If you don’t already know what DRM is, you should probably google it. Digital Rights Management is the way in which software companies attempt to protect their copyrights by preventing access or copying, requiring online authentication for software, limiting installations, and restricting purchased downloads, etc. As with anything, there are two sides to the story of DRM…
DRM inhibits gameplay, requiring an internet connection to authenticate games that aren’t played over the internet. This can be a problem in places without a broadband connection, or in places like Iraq where our troops are trying to get a little downtime with a simple game, and can’t get online.
It limits the number of times the game can be installed on a computer. Reformatting your PC? Upgrading your laptop? Have more than one computer? Better check how many times you’ve re-installed that game or it’s worthless. Did you realize you only paid for five installations?
Everyone knows that technology requires backups. Even a disc could get broken or warped. DRM doesn’t let you make a copy even for yourself. If one of your friends uses your install disc as a coaster or a Frisbee, too bad. Want to copy that media onto your laptop so you can play on vacation? Not a chance.
The worst part is still to come, however. Some DRM software gathers data about your computer use and sends it back to the manufacturer. It’s buried in a few of those licensing agreements you always click “accept” on. What information do they collect? It depends on the DRM and the media it’s attached to. But hey, you gave it permission in the terms and agreements.
The internet has become a breeding ground for illicit distribution of software and other media. Piracy is on the rise, and the spread of the internet around the world makes it nearly impossible to patrol its use. What is illegal in one country may not be illegal in another, and the only way to stop copyright infringement is by building it into the software.
Every little thing we can do to make it more difficult for software to be illegally distributed will help to protect our copyrights and dissuade pirates. If the content can be copied, but not accessed, then people will HAVE to purchase it. If the copies are inferior, then people will WANT to purchase it.
Even if a person has purchase a piece of software, restrictions on the number of downloads available will keep them from letting all their friends install from the same disc. It will ensure that each person that has the media, purchased the media.
Collecting data about software usage allows a company to monitor for illegal usage. It’s a matter of protecting not only the interests of the company, but their own backs. Who knows what a user is doing with the software? It also allows a company to better serve their clients by gathering data about what their clients are doing that can’t accurately be collected in surveys.
We all know that manufacturers have rights. We also know that consumers have rights. The question of DRM is whether the rights of one are infringing on the rights of the other. Does selling a game that can only be installed five times from the disc constitute false advertising? Should publishers be required to note that an internet connection is required for play on a local game? Do publishers have the right to collect data through that connection? Should consumers be lending their media to friends to make a copy? Should consumers be looking for “free” downloads online?
Then there is piracy. Has piracy increased because of the internet, or because of increased restrictions, and resulting cost, of the media itself? Think of it this way… the pirates are still in business despite DRM software trying to prevent them. So who is affected by DRM?
I’m a gamer, and a game designer. I sit on the very sharp fence of this issue, and I find myself wanting to jump down on the side of the gamer. I believe that there’s a better way to protect copyrights and make money than by punishing the consumer for actually purchasing a product. After all, the pirated copies have all the DRM removed. I think that there’s a better way to sell games than by bullying the consumer.
I’m still a novice, I admit, and maybe I’m just too innocent or naïve. But I think that if you make something people want to play, they’ll buy it. I think if you make it clear who made it, they’ll know who is trying to give them cheap knockoffs. If you’re a great game designer you don’t have to bully people. There has to be a better way than DRM.
Too idealistic? Oh well. Without some ideals the world falls into pettiness and selfishness. Don’t forget that a game designer’s purpose is to satisfy the audience. We sell a service as much as a product, and might do well to keep that in mind.