In Defense of DRM (And the Importance of Steam)

XKCD In the Rain

Arguing about Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a lot like talking politics or religion. The two sides immediately polarize into their respective camps and begin lobbing angry comments at each other over blog-walls and forum moderators. For me, the usefulness of DRM isn't a polar decision. Information doesn't "want to be free", and limited-activations are an unreasonable limiation to force on consumers. I have a suspicion that the usefulness of Digital Rights lies somewhere in between those to viewpoints. I have a sense that there’s something of value to the perception of protection, even if that perception is flawed or outright incorrect.

While DRM solutions like those offered by Electronic Arts have been roundly criticized (and from all accounts, rightly so), it doesn’t follow that all DRM systems are created equal. The online activation methodology used by Steam in particular seems to be a measure that PC gamers can get behind. And still, it’s despised and spit on as a prelude to a “rental society” where we can no longer truly own anything. To the folks who would have us toss the baby with the proverbial bathwater, that see all DRM as a waste of time and a slap in the face of consumers: lighten up. To the free-love hippies that see no problem with pirated games as far as the eye can see: get a job. Seriously.

The middle ground between these two poles, the quietly successful business strategy powering Valve, is the Steam publishing service. It's DRM for the common man, and a service well worth defending.

This is obviously a subject that's been tackled on Gamers with Jobs before. The Stardock viewpoint on this issue, both sides of EA's DRM decisions, and even the horrors of Starforce have been explored by fellow GWJ writers. What hasn't is the "reasonable" rights management offered by Valve. Its place in the PC games industry and the ultimate goals of the platform publishers are all given short shrift by commentators on the hard-core anti-management side. That needed addressing.

Anti-Steam Argument #1: Purchasing a game through the service precludes reselling it or lending it to a friend.

You can’t resell a PC game you’ve purchased through Steam to a shop like Gamestop, and there’s no physical media to allow you to lend a game to a friend. This is an understandable frustration, and is the source of the ‘rental society’ crack that so often gets levied against Steam. The ability to make use of your property however you wish (be it to sell it to another party or just give it away) is one highly valued by consumers. There was, no doubt, a goodly amount of ‘re-gifting’ during this holiday season just past for that exact reason.

The issue of reselling games at all is a thorny one, and not worth addressing here, but it’s important to note the relative resale value of PC games generally vs. console games. Piracy has changed the retail landscape when it comes to gaming on the PC platform; that’s the number one reason that PC games can’t be resold to big games resellers like Gamestop. Pawn shops and smaller resale establishments aren’t so picky, but even there I challenge you to get a good value for the game you’re offering. Assuming you exclude cutting-edge graphical hogs and their associated hardware requirements, PC gaming in general is a less expensive hobby than its console cousin. The games are cheaper (usually by at least $10), the barrier to entry is lower, and there are a vast swath of games out in the PC wilds that cost absolutely nothing to play.

As for lending titles to friends, a few of my friends (GWJRabbit among them) delight in sharing their steam-based games with friends. It's actually easier to share a game with Steam than it is with discs - no physical media. A violation of the Steam terms of service? No doubt, but as long as only one user is actively playing on the account at a time it's hard to see a real problem. Just because things may appear harder with the new fangled do-dads and services doesn't mean they really are.

Anti-Steam Argument #2: Online activation is a hassle, and playing games in the future requires you to be online.

Valve has responded to this criticism definitively by providing users an Offline Mode. You don't need to be internet connected 24/7 to fire up Portal in the middle of the night. As long as you keep your games up to date via the online update service, there's no reason you couldn't play Half-Life 2 in the middle of the Sahara.

Many commentators are grumpy with the requirement that their PC be online to activate the title in the first place. In an increasingly connected society, in a culture that more and more values the virtues of online experiences, I find it hard to stomach this as a realistic argument against Steam. Twitter-using Netflix-streaming online gurus can’t have it both ways. It is a restriction, to be sure, but it’s one you have to personally balance for yourself. Purchasing, downloading, installing, and updating a Steam game is entirely done via an internet connection. How is activation of the title online a burden on top of those steps?

