DRM: The games industry *gets* it

Surprisingly, I somehow haven’t yet discussed DRM on this blog at all just yet. This despite feeling rather strongly on the subject. I suppose this is largely due to the fact that there isn’t much to be said about DRM that hasn’t yet been said by others, and in a far more thoughtful fashion than I possibly could. However, there is one particular belief I hold that seems to be relatively rare, and which I think was validated recently.

As the title of this post suggests, I am of the opinion that the games industry gets it.

Of the various stolen goods you’ll often find up for grabs on shady websites, the most prolific items are always music and movies, but close behind you’ll always find pro software and PC games. Protecting content that is ultimately supposed to end up on a computer is inherently pretty difficult. SecuROM and SafeDisc are fairly well-known quantities to hackers at this point; they won’t blink twice while breaking the CD/DVD protection of these games. StarForce baffled people for a good long while, but eventually the black hats broke it, and once word got out that it has the unpleasant side effect of bricking the optical drives of customers, legitimate and illicit alike, developers finally began to shy away from it.

The point is that piracy’s a pretty big problem in the games industry.

The key, though, is how you deal with piracy. Crytek, the makers of the fairly extravagant Crysis, recently announced that they would no longer code PC-exclusive games, as they weren’t making any money due to the piracy issue there. Incidentally, this move should as a side effect solve their real problem, which was that no one had a computer that could run Crysis.

Valve, on the other hand, created Steam, which deals with the problem in an entirely different way –– digital distribution. This is a forward-thinking approach not only technologically, but also socially. By creating a consistent platform for PC games that singularly encompasses all types of games and allows for a pervasive community, Valve has made an entire economic ecosystem for themselves –– and loyal fans. I, for one, refuse to buy any PC game that isn’t on Steam now out of principle. Bionic Commando Rearmed and Sins of a Solar Empire, I’m looking at you.

But how does Steam address the piracy issue? First, its DRM approach is incredibly sensible. Once you buy a game, you own it. You can log into any computer on Earth with an Internet connection and kick off a download of any game you own. If you don’t intend to play multiplayer online, you can even run your copy of any game on as many computers as you want at once. Second, it makes buying games legally even easier than it ever was to pirate them. Click on the game you want, type in a couple of digits, and you’re done. No need to run to the store, no need to fuss about with physical media. It’s just that easy.

Traditionally, this has been my argument for why the games industry gets it. But former Xbox head, current EA Sports president, and general practitioner of awesome Peter Moore recently said some excellent things on the subject, which made me rather happy to hear.

I’m not a huge fan of trying to punish your consumer. Albeit these people have clearly stolen intellectual property, I think there are better ways of resolving this within our power as developers and publishers. Yes, we’ve got to find solutions. We absolutely should crack down on piracy. People put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into their content and deserve to get paid for it. It’s absolutely wrong, it is stealing. But at the same time I think there are better solutions than chasing people for money. I’m not sure what they are, other than to build game experiences that make it more difficult for there to be any value in pirating games. (eurogamer.net)

Exactly. Piracy is wrong, and piracy is a problem. But the industry needs to find compelling, reasonable ways to deal with the issue at its root cause, not sue its own customers to oblivion. Done, and done.

Now, Mr. Moore, get your company to publish its games on Steam and we’ll call it good.

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