

This is a game I was looking forward to. That is, until I was looking to order off Amazon and saw the following list of discussions going on about it's new DRM; the newest version of SecuROM. When I heard about a limit of 3 activations, a requirement to be connected to the internet for forced "phone homes" and what not... all sorts of red-flags went off in my head. What if I'm on an airplane with my laptop? What if I'm at a mechanic, waiting for my car to get fixed and have no internet connection?! I can't play my game?! You've got to be kidding me!

There are other scenarios that make this extremely frustrating too, like having a gaming desktop and gaming laptop that one gamer decides to take the game on the road with some synced saved gameage ... but now can't because of the restrictiveness. It also goes without saying the number of complaints that have come from games like this where the DRM jacks up the system some so other functionality doesn't work quite right anymore either (but their system worked fine before installing said game.)

Ok, so some it is somewhat speculation since it needs to be solidly proven to be concrete evidence, but you get my point. The trend has proven to NOT deter the pirates, but has seriously hampered the honest gamer from having full enjoyment of the game they paid to play without countless extra hurdles to jump through that the pirates don't have to deal with since they've hacked past the DRM folly.

A very nicely written article about Piracy and PC gaming was written at the StarDock "Sins of a Solar Empire" forums.

I'd like to interject here that GameSpy released their picks for the 2008 PC Games of the Year today. Spore was #10 (congrats on still landing there even though EA is much hated by the DRM-frustrated) right now... However, Spore was beaten by both of StarDock's major players that are BOTH non-DRM.... Sins of a Solar Empire came in at #9 and Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor came in at #7. Fallout 3 came in #1, and it doesn't install any DRM. It uses SecuROM for disc checking... but it's all on the disc, it doesn't get installed on your computer.

Both have had killer sales... why?! Because honest gamers LIKE to play their game... not spending their time trying to get past DRM so they CAN play the game. Good games will make money because the honest will continue to pay for them... We don't rush to go pirate a game becuase we find out the developer made it easy to copy...

I not only buy one license for the games I really like, I buy a few licenses so I can play with my kids on our LAN. I know other gamers that do the same.

EA, sad to say, has lost out on quite a bit of money from me lately... because of my boycott, I've been deprived of the joy of playing Mirror's Edge, Red Alert 3, Need for Speed: Undercover and Spore. And EA has lost out on all the money I would've spent on those games (including multiple licenses for the likes of Need for Speed and Red Alert 3)

It's too bad because I'm VERY interested in Mirror's Edge... but I want to play it on PC because my PC's waste the consoles; but I'm sick of being the one to suffer the DRM plague because the publishers feel the need to punish the paying for the sins of the pirates that continue still to get away with (and now provide an easier-to-get-working copy of their games) it, regardless.

The bottom line is... the paying consumer is the only one that gets hurt from this. The pirates have, and always will, relish in the challenge of cracking the latest DRM... I don't even think some of those that crack the DRMs even play the games... I think they just conquer the challenge and move on to the next.

It's funny. because the game industry isn't oblivious... the reactions vary as you look around... PCGamer now provides a DRM Alert in all of their reviews, so you're not caught with your pants down. (Thanks PCGamer!)

And of course there are rebuttles from the game companies that usually claim the whiners are the pirates... but I don't understand how they even go there, since the pirates don't feel the pain of the DRM, remember? They get CRACKED copies!!! Anyway, they're either ranting about the whiny customers, ranting about how they won't back down because they have to protect their assets... or they have to make posts defending their position of why they used their DRM and how it's not as bad as the next guy's... (see Bethesda's post about the before-mentioned Fallout 3 and the SecuROM for disc check only)

xkcd put out a hilarious comic about DRM in general, but it totally applies to my feelings about PC gaming and DRM. It's my perception of what this hell-bent attitude that DRM must be more encroaching because it gives some CEO a warm fuzzy that it's protecting their assets. I'll say it again... you're only hurting the paying customers.

Here's another joy of EA's new DRM for those that took the chance on purchasing Red Alert 3. Bless your hearts. At least the workaround will work in no more than 36 attempts... hope yours is at the left-end of the spectrum... Out-of-control.

So... why have I been so long-winded; and how the freak does this all tie in to the Prince of Persia?!

Simply this... my friend Joe sent me a link to an Ars Technica article mentioning that the new Prince of Persia (retail box) contains NO DRM!!!!

The article is pretty funny, because it mentions reasons why Ubisoft may have made this move... and I've had discussions with others about it.

Some say it's because they had an "epic fail" on Assassin's Creed and their implementation of the DRM there (problems like unto the Spore and Red Alert 3 frustrations, if I understand correctly.) Some say it's a "challenge to the community" to see if the honest will run pirate the game "just because they can."

Well, I'm fed up with that B.S. attitude. If that's how these companies really feel, they might as well close up shop now... because if you're going to insult your paying customers by basically telling them they're a bunch of dishonest buttholes, how much loyalty can they expect?

I'm hoping this is Ubisoft's way of saying "We're a big publisher and we want to show some faith in the community and PROVE there are good honest people out there and we can stop this DRM madness and still make money."

StarDock has already proved it with their 2 top games of 2008... Sins of a Solar Empire has already sold well over 500,000 units. If the honest want the game, they'll pay for it.

This is our chance now to prove that no DRM CAN make them money. I was tempted to buy the entire Prince of Persia pack on Steam because they offer all for games for only $15 more than the new game as a stand-alone.

But I'm willing to buy the retail box version (heck maybe even 2 or 3 and give them as gifts) so I can show that I support the non-DRM revolution. I think we'd all be wise to do the same.