Anti-Steam Argument #3: “Will I be able to play this game in ten years?”

This is one of the most valid arguments made against Steam, or any DRM service that requires support from an external server. Someday Valve may go out of business, and the future of Steam-supported titles would be in question. A friend also pointed out a possible future where the service makes a massive update to how it protects games, an update that might be financially infeasible to deploy to every title in the service portfolio. In either of these cases, there is the theoretical danger that you could lose access to your games.

Honestly, there’s no logical or fact-based counter to this. Anything could happen in a world of uncertainty. By that same token, though, your house or apartment could catch on fire tomorrow. Every disc you own could be incinerated, depriving you of your gaming collecting just as decisively. For that added measure of security, you can actually back up the steamapps folder and "save" all of the game files. Restoring your games after a reinstall of Windows, for example, can be as easy as installing the Steam client and then copying the Steamapps folder into the right directory.

Purchasing a game through Steam is a vote, a measure of confidence in the work Valve has done and the power of the Steam service as a whole. If it means that there’s the outside possibility my games may be lost at some point in the future, then that’s a risk I’m willing to take on to support the Steam service of today.

Anti-Steam Argument #4: The games all just end up on torrents eventually anyway.

Despite the best efforts of everyone from EA on down, PC games are pirated at a staggering rate. Even Valve’s games, entries in the Half-Life series built specifically for Steam, are available without those hang-ups if you search out the right torrent site. So, this argument goes, what’s the point? Why frustrate the consumer with DRM if it’s just going to end up on a torrent site anyway? Some developers have even bought into that argument, offering up their wares with no rights management strings attached.

The point, missing from this argument, is that the consumer is ultimately not the only player in this picture. If games publishers and developers look out at the PC market and see a commercial landscape impossible to make profitable, it will scare them away. It has scared them away, to a greater or lesser degree. The ‘PC games are dying’ cry that goes up regularly every six months has as much to do with worthless rights protections as it does any other individual factor.

The point then is to offer a balanced solution between what the publishers want (hard-locks, limited installations, invasive DRM) and what the consumer wants (ultimate portability, no locks, unlimited instillation). The balanced midpoint in the marketplace right now is Steam. Valve’s support of the Steam service, and their dedication to walking that midpoint line, has result in votes of confidence not only from consumers but from publishers. When EA itself effectively walks away from its own online distribution model to adopt Valve’s portal, it speaks volumes about Steam’s importance in the modern PC gaming world.

Blaming Valve For the Sins of Others

Above all else, arguments against Steam’s DRM come from a general distrust of Digital Rights Mangement. Not all DRM is created equal, and beliefs about property ownership held by the creators of SecuROM differ drastically from those held the Steam's managers.

Isn’t the strongest argument for Steam the simple reality that Valve isn’t just another soulless corporation? They’re a development house that has consistently put out amazing games. Unlike detached pencil-pushers, lawyers, or IP vendors who primarily care about keeping their property sacrosanct, Valve has a vested interest in gamers actually playing videogames.

At the end of the day, every purchase on Steam is a vote of confidence. Every new game launched on Steam is a promise to consumers. Give an inch, get an inch. Work together with the PC game publishing marketplace, understand that there have to be some restrictions to make sure there’s a profit, and the future of the PC marketplace is assured. Steam is, bar none, the most important force in the PC games industry today. I vote for it with my wallet on a regular basis because – in this case – I love the DRM I’m being offered.

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I actually have a friend who's still in my friends list on Steam but hasn't been online in 192 days. His brother was told that Steam could get you lots of viruses so he uninstalled it. How did anyone get that perception?

Anyway, awesome article, at this point I don't really think any of the arguments against it hold up terribly well, I think some people are just too cynical.

This is going to end badly.

I agree that the argument on DRM needs to be far more moderate, but there is something about it that just polarizes people to the extremes, even if they have fairly moderate opinions. I would guess that moderate views get swamped by the exaggeration and hyperbole of the other side.

