Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why Digital Rights Management is lame

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is lame. Here's my most recent example of why:

Spore is a recent game designed by Will "The Sims" Wright as basically a "sim evolution" game. It's had a lot of hype and seems pretty fun for a Sims-fan like myself (although it didn't play so well on my Macbook, unfortunately). It's currently retailing in Australian computer game shops for around $90-100. Which is a lot for a game, in my opinion.

In order for EA (the publishers) to extract as much money as possible from people who wish to play the game, they decided to put DRM on the game. This is pretty standard practice in the game industry. Usually the DRM is along the lines of "you have to register online to play" or something that makes it really hard to rip a copy of the disk using basic disk ripping tools. Or registration keys, etc. etc. Game distributors know that it's pretty much inevitable that their games will end up being pirated anyway, since hackers are pretty smart and like to get things for free, so will poke away at it until they succeed. So DRM acts basically as a "speed bump", hopefully slowing the flow of pirated copies until the first couple of weeks sales (which is usually when games sell the most copies) come in.

This time, however, EA decided to a) get greedy, and b) piss off their customers more than usual with DRM by using a 3 installs and you're out system. Now considering that it's actually recommended that you reinstall Windows at least once a year or so, this effectively gives your copy of the game 3 years if you're particularly careful (not of course, barring the fact that you may end up buying a replacement computer and wanting to install it on that, or you get infected with a virus and need to reinstall, etc.).

So given that DRM is really just a "speed bump", this is lame, lame lame. Why? Because even before Spore was available for sale, a leaked, pirated, cracked copy was available to download, that was playable without having to worry about how many times it was installed. The DRM was effectively useless. And it seriously disadvantaged the people who actually bought the game, leaving pirates, once again, the winners of the DRM game, and people who want to support the games industry the losers.

More Spore DRM fun:
Spore DRM is a screw-up: "Firstly, SecuROM [(the DRM tool EA used)] didn't even work, as the game was pirated before release. Secondly, this game was much anticipated by gamers as one of the most significant releases of the year, so the idea that you could not have a single worldwide release date, and expect people in North America to resist the temptation to pirate it was just silly."

Spore rated down on Amazon as a protest against its DRM: "[Jeff Brown, vice president of corporate communications at EA] described EA’s SecuROM DRM as standard for the industry and cited Apple’s practice of only allowing downloaded music to be played on three devices. “We are extremely pleased with the popularity of Spore and the critical response to it,” he said. The latest figures on Amazon are 1,676 one-star reviews out of 1,812."


Nick said...

So, as far as I can see, EA is guilty of being stupid, which isn't unethical (yet). What would be the major ethical issue here? Would it be something along the lines of not informing the customer properly that they have three installs, not informing them that this puts a time limit on the game pending some way to re-approve their license, etc.?

Also, it seems that, as cool as them hax0rz are, that, EA aside, developers have some rights (maybe not exclusive, but some) to govern how their creations go to market. Although nothing stays protected forever on the internet, what are their rights in attempting to protect their creations from being ripped off?

Adam said...

To be the one drinking Devil's Advocaat, here, can I say that Spore is indeed the one game where developer's rights should take a back seat. Isn't the idea of the game about evolution, ie set the parameters and let the gamers create their own universes? Thus, the creationists (i.e. those who want total control over their product) may have a claim in natural rights over a tightly controlled game (or song/movie etc) but as Spore is a game about evolution, developers willingly gave up any creator-rights upon release of the game.
If you love something, set it free.

Disclaimer: I actually know nothing much about the game or DRM arguments.

Catherine said...

Oh, I wasn't intending to say that EA was being unethical, just that they were being lame :) They should know better by now that this isn't the way to solve piracy problems.

Nicholas said...

I don't think this impacts your argument, but I understand that generally publishers put PC games out with draconian DRM and then (after a few months, or whatever) produce a patch that relaxes some of the restrictions -- the idea being that the first few weeks of sales are the most important, and fans will forgive the publishers if they do the right thing subsequently.

Catherine said...

Update: looks like EA has bent to the will of the people:

Looks like there will be a patch to "rectify" the DRM issues. We'll see how that goes :)

Jason said...

"it's actually recommended that you reinstall Windows at least once a year or so"

What is this Windows of which you speak?

Also: I know that you're just bagging them out for being dumn, not for being particularly unethical. But Nick has a point, because lots of people apart from you DO get extra cross when DRM people are dumn. They'd rather be successfully ripped off by clever rip-off merchants. Isn't that interesting? One for the psychologists.

I know that's not how you spell dumn. It's just coming out that way this evening, and I rather like it.

Peak said...

Looks like there will be a patch to "rectify" the DRM issues. We'll see how that goes :) any ways thanks

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