And not only support Prince of Persia, but Stardock and their games! There are good game makers out there that deserve to be paid for doing good things... and this display of trust by both Ubisoft and Stardock are well deserving of proving that they can be profitable without killing the paying customer.

Now, that all said... I'm going to say that, realistically, I'm not seeing Ubisoft completely ripping DRM completely if Prince of Persia kicks butt in sales... But I'm hoping they'll at least tone it back down to just CD-keys and what not ... things that are bearable on not system-intrusive.

No game is worth having my system scanned for specific hardware and all that other BS that these guys think they need to do nowadays. Ease up!

Down with the DRM! Go Prince of Persia!


For the record, I am a software developer... so I understand the perspective these game developers are coming from... But I also understand the perspective of a customer who doesn't want a game getting intimate with my computer and making itself such a hemorrhoid to work with that it's not worth messing with...

I advocate legitimate licensing and I pay for licenses for the games I play; and will continue to do so for the game publishers that will make it easy for me to play their game.

When publishers like EA will realize this and go back to easy-to-use software, I'll start buying their games again... not a second before. I hope you other legitimate paying customers will join me in boycotting all publishers that continue this madness until we send the message loud and proud that we're not going to put up with it anymore. (This goes for boycotting the console versions too... buying those doesn't help the cause.)


That One Guy said...

And to add to my already long-windedness...

Prince of Persia looks like a really great game.

If it's anything close to Sands of Time, I'm sure I'll love it.

As mentioned before, I was already planning on buying it; but this no-DRM makes me want to even more!

I will make one more comment on Steam too... Steam's DRM has worked fine for me so far; it's been great to get games through it and not have to worry about CD's and be able to put games on my laptop and desktop. Go Steam!

Nate said...

Yes some what long-winded but I couldn't agree with you more. That's why I decided to go with the restrictiveness of an XBox 360. I am assured that it will work and do not have to fight the system. Although I do loose the ability to do mods and most expansions. Which still sucks.... Oh well.

That One Guy said...

Heh, good call Nate... which brings up a point I forgot to mention when making that long-winded epistle.

Who knows if EA's strategy isn't to drive PC Gamers to consoles by making PC Gaming such a pain in the butt...?

Anonymous said...

Good post, Jeff.

I'll admit it - I'm a long-time pirate. Been doing it since the DOS days.

So I played a pirated copy of Half-Life for years. Loved it. So when HL2 came out, I was a bit wary about this new "Steam" thing, but I bit the bullet and actually BOUGHT a copy of HL2. I know, I know, I must be crazy. But you could pre-download it, so on the release date you could download the last few bytes and start playing right away. And you could have it on multiple computers, with Steam handling the downloading, updating, etc. And I could reward Valve for their nice work without paying for a CD that would just get scratched anyway. Then I bought more stuff from Valve (including TF2), sometimes multiple licenses so we can all play together.

I had money in my hand, ready to buy SPORE. But then they included SecuROM. Screw it, I got the pirated version - and a day early, too.

EA is stuck in 1999. Optical media is dead. DRM is dead. Wise up and follow what Valve has been doing - for nearly a decade.

Walt said...

I so HATE drm, it is just a pain in the butt. EA's CD Validation sucks as well. I bought BF2 (which I play once a week) when I went to play it I got a message telling me my CD Key was pirated and that I needed to go buy a new copy of the game.

Needless to say I do not see myself purchasing another game from EA games. I think I will stick to publishers like Ubi and Activision.

FNG_DirtyD said...

Time to add my two cents...

I have been playing PC games for a long time, and I was also okay with CD-keys and CD-checks, as long as they did not cause problems or horrendous load times. The DRM of late, however, has done both of those and more. I hope EA is listening when I say, their choice of DRM is the entire reason I will not be buying Red Alert 3, even though I have been playing C&C games since the beginning.

As for downloadable games, I have had both good and bad luck. My original purchase of Trackmania United was through Metaboli with SecureROM activation. After some computer issues, and buying a new computer, I had used up all 3 of my installs. It took weeks to get a response from Metaboli with new install codes. This last time I tried to re-install, I ran into activation errors.

So, I finally bought TM:United again (it's an awesome game) but this time through Steam. It's SecureROM free. I have liked Steam. Yes, Steam does use DRM. But Steam's DRM has not been intrusive. It has not caused computer crashes. I have been able to download the games to my desktop again after a switch to XP, and I will be downloading some of the games to my laptop for portable gameage. Thank you Steam for listening to your customers by not labeling us all as potential pirates.

Now, Ubisoft: Thank you for not putting intrusive DRM on your retail version of the latest installment of The Prince of Persia. I also want to comment that the game looks great and seems to have a good story line to it. But, please do not use this one game as a measuring stick for ALL future games. I hope the game sells well. But if it doesn't, please don't blame it all on piracy and resort to SecureROM or other controlling and limiting DRM.

Sorry for the long comment, but DRM is a huge annoyance. I want to be able to play a game when I buy it. I don't want to have to jump through hoops.

Jarin Blackham said...

Did you see that Spore is now available on Steam, along with other EA games? The release date shows as Dec. 19th!

Here are 14 games listed on Steam for purchase:
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
Crysis Warhead®
Crysis® Complete Pack
Dead Space
FIFA Manager 09
Mass Effect
Mirror's Edge™
Need for Speed Undercover
SiN Episodes: Emergence
SPORE™ Creepy & Cute Parts Pack
Warhammer Online®: Age of Reckoning™

Maybe EA has seen the light - or maybe they read thine epistle!

Jarin Blackham said...

Check out: http://store.steampowered.com/publisher/Electronic%20Arts/

or open steam to get the announcement.