DRM is something that needs to be accepted, companies are going to do something to protect their IP. No Amazon ratings bombing is going to change that. EA is following the wrong path, but I'm sure that it is a lesson they have learned.

Is Steam the best solution? Probably not, but it is the best we have right now.

I would add 2 more counterpoints to #4. Like steam keeping your game up to date and of course the steam community. Those are things you do not get on your torrented steam game.

I used to be very happy with Steam, but in my opinion they're really slipping: several (non-valve) games still have some other form of DRM in place, but my biggest complaint is their recent pricing changes. For us europeans prices went up considerably now that steam has gone for 1 dollar = 1 euro. Whatever happened to "no box, no shipping, etc -> cheaper games" they used to say...

MrDeVil909 wrote:
This is going to end badly.
DRM is something that needs to be accepted, companies are going to do something to protect their IP. No Amazon ratings bombing is going to change that. EA is following the wrong path, but I'm sure that it is a lesson they have learned.

That is like saying rape is just something you have to take. Bad DRM should not be tolerated in any form. Well at least I am refusing to buy games that have bad DRM. You are probably talking the good steam DRM though. Yeah good DRM is like having to watch to go watch Twilight with your girl. Sure you would rather not see but you know you'll get some lovin later. That movie is crap by the way.

I have to disagree with the ratings bombing. I think the bombing hurt their sells and without the bombing they wouldn't have moved their games to steam. I think it was highly effective.

I'll go a bit on a tangent here.

There are basically two approaches in fighting against piracy (of any media): the first is of course the protection against copying itself. It adds no value to the customer or even detracts from it. You then have games that freeze up (or you just need to keep the CD around to play), music CDs that make crackling noises because they are copy protected and DVDs with unskippable warnings against piracy (or unskippable adverts or other stuff). It is of course hated, because you feel you get less value for the same money you would pay without DRM anyway. Not to mention the often laborious circumventing of the protection just to get to the content you paid for. E.g. I had to make a copy of my copy-protected music CD just to listen to it without crackling. The inherent paradox in that sentence is just crazy and I boycott CDs with copy protection ever since.

The other attitude, and in this one Valve excels, is to give additional value to the customer he would not otherwise get if he obtained the game through piracy. The boom of limited editions not only in games industry but in music as well attests to that quite well. If I can, I get the games through Steam because of the Community, the auto-updates, the achievements, the new and potentially useful Steamcloud, the ease of transfer and other stuff that Zonk mentioned. There are a few companies that go this way, like Paradox that doesn't use DRM, but by registering the game on their site you'll get access to forums and tech support. And forumites there frown upon you if you ask for a help for a game like Europa Universalis III, but you don't have the game icon under your avatar, meaning you haven't registered the game.

Basically I just wanted to say that if you use DRM, but in addition provide added value that your customer wants or can use, it will be accepted much better than if you only reduce the perceived value of the game/music by DRM.

And one thing about rentals/game reselling: I believe that Valve is aware that people give value to the possible reselling potential of the game. To make up for the lost value they provide those weekend deals/sales which are sometimes quite substantial, incentivizing those that would like to rent a game as opposed to buying at full-price. If the price is close to the price of renting - or low enough to just buy it without rationalizing at all (e.g. Half-Life for a dollar) then it leads to additional sale.

Excellent point of view. I agree and subscribe to everything, even being european and getting a bad deal from Steam (I'm sure this will eventually be corrected).

Also, Steam overlay is great. I launch all my games from Steam so I can mantain myself easily linked to the community.

Baron Of Hell wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:
This is going to end badly.
DRM is something that needs to be accepted, companies are going to do something to protect their IP. No Amazon ratings bombing is going to change that. EA is following the wrong path, but I'm sure that it is a lesson they have learned.

That is like saying rape is just something you have to take. Bad DRM should not be tolerated in any form. Well at least I am refusing to buy games that have bad DRM. You are probably talking the good steam DRM though. Yeah good DRM is like having to watch to go watch Twilight with your girl. Sure you would rather not see but you know you'll get some lovin later. That movie is crap by the way.

