Global Game Industry News Blog

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rant: Taking DRM Even More Seriously for Games...

I love it when something that I've been watching for a while shows up in the mainstream press. I've been saying for almost a year now that Nintendo invented DRM back in 1985 with the introduction of the NES and the 10NES lockout chip.

DRM opponents actually completely and utterly piss me off. They piss me off because they are actually only concerned about the iPod (and they frequently level blame at Apple rather than the record labels). Now let's talk for a second here.

Games have locked you into a single platform for a long time too. So has software in general. The introduction of encryption just upped the ante. It didn't change the game. Microsoft and Autodesk and innumerable other companies have been locking you into their platforms like Office and AutoCAD and 3D Studio Max for years and you haven't peeped. We farted away our rights a long time ago. For some reason we just happened to notice with MP3, ACC+iTunes, Windows Media, etc.

We bought our games for the PC and the Console, perhaps even several consoles. We haven't bothered to say that this wasn't precisely a model we liked. Only the Mac users wondered why they had to switch to PC to play all the cool kid games. Those same Windows users whining about being unable to use their random MP3 players to play stuff from the iTunes music stores told Mac users to quit whining and buy a PC. Yes, you same people sold your rights long ago.

Now we want them back. Thankfully we've managed that to an extent, but have we extended the argument anywhere else? Nope. People are happily trading their rights for the newest version of Windows, Word, Blu-Ray, etc.

IT'S ALL ABOUT CONTENT CONTROL AND DRM. You know what the encryption is really about? It's about the DMCA. Assert your rights, go to jail. Well, not precisely. You can assert your own rights, but don't help anyone else assert their rights.

If we really want to take combatting DRM and platform lock in seriously we need to assert our rights more often, not only once in a while like now.

Locked Away: Do the death throes of music DRM mean anything for games?
It's not exactly been the loudest revolution of all time - in fact, it's been so quiet that you might have missed it - but there has been a genuine revolution in the music industry in the last fortnight. The old order has been overthrown, and it isn't happy; a new, upstart approach, widely lauded by the public and the grass-roots, is taking its place. So far, it's been a bloodless coup, although it's hard to say how long that will last once the financial results start filtering through in the coming quarters.

Actually, it's not entirely true to say that this coup has been bloodless. There's one head rolling in the basket beneath the guillotine blade; it's ugly, unloved, and it's called DRM.

DRM, of course, is something most people in the videogames market will be familiar with at this stage. At its most basic level, DRM is just a concept - it's the idea of using encryption software to control what a user can do with a piece of media they've bought from you.
A number of commentators - mostly out in the blogosphere - have opined that this decision must, logically, have a knock-on effect on games and movies. That's not necessarily true, because those mediums (and games especially) actually come with very different consumer expectations to music.

The average consumer is very used to the idea of being able to rip his music, listen to it on multiple devices, copy it between formats and even shuffle it around to create personal playlists. Those expectations, however, don't exist for games, and only exist for a very small (but growing) number of movie consumers.

Games, in particular, are seen as products which only work on one device, which cannot be copied and cannot be modified. Under those circumstances, DRM is far less of an issue than it is with music, and the same pressures which have forced the hands of EMI and Universal simply don't exist.

However, the revolution in music DRM still has important lessons for the videogames market. All too often, videogames companies have displayed a willingness to impose copy protection measures on their software which actually seriously disadvantage or inconvenience legitimate purchasers of the product.

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