DRM or Digital rights management, is what software companies, and specifically in our discussion, what gaming companies use to protect their games from piracy. It has many forms and each form comes with a subset of problems. The biggest secret no one in the industry is willing to tell you is that DRM actually doesn’t do what it was designed to do; stop piracy.
Great Walls of China
So in concrete terms, what exactly do companies do to restrict use of their software? Some of the methods they employ are harmless and can be understandable to your average consumer. Other methods make it so the average gamer struggles simply to PLAY the game they BOUGHT.
A few methods are listed below:
- 1. Serial Codes – Needed to install the game
- 2. CD only Play – CD must be inserted in order to play the game.
- 3. In game Robot protection – Continuously scans game online for fraudulent copies.
- 4. “SecuROM” install limitations – Limits amount of machines that can install product.
- 5. Starcraft 2/ Steam Style LOGIN ONLY – Online registration only of games, login necessary to play.
- 6. “Safedisc” copy prevention – tries to prevent copying of games.
- 7. Malware Style uninstallable piracy prevention DRM.
Now I’m not completely against all DRM or any process by which a company can protect their products. On the contrary, there are a number of ways to do so successfully without completely bothering the consumer. Listed below are examples of that:
This refers to adding a piece of software, built into the game itself, and not separately running in the background, that makes it harder for people to copy game discs.
It’s not a program running in the background and it’s simply some code built into the game, that is unobtrusive to the consumer. Overall this is a positive DRM that companies and consumers may be able to live with.
Downsides of method
1. Futile: A piece of software already exists that is able to get around any current copy protection software in the world. This works on all PC games and all Xbox/PS3 games.
2. Possible Loss of Property: A person’s CD will eventually stop working, or may get scratched and then would have no way to reinstall the game, especially if he can’t keep a backup copy of his game because of the software.
3. CDs/DVDs are fragile: Compact discs and DVD’s, as mentioned above, are bad quality products that rarely last more than a couple years. Even kept in cases, CD’s can lose data stop working for a number of reasons.
So while on the one hand this may deter some people from pirating a game, in the long run it doesn’t stop it from happening and certain buyers of games will be left with no way to install the game they purchased once their CD dies.
This is another form of protection that uses long algorithmic codes to verify to an installer. Overall, as long as a user doesn’t lose their code, this is a very positive form of DRM that is for the most part unobtrusive to consumers and helpful in stemming Piracy.
1. Futile: Nearly every piece of software in the world now has a Keygen, also known as a Key Generator that knows the algorithm used by the company to make the serials and can generate a free serial for whatever game or program you want.
2. Loss of Product: Again if you lose your code, you would lose your product. No hotline in the world would believe you if you called in and that $50 or $60 dollars you spent would be gone instantly.
Although this is definitely an annoyance to Consumers, I think they are willing to use this form of DRM for the benefit of the game manufacturers. But to be honest, as mentioned above, this cannot stop piracy and at best prevents it for a week or two until a pirate makes a Key generator.
In game Robot Protection Scanning
CD Only Play
Install Limitations(Piracy by Companies)
Future of good DRM –
A possible solution to this mess
Wired thus asked what his plans were for DRM in Starcraft II and Diablo 3. “Those are things we’re still evaluating,” he said, “but we do wanna make it pretty easy for players to play the game, wherever they are. Nowadays people have multiple systems. They shouldn’t necessarily be able to play the game … they shouldn’t be able to log in multiple times on as many computers as they have without buying multiple copies of the game. Like, you can play WarCraft III, or World of Warcraft even, from multiple locations. I think you should be able to do that.”"
And the pragmatic game designer’s final words on the matter is a mantra which many other game houses would do well to adopt: “We need our development teams focused on content and cool features, not anti-piracy technology.”
Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which “causes too much pain for legitmate buyers” while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet. There are “huge problems” with DRM, he says, and “we need more flexible models, such as the ability to “buy an artist out for life” (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.
His short term advice: “People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then.”
He ended by saying “DRM is not where it should be, but you won’t get me to say that there should be usage models and different payment models for usage. At the end of the day, incentive systems do make a difference, but we don’t have it right with incentives or interoperability.”
“I don’t think DRM has a future. Treating your customers like thieves is bad business practice. Today the customer is not ‘king’, they are considered thief first.”
He relates a story about his young son being visibly upset by a DRM-enabled music CD which would not play on his older model HiFi.
“It is stupid to think that the key to a DRM system won’t leak. So if it becomes more painful for a legitimate customer to use a product than it is for the pirates then that’s a problem,” he says.
Codemasters CEO Rod Cousins
DRM measures are “almost counterproductive”, according to Cousins. The solution, he says, is to send games to the retail market in an unfinished state and allow customers to purchase their choice of several small pieces to complete the game as they wish.
Good Old Games’ PR and marketing manager, Lukasz Kukawski
The effectiveness of DRM as a piracy-deterrent was ‘None, or close to none.’
‘What I will say isn’t popular in the gaming industry,’ says Kukawski, ‘but in my opinion DRM drives people to pirate games rather than prevent them from doing that. Would you rather spend $50 on a game that requires installing malware on your system, or to stay online all the time and crashes every time the connection goes down, or would you rather download a cracked version without all that hassle?’
According to Kukawski, the situation with restrictive DRM has reached the point where gamers often feel pushed into buying a game at full price, but then still download a cracked version to avoid the DRM. ‘I know people that buy an original copy of the game just so they don’t feel guilty,’ says Kukawski, ‘and then they will play a pirated version which is stripped of all DRM. That’s not how it should be. Let’s treat legitimate customers with respect and they will give that back.’
In addition to driving gamers to cracked versions of games, Kukawski also asks how anyone can believe that DRM acts as a deterrent to piracy. ‘If you see the news on gaming portals that a highly anticipated title has leaked before the release date, and you can download it from torrents without any copy protection because it has been already cracked, how can you possible believe that DRM works in any way to reduce piracy?’
Despite heavily criticising DRM, however, Kukawski still has no love for pirates. ‘Piracy is evil,’ he says. ‘By pirating a game, a movie, or a song you’re stealing from people who put a lot of hard work into creating something for your enjoyment. That’s disrespecting the creator who’s providing you with something that adds joy to your day.’
While Kukawski’s comments themselves aren’t revolutionary in the DRM debate, it’s interesting to see them coming from an online game retail business, as well as a game developer. After all, Good Old Games is owned by CD Projekt; developer of The Witcher 2, which will also be DRM-free. You can check out the trailer for The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings below.
‘We are making a bold step by putting up this highly-anticipated title without any sort of DRM,’ says Kukawski. ‘We believe it’s going to be a huge success, which should really open doubters’ eyes.’