I have to disagree with the ratings bombing. I think the bombing hurt their sells and without the bombing they wouldn't have moved their games to steam. I think it was highly effective.

See there? That's the hyperbole I mentioned. That's why the discourse can never stay civil.

And I didn't say we need to accept all DRM, I even said in my post that EA is going the wrong way and needs to learn it's lesson. The ratings bombing didn't lead to the dropping of the DRM, just the relaxation of install limitations.

wanderingtaoist wrote:

The other attitude, and in this one Valve excels, is to give additional value to the customer he would not otherwise get if he obtained the game through piracy. The boom of limited editions not only in games industry but in music as well attests to that quite well. If I can, I get the games through Steam because of the Community, the auto-updates, the achievements, the new and potentially useful Steamcloud, the ease of transfer and other stuff that Zonk mentioned. There are a few companies that go this way, like Paradox that doesn't use DRM, but by registering the game on their site you'll get access to forums and tech support. And forumites there frown upon you if you ask for a help for a game like Europa Universalis III, but you don't have the game icon under your avatar, meaning you haven't registered the game.

Any EULA likes to claim that access to software is a service, the software isn't a product for which we have paid. Valve makes the service claim something closer to a reality.

The flip side of the "I can't resell the game" problem:

I signed up for Steam 5 years ago when I bought Half-life 2 ... then I lost the machine that I was playing the game on (long story). Played the game on the Xbox a while later and forgot about Steam. Then a few months ago I got a shiny new intel mac and installed Crossover to see if it would work. I recovered my steam password and *poof*, I can play the game on a completely different machine running a different OS five years after the fact and I didn't even need to talk to anyone on the phone.

My main measure for whether DRM has failed is if it makes me talk to someone on the phone.

Fair enough on the article, I can see what it should be made (the argument) but it still seems strange that people complain about steam at all. If you're going to play on Pc (especially more than one rig) then its the best option - simple as that, for me at least.

Baron Of Hell wrote:
That is like saying rape is just something you have to take.

Oh yes. Exactly like that. First thing I thought of really.

and even the horrors of Stardock

You mean the horrors of Starforce, yes?

psu_13 wrote:

My main measure for whether DRM has failed is if it makes me talk to someone on the phone.

This sounds about right.

My friend's main measure for whether piracy has failed depends on whether has to spend more than five minutes looking for crackz or serialz on some shady-ass site. If it takes more than five minutes to get things running he usually decides the game is "too locked up" and heads to EB.

rabbit wrote:
Baron Of Hell wrote:
That is like saying rape is just something you have to take.

Oh yes. Exactly like that. First thing I thought of really.

Rabbit, let's not bring ourselves to their level. The much better joke there was about even allowing yourself to see Twilight. Let me try... ***self edited for risking flame war***

With great power comes great responsibility. That piracy is possible at all is why it is done. People have lowered inhibitions when they feel they are not being watched. Online we all wear the ultimate disguise, and they'll never be able to find us here, right? Right? DRM is a shot through this elaborate tapestry we've helped to foster here on the internet. It's the nun at catholic school slapping you on the wrist, then banning you from the school when you won't calm down. This is not a fight over individual rights, its a fight to retain the annonymity that is born and raised on the internet. And that fight won't stop until I'm forced to post with my own name.

Let's not confuse Valve's existence with a healthy PC gaming environment. That all our gaming eggs are in one corporate basket is not the best way to find sleep at night. All it takes is one HR screw-up and Valve gets sued into oblivion, or one accounting scandal and they quietly vanish.

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080523-court-smacks-autodesk-affirms-right-to-sell-used-software.html
Autodesk uses ADLM, a DRM scheme very similar to Steam. It also states that you are sold a license and and that you can't resell your software. A judge just said that isn't ok, a user should be able to resell his licensed copy. Obviously, Autodesk is going to appeal to this decision, but if it loses again in court, this could radically alter the way Steam works and remove one of the big complaints against it.

Nice writeup Michael. Just want to shill for tweakguides again and say that a lot of these questions are examined in depth, with substantive research and examples, in tweakguides.com examination of piracy. Good stuff.

I agree with the vast majority of what you're saying - I have no problem with Steam's DRM and online activation - but I'm not really sure I understand point #4.

You say "Why frustrate the consumer with DRM if it’s just going to end up on a torrent site anyway?", and then respond with "If games publishers and developers look out at the PC market and see a commercial landscape impossible to make profitable, it will scare them away."

I don't get it. If the DRM is ineffective, how is the DRM making the commercial landscape more profitable than not having the DRM? I could understand if the DRM was actually working, but you say yourself 2 sentences earlier that it's not.

I know there are different arguments to be made here - prevention of casual piracy (less intrusive DRM than the current industry norm is just as effective as this); prevention of week one piracy (Bioshock is the only example I can think of where this actually worked, and any financial impact is only speculative), but this is the sticking point to me in all DRM debates and I'd like to see it expanded on further.

wanderingtaoist pretty much stated why I support Steam but can't stand stuff like SecuROM. Valve does have DRM but it isn't invasive, is easy to manage and control (i.e. the activations aren't limited to a certain number of machines over time) and they add a ton of value that makes the sacrifices worthwhile. SecuROM, Tages etc. don't offer you anything but hassles. I think the argument comparing Valve going out of business to my house burning down is flawed as the former (or some variant of that which will cause loss of access to Steam games) is far more likely. Valve is one of the few companies I have faith in to do the right things should this happen and in truth, Steam is such a success they if they did fail, someone would buy and continue to maintain the service. There's also the case of people who have allegedly been caught cheating by VAC (which gets the occasional false positive) having their entire Steam accounts banned, losing even single player access to every game they bought. Valve makes it almost impossible to appeal this as well which brings me to the only major problem with Steam: Their customer service is a joke.

I haven't had to deal with them often but when I have, it has always involved having to send several e-mails before getting a reply, receiving either no help or being sent to the developer who sends you back to Valve and beginning that loop. And when you ask for a refund of a product (like I did when CoH Opposing Fronts wouldn't plug-in to my retail CoH like it was supposed to and THQ couldn't figure out why), they run behind their EULA and say "We know the product doesn't work as advertised and no one will help you but we clearly say no refunds." This also happened when Crysis Warhead came out and they conveniently waited a week until after a forum firestorm to notify people that it has SecuROM activation.

Now, those situations are minor and clearly, weren't enough to sour me on the Steam experience as I've bought several hundred dollars worth of games there in the last year. I think it is a fantastic service overall and am happy to see more publishers using it. If they could fix their customer service (and they certainly have the money to), I think it would be near perfect. EA and others are slowly learning that when they use Steam, it gives them the means to protect their games (futile an effort as that is) while removing the 3rd party DRM that is without a doubt, costing them more business than it is saving.

I love Steam like a fat kid love cake.

Lex Cayman wrote:
I love Steam like a fat kid love cake.

Word, Son.

All of the XCOM games playable for $15? Sign me the hell up!

I think they do need to revisit their pricing structure though. When a friend of mine bought L4D, it was cheaper in a store than it was on Steam. That shouldn't be the case.

I was talking with a friend about this just the other night, specifically after the whole "EA on Steam without Securom" thing came up.

It comes down to two things for me: trust, and tit-for-tat.

Trust is by far the most important issue for me: for any DRM scheme that involves activation at a centralized server, it's not at all okay if I don't trust that the server will be available when I want it. I frequently dig out five or ten year old games (or even older) to give them a whirl again and remind myself what was good (or not so good) about them. I'll buy games and not finish them and then years later comeback to do so. A lot of us do this sort of thing. If I have no faith that the authority for the DRM is going to maintain their DRM server indefinitely or provide an alternative solution if they choose to stop providing that service, that's a big hit for me: Because ten years is a long time for a video game to continue getting support.

To give an example of an insane company still supporting stuff: Blizzard still releases (or released) Starcraft patches. It was an ox-stunning moment when I saw that they not only still patched it, but they had *ported the game to Mac OS X*, an OS that didn't even exist when the game came out, and which many companies ignore completely. Not only that, but the latest Diablo II and SC patches from Blizzard even removed the requirement to have the disk in the drive. That's unfathomably nice compared to other game companies. If Blizz ever were to get into the DRM game, they've built up a tremendous amount of good-will through acts like these.

Places where DRM actually exists that I have this level of trust are Apple (with iTunes) and Valve (with Steam). I think part of my reason for trust here is that these guys were some of the first players on the scene, and they've shown that they have longevity and are willing to make an effort to make things better. Yeah, I don't agree with everything they've done, but I have faith that they're committed to keeping things up and running. This is in contrast to a certain other DRM-based music-sales site where they decided that they needed a different scheme, so the old stuff just... stopped working.

Both Valve and Apple had to do a lot of legwork, too, to soothe fears about "what if you go away" that came up when they started. They had to do that because nobody else had used these schemes in such a large scale before, so... nobody else had needed to establish the level of credibility to go from base state to where they are now. In a way, they win because they were first, and had no illusion that they could ride the coattails of other companies who had already shown that these systems work.

So, it's true that both Apple and Valve could at some point in the future decide to be giant jerks, but...

I trust them not to.

And that's the whole point: Securom? I do not trust them to support their DRM servers past when the publisher keeps paying them. EA? I do not trust them to care about keeping games working in five or ten years when they're not selling that game any more. They *can* establish this level of trust with me, but it will take a while. And until I do trust them that much, I'd really rather they used DRM schemes that aren't quite as scary.

The other side of things, and I think also part of what establishes trust, is "tit-for-tat". Both Valve and Apple have realized that what makes DRM work is making it super convenient, and making sure that you get something in exchange for what you're giving up. The most basic part of that is digital distribution. Being able to just download software and music? That you paid for? That was pretty damned awesome at the time. Valve is a bit stronger here, allowing you to re-download anything later if you've deleted it. Apple... well, not being able to re-download songs without having to contact someone is one of my lingering annoyances with the iTunes Music Store.

But there are other things, too. iTunes isn't the world's best music player, but the level of integration with the iPods made things so much more convenient than ever before, and now the equation became "You can do things this super super convenient way, and in exchange your music requires work to share." (And to Apple's credit, the "iTunes Plus" no-DRM stuff is pretty nice when it's available). On Valve's side, Steam is an incredibly convenient tool for playing games, and the overlay thing is just awesomely nice. Being able to see on your friends list what games people are excited about? Awesome.

So anyway, that's part of how these two companies established their trust—they didn't just tell us "Yes, you must accept our DRM or you can't play our game", they said "If you accept our DRM, look at how much more awesome the world becomes." Contrast that with Securom, which leaves a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people specifically because their older stuff didn't work very well or made systems run more poorly. Securom is actively *not trusted* because their stuff has historically been such a load of crap for the end-user.

So: My advice to these companies that want to get on the DRM bandwagon? You're going to either have to do the same legwork that Valve and Apple did to establish trust, or if you're too cheap to do that, you're going to have to go to Valve or Apple and let them do it for you. Or perhaps to one of their competitors who are doing the legwork. Just because some other company has established that DRM can be trustworthy doesn't mean you get to be trusted for free. And: restrictive licenses aren't a right, they're a privelege. If you give us a little sumpin sumpin in exchange, we might be willing to cut a deal and say "Okay, I won't resell this game." But if you just try to do it without making stuff nicer for us, too? That's rather rude, don't you think?

"A violation of the Steam terms of service? No doubt, but as long as only one user is actively playing on the account at a time it's hard to see a real problem."

I think if you're going to argue on Steam's behalf, you should do so within the confines of the terms of service.

Lester_King wrote:
I think they do need to revisit their pricing structure though. When a friend of mine bought L4D, it was cheaper in a store than it was on Steam. That shouldn't be the case.

A store isn't going to offer you something like the Valve Complete Pack for what was it over Christmas $75?

The basic price of a brand new game is never going to be able to differ much from retail stores. Publishers can't risk the backlash until we get to the point where all media is bought digitally.

Steam is a fantastic service though. I bought my girlfriend, who is in no way a gamer, a new computer for Christmas. She now has her own Steam account with Peggle and Bejeweled on it. I imagine one day she'll grow tired of those two games, or more likely go looking for more Peggle and realize how easy it is to get new games.

The seed has been planted.

With most publishers, the idea behind DRM is to make you pay over and over again for the same content. They've explicitly said this at least once, and you can see it implicitly in every decision they make.

Steam isn't like that; you pay once, and it's yours, and you can download it to as many computers as you want, and play it on one at a time. That's fair. That's the way I've always thought about games. It's often more convenient than the real DVDs, because you don't have to manage the install. And, as long as you remember your password, you can't lose your games.

The Steam games with extra DRM, though, are vile, and while I did buy a couple of them, I don't plan to in the future.

I'll make one quick comment because I'm busy - more later.

Michael wrote:

For me, the usefulness of DRM isn't a polar decision.

And that is the dividing line between the two sides. It is a polar decision. Either a user has control over their own computer, or they do not. Either a user has control over whether or not they can use the software they purchased, or not.

The core mechanic of DRM is control. DRM removes all user control over the software. If you submit to a DRM system, you play the game when they want, how they want, and at their leisure. Whether the DRM owner chooses to be a jerk about it or chooses to be a benevolent master is irrelevant. EA is a jerk, Valve is a benevolent master. It doesn't change the power arrangement in your relationship to them.

Think about this: if Valve ever decided to be jerks, and block access to Steam unless you pay them a one-time fee of $19.99 ... what could you do? The answer is nothing. Valve owns those games, even though you paid for them. If Valve decides that you are no longer allowed to play games, they can turn off your games. They have the control, not you. They set the prices, they have all the cards. When you sign up, you agree to whatever they feel like doing.

I don't think that's a fair business transaction. In fact, it's so unfair that when people buy other, physical objects, they wouldn't even think of tolerating such a situation. It would be preposterous to phone Ford for a startup code every time you wanted to start your car, or fill it with gas. Why is it ok in this situation? Because the product can be infinitely copied and given to your friends? But isn't that already illegal, just like stealing cars?

Technically, DRM can never work. It must be based on encryption, and encryption cannot work when one of the two endpoints is also the attacker. It is never a positive for the consumer. DRM contributes nothing to the value of the product; in fact, it contributes negative value to the product, both for the user and for the producer. All of the benefits of Steam that you've pointed out do not technically require DRM. We know this, because other companies do the same thing, without DRM.

We also know for sure that the argument "software will never sell if it doesn't have DRM" is invalid. Amazon had the best Christmas season they've ever had, and a significant part of that was due to DRM-free mp3s - in a time where other retailers are withering and dying due to the depression. How could they sell something that could be infinitely copied for free?

If Steam didn't use DRM, I would sign up for their service and use it, and probably give them hundreds of dollars. Why? Because it is convenient. As it stands today, I refuse to use it or buy games from it. Why? Because I don't like being the one who gets left holding the short end of the stick after paying a lot of money, just like the people who were using Sony's DRM system or Microsoft's DRM system.

Competition will eliminate DRM: it is not a feature, it's a bug. When it does, those who submitted to it will be left out in the cold just like the Sony DRM users.

1Dgaf wrote:
"A violation of the Steam terms of service? No doubt, but as long as only one user is actively playing on the account at a time it's hard to see a real problem."

I think if you're going to argue on Steam's behalf, you should do so within the confines of the terms of service.

Technically all mods that use anything not found in the SDK are against the TOS. Most PS3 games now have a license which makes resale a no-no. Technically if you allow a friend to sit down at your machine to play portal for 10 seconds, you've violated the TOS regardless of the fact that it's your machine and your game, and you're not charging anyone for it. Since Michael called me out on it (thanks Michael) I invite Valve to cancel my account for allowing my friend to play through portal on my Steam account.

Aetius wrote:
I'll make one quick comment because I'm busy - more later.

Michael wrote:

For me, the usefulness of DRM isn't a polar decision.

And that is the dividing line between the two sides. It is a polar decision. Either a user has control over their own computer, or they do not. Either a user has control over whether or not they can use the software they purchased, or not.

Obviously this is something about which you feel strongly, you have your reasons and I wouldn't presume to say you shouldn't have that perspective.

But where that perspective is going to one day end up, is you won't have any games to play. DRM is going to become more pervasive. As sure as the sun will rise it is going to get more ubiquitous.

What Michael and the more moderate people like myself are trying to say is, if it is inevitable, we need to make sure that it is as friendly to us as possible. Steam is relatively painless, so we choose to reward the system, rather than support EA with its limited install version of Securerom.

By rejecting Steam as equally insidious as SecureROM, Starforce or Tages you are giving equal weight to those as you are to Steam. By not supporting the 'lesser evil' DRM system you are effectively providing equal support to the more damaging and limiting systems.

I'm not saying you need to 'see the error of your ways' and go buy a few games on Steam, what I'm trying to say is that this hard line perspective doesn't expand the discussion.

You can hope that there is a DRM free future, but I don't see it happening. Hell, you may be right and we are contributing to the problem, but I have games to play.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Aetius wrote:
I'll make one quick comment because I'm busy - more later.

Michael wrote:

For me, the usefulness of DRM isn't a polar decision.

And that is the dividing line between the two sides. It is a polar decision. Either a user has control over their own computer, or they do not. Either a user has control over whether or not they can use the software they purchased, or not.

Obviously this is something about which you feel strongly, you have your reasons and I wouldn't presume to say you shouldn't have that perspective.

But where that perspective is going to one day end up, is you won't have any games to play. DRM is going to become more pervasive. As sure as the sun will rise it is going to get more ubiquitous.

This is the core of the DRM argument right here, and I can see the points behind both sides of the arguments. The reason people allow Steam is because they trust Valve. If Valve goes rogue, there goes your stuff. My one thought is this. Yeah, I use Steam, knowing that they can remove my ability to play these games at anytime. The problem I have with DRM is when you are not given the facts. When the box of the game does not specify that it has DRM that forces limited installs, background software, etc, then I have a problem with it. In the end, I see competition eventually knocking out DRM altogether, but it's going to be a bumpy ride. I just want to play games, darnit!

Do you guys really think Valve could get away with just shutting off Steam and saying "deal with it?"

They have millions of users who've spent millions of dollars on their service. I think keeping some content servers running would cost a lot less than a bodyguard detail for each of Valve's employees.

They could of course get bought out, and the service could change in the future. If that change makes the service worse people will stop buying games there (most people don't vote for a bad service). It will just be a portal to my old games, but I can't imagine a company that would buy Steam just to kill it.

Of course it could happen, but then it wouldn't matter because, as has been pointed out, I could just get a crack and get my games working without Steam. I have to use ScummVM to play my old Lucas Arts games. I don't see it as much more of a hassle.

estorino wrote:
Whatever happened to "no box, no shipping, etc -> cheaper games" they used to say...

As I understand it, a lot of pressure comes from the brick-and-mortar stores. They see no reason to sell a boxed copy for (say) $50 when an online copy is $5 or $10 cheaper. They demand equal pricing across the board, and publishers who're unwilling to give up the in-store sales agree.

And before you criticize those publishers, think back on how many times in the Conference Call it's been pointed out how the vast the sector of gamers is that doesn't give a sh*t about the upcoming week or tracking release dates and just walks in to the stores and says, "Whatcha got?"

Also, my feelings on Steam are that I sing its high praises when it works. But when Steam fails, it fails hard. I currently can't start Steam because of some obscure interaction with some driver that I can't uninstall (I think). Steam is generally very excellent, but still feels like a very fragile piece of software -- Offline Mode has only worked intermittently, ever